Morphological Changes – Part 2

Morphological Changes – Part 2
Author: Ellywinkle
Fandom: 9-1-1, The Sentinel
Content Warning: NC-17
Warnings: Character Bashing, Child Abuse, Discussion – Murder, Explicit Sex, Hate Crimes, Homophobia, Racism, Violence – Canon – Level
Genres: Alternate Universe
Relationships: Eddie Diaz/Buck Buckley
Word Count: 80749

Author Note: I’ve changed Buck’s place of birth for…reasons. The character-bashing tag is for the Buckleys. For those that desire the heads-up, this is a sentinels are known universe and Daniel lives. The story was written for the April 2022 Rough Trade Challenge. Hope you enjoy the finished product.

Summary: Eddie Diaz survived his test under fire and was discharged from the Army with a gunshot wound, a Silver Star, and a designation of Persistent Enduring Latency. When his wife finds her sentinel and divorces him, he decides it’s time to change and build a new life for himself and his son. A new life that has everything he ever wanted, even a guide he can never have. Because if fire couldn’t bring him online, what will it take to reshape his soul?



Chapter Six

“This isn’t going to hold our weight.”

“It’ll hold long enough.”

Eddie glanced back at the tree that was leaning against the platform for the zip line and noted that the crack along the platform was slowly growing. The tree was giving jerky little vibrations as it continued its interrupted fall. He looked back up at Buck and noticed the small trickle of blood from where the branch had struck him and the slightly dazed look in his eyes.

“Diaz, Meyrick, if you can hear me, hold on.” Bobby’s voice called out over the radio. “We’re deploying the jumper now.”

Eddie could hear the equipment inflating below and just hoped they could get there in time. The call had been relatively simple. Tree fell and struck the victim as she reached the platform on the zip line. Rigging a line, Buck and he were able to climb up to the victim with little trouble. They were able to get her into the SKED and lowered to the ground just as the tree started moving and struck the platform itself.

Which is why Eddie was hanging off a broken platform with only Buck’s hands keeping him from falling. Buck was lying flat across the base, just hanging on. But that tree was still slowly moving, and it was splitting the platform apart.

It was taking forever for that bag to inflate, and Eddie was calculating how much longer he could allow Buck to hang on before he needed to release and let the man move away from the broken edge. Would he take Buck with him if it finished breaking? Likely.

“Buck, listen to me. The tree is going to break the platform in half. You need to…”

Buck growled, “Shut up, Eddie. I’m not going to let you go. We’re going to make it.”

“One minute, guys. One minute,” Bobby checked in. Neither of them had a hand free to trigger their radios and respond.


“Shut up.”

“Do you trust me, Buck?” Eddie tried to push out feelings of concern and focus. Things he had been learning how to do in the Center classes for working with online guides.

“Yes. I trust you. But I won’t let you fall.”

“I know you won’t. You’ll never give up. Just listen to me.” Eddie took a breath and focused his thoughts on trust me, trust me. “The platform is going to break.” Buck shook his head no, but Eddie just pushed on. “When I tell you to, I need you to let me go. Bobby and the team almost have the jumper set up. They will catch me. I won’t ask you to let me go until it is safe.” Eddie glanced back to the platform and mentally added, for one of us.

“They’re getting the jumper?”

Eddie didn’t like the sound of that. “Yes, can you hear them on the radio?”

Buck paused a moment, then nodded.

“When they give us the go-ahead, I will let you know when I’m ready. When you let me go, I want you to move back and to your left, until you can hug that pole. Do you hear me, Buck?”


“Say it.”

“Let you go, then back and to my left.”

“And hug that damn pole. The platform is going to go, but it looks like that half is still attached.” Eddie just hoped that Buck could make himself move after holding deadweight for this long.

“We’re ready below,” Bobby called out.

“You hear that, Buck. They’re ready to catch me. On the count of three, you’re going to let go and move. You ready?” Eddie squeezed a little harder for a moment, and Buck nodded.


Eddie focused on moving his body into the correct position and felt a burst of relief as the bag absorbed him. Before he knew it, they were pulling him out.


Eddie accepted a hand and then winced and pulled back his arm when his shoulders protested. “I’m ok. I’m fine.” He felt a pull in his gut and looked up to see the tree shift again. “Move! It’s coming down.”

They all backed away as the platform gave a loud crack and the tree fell, bringing parts of the platform down with it.

Eddie looked up to the platform, where he couldn’t see anything on the part of it remaining. “Buck!”

Bobby triggered his radio, “Meyrick, you there?”

There was a delay then the radio crackled. “Still here.”

Eddie took a couple deep breaths to keep it together.

“You able to drop another line and climb down?”

Shaking his head, Eddie moved in front of Bobby. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Give me a few minutes, Cap.”

“Talk to me, Diaz.”

“Buck took a pretty good knock to the head. He seemed to be slow in tracking up there. Pretty sure it’s a concussion.”

Bobby nodded, then called out behind him, “Chimney, grab the binoculars. Tell me if the rope and pulley are still secure.”

About twenty minutes later, they had Buck down from his perch and sitting beside Eddie on the back of the engine, with Chimney putting him through his paces. Their original victim had been transported while they were getting Buck down. Hen traveling with that ambulance while leaving Chimney behind with their own. The rest of the crew was packing away the jumper and equipment.

“So what’s the verdict?” Bobby came around the side to look them over before turning towards Chimney.

“I’m gonna say minor concussion and strained muscles, at the least. Eddie needs an x-ray of that shoulder to rule out any separation and Buck one of his head to verify he didn’t knock a marble loose.” Chimney smiled at that.

“At least I still have my marbles,” Buck muttered under his breath.

“Well, that’s a check-up for the two of you. Chimney, can you drive them in alone?”

“Sure, Cap. Eddie is alert and mobile enough to keep an eye on Buck in the back while I drive.” Chimney motioned the two of them toward the Ambulance, and Eddie just sighed. “I can take them to First Mercy. That will give me a chance to pick up Hen.”

Buck tried to shake his head no, then paused and grabbed hold of Eddie when he faltered. “Not Mercy. They don’t always have S&G reps on duty in the ER. Just take us to the LA Intake Center. Medical there can handle us.”

“That’s in the opposite direction,” Chimney complained.

“Look, if something’s up that Buck has to be admitted, they are required to ship him to the Center anyway,” Eddie pointed out. “Might as well take him there to begin with. If you don’t want to do that, then we can ride back to the firehouse, and I’ll drive us there.”

Bobby stepped in to settle it. “The patients want to go to the LA Center, and since their injuries aren’t presenting as life-threatening, then we can take them to the Center.”

Chimney sighed, then shrugged, “Fine. To the Center.”

Bobby and Chim helped them climb into the back, and Eddie kept an eye on Buck, who refused to lie down. Eddie reached for an emesis bag just in case. Luckily Chimney was professional even if he was irritated and took it easy on the drive in.

At the Center, they were quickly separated for evaluation and treatment. Patient confidentiality being what it was, Eddie gave up after the third time asking for Buck’s status. For himself, he was happy with a diagnosis of muscle strain and bruising. He would still be off work for 2-3 weeks while he healed.

When he was released with meds and instructions for care, Eddie sent a text to Buck, letting him know the outcome and inquiring about Buck’s head. While he waited for a reply, he debated asking the Center for a ride back to the firehouse.

“Eddie Diaz?” A man’s voice called from the entry door to the guide medical side of the room.

“That’s me,” Eddie said as he approached.

“Yes, you are.” The man shook his head and then held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Daniel Buckley, Evan’s brother.”

Eddie tensed up, “They called his brother? How bad is he?”

Daniel shook his head, “He’s going to be fine. He wants you to come on back.” He turned and entered, holding open the door for Eddie to pass.

Following him, Eddie inquired, “Seriously, how bad was it that they already called his brother?”

“Actually, I was on the campus already.” Daniel motioned down a hallway and then started walking again. “My company, Synchronicity Systems, is working on a next-generation communication device that will allow an intuitive multi-channel capability with filters and tapic feedback that will hopefully prevent sentinels from zoning on hearing in the field. If it works, then it may even allow a centralized guide monitor to assist multiple unbonded sentinels in the field. I mean, it’s never going to replace the one-on-one sentinel/guide pair, but every bit helps.” He came to a stop outside one of the doors, “The LA Center is partnering with us on the testing phase.”

“Daniel, are you talking about the bug zapper again?”

Daniel gave a long, put-upon sigh. “I wish you would stop calling it that. It was one short in a prototype.”

Eddie smiled at the banter and moved into the room. Buck was reclined in the hospital bed. A bit of bruising was starting to show from under the bandage on his head. “You ok?”

Buck reached up to touch the bandage and winced, pulling his hand away. “Yeah, this is nothing.”

“Nothing, right.” Daniel shook his head, “A concussion is nothing.”

“It’s a minor concussion. There was no reason to call Mom and Dad.”

“You seriously think they wouldn’t have gotten that report anyway? I was just saving my own ass there, kiddo.” Daniel had a seat and propped his feet up on the bed.

“Can you believe they are keeping me overnight? It’s ridiculous. Eddie, you’ll help me escape, won’t you?” Buck gave Eddie the biggest Bambie eyes, and Daniel snorted.

Eddie shook his head, “Don’t look at me. I still have to find a way to get my truck. I strained my shoulder and my arm, so they don’t want me driving for a few days.”

“Nothing torn or broken?” Buck reached out a hand to Eddie, and he took it.

“No, it’s minor, really, but it’s still 2-3 weeks off work.”

“Me, too. I’m going to go insane.”

“You mean you’re going to drive me insane, don’t you?” Daniel muttered, and Buck kicked his brother’s feet off the end of the bed. “Eddie, what time does your son get off school?”

Eddie checked the time on his phone. “A little over two hours. Then he catches the bus here, and it’s supposed to be his overnight stay.”

Daniel put his feet on the floor and leaned forward in the chair. “Why don’t we do this? You stay here with Buck to keep him from going stir-crazy until they’re ready to move him to a room. Call your Captain and let him know I’m coming down to pick up your stuff. I’ll catch a ride there and bring your truck back to secured parking here. Then I can either give you and your son a ride home, or you can stay with me tonight. I mean, I would certainly feel better if you had someone who could help tonight. You might not be feeling it now, but I’m sure you are going to be hurting tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out.” Eddie actually really wanted to put someone out because he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to handle Christopher if his son needed any help.

“I’m heading over there to get Evan’s stuff anyway, so it’s no trouble to get yours, too. Then you can decide what you want to do tonight. But my place is a serious offer. You and your son, or let him stay here tonight as planned, and just you come over. We’ve got a guest room on the first floor with the best bed known to man ready and waiting for you.” Daniel smiled and held out his hand. “Keys, Diaz.”

“Is he always this bossy?”


“Big brother privilege. You’re Evan’s partner at work. That’s practically brother-by-proxy. Deal.”

Eddie laughed and just shook his head. “Keys are in my locker. We don’t take that stuff out on calls.”

“Locker, right. You two, call your Captain and tell him I’m on the way.” And Daniel was out the door humming a tune.

“Your brother is….”

Buck grinned, “Pretty damn awesome.”



In the end, Eddie took Daniel up on the invitation. Once Christopher was assured that his Dad was going to be ok, just very sore for a while, he begged to stay at the Center. It was Pizza and Movie Party night since it was Friday. Apparently, they were setting up a large screen outside with pillows and blankets for the kids to sit on as they watched the movie after dark. He didn’t catch the rest of the activities, but since Chris was so excited, he didn’t have the heart to pull him from it.

Considering how stiff he was the next morning, it was a godsend that he didn’t have to worry about his son. Daniel made the situation as easy as possible and then drove him back into the Center for a hastily arranged massage in physical therapy. By the time he finished, he had a few sessions scheduled and a solid plan for home stretches to maintain range of motion while healing.

Eddie decided to check in on Buck while he was there. He had another hour before Tia Pepa could make it there to pick up him and Chris. While he waited for the elevator, a twenty-ish guide approached and struck up a conversation. Eddie sighed and wished he wasn’t too sore to take the stairs.



Buck rolled over in the bed to see who was entering. The hourly concussion checks were driving him insane. Instead of another nurse, this time it was Eddie. He started to smile when he noticed the chaotic edge to his aura.

“What’s the problem?” He sat up in the bed and let one leg hang off the side.

Eddie double-checked that the door shut behind him and shrugged before he winced and then said, “No problem.”

Buck checked him out, “I’m serious, Eddie. If someone has done something to upset you, just let me know, and I can take care of it.”

“No one has done anything, exactly. It’s just…” Eddie huffed, then motioned behind him toward the door, “that’s the seventh guide to offer me sex in the last four months. I mean, some of them are asking me out on a date, but some, like that guy, just flat-out offered me sex. That’s not normal.”

Buck grinned, “You can’t tell me no one’s offered you sex before, Eddie.”

Eddie came in and found a seat. “Sure, the guides in the Army would, but I went in married, and you don’t cross that line. That shit’s just not done.”

“Well, guides are encouraged to ask for what we want. There’s a lot of stress relief to be found in a good, long fuck, and frankly, Eds, you have a vibe about you that says you have stamina to burn and the ability to deliver. That’s an attractive combination.” Buck focused on not letting him know that he was one of the guides that had been thinking that.


Buck considered how to make him see, “Come on, Eddie. You were married. Did you not enjoy the sex?”

Eddie looked away, “I can’t believe we’re talking about….” He huffed, “Fine. I mean, I enjoyed the sex after we were married.”

“What? The sex before you were married wasn’t any good?” Buck couldn’t believe that.

“Buck,” Eddie suddenly went serious. “I didn’t have sex before I got married to Shannon.”

Buck felt his mouth fall open. “Whoa, like never?”

Eddie shook his head, “No, of course not.”

“Is that some HOS stuff. Chastity or something?”

“Well, chastity is encouraged, but no.” Eddie was playing with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “By the time I wanted sex, we were engaged. Then we decided to wait until after the wedding.”

Buck considered the wording. “By the time you wanted…? Humor me, have you ever wanted sex with anyone besides Shannon?”

“I’ve been attracted to a few people if that’s what you’re asking.” Eddie rolled his eyes.

“One-night stand attracted or….”

Eddie looked up, confusion flowing off him. “I’ve never understood the one-night stand thing.”

“So, OK, what does it take for you to feel attracted to someone?”

“I don’t know. Someone who’s honest and kind. Trustworthy, I guess, is important. Now, it would have to be someone who likes kids. I couldn’t possibly be attracted to someone who wouldn’t want Christopher around. And it needs to be someone who is willing to listen to me. But they have to be strong enough to be an equal partner.”

Buck just stared a moment. “I kinda meant the kind of person you’re physically attracted to, not necessarily the ones you would want to date.”

“Aren’t those the same thing?”

“Have you ever met anyone and was just instantly attracted to them?”

“No. I don’t understand how people can know if they’re attracted to a person until they get to know them.” Eddie scratched his head. “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.”

Buck held up a hand to stop him. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It takes all kinds, ya know. Just accept it. Physically you are the type of person that people are often instantly attracted to. Some of them are going to be comfortable asking you for intimate access. But you’re not obligated to reciprocate, and there is nothing wrong if you don’t. If you want to get to know someone, then by all means, do so. But don’t feel like you have to just because they ask.”

“Oh, trust me, I have no problem turning them down. It’s sad because they’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot when they approach me like that. But I suppose if they are worthwhile, they’ll back off and take another path.” Eddie looked around, “You getting out of here soon?”

“Yeah, just waiting for the doctor to make his rounds, then I’ll be gone. Well, I’ll be waiting to get a ride home. What about you? You going to be ok today?”

Eddie gave him a half-smile. “I’ll be fine. Tia Pepa will be here in about an hour to pick up Chris and me. She’ll stay with us tonight, and then Abuela will be with me for a couple days to help. By then, the worst of this should pass.” Eddie scratched his stubble, cursing that his arms hurt too much to shave this morning. “Pepa wouldn’t mind giving you a ride.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put her out.”

Eddie shook his head, “Daniel took care of me last night. I think offering you a ride home is the very least we can do. Besides, she’s already heard about how you saved my life up there. I suggest you just prepare yourself for a Diaz adoption invasion. Abuela has already talked about making you some of her Tamales Especiales. She makes those once a year, no matter how much we beg.”

Buck felt warmth spread through him at Eddie’s pleasure/amusement. “She doesn’t have to go to that trouble for me.”

Eddie threw his head back in laughter, “I dare you to tell Abuela what she does or does not have to do.” The amusement spread out and was so inclusive and welcoming that Buck let himself just smile with the feeling.

“Then I bow to your superior experience.” Buck resisted the urge to shake his head because that still fucking hurt. “But seriously, I’m supposed to be supervised for the next couple of days, so Daniel’s going to work from home this week. The Center will be sending a nurse conservator out for a daily assessment.”

Eddie slouched down in the chair and just stared at him a moment. “Is that just a guide head injury thing, or is it an Evan head injury thing?”

Buck groaned. It just figured Eddie wouldn’t miss much. “When did you figure it out?”

“No one addresses you by your title around here, but once you know what to look for, they all instinctively react to you. When I took the class on S&G Centers, Hierarchies, and modes of address, I thought it was because of who your parents are. But I was looking at the pictures Daniel has up at your place. He’s really proud of your accomplishments. Including the picture of you completing the Rocky Mountain SAR Certification with the picture of you with their premier team and your framed Certificate signed by Christopher Larabee, S.P. That’s Sentinel Prime of the Rocky Mountain Region, Christopher Larabee. And your parking space? Guide Prime?” Eddie was staring at him with one eyebrow cocked.

“Guilty as charged.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because on an average day, it really doesn’t matter. Look, I’m technically rated as a Prime, but the title isn’t used since I’m unbonded. That rating is purely biological and was outside my control. My skills and certifications I earned with hard work and sweat. I’ll admit my rating opened some doors for me, but honestly, my parents opened more. Dad and Larabee served in the Navy together before Dad met Mom and received his discharge. Family friend or not, I guarantee you Larabee didn’t go easy on me when it came time for certification. But people who know I grew up calling him Uncle Chris make assumptions.”

Eddie nodded, “I get that. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge me based on something like that. Who at work knows?”

“Bobby and the Chief know because I’m required to disclose my status. If something were to compromise me, I could cause a huge psionic incident. Athena is aware. I think Hen knows, but she’s never said anything.”

“Why do you think she knows then?”

“About six months after I joined the team, we got a call-out to an armed assault on this office building. The police were evacuating the building, but most offices were on lockdown and sheltering in place. The police had the assailants blocked on the east side of the building, and there was this daycare on the west side ground floor. They wanted to evacuate the kids while it was clear, but this daycare worker flipped online in a feral drive, and no one could get close to her.”

“They didn’t just tranq her? That’s standard procedure in theater if a sentinel goes feral.”

“There was a recall on the tranqs from the company that supplies most of California, and they hadn’t received a replacement. Athena got permission to take me and Hen in to try to get close. Even a feral sentinel won’t harm an online guide, at least not on purpose. They were hoping I could calm her down or something.”

“But that doesn’t happen in a feral drive.”

Buck shrugged, “No, it doesn’t, but a Prime isn’t a normal guide, and Athena knew what I was. I had to put her down hard before she attacked the police. Then Hen was able to sedate her, and I carried her out while Hen and the police got the kids out.”

“So you think Hen figured it out based on that?”

“Yeah, because right after that, she went back and got her certification for S&G treatment with a focus on high-level guides.”

“What about Chim?”

Buck rolled his eyes and then winced. “I don’t think so. He occasionally makes snide comments about sentinel and guide privilege, but he’s never outright said anything that makes me think he knows my level. My sister, Maddie, has dated him off and on, but she has this love/hate relationship with the Center, so I’m pretty sure she avoids the subject if it’s brought up.”

Eddie gave him a look, but Buck was relieved when he didn’t pursue that line. Luckily before they could go further, there was a knock on the door, and the on-call doctor walked in. He gave a pointed look at Eddie and then started to speak when Buck just nodded at him.

“Evan, I got the results back on this morning’s tests, and it looks like you’re good to go. There were no reports of any issues with your shields overnight, but as you know, you are required to have a conservator monitor you for the next seventy-two hours. I’ve already put an order in for a conservator, so the nurse is going to get your discharge papers and take you over to the Conservator Coordinator. She is requesting an assessment.”

“I’m not fighting you on the conservator issue, but we both know an assessment is a waste of time,” Buck groaned.

The asshole just smirked at him and turned to leave with a, “Take care, Evan.”

“What’s wrong with an assessment?” Eddie was radiating confusion.

“It’s about an hour or more of mental masochism designed to find the most compatible match between a damaged guide and a guide conservator.” Buck sighed at the look Eddie gave him. “Any fully trained guide conservator can assist a compromised sentinel or guide in an emergency situation. But guides frequently need better matches to allow their minds to relax and heal.”

“OK,” Eddie conceded, “so I can understand not wanting to work at that with a concussion.”

“It’s not that. Look, as a Prime, I’ve got a few extra bells and whistles than your average guide. I’ve also got a power boost that even an Alpha Guide can’t touch. Frankly, there are only two guides on the West Coast that could contain me if I lose it. One is the West Coast Prime, and the other is the U.S. Prime. Neither of them is close enough to L.A. to make a difference. My shields haven’t faltered, so there is no reason to call them in. An Alpha can provide stability if it’s just a matter of keeping me evened out. So, the truth is, there are only two Alpha conservators on staff in L.A. with a hope of making a dent in anything I throw out, and one of them will be assigned. Making me do an assessment before assigning one is a waste of time and frankly spiteful.” Buck gave Eddie a knowing look.

Eddie nodded slowly. “The Conservator Coordinator doesn’t like you?”

“She blames me for Carla getting the promotion she wanted.”



Buck glared at Abby Clark, the Conservator Coordinator for L.A., and refused to back down. “I do not require an assessment, Guide Clark, and you know it.”

“Any compromised guide requires an assessment for conservator placement per S&G procedures. I would be negligent in my duty to make exceptions based on a guide’s popularity or level. Some would say that it is even more important that I take care considering your level.” Her face remained passive, and the woman had her shields locked down like Fort Knox. Sadly those shields were probably her best guide characteristic.

“And because of my level, you know that your conservator options are severely limited.”

“Since you have never been assessed by this Center, then we only have the record to speak to that fact. As far as we know, those records could be faulty.”

Anger boiled up in Buck, and he came perilously close to allowing his primary shield to crack. Only Eddie’s presence kept him contained.

“Wow, you’ve got some serious balls, lady.” Eddie was staring at Abby like he was surprised she could dress herself in the morning. “Did you just call the Guide Prime of the United States a liar?”

She jerked back and then glared at Eddie. “Who are you?”

“Well, I’m someone who is aware from S&G 101 that the U.S. Primes must personally certify the level of all Primes in the territory before it can be documented in Center records.” Eddie just stared her down, “So that means you think the U.S. Prime lied about Evan’s rating on the official registry. That takes some big brass balls to make that accusation.”

“I didn’t accuse anyone…” Abby started backpedaling.

Alpha Sentinel and Co-Director of the L.A. Center, Ezequiel Moreno, cleared his throat from the doorway. “I agree with Mr. Diaz. That was a blatant accusation of the U.S. Prime. All such accusations must be investigated immediately since that would be a sign of corruption which cannot be tolerated by the community. Guide Clark, I believe you need to report to the Director’s office now so that we can make an official report of your accusation.”

“Director Moreno, I in no way meant to accuse….”

“Not another word. You will report to the Director’s office now so that we may discuss this issue.” He barely gave her space to move past him and hurry away before he turned back toward them. “Prime Meyrick, we apologize if this situation has caused you any distress. A conservator will contact you to set a schedule for check-ins if that is fine with you.”

“That’s fine, Director Moreno. I look forward to our next meeting.” Evan stood and motioned Eddie to follow him out.

“You ok?” Eddie whispered as they moved through the Center.

“Yeah, but I think I’m ready to take you up on that offer of a ride.”

“Hell, yes.” Eddie pulled out his phone and texted. “Pepa is ten minutes out. She’s going to go get Chris first, and then she will drive around to the front entrance to get us. Let’s go wait by the coffee cart. I’ll buy you one of those iced teas you like and glare at anyone who tries to talk to you.”

“Best partner ever. Did I ever tell you that? Best partner ever.”



Chapter Seven

Eddie was of the opinion that it was possible to die of boredom. Wake up, work on stretches, get Chris off to school, try not to get sucked into Abuela’s telenovelas, read, cardio, more stretches, wait for Abuela to pick up Chris from school, eat dinner, and go to bed. Rinse, repeat. The only highlight of his day was talking to Buck or texting Buck.

They were a little over a week into their leave, and they had been released for driving, but their families were complete mother hens and driving them up the wall. Luckily it was Thursday, so he only had one more day of Abuela staying with him during the day. She had insisted on staying through the school week, and he hadn’t had the heart to stop her.

A text from Buck came in while he was contemplating what to do with his upcoming freedom.

Hey, you available for a call?

Eddie just hit call instead of answering. “What’s up?”

“You got plans for you and Chris this weekend?”

“Not yet. Got something in mind?”

“Yeah, I’m going a little stir-crazy here.”

Daniel’s voice came from somewhere close to Buck, “What Evan means is if he doesn’t get out of this house, I’m going to kill him.”

“Not if I get to you first,” Buck muttered. “Look, the Center has some properties available when someone needs to get away. A few different locations outside the city so that we can rest our shields or senses a little. One of them is a beach house, and I’ve reserved it. I was wondering if you and Chris would like to go with.”

Eddie smiled, “That sounds positively perfect. Just the three of us?”

“Well, Daniel and Maddie want to go with me this weekend. Then I will stay through the next week and return the following Sunday,” Buck explained.

Eddie frowned, not liking the thought of Buck alone. “Are you sure you want to stay alone?”

“I wouldn’t mind company, but Daniel and Maddie have to work. I just need to get away for a little while.” Buck just sounded so tired.

Eddie thought about his options. Getting away sounded terrific, but he couldn’t keep Christopher out of school for a week. “We are definitely in for the weekend. Just let me know when we are leaving.”

Excitement filled Buck’s voice, “I figured we could leave after Christopher gets out of school on Friday. Maddie is off for three days, and Daniel only works half days on Friday.”

“Sounds like a plan.” A plan started blooming in Eddie’s brain as well. “Who’s driving?”

“We’re borrowing one of the Center’s vans for the trip down. There’s an electric car onsite for us to use while we’re there. In an emergency, I can drive it back. Otherwise, either Daniel will come the next weekend to pick me up, or the Center will send someone.” The matter-of-fact way Buck said that meant he had used the beach house more than once, so he was very comfortable with the arrangement.

That relieved Eddie of any anxiety about the unknown. Buck was comfortable with the place, so it was a given that Eddie would be. And there was no way Buck would recommend a place for Chris that wasn’t safe.

Eddie nodded, then remembered to talk, “OK, just be prepared for a hyper kid in the car.”

Buck’s response was teasing, “I figure we’ll stop for dinner on the road. If we carb-load him, maybe he will fall asleep along the way.”

“I’ll let you sit next to him so that you have to deal with it when he talks you into some overly sugared dessert.”

“Deal.” Buck laughed, and Eddie suddenly felt like he could breathe. “See ya tomorrow, Eds.”

“Tomorrow. And Buck? Thanks.”


Eddie listened to the click and thought about his options. He only hesitated a moment before dialing. “Pepa, I’m sorry for bothering you during the day, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor next week with Chris….”



“Buck!” Christopher yelled as he spotted the van in the pick-up lane at Durand.

Buck smiled as he watched the boy make his way to them, then stooped down to give him a hug. “Hey, Superman, you have a good day at school?”

“The best because I knew I would see you when it was over.”

“Well, my day was awful because I had to wait all day just to see you,” Buck told him with a sad face.

“But now we’re together.”

“Yes, we are, so now I can be happy.” Buck shifted so he could face everyone waiting by the Van. “So I have some people you need to meet. I hope you like them because they’re very important to me.”

“I’ll like anyone you do, Buck,” Christopher assured him.

“Well, first, this lovely lady here is my big sister. Her name is Maddie. She’s a nurse and probably the best person with band-aids I’ve ever seen.” Buck winked at Maddie, who smiled softly at Chris.

“Band-aid skills are important,” Chris nodded seriously and then smiled at Maddie, “Hi.”

Buck could see her stiffness just melt, “I’m very happy to meet you, Christopher.”

“And this guy here is probably the bestest big brother in the entire world. His name is Daniel. He’s crazy smart with computers and could probably build a phone from scratch out of some string and paper clips.”

“That’s pretty smart.” Christopher agreed, looking at Daniel with wonder.

Daniel moved forward and held out a hand to fist bump. “I understand you’re pretty smart yourself. We’ll have our hands full keeping this crew in line this weekend.”

Returning the fist bump, Chris’ smile was like the sun coming out.

“OK, and last one, this guy over here…well, I guess I should introduce him too so he doesn’t feel left out.”

Chris rolled his eyes at him, “Buck, I already know my Dad.”

“Oh, ok. If you know him already, then I guess we’re fine.” Buck took the crutches and handed them off to Eddie. “Why don’t we get you belted in and on the road?”


They moved out with Daniel driving and Maddie in the front seat. Chris was telling Buck all about his day at school. He was reciting his history report when traffic crawled to a stop.

“Welcome to L.A. Home of the perpetual traffic jam,” Daniel announced.

“How long until we get there?” Chris asked.

“Oh, no, Eddie. We are already at Are we there yet?” Buck looked over his shoulder at Eddie, who just grinned and shook his head.

“I did not, Buck,” Chris huffed. “I just want to know how far we’re going.”

“Well, normally, it would take about two hours to get there from the Center. It’s not really that far away, but it’s outside the city. The Center has a beach house that is surrounded by State Park land.” Buck turned toward Chris and got into the story. “See, there was a Sentinel and Guide Prime Pair in this area when California became a state, and they owned a lot of that area. Their family had a lot of sentinels in it, and their nephew was a Prime, too. They left the land to him when they died with the stipulation that their favorite area on the beach would never be sold. That nephew was the first official California Prime when the Centers were established before the start of World War II. He decided that the best way to honor his uncles was to make a deal with the State to turn most of the land into a State Park so that it would always be protected from development. Then he had the first beach house built and gave it and that land to the Center so that stressed-out sentinels and guides could get away to relax with nature.”

“That was very nice of him.”

“Yes, it was. And many people have been thankful that he wanted to help the community so much.”

“Buck.” Eddie’s voice had a tone he used at work to get attention.

Buck looked up and saw the 118 Engine on the side of the road. Ahead was a multi-vehicle accident with a semi blocking the road. Traffic was at a standstill. “I’m going to go check this out.”

Maddie shook her head, “Buck, you’re on medical leave. You need to let them handle this.”

Eddie was already unbuckled and moving toward the door. “We will let them handle it. We’re just going to check it out to estimate how long it will be.” He opened the door and looked back inside, “Christopher, you do what Daniel and Maddie say and stay buckled in.”

“Ok, Daddy, but you’re not being a good example.”

Buck followed Eddie out, listening to Maddie and Daniel laugh in the front seat. “He’s got you there.”

They walked up to where an officer was holding traffic. Before he could order them back to their vehicle, they called out for Lowell, who was heading for the engine. She motioned for the officer to let them through.

“Hey, seriously hope you guys aren’t chasing callouts while on medical. If so, I think we need to change what kind of medical leave you’re on.” She grabbed some gear from the truck and headed back toward the scene.

Eddie and Buck followed behind her. “Nah, on our way out of town and stuck in traffic. Saw the 118 and thought we could get some info.”

“Texting and driving, I swear people are just stupid. Driver swerved into oncoming traffic while texting, and this is what you get. Luckily the semi-driver was on the ball and avoided everyone, even though he ended up blocking the road. Unluckily he stepped out of the truck to help and was hit by a car that wasn’t as attentive. We’re trying to get him out while waiting for dispatch to get us someone who can move that truck.” She slipped on around the vehicles with the gear.

Bobby traded words with her and then came jogging around to where Buck and Eddie were standing. “You boys really shouldn’t be here. You’re not cleared to work.” He glanced around, then huffed, “How are you doing?”

“We’re good. Headed out of town for some R&R,” Eddie stated before exchanging looks with Buck.

Buck nodded, “Yeah, just a couple concerned citizens who are off duty, stuck in traffic, and noticed you have a little problem.” Buck looked over at the truck. “One of those citizens just happens to have a Class A and has been cleared by medical to drive.” He raised his eyebrows and pointed his chin toward the truck.

Bobby looked back and forth between Buck and the truck before sighing. “OK, as a concerned citizen, I am willing to accept your trained assistance.”

Buck smiled at them and headed to the truck. Eddie followed him and stood outside, waiting for direction. It took a couple minutes for the police to clear a path. Eddie stepped back and let Bobby direct Buck out of the maze of vehicles and onto the side of the road.

Buck got the rig parked and climbed out just in time for Bobby to give him a pat on the back. “Appreciate the help. Now you guys get back to your car. With that out of the way, they’ll be able to get the tow trucks in to make a path.”

The sound of a vehicle falling spun them around to see that Hen, Chimney, and Lowell had freed their victim and were running toward the ambulance with the stretcher.

“Yeah, it looks like you guys have everything in hand,” Buck said, then flagged down Eddie, who was waiting for them. “We’ll keep you updated. It should be just a week and a half more before we’re released to work.”

“Can’t wait to get you back. Now go relax and stay away from accident scenes.” Bobby headed back into the fray without looking back.

Buck walked back to the van in silence with Eddie at his side. They climbed in, and Eddie gave everyone the update. Chris was reading a book, his only homework for the weekend, so it was a good time for him to get started on it.

It was only about twenty more minutes before traffic started creeping forward. Tow trucks were hauling away vehicles while the 118 crew was packing up their gear. Buck noted that Maddie was split between disappointed and relieved that Chimney left the scene with the ambulance.

Finally, they were past the scene and on the road again. They stopped at a restaurant about half an hour from the beach house since no one wanted to cook tonight. They kept the conversation light, and Chris was having a ball.

They made it to the house just before sunset. Buck headed upstairs to his favorite room in the house without even discussing it. It was a master suite with a truly decadent shower and a balcony that perfectly framed the sunset. He didn’t feel guilty about it since everyone would be leaving on Sunday, so he might as well be comfortable.

Eddie and Chris took the two rooms downstairs, while Maddie and Daniel took the two rooms at the back of the house. Buck listened to them checking out the place when he came back down after unpacking to put on a pot for tea. By the time the water was boiling, everyone had filtered out to the deck to watch the sunset over the ocean.

Daniel reached for a cup, and the French press and Buck hid a smile when Eddie was suddenly looking at Daniel like he was his best friend.

“I had them stock some of that Darjeeling you like, Maddie. And for Superman, here, nothing but hot chocolate will do.” Buck slid a mug toward Chris. “I slipped some ice in yours, so it should be just right.”

“Yum, I like hot chocolate.”

The deck lit up with fairy lights as the sun disappeared, and Buck just relaxed into the quiet conversation of the night. His shields hummed with the relief of family, happiness, and love that surrounded him.



Eddie awoke to giggles and laughter. They woke up early to take a short hike along the rocky coast so they could search the little tidal pools for stranded sea life. Buck, Daniel, and he took turns giving Chris a lift over the uneven terrain. He had worried that Christopher would become frustrated that he required so much help, but his son had been too excited to discover places he had never seen before. His phone probably had about 500 pictures.

They returned for lunch, at which point Eddie crashed. The giggling caught his attention again, and he sat up to have a look around. It was mid-afternoon, and the tide had rolled in. Down on the beach, Buck was letting the waves wash over his ankles. He was dangling Chris over the water and letting him down to kick his feet in the water before lifting him up when a wave would roll in.

A burst of laughter washed over him again, and he watched as Buck’s face seemed to glow with every expression of Chris’ joy. Buck was shirtless in the sun, and his arms flexed with every lift of the boy. Eddie took in the line of his body, the power and grace of his every movement. Then he watched as Buck gently moved Chris up into a hold with one arm while using his other hand to wipe salt water off Chris’ face from a sudden spray. The power of that maneuver mixed with the gentleness and caring of that touch in a moment that felt so natural and took Eddie’s breath away.

A feeling of longing overtook him as he imagined those hands touching him, and Eddie jerked himself back in shock at the thought. He got up and left the deck to go inside. He took a seat in the living room and let himself consider that thought about Buck and how right it felt. It had honestly been a while since he had found someone attractive, and it was shocking how it just crept up on him like that.

His mind was going round and round the situation, not sure what to do about it. Suddenly there was a beer in front of him, and Eddie glanced up to see Daniel looking at him with sympathy.

“You look like someone with the weight of the world on your shoulders.” He took a seat and cracked open his own can.

Eddie sighed and opened his beer. He took a drink, considering what to say. “Have you ever suddenly come to a realization about your feelings that hit you in the face and left you questioning everything?”

Daniel grimaced and then nodded. “Yes, when I was sixteen.”

Eddie was silent and just looked at Daniel as he slouched down in the chair.

“I don’t know if Evan has told you anything about our family…?” He left it open for a response.

Shaking his head, Eddie replied, “No. I mean, he talks about your parents a lot. They sound terrific, but he doesn’t say much about your whole family. Sometimes it’s like your parents and your family are two different things.”

“They are.” Daniel tilted his head back against the back of the chair. “Maddie’s the oldest. She’s just over a year older than me. When I was six, I was diagnosed with leukemia. We tried all kinds of aggressive treatments without luck. A bone marrow transplant was recommended, but no one in the family was a match, and the transplant registry wasn’t as advanced as it is now. With no hope in sight, our parents moved us to New York to get me into an experimental treatment program. And then they conceived Evan in vitro to be a perfect match for me.”

Eddie winced at the thought. “I’m glad it worked.”

Daniel gave a broken laugh, “It worked, just not in the way they expected. Evan was born online. The New York Center stepped in because he required a conservator for most of his early childhood. Online Sentinels and Guides are banned from living donation while they are underage. So the Center put out a call and found a match for me. The doctors think that if they had waited a year until they could use Evan’s bone marrow like originally planned, I would have been too compromised to survive. So his birth did save me, just not the way they planned it.”

“Well, I’m glad that fate stepped in. So what happened when you were sixteen?” Eddie asked.

“About eight or nine months after my transplant was successful, my health had rebounded, and suddenly the family wanted to move back to Pennsylvania. They wanted to go on adventures that my illness had prevented. They wanted a lot that wasn’t possible for an online baby and his required conservators. Something happened during a family trip, and the next thing we knew, Evan was given up for adoption. We moved back to good ol’ Hershey, PA before the week was up.” Daniel’s voice was bitter, “They completely erased Evan from existence.”


“Yeah, it’s why Evan’s name is Meyrick instead of Buckley. Against the Buckley’s wishes, I stayed in contact with the Meyricks. I would mail letters to Evan, and on my birthday and Christmas, I would get care packages with photos and letters from Evan and his family. The deliverer always made sure Phillip and Margaret didn’t know.” Daniel took a long drink and then put down the beer. “So when I turned sixteen, I got my driver’s license and my first car. The first thing I did was drive out to the Hershey Intake Center and ask them to help me make a call to Rand Meyrick. Found out they had orders to help me if I ever reached out.”

“They were so happy that I called. They pulled Evan out of school just so he could talk to me. I must have spent two hours on the phone with them, and they made it so clear that no matter how much Phillip and Margaret tried to erase Evan from our lives, they had never let him forget that I was his brother and I loved him. It felt like I had been forced to live this pretend life when my real family was waiting for me all along.”

“I don’t know what to do with that.” Eddie just stared in shock at the whole thing.

“It was all for the best in the end. Evan was raised in a home full of love and acceptance. I can’t imagine how insecure he would have been raised by our birth parents. I lived with them while I went to college, all the way through my master’s. It wasn’t the same as if we had grown up together, but at least we had a chance to form a strong bond and really be brothers.” Daniel looked at Eddie and gave a little grin, “The most important thing to know about Evan is his capacity to love with his whole heart. He loves without reservation. He’s rarely entered a serious intimate relationship, but they’ve all been healthy because he is usually very in touch with his feelings.”

“I can see that about him.” Eddie glanced toward the window. “He’s probably the most trustworthy person I have ever met. It just feels like such a relief to be near him. It’s really hard to put into words.”

“Trust me, he won’t have trouble finding the words for you.”

“Yeah, I get that.” Eddie felt the smile spread on his face.

“I shouldn’t get in the middle, but you got to know that he’s really attracted to you, Eddie.” Daniel picked up the beer again and finished it off. “But he’s going to respect your boundaries on this. If you want something there, you’re going to have to make the first move.”

Eddie shook his head and stared down at his hands. “I’m not sure I should. The only person I’ve felt like this before was my wife. But she came online and found her sentinel, then left us. I realize that it was never her intention, and we have a good relationship post-marriage, but it hurt to know that someone I loved could just leave like that for someone they had just met. It hurt me, and it devastated Christopher. I don’t know if I can take that chance again.”

He looked up to see the sorrow on Daniel’s face. “Buck is about the best person I know. He loves my kid, and we just connect in a way I’ve rarely had. But he’s an online guide, and someday he is going to meet his sentinel. If we’re good friends, I know I can keep that friendship. I have so much more to lose if I let myself have more than that.”

“I get it. It’s terrifying, and you have a kid to consider.” Daniel stood up and took the empty cans. “Being online and unbonded is a special kind of hell. It must feel like your life’s in waiting. Buck has met every sentinel of his level. So either his sentinel isn’t online yet, or they died before they met. He’s always insisted that he is waiting for his match and won’t accept anyone else. So he’s just going to live his life until that happens. The ball is in your court. What you have to decide is if his friendship is enough. Or if you want to have more, even if you know someday it might end.”

Eddie watched Daniel rinse the cans and throw them in recycling before heading outside. Left alone, he leaned back and considered his life.



The focus of Sunday was a leisurely bike ride along scenic trails with a picnic lunch. Maddie chose to stay behind with the hot tub, a bottle of wine, and some romance novel with barely dressed men on the front. The garage had a selection of bikes to choose from, including a side-by-side trike that allowed Chris to help pedal and steer when he felt like it, but he could just ride when he was too tired to pedal. Eddie fell in love with it.

He could admit to himself that his heart started beating fast when Buck pulled it out for Christopher. They all traded off who was riding with Chris, and he thought it was hilarious when Buck acted like he was ready to fight them all for the honor.

They returned to the house, hot and sweaty. Maddie insisted they all shower before relaxing in the hot tub. She had already packed her own bag, and it was a reminder that the weekend was coming to a close.

Eddie checked on Chris and packed away his clothes before heading out to the hot tub, where Buck was already relaxing.

He looked up as Eddie climbed in. “I’m so glad you guys were able to come out here this weekend. Chris seemed like he was having a blast.”

“I think you spoiled him for weekend getaways. He’s going to be bragging to all the kids at school all week.” Eddie grinned at the thought.

“He’s a great kid.” Buck started before smirking, “Probably my favorite Diaz.”

“Oh, really? Where do I rate on that scale?”

“I would say third.” He grinned when Eddie gave him a mock look of outrage. “Isabel makes some awesome Tamales.”

“Well, I guess he’s my favorite Diaz, too, so that’s fair.” Eddie leaned back and let himself sink down so the water covered his arms and shoulders. “He’s already complaining that the weekend is over.”

Buck got that sad look in his eyes again. “Yeah, me too. It’s nice to be here with everyone.”

Eddie asked softly, “You sure you want to stay?”

“Yeah.” Buck nodded, “I really need the time away from the city to recharge. I usually do this a few times a year. Either here or at one of the cabins in the mountains. There’s less mental intrusion out here.”

“And you prefer that alone?” Eddie felt his gut clench.

“Not really. It’s just best with people I’m comfortable with. People I can trust, ya know?”

Relaxing, Eddie asked, “So, you wouldn’t mind if I stuck around?”

Buck jerked up and stared at Eddie with his mouth open. A little light of hope grew in his eyes. “You mean that? What about Chris and school?”

He waved one of his hands back and forth. “Tia Pepa and Abuela will take turns with Chris. The Center will pick him up after school, and then they will pick him up from the Center for the night. They were really happy to help out when I explained I wanted to stay out here with you. Seems they don’t really like you being alone out here either.”

“Bunch of busy-bodies.” Buck hunched his shoulders and sank down.

“I can go if you prefer.”

“No, Eds, I know you’re staying because you want to, not because you feel obligated to babysit me.” Evan looked at him seriously. “I would be so pleased to have you stay here with me this week. It would be really nice…not being alone.”

Eddie took a deep breath of relief. “Good. I like spending time with my best friend. And, as much as I love my son, it would be nice to have some adult time without having to worry about him.”


“In the hot tub, mijo.” He started to move, then saw Daniel holding onto Chris with a look of question in his eye. “Come on, guys, the water is terrific.”





Chapter Eight

Eddie heard the french doors onto the deck open and close as he yawned and stretched in bed. He sat up and shifted to let his feet hang off the side as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and noticed the first rays of light highlighting objects in the room.

The first notes of music drifted in, and Eddie reached over to snag his shorts and a t-shirt from the bedside table where he had left them. He was still pulling on the shirt as he walked out onto the deck and saw Buck bent over to touch the ground as he stretched the kinks out of his body and prepared to start his warm-up routine for morning tai chi.

The Centers stressed meditation and martial arts training for sentinels and guides to help align mind and body. Eddie’s training began in the Army as a required routine when guides were assigned to teach him. He had no idea at the time that it wasn’t just an Army requirement.

At the firehouse, Buck regularly led sessions on mornings that didn’t start with a callout. Eddie found when he participated, the day just seemed easier to tolerate. He stepped in beside Buck and joined him in the stretch, testing the range of motion in his shoulders. No twinges on movement, so that was good. It was more of a strength and resistance issue at this point, and that would just take a little more time on the healing front.

Confident that he wouldn’t stress anything with the routine, he followed Buck into the warm-up and lost himself to the motions. The past and the future did not matter, only the present. Warm-up flowed into the forms, Eddie completely in sync with Buck. They moved almost as one.

When they reached the end, they paused a moment, then turned to each other, and Buck gave a huge grin before he took off toward the beach. Eddie laughed and followed as they jogged down the beach a while, not needing words to communicate. Buck led him from the beach up a path that seemed to loop around back to the house.

Finally, they dropped to a walk to cool down the last leg, and Eddie laughed. “It’s been a while since I did that.”

“You work out with me on the regular at the firehouse,” Buck gave him a questioning glance.

“Yeah, I work out,” Eddie agreed. “But that whole clear mind, mind/body harmony thing. I don’t really get it there. The firehouse is work. I can’t just forget that and let myself go. I’m always waiting for a callout. And I know the exercise is a requirement of my job, so I focus on it.”

“Ok, I get that. I’ve been doing the forms as meditation since I could stand. It’s practically Mom’s favorite morning activity.”

“I’ve seen you lead meditation at the Center, but never Tai Chi.”

“Eh, there are plenty of guides at the Center that are able to lead Tai Chi. It’s one of the universal methods taught to all sentinels and guides. When I lead a session, I like to open them to new experiences. As Uncle Ezra says, An open mind is an agile mind.”

“You quote him a lot; did you know that?”

“Uncle Ezra has a lot to say. I spent a month every summer with the team in Colorado growing up. I’m probably the only kid who had an entire SAR training facility as summer camp,” Buck laughed.

Eddie shook his head, “Well, it’s not the normal life, that’s for sure.”

“Normal’s overrated. I had fun, and I was well cared for and well-loved.”

“That’s all any kid can hope for, really.” Eddie glanced at Buck, who pulled off his shirt and draped it around his neck after rolling his shoulders. “The only summer camp my parents allowed was HOS Salvation Seekers. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have allowed me to go if it wasn’t expected of them. They acted like they were happy to have us out from underfoot, but I know it rankled Mom that she couldn’t control what we were doing for the two weeks we were away.”

“Did you at least enjoy your time at camp? I had a blast with my uncles and everyone there. There were a few kids I would see regularly, they made sure of that, but there’s a lot of work out there in the summer. Hikers, campers, mountain climbers, wildfires, and so on. So it wasn’t like I got to spend the summer making friends my age.”

“Honestly, it was about a third prayer. There were fun activities, don’t get me wrong, but it always felt manufactured. Everything was cookie-cutter and set for teaching morality lessons. It always made me a little uncomfortable.”

“Has your family always been orthodox HOS?”

“My father converted after he married. My great-grandfather immigrated from Mexico when Abuela was six or seven. She was raised Catholic, and that’s how she raised her children. My mother’s from Sweden, though….” Eddie gave Buck a look when the man winced.

“Yeah, lowest sentinel and guide birthrate in the world following the worst period of guide persecution since the Inquisition. It is completely at odds with the general culture of the land as it stands now. They take great pains to educate their populace about Sentinels and Guides, but there are still some deep-seated prejudices there.”

“I agree.” Eddie waved his hands around as he spoke, “You know, I’m not certain I buy into all of that spiritual crap the Center teaches about intelligent energy in the psionic plane. But I find it telling that a country that pays lip service to being enlightened about accepting the community still isn’t giving birth to bond pairs. And those that are born there usually find their bondmate in other countries.”

Buck just shrugged. “I completely agree with you there. Though, as a Guide Prime, I have a unique relationship with the psionic plane. But I won’t try to change your mind. Some people just have to experience it in order to believe.”

They walked a little further in silence before Eddie got the courage to speak. “So, I had a conversation with Daniel before they left.”


“He mentioned your parents aren’t your birth parents.”

Buck took a deep breath and then let it out. “Yeah. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when Mom and Dad weren’t my parents. You know there is some information the Centers and the Community keeps close to its vest. Especially when it comes to unbonded sentinels and guides. Levels are rarely mentioned, especially with unbonded guides, because there have been abusive situations in the past where people didn’t understand the difference between bonded and unbonded.”

Buck looked around and then headed for a felled tree on the side of the path to take a seat. Eddie followed and joined him after a moment.

“The reason everyone at the Center calls me Evan in that tone of voice that means what they really want to say is Prime is that we try not to use the title when we are unbonded as protection. They all know and can feel my level, so it’s not a secret within the community. They just don’t discuss it outside, so I don’t get a target painted on my back. In my case, it’s double that because I came online before birth.”

“Before? I thought that was a myth.”

“As far as I know, I’m the only one. According to Dad, there was a delay in finding me because everyone was searching for the guide in distress in the area and didn’t think to check maternity at first. Then when they did, they had no clue what to do. Dad was New York Prime at the time and was there for my birth since it was the only way to shield me and everyone else in the hospital. Outside the doctor and nurse, he was the first person to hold me.”

“So when you say they were always your parents, you kind of mean it.”

“Yeah, totally. Daniel likes to tell the story about how I saved his life by bringing the S&G Community into the picture. He focuses on that because he still has trouble understanding how Phillip and Margaret Buckley went to the trouble of having a child they had no capacity to love. I was just another form of medical treatment for their son. And, frankly, they flipped between hate and embarrassment for my presence. According to Dad, they were just so fucking relieved when they finally had an excuse to get rid of me. Mom totally excommunicated them from the S&G Community for that crap. We are militantly protective of our children, and the idea they were happy to give up their own son for their own comfort made her erupt.”

“Wow. It sounds like they loved Daniel, though.”

“In whatever twisted way they allowed that love, sure. But they were more concerned about appearance than substance. They never understood their children, and they militantly held fast to creating an image and staying true to it no matter the truth. Daniel and Maddie were consistently manipulated into performing the roles that were set for them. Strangely, they both broke away from that the first chance they got. Daniel ran to us, and Maddie took the first guy who paid attention to her.”

“I’m guessing that didn’t last since she’s here with Chim…sort of.”

Buck gave a laugh, “Yeah, sort of. I don’t know if those two will figure themselves out. I guess you could say Doug was short-term. They were engaged, and the first time he beat her was the day Daniel and I showed up to surprise her for her birthday. That mess ended up with Daniel knifed and Doug dead after he tried to strangle me when we interrupted the beating. Still don’t know if it was Maddie or my sentinel bodyguard who killed him. I’m not supposed to know the details since I was a minor at the time.”

“Whoa, seriously?”

“Oh yeah. It was a whole blow-up. That’s the only time I can remember meeting them. It’s no wonder Mom and Dad avoided that subject whenever possible. Those two are the definition of toxic. I can’t even understand how Daniel came from that. They made it clear they despise me. Phillip had a thread of guilt but Margaret, man, she’s just effused with hate. They put down an ultimatum with Daniel, and he told them where to shove it and hasn’t spoken to them since. I don’t recommend mentioning the Buckleys around him.”

“What about Maddie?”

“Eh, I love Maddie. She’s my sister, ya know. But she has a dream world where we can all be a happy family. She loves me and wants to be near us, but she’s not ready to let go of her parents. She’s been trying to get their love and approval since Daniel was diagnosed, and she just isn’t able to admit to herself that they will never give it.”

“And the way she shuts down when the talk turns to sentinels and guides?”

“In her mind, she blames the Centers for her family falling apart. Deep down, she knows that Daniel’s alive because of the Center’s help. She knows that Phillip and Margaret chose to give me up and erase me from their lives. She knows that the only love they had was a twisted love for their son, and she was just the first try to have a boy. If Daniel had been born first, they would have stopped there. But, she isn’t ready to let go of the dream, and she needs someone to blame for it not coming true.”

“At least she’s trying to build something with you.” Eddie pointed out. “My sister Sophia is a little like that. She doesn’t always like what comes out of my parents’ mouths, but she puts up with it for the family. I think she would come down on my side in a pinch, but I never want to put it to the test. ”

Buck nodded agreement. “So, the point of this is we don’t talk about the Buckleys. Daniel goes angry and silent, and Maddie just cries. We cool it a little about Mom and Dad when Maddie’s around because she hates to hear me call them that. In her mind, only Phillip and Margaret deserve the title. It’s just not worth the argument if you want a peaceful house.”

“OK, I can respect that.” Eddie gave him a quick succession of nods in response. “I like your family and wouldn’t want to cause any trouble there.”

“Good. And, while we’re on it, we don’t talk about the Prime in the room. It’s Center policy that we don’t talk power levels for unbonded guides outside official Center communications…ever. I know they coach that during Sentinel 101, but they’re serious about it. To the world outside the community, an unbonded guide is just Guide.” Buck’s face was so serious now, and Eddie could practically see the Prime Guide in that order.

Eddie reached out and put a hand on Buck’s arm, knowing that it was an invitation to read the honesty of his response. “I get it, Buck. I wouldn’t do anything to endanger you.”



It was Wednesday of one of the best weeks of Eddie’s life. No responsibility, no kid, no work, just spending time with his best friend. They had talked about everything and nothing while they rested and explored. It amazed Eddie how Buck could fill up the silence.

Not that there was a lot of time spent sitting around in silence because Buck was active on a level that Eddie hadn’t appreciated before. His idea of relaxing at the beach included morning runs, hikes to explore the beach and surrounding parkland, fishing, rock climbing—which Eddie had forbidden until Buck received a medical release, boating, and today’s activity.

Eddie was pretty certain that biking was going to be the death of him. Gone was the simple leisurely trail they had taken Chris on during the weekend. No, this was a study in pushing yourself. Some rough terrain, uphill climbs that made his legs burn, and then the fast straight-aways like now.

Buck was ahead of him, bent low over the handlebars to reduce drag, ass in the air as his well-muscled legs pumped the pedals in a steady, trail-eating progression that was going to kill Eddie. It wasn’t the speed, endurance, or strength needed. Eddie had that to burn, even if this was giving a hard workout to muscles that he had obviously been ignoring.

But, if he had to stare at that perfect ass much longer, he was going to find out if it was possible to die of erection while biking. It was getting harder and harder to ignore his growing attraction to Buck. Eddie shook his head and determined to remove those words from his vocabulary.

“Damn it.” He braked and climbed off the bike to slowly walk it down the road. The trail had hit this section of road before it would start the last downward path back to the beach. Eddie saw that Buck had stopped ahead once he noticed Eddie wasn’t with him and now was headed back toward him.

“You ok?” Buck was looking him over, and Eddie just prayed he couldn’t see the problem.

“Yeah, just got uncomfortable suddenly, and I needed to walk it out. You don’t have to wait for me.”

“I don’t mind waiting. Was it a cramp? I’m pretty decent with massage. I could give you a hand with it.”

Eddie flushed at that thought, “No, that’s ok. No cramp, just muscles I haven’t really used in a couple years.”

“Oh, sorry about that. You were keeping up so well I didn’t think you might need a break to get a little relief.” Buck climbed off the bike and started walking next to him. “You sure you don’t want me to put some hands on the problem? Might speed up some relief for you.”

Shaking his head fiercely, Eddie bit back a groan. “No. No hands needed, thank you.” He started mentally reciting every bone in the human body, and when that didn’t work, he thought of his Aunt Andrine and the time she had visited from Sweden when he was thirteen. Some of those memories had scarred him for life.

Eddie grabbed his water bottle and took a long drink. “Sorry I interrupted your ride.”

“It’s ok. The first two-thirds of the path is the best part. This is just getting back to where we started now. The turn-off is about a quarter mile ahead, then it’s only another ten to fifteen minutes back to the beach house.” Buck looked back and forth between Eddie and the road ahead. “If you don’t think you can make it, I can ride ahead to get the car and come back around to pick you up.”

“I can make it. Just need to slow things down a bit, I think.” Eddie felt a flood of relief when things started relaxing.

They walked the bikes until the turn off onto the trail and then climbed on for a leisurely ride back to the house. Buck was staying to the side of Eddie on the path like he was watching him for an injury. Those eyes were just making him self-conscious.

Back at the house, they wiped down the bikes and stored them away. Eddie noted that Buck turned on the hot tub before going into the house and was thankful for that because his legs were going to need it. Once inside, Buck grabbed a couple bottles of a sentinel-safe sports drink and tossed one to Eddie before heading up to his shower. Eddie downed half the bottle before heading for his own.

He only toweled down enough to avoid leaving a water trail through the house and slipped into his swim trunks before heading down to the tub. The water was just a hair below too hot when he slid in and felt his muscles relax in relief. This was the best part of workouts here, and damn—he seriously wished he could install one at home, but he was pretty sure there was an exclusion in the rental agreement for any water features.

Eddie allowed himself to drift with pleasant thoughts of the day when he heard the french doors open and close. Buck’s flip flops made a clapping sound across the deck as he neared the tub and then a shuffling as he removed them.

“Thought we might like something to eat while we soaked.”

Glancing up at the tray piled high with finger foods, fruits, veggies, cheese, and crackers, Eddie smiled at Buck as he set it down on the shelf at the edge of the tub. Then Buck stood up to move back around, naked as the day he was born. Eddie’s mind blanked as all of his blood rushed to his lower extremities.

Buck was halfway in the water before Eddie could use his voice. “You’re naked,” he growled.

Buck froze, eyes wide, dick at eye level, “Oh, sorry, Eds. I didn’t even think. I usually use the tub in the nude when I’m here alone. I didn’t mean to cause an issue. I guess I can go back up and grab a pair….”

“No!” Eddie closed his eyes and took a deep breath to get his voice under control. Calmer but still with the edge of a growl, “It’s fine. Just didn’t expect it.” He pointed toward the seat when Buck looked like he was still debating leaving. “It’s no big deal, really. Just sit.”

Buck cocked his head to the side, probably confused with Eddie’s mental state because he knew for a fact he was throwing off conflicting signals and couldn’t for the life of himself control it right now. Finally, the man slowly lowered himself down onto the seat. When Eddie didn’t react any further, Buck just let himself go boneless and sink into the heat.

Eventually, he sat up and reached for some food on the tray. He started with a pineapple spear and sucked it in with a small slurp before licking the juice from his fingers.

Eddie tried to watch Buck eat out of the corner of his eye while reaching for some food himself. There was something thrilling about being dressed while knowing Buck wasn’t. It was temptation within reach, and Eddie had to shift closer to him to reach the food.

Buck grabbed a cherry and popped it in before leaning back in the water. After a moment, he pulled the pit out of his mouth and placed it on a napkin, then sighed as he chewed with his head leaned back. Eddie watched the long neck swallow before Buck reached up and pulled the stem out of his mouth, tied in a knot.

The slow burn of lust he was feeling flared and threatened to consume him. Not allowing himself time to think, Eddie moved forward to straddle Buck’s lap and leaned in for a kiss. Buck hesitated for a microsecond before moving up to meet him.

He tasted of cherries and citrus and bright wild honey that was so sweet and delicate it defied description. That first taste deepened and then flashed hot as Buck gave in and let Eddie take what he needed.

He lost himself in it and didn’t come back until he realized they were wrapped around one another, rubbing off. Buck’s bare cock dragged against Eddie’s swimsuit. It was exquisite, and Eddie wanted so much more. He wanted to drag him up to the bed and spend the day doing filthy things to each other. He wanted to have this man in his bed and in his life forever.

Forever…Eddie jerked back away from Buck, pushing at him to be let go. Fear spiked hard and killed any buzz. Buck released him and was staring in confusion. Eddie just shook his head and climbed out of the tub before heading for his room.

“Eddie? Eds? What’s wrong? Did I do something?” Buck was asking as he rushed to follow him inside.

Eddie didn’t allow himself to look back. He made it to his room door before Buck could reach him.

Buck slid a hand in the doorway before it could close. “Eds, you’re scaring me a little here. Talk to me.”

“I…” Eddie shook his head several times. His voice was rough when he ordered, “Put some clothes on, Buck.”

Rinsing off, he worked on calming himself down. He couldn’t believe he had done that. Of all the stupid moves, and with Buck of all people. Once he could breathe, Eddie dried off and found his jeans and a t-shirt.

Eddie leaned with his forehead against the door for a moment before he took a couple deep breaths and opened the door to face his demons. He found Buck in the living room, eyes red. Damn.

Buck looked up as Eddie entered the room, a storm cloud of emotion circling him. The week had gone so well, and he had to go and push and ruin everything. Blinking back the feels, Buck promised himself he wasn’t going to cry.

He tried to think what to say to make the situation better, but everything raced in his mind and came out a jumbled mess. He wasn’t sure what to do. There was no mistaking the lust Eddie was throwing off. And sure, he was being a bit of a shit, but Eddie made the first move.

Eddie moved to sit in the chair opposite him, and it felt like there was an ocean between them.

“Eds…” Buck started, uncertain where to go.

“Don’t,” Eddie closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. I never should have done that.”

Buck shook his head, “It’s my fault.”

“No,” Eddie stated firmly. He took a long breath while staring at Buck. Fear/anger/longing/want/denial ran through him, and Buck flinched. “Damn,” Eddie cursed and flashed over to regret so hard that Buck felt like he was jerked off his feet.


“Buck, I know what you were doing. I understand, and I don’t blame you. Hell, I just figured out I want it too. But I can’t give you what you want.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m not the type for a one-night stand.”

Buck felt himself shrink at the words. “That’s not what I want, Eds. I know Chim throws around all that B.S. about being the station slut or something, but that’s not….”

Eddie growled and was out of the chair and kneeling down in front of Buck in a moment. “Don’t you ever use those words to describe yourself again. You aren’t that, have never been that, and if Howard Han can’t tell the difference between a healthy sex life and selling your body for companionship, then I’ll ram the truth of it down his throat until he knows the difference.”

Buck took a shaky breath and nodded. “Got it.”

Reaching out hesitantly, Eddie placed a hand on Buck’s forearm, skin to skin. Sorry and regret flowed through him in equal measure. “I was married to a guide, Buck. She found her sentinel and left me within days of coming online. She left me while I was wounded and alone. She abandoned Christopher. All of the other factors surrounding that don’t matter. The fact that we now have a decent relationship doesn’t matter. All that matters is that when I needed my wife and partner the most, she was gone. She ripped the heart out of us, and everyone acted like we should be happy for her.”

Eddie moved his hand down to Buck’s knee. “It wasn’t malicious, but that’s what guides do. They find their sentinel and don’t hesitate to join them. The idea of finding your soulmate like that is romantic and kind of perfect, but that perfect story ignores all the wounded spirits left behind. Someday you’re going to find your sentinel, and when you do, you will leave me too.”

“That doesn’t matter, Eds. You’re my perfect match. You’re the only one I want to be with. I’m in love with you and your kid. My only dream is to have you by my side. I would never leave the two of you. You’ve got to know that. How I feel is never gonna change.”

Eddie held a hand in front of Buck’s mouth to make him stop. “There are so few Primes. I could never stand in the way of you finding that match. I want you to be happy and healthy, Buck. Damn, you’re my best friend. We are never going to lose that. No matter your status, I can have this. Chris can have this. But if I try for more…there’s so much more to lose.”

“You won’t even try?”

“I’d rather have my best friend forever than a lover that I’m destined to lose. My heart couldn’t take losing you that way, and I won’t put my son through losing another parent when it all disappears.” Eddie scrubbed at his face and stood up. “Let’s just forget that happened. We can go back to just friends and forget that we were crazy for a moment there.”

Reluctantly Buck nodded. He stood up and moved toward the door as Eddie stepped away. “Back to how we were. Sure. I’m just gonna need a minute, ya know.” He opened the door and stepped through before turning back to Eddie, “Just for the record, I’m sorry. I thought I had a chance. But I won’t push you for something you can’t give. It won’t happen again. I promise.”

Buck shut the door and headed for the beach. His thoughts a jumbled mess, even as the guide in him longed for the sentinel that wasn’t. There was this empty space inside him, and with just a kiss, he knew it was shaped like Eddie. But Eddie wasn’t online, and not even combat had changed that.

The sun was at least an hour and a half from setting as Buck walked north toward the rocks and found one to perch on out of sight of the house. He watched the waves as they swirled and foamed below and reached up to touch his lips at the remembered feel of Eddie’s mouth on his. He took a moment to remember every detail, the feeling, taste, emotion, pressure, everything that was Eddie’s passion for him. Making sure he had every detail in place, he imprinted the memory and then locked it safely away in a place he could never lose it. It may have to last him a lifetime. He had read the truth in Eddie’s conviction and knew the man would not bend. When the memory was finally safely stored away, he broke down and cried for what might never be.

It was night before he was ready to return. Eddie had burgers ready for the grill. He motioned toward the beer in the cooler and loaded up the grill as Buck approached. It was quiet and awkward at first, neither knowing what to say. But the thread of friendship remained, and that was something they could both hold on to.

The rest of the week was filled with starts and stops as they worked hard to get back to the easy banter that was normal for them. If they took pains to sit a little apart, that was ok. The sudden silence when subjects got a little too close was uncomfortable but expected. Buck swallowed his frustration and pushed to make things as natural for Eddie as he could. The subject that could always bring them around was Christopher.

“Buck, when we get back, will you help me research bicycles for kids with CP? Chris was having a blast on that side-by-side, and I wonder if I’m missing some opportunities for him to experience things like that.” Eddie asked as he was inventorying the perishables they needed to use before they left.

“Sure, Eds. We probably need to ask his doctor and physical therapist for their opinions, but worst case, we can find one of those bikes so he can ride with us.” Buck smiled at the thought of taking some of the trails around the city. “You know, there’s a place in the city that has indoor rock climbing. I know the family that owns it, and they do sessions with kids with disabilities. Oh, and there is a surf school that works with CP kids to teach swimming and surfing. They do tandem surfing with them, so they’re safe, but they’ve received a lot of good press. I bet we could get him into that.”

“I’m not so sure about the swimming, Buck.”

Buck gave Eddie a judgy look. “You live by an ocean. You know how fast things can go wrong, even in a pool. The kid needs basic water safety, just in case. Any little bit can help keep him alive until help gets to him.”

Eddie held up his hands in supplication, “Fine, ok, you’ve got me. I just worry you know. I want him to be strong and independent, but there is a piece of me that worries that something as simple as water is the way I’m going to lose him someday. It’s not rational, I know that.”

“Then we take every way you’re worried about losing him, and we give him the training and skills to keep him alive. And we do it in a way that he doesn’t fear to live.”

Eddie held up a hand and cocked his head to the side. “Are we expecting anyone?”

“No. I have the place reserved until Sunday noon.”

They headed for the front door, Eddie making sure he was in front of Buck. A black SUV with the S&G Center markings on the door pulled into view. Buck held up a hand to shade the glare of the sun as he spotted Sentinel Hunter Weldon and his guide, Adan Walcott. They worked Special Projects for the Center now but have a background in private security.

“You know them?”

“Yeah, they work for the Center.” Buck waited as the two men exited the vehicle and walked up to the house. “Hunter, Adan, didn’t expect you two out here. I reserved the house until Sunday.”

Adan nodded, “We’re aware. Director Moreno informed us.” Adan looked to Hunter, who had his head cocked to the side, listening as his eyes moved around, noting every movement. Finally, Hunter nodded and relaxed. “Evan, can we talk?” He looked toward Eddie, “Alone?”

Buck looked at Eddie, who eventually shrugged, and Buck motioned with his head inside. He took Adan through the house to the back deck before starting down toward the beach.

“What’s up?”

“Soldiers of Justice have struck again.”

Buck felt his body jerk. “Anyone hurt?”

Adan looked away a moment before nodding. “Car bomb went off in Michigan. Couple of unbonded guides carpooling to the Center for training classes. They died instantly. The Crimes against S&G Unit in the FBI is investigating. We don’t want to draw attention to anyone, but you’ve got to know the Community is going to worry about you.”

Buck rubbed his face in frustration. “I know. Shit, I get it. We need to head back now?”

“No. There’s been no sign of activity on the West Coast. Traditionally those guys stick to the East Coast and Midwest. It’s where the politicians pay attention.” Adan scratched the five o’clock shadow on his chin. “No one is looking for you, and only a handful know where you are. This is probably the safest place for you right now. They were just worried that you were out here without security and not even an online sentinel to give a warning.”

“Great, so I just earned me babysitters again.” Buck glanced at his phone. No new messages. “Do I need to call them?”

“Nope. In fact, it’s probably best that you not call anyone while you’re out here. As long as the two of you are agreeable, we can relax tomorrow and stay close to the house, then return on Saturday. Your brother has already approved us moving in until the threat has passed.”

“Fine. But I have to talk to Eddie. He needs to know what is going on if he’s going to be near me.” Buck glanced back over the waves, working to balance his shields.

“I understand. Hunter is reviewing information about security procedures now. We have a briefing about JOS prepared for you. He can sit in on it.” Adan turned to start walking back.

“I know a lot of people don’t understand our friendship….”

“Please, Evan. There’s not a guide in L.A. that wouldn’t want to take a ride on that. And frankly, I don’t believe the rumors that he has P.E.L. Anyone who can see his aura can’t possibly believe that sentinel’s never coming online. I don’t know what it will take to get him there, but someday he’s going to blow and blow high.”

Buck shook his head and followed. “Just don’t mention that to him. He’s stuck in the belief that he can’t come online, and any talk about it just makes him angry. I’m just not willing to fight with him and the people who think I need to settle.”

“What do they know? I was with Hunter for almost five years before he blew wide open. All those assholes who told me I couldn’t recognize my sentinel in a latent are still eating crow.” Adan reached out and wrapped an arm around Buck’s waist. “Just do what you need to hang onto him until he’s ready for you.”



Chapter Nine

“Dad,” Christopher looked up from his cereal with a serious expression on his face. “Do you and Buck not like each other anymore?”

Eddie turned from the counter where he was fixing his coffee to stare at his son. “Where did you get that idea?”

“Buck doesn’t come over for dinner anymore. The only time I see him is at the Center and at that birthday party for Captain Nash.” He ate another spoonful of cereal and swallowed before he continued. “And he hasn’t done anything fun with us for two whole months. I miss him.”

Circling the table, Eddie gave his son a kiss on the head. “I miss having him around weekends, too. But no, Buck and I are still best friends. He just has a lot of adult things to do recently when he’s not at work. That’s why he stops by to see you at the Center. He doesn’t want to miss everything with you, so he sees you when and where he can.”

“Can we invite him over? We could have a movie night, and I’d even let him pick out the movie.”

Eddie sighed, “We can invite him, but don’t be disappointed if he can’t come over yet.”


“Yes, mijo?”

“Did Buck find his sentinel like Mommy?”

Eddie closed his eyes and stamped down on the pain. “No, sweetheart. Buck hasn’t found his sentinel yet. He’s just really, really busy.”

“But you will ask him?”

“Yes, I’ll ask him. Now finish up your breakfast so I can take you to school. Remember, you’re taking the bus to the Center and staying two nights in Sanctuary while I work this double.”

“I know. It’s ok that you have to work. Dale’s happy I’m staying. He has to stay a whole week because his daddy found his sentinel, and they are bonding. He said bonding is sex stuff which is gross, but he’s happy his dad finally has a sentinel. Only now he’s gonna have to move all the way to Australia.” Chris pouted, “I don’t like it when people go away.”

Eddie had heard all about that bonding. The sentinel was visiting from Australia to view Sanctuary since it was the most progressive S&G child care center in the country. He had already visited others in Germany, Japan, and Brazil as he worked on a proposal for upgrading Australia’s centers. Dale’s father had been dropping his son off when they ran into each other…literally. “It’s sad when people leave. But he is going on an adventure to a new place where he has a big new family waiting to meet him. I heard he has two sisters and a brother there.”

“Yeah. But he will forget me.”

“No, you don’t forget the people you have to leave. And you won’t forget Dale, will you? If you don’t want to lose the people you leave behind, then you have to make an effort to keep in touch. You can write him, and I can share my email with his father so you can send pictures and video.”

“That would be good.” Chris swirled his remaining cereal with his spoon. “Abuelo and Grandma said they want my pictures, too.”

Eddie’s whole body tensed, “When did you speak to them?”

“When Tia Sophia called to tell Tia Pepa Happy Birthday. She let me talk when she had to go to the kitchen. Tia Sophia put the phone on speaker and let them talk to me.”

“She did, did she?” Pepa and Sophia were both gonna get a piece of his mind.

“They told me that they missed me and I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help to come home to them. I told them that was silly because home is with you. Abuelo told me that I couldn’t trust you because you were letting guides get into your head and make you do things. He said guides can’t be trusted.”

Eddie growled, “They’re wrong, mijo.”

“I know. I told them that I trust Buck. He’s a guide, and he is my best friend. They got really angry and yelled. That’s when Tia Pepa came back in and took the phone away. She yelled a lot too.”

Eddie rubbed his face with his hands and tamped down on his anger before addressing his son. “Christopher, I don’t want you to speak to your grandparents again unless I am in the room with you. If you hear them on the phone, then I want you to leave the room. They are angry and confused people, and I don’t want them trying to confuse you too. We both know sentinels and guides are great. We know we can trust guides like your Mom and Buck.”

“And Ms. Carla.”

“And Ms. Carla.” Eddie smiled, “I also don’t want you talking to Tia Sophia until I say it’s ok since she let them speak to you like that. I will talk to her and Tia Pepa, so don’t worry about them. Can you do that for me?”

Chris bobbed his head up and down while he took another bite, so Eddie just tapped the table and then left the room to turn off lights in the rest of the house. By the time he was back in the kitchen, Chris was carefully putting his bowl in the sink. Eddie washed it while Chris headed for the front door.

It was a short trip to drop Chris off then Eddie headed to the firehouse. He took the opportunity of the drive to call his sister and explain to her that he didn’t appreciate her giving his parents access to his kid. She flipped between apologetic and defensive. He refused to let himself get upset while driving, just informed her of his displeasure, and set his rules for future contact. If she couldn’t respect that, he would cut her off.

He turned off the engine and tried to get his temper under control before he grabbed his bag and headed in to change for work. He was really hoping to get some time with the bag to let this out before they got a callout. B Shift was down four men due to a rubbernecker at an accident scene. They had floaters coming in next week to cover until the crew was back, but there had been this shift to get through, and Buck had volunteered. Something deep down in Eddie insisted on working whenever Buck was on shift, so he had taken one as well. That left Biggs and Roberts for the other two.

Eddie didn’t think Captain Reynolds was read in on that situation. With the SOJ acting up with their hate crimes against guides, the Regional Primes had quietly ordered protection for high-level unbonded guides. There were none higher than Buck. In an effort to protect him without drawing a target on his back, he had an S&G team as houseguests for security at home and at night. At work, they had reassigned Guide Sean Biggs and his Sentinel Roland Roberts to work on their shift. They were former Army Rangers who worked on one of the SAR teams.

There were the usual changeover conversations as C Shift raced to leave. Reynolds gave everyone updates on their men and issued assignments. The morning was slow, and they were kept busy with the usual cleaning and maintenance. As the day wore on, Eddie developed a little itch in his gut that had him arranging his work so that Buck remained in his line of sight.

Lunch was interrupted by the start of a succession of callouts of the child stuck in a… variety. It was amazing what little kids could crawl into when you took your eye off them long enough to buy a ticket or pay for a soda. Buck was an expert at disassembling those coin crane game machines.

While they were extracting the toddler, Captain Reynolds sent one of the guys across the street to the Deli to pick up some sandwiches and salads.

Buck chatted with the toddler a moment before walking him to Mom. The ambulance was waiting to do a quick once-over, but the kid didn’t have a scratch on him. Eddie traded a look with Buck when Mom gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek, but Buck just blushed and shrugged.

“I’ve taken us off rotation for thirty,” Captain Reynolds said as they were walking out with their tools. “Food’s across the street. Let’s grab a bite before we get our next call. The full moon madness has started early today.”

“Statistically, there is no significance to full moon shifts over any other normal shift when examined nationwide,” Buck started as they found a table and grabbed one of the meals. “But the 118 has consistently broken that curve since I started as a probie.”

Eddie laughed when Biggs quipped, “So you’re saying today is all your fault, and if you weren’t working here, the full moon would be just another day?”

“Maybe I’m saying the 118 zone is cursed,” Buck replied with a grin as he dug into the salad.

“I believe it.” Reynolds reached for a napkin and shook his head, “Buckland is going to be out for at least six months for rehab on that leg. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t lose it when that idiot hit them.”

Eddie flinched at the thought. Lee “Leeward” Buckland was about the same height as Buck, but their similarities ended there. Leeward had a dark complexion and a runner’s build.

Roberts shook his head sadly, “It’ll be a hard road for him. Not being able to run is going to get to him fast. I hope the department is taking care of him.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve got him covered. And he has a terrific support network at home.”

“I heard you had two close misses earlier in the day.” Biggs reached across his sentinel to grab one of the potato salads on the table.

“Yeah,” one of the guys at the next table leaned back. “Had a vehicle fire earlier in the day, and some drunk was swerving all over the road. Came close to hitting Leeward then.”

“And there was that delivery van that almost sideswiped the engine when we were getting out. Blew through the accident scene and never even slowed down. Leeward had a lot of close calls recently.”

“Wow, talk about bad luck. It almost sounds like something out of a movie.” Buck shook his head and turned back to his meal.

Eddie leaned in and said lowly, “Speaking of movie…Christopher insisted I invite you over for dinner and a movie. He said he misses you.”

Buck paused, looking sad for a moment before leaning back against Eddie’s shoulder, “I really wish I could, but I don’t want to accidentally draw attention to your house.”

“I know. I told him you were busy with adult stuff, but I didn’t want you waylaid next time you visited the kids at the Center. I don’t want to lie to Chris, but I don’t want him to worry about you either.”

“I agree. Give me some time to think of something.” Buck shook his head, “There’s got to be a way to do something safely.”

Eddie put a hand on Buck’s arm and squeezed sightly, “I’m willing to do whatever we have to because you know I hate to see my kid sad.”

“My special sunbeam should never have a storm cloud,” Buck huffed. “I’ll think of something.”

The Captain’s radio squawked. Eddie saw Roberts cock his head to the side before he started picking up his trash, so Eddie followed suit.

“We’ve got a call. Toddlers stuck in a fence.” Reynolds threw away his own remnants and headed for the truck.

“Toddlers, Cap?”

“Twins with heads stuck in the fence.”

And they were off again, call after call. Twins became jumper became kitchen knife accident. Dog attack became kitchen fire. After a while, they all started to blend together. They finally dragged their way back into the firehouse and showered before wolfing down a reheated lasagna that the man behind had made. Eddie barely tasted it before he climbed into the bunk next to Buck’s.

He should feel lucky they got a full three hours of sleep before the alarms rang out. But his sleep was restless. That buzzing in his gut kept waking him up to make sure Buck was still there.

It was half past two in the morning when the alarms rang out again. They loaded up and were off to a three-car accident in a dark intersection with the lights out. Everyone spread out to assess injuries in all the vehicles.

It looked like one car was t-boned on both sides as it passed through the intersection. The cars had spun around, but the middle car was sparking, and no airbags deployed, so Eddie was working fast to disable the airbags and electrical so the team could move in to check the driver. A small electrical fire had started, so he called out for an extinguisher as soon as it was disconnected.

The doors were a mangled mess, but Biggs was able to climb in through the rear hatch and over the seats to reach the driver.

“We’ve got a pulse,” he called out as soon as he reached him.

One of the paramedics climbed in after him with a cervical collar and backboard. The two of them shifted position so that Sean was in the back seat assisting.

Eddie stepped back when Roberts appeared with the extinguisher and noticed Buck jogging back with the Halligan. He glanced over to see that the door wasn’t budging, and the frame had twisted when it was crushed. He called out over his shoulder, “I’ll get the jaws,” and headed back to the engine.

The moment Eddie’s hands touched the tool, the itch in his gut turned into an inferno. To the east, he heard the sound of an engine suddenly rev up and looked in that direction but saw no headlights. He dropped everything and headed back for the car when suddenly Roland Roberts shouted, “Evan!” and launched himself at Buck in a flying tackle.

Eddie’s heart flew into his throat as a black van came out of nowhere from the east and struck the car where Buck had been standing. Eddie raced back and reached Buck and Roberts, still down on the ground.

“Buck!” Eddie moved in to assess them, Roberts was still covering Buck and wasn’t moving, but Buck’s eyes were open. “Talk to me, Buck.”

“I’m ok. Don’t move him. I think the van clipped him on the way down.” Buck said quickly as Eddie reached for a pulse. “He’s alive, just unconscious.”

“Ok, stay here and don’t move. Are you sure you’re not in any pain?”

“A few bruises and maybe a little road rash, but nothing more than that.”

Eddie squeezed Buck’s ankle to let him know he understood, not that he wasn’t going to check him out as soon as possible. He checked the scene around him. Everyone was focused on the new injuries. When he spotted Captain Reynolds, he called out for assistance and was relieved when the man ran back to get the gear himself.

“What’ve we got, Diaz?”

“Buck is reporting ok. Roberts is unconscious and unresponsive.” Eddie reached for the collar and got to work.

“Cap,” Buck asked from below, “Any word on Sean? His shields are all over the place, and he’s fighting me on helping him.”

“He was on this side supporting the victim when it hit. He’s in and out of consciousness and fighting to get to his sentinel when awake.” Reynolds looked back toward the vehicle, “You don’t worry about Biggs. Just stay still and let us work around you. You got that, Meyrick?”

“Crystal, sir.” Buck took a few shallow breaths, “But no can do on the worry. He’s one of my guides. It’s really important right now that as few people as possible touch him. His sentinel isn’t able to support the natural shields he has, and every touch is an intrusion. It will destabilize his shields more. No drugs. Unless the responder is S&G certified, normal drugs can cause deadly reactions when they’re compromised.”

“I’ve ordered a couple S&G ambulances,” Reynolds assured him.

“You can’t separate them!”

“They won’t,” Eddie tapped him. “I’ll make sure. Now we are ready to move him off of you. Stay still, and let us do the work. You know the drill. You don’t move until I can check you too.”

“I know, but I’m fine, Eds.”

“And you know adrenaline can hide a whole mess of fine, so do as you’re told,” Eddie replied.

They worked quickly to move Roberts and had him strapped down and ready for transport in no time. Buck started to move, and a single hand on his chest from Eddie was enough to make him stay in place. By the time Eddie confirmed Buck was safe to move, Reynolds and Biggs had been loaded up and carted off.

The driver of the van had been practically soaked in alcohol and barely had a scratch on him. He hadn’t fought the arrest, and Eddie had no desire to get near the man unless it was to rip him limb from limb.

Police were all over the scene, controlling access and taking all kinds of measurements. Eddie was a little disappointed that the Police Sargent who showed up to take over the investigation wasn’t Athena Grant because he at least knew and trusted her. Not to say the other officers weren’t trustworthy, but his gut was still burning, and he felt himself twitch whenever one of them got near Buck.

It was taking forever for them to speak to each of them. As soon as he finished his own statement, Eddie moved over next to Buck on the back of the engine where Reynolds had ordered him to sit.

“And you’re certain you didn’t see the vehicle before it struck?”

Buck shook his head, “I was focused on creating an opening in the door. Either to open it on my own or to create an opening that we could use the jaws to extract the victim. I didn’t see anything.”

“Anything else to add that could be helpful?”

“The driver of the van felt scared but determined just before he hit. When everyone was running around checking the injured, he was emoting an immense amount of satisfaction. But that turned to anger when he was handcuffed while we were putting Biggs and Roberts in the ambulance.”

“He felt… You’re a guide?”

“Yes.” Buck frowned, “That shouldn’t be a problem for your report. The Center can verify my ability to give accurate empathic readings under duress if there is a concern about whether my impressions are admissible.”

The Sargent nodded, “I’ll get a copy of your certification for my files.” He looked back over his shoulder. “If you could wait here until I finish getting statements in case I need any clarification.”

“Sure.” Buck waited until he left before turning to Eddie. “I promise I’m not hiding injuries from you if that’s why you’re sticking to me.”

“I know you’re not. It was a close call. I just really don’t want to go far.” Eddie winced at how lame that sounded. “I didn’t realize you had time to get a read on the drunk before he hit.”

Buck just looked at him a moment, then shrugged, “I didn’t deliberately scan him. It’s just that before everything happened, you screamed my name. I mean Evan, not Buck. You’ve never done that before, so I opened myself for impressions. I caught him in the general scan. It was just enough time for a flash of emotion, really.”

“You don’t normally let your empathy out to play at a scene.”

“Well, I always get a general read of an area. I can’t really help myself there. But yeah, once I have that, I usually shield pretty damn hard because feeling their fear and pain while working isn’t a good way to get the job done. If I were bonded, it would be different because my sentinel would anchor my shields, and I wouldn’t have to worry as much about getting stuck in that crap. There are times when more power is detrimental, so I have to police my boundaries aggressively.”

Eddie nodded, “I can see that. Though you are great at calming a victim when we need it.”

“It’s one of the first things a guide instinctively learns. How to encourage those around them to provide a pleasant empathic environment. It’s not manipulation, just a positive feedback loop. Throwing calm into the area lets people feel more relaxed, and as they calm down, they emote it back at you.”

“It’s a little manipulative, isn’t it? I don’t mean that in a bad way.”

“No, it’s not. Look, I could use the Guide Voice and force everyone to stop and listen. But that is a sledgehammer. And I have the ability to empathically manipulate you. I mean, I could reach out and deliberately force you to feel calm even if you are determined to be angry. It’s a skill that only high-level guides can do. But that’s not what I’m describing. I’m just setting up an atmosphere where it is easy to achieve calm. You could choose to continue being a raging asshole. I’m not stopping you.”

“Ok, I get it. So you’re saying sometimes I’m a raging asshole?”

“Hell, Eddie, sometimes everyone is a raging asshole…except Christopher.”

“I don’t look forward to his teenage years. He keeps saying he wants to be like me, and that’s where I earned that merit badge.”

Buck turned and pointed at Eddie, “You take that back. That boy is sunshine wrapped in rainbows. You are not allowed to infect him with assholery.”

“Meyrick! Diaz!” Reynolds called out.

Eddie and Buck jogged over to him.

“We’re almost done here. I got a call from E.G. Connors Medical Center, Roberts woke up, and they can’t get him to cooperate until he sees that Buck’s ok. Look, this is the second time this has happened this week, and everyone is on edge. We’ve only got three hours left on shift before our four-day break, so dispatch will redirect our calls unless something majorly fucked up happens. Diaz, I want you to drive Meyrick over there and get Roberts calmed down. You two take the Captain’s car. Then get back to the station and try to get some sleep since I know you two still have to work a shift.”

“Will do, Cap.” Eddie latched onto Buck’s arms and gave a tug toward the vehicle.

Two hours later, they had gotten an update on Biggs and calmed Roberts down enough that he was ready to cooperate. Connors Medical had one of the best S&G-certified trauma centers in the country, so they didn’t hesitate to accept Buck’s help with the pair. Eddie gave everyone an update while Buck headed to the showers. He was already asleep by the time Eddie made it to the bunk room.

Eddie watched his friend sleep and knew he could do the same, but that itch in his gut wasn’t gone, and he couldn’t bring himself down off alert long enough to relax. So he sat in the dark, listened to B-Shift as they moved around the station, and watched Buck’s breath move in and out in a gentle rhythm.



Shift changed with little fanfare. Eddie didn’t bother to move until Bobby stuck his head in the bunk room and motioned him out after looking them both over.

“How is he?” Bobby asked, and Eddie noted Hen and Chimney coming up behind him.

“Exhausted but just a few minor bruises from last night. Biggs had a pretty bad concussion and a broken arm that we know of. Roberts has a cracked collarbone and some seriously impressive bruising on his back and leg. They were keeping him for observation to rule out any internal injuries.”

Hen leaned against the wall, “I heard it knocked him unconscious.”

Eddie shook his head, “No, he zoned out trying to find his guide’s heartbeat. Medical was able to bring him out of it.”

Bobby cocked his head to the side. “I’ve reviewed the call log from yesterday. Did you get any sleep?”

“An hour, maybe two?” Eddie shrugged, “Buck dropped off as soon as we got back, but that was only an hour ago. I’m still keyed up, so…”

“Ok, B-Shift didn’t have a chance to restock properly, so I’ve got us on stand down for a couple hours to take care of that. After that, I’m assigning you and Buck as man behind for the rest of the morning unless it’s a heavy rescue callout that I need you two. So get back in there and try to get some sleep. I get you’re keyed up, but lay down and try to rest.” Bobby reached out and gave Eddie a squeeze on the shoulder to emphasize his point before turning to leave.

Eddie traded nods with Hen and Chim before returning to the bunk room and his Buck watching duties.

When Buck woke a couple hours later, they wandered into the loft to grab some breakfast. Eddie forced himself to eat some toast, but his stomach was twisting, and he honestly didn’t think he would keep anything heavier down.

Bobby reiterated his morning orders with Buck and handed them the clipboard to start the inventory with orders to let him know if they needed more sleep.

Sleep was the furthest thing from Eddie’s thoughts. He found himself vibrating with energy every time they tried to sit still. Nothing he did seemed to help. When he was up, he was pacing. Unable to contain this feeling that they were still on the edge of danger.

What was absolutely horrible was that every time Buck headed for the engine, Eddie rerouted him to another chore. He knew Buck could see right through him, but for the life of him, he couldn’t make himself stop. Something deep within insisted that Buck needed to stay the hell away from the engine.

It was half past ten when Bobby put the firehouse back into service. Eddie pretended he didn’t hear Bobby and Buck discussing his behavior. But he realized he needed to do something about this, or he was going to find himself man behind for the day with Buck out in the field without him, and that was unacceptable.

It was ten till eleven before they received a callout that had the crew racing for the vehicles. A huge wave of relief washed through Eddie when the engine pulled out of the firehouse and away from Buck.

“Hey, Eds?”

He whirled around to see Buck staring at him with an odd look in his eye


Buck leaned back against one of the shelving units. “You’ve been on edge since we got back from the hospital. You know Bobby isn’t going to let you out of here unless you get at least a couple hours sleep.”

“I know, but I just can’t relax.”

“Well, it doesn’t take two of us to finish the inventory. Why don’t you go spend some time in the gym on the heavy bag and work out some of this? Maybe if you exhaust yourself, you can catch a little sleep before they get back.”

Eddie started to shake his head no before he stopped himself to consider. It really wasn’t a bad idea. He was a little more relaxed with everyone gone, but he was still running on an energy high that he couldn’t explain. Eddie gave a nod, “Sounds like a plan. Come get me if you need anything.”

He headed for the locker room before he could change his mind. Once he was changed and geared up, he put himself through a quick warm-up and then went to work. When he realized he was kind of all over the place, he stepped away and headed to the radio to find one of his favorite playlists and turned up the volume until he could feel the beat through his body. This time when he returned to the bag, he let himself move with the music until it took over.

Eddie lost track of time as his body loosened up and started moving like a precision instrument, striking exactly where and when he wanted on the bag. Then something threw him off. He reached out and steadied the bag as he tried to figure out what was throwing off his rhythm. It was like there was a quick staccato beat ramping up through the music that didn’t belong. Then a flash of fear/warning seemed to flow over him, and he could swear he tasted/smelled blood.

He dove behind the door as it opened, and a man looked in but didn’t enter. He had a fucking 9mm in hand. A sudden calm overcame Eddie, and he waited for the man to move on before he slipped out of the gym and watched him return to the vehicle bay.

“No one’s in there. It’s just music playing.” 9mm told another guy who was holding a Desert Eagle awkwardly pointed at Buck, who was on the floor with his arms tied behind his back. Trickles of blood were running from Buck’s temple, and he had a split lip.

“Did you check the rest of the building?” Desert Eagle asked.

“No, I checked the gym.”

A sound on the stairs had Eddie looking up. A man with a military haircut descended slowly. “There is no one in the kitchen. Can we get this over with, please? The last thing we need is a civilian walking in on us.”

“We’ll finish when I say we finish.” Desert Eagle turned to 9mm, “Logan, go check the building; we’re not leaving a witness behind that can ID us. That won’t help the cause.”

“Like letting my brother get arrested last night was a help to the cause.”

“Your brother is a screw-up. He was supposed to kill this piece of shit guide whore. Instead, he didn’t leave a mark on him.”

“Well, he took out the sentinel and guide that was with him, didn’t he?”

Military haircut scoffed, “My contacts tell me they’ll recover. So, he’s a failure that is now a liability.”

“Enough!” Desert Eagle barked. “This ends today. I have left this to you incompetents long enough. Three tries to kill this filth, and you’ve gone after the wrong one every time.”

“How were we to know that the Buck they were talking about wasn’t Buckland? He fit the description.”

“I don’t want to hear about it. Search the damn building, and then we will end this unholy blight.”

“Fine.” Logan kicked Buck, and Eddie forced back a growl, “I’ll search the damn building. Why don’t you make Bohrman do something productive?”

Eddie faded back down the hall and then pulled himself up onto a piece of equipment. A mantra was playing through his mind. Release fear, release regret. These men are a danger to the tribe and a danger to the guide. They are not redeemable, and the danger must be eliminated. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then slowly let it out.

The airflow around him altered, and the one called Logan stepped below him, out of sight of the vehicle bay. Eddie silently lowered himself behind the man and broke his neck in a sudden move. He didn’t hesitate as he pulled the body further out of sight and then removed the weapon.

Armed, he took a chance and slipped into the locker room, where he had left his phone on the bench. He placed the phone on silent then moved to a position where he could still see Buck.

“Why the fuck couldn’t you just die the way you were supposed to?”

“How do you want to do it?”

“He’s supposed to be their strongest, right? Their most powerful? We need to make a statement.”

“If you’d had patience, we would be making a statement with that bomb I planted on the fire engine.”

“Well, he wasn’t on the damn engine, was he? He’s a slippery eel that just keeps dodging everything.”

“They couldn’t keep him here forever. Sooner or later, he would have been on the damn engine, and we could have blown him straight to hell where his kind belong. You had to jump the gun and race back here when he wasn’t on it.”

“They inspect those damn vehicles all the time. They would have found it before we had another chance. You rigged it at the accident last night, and they sent him off in another vehicle. He wasn’t riding it this morning. We can’t wait any longer. Suffer not a guide to live among us. It is scripture, and we must obey.”

“Fine, then we do it right. He’s in a firehouse, isn’t he? Then we let him burn.”

Eddie’s fingers flew across his phone, sending a message to Athena. 3 ARMED MEN AT 118 TO KILL BUCK. 1 DEAD. BOMB ON 118 ENGINE.

“You don’t have to do…” Buck’s voice was cut off.

“Shut the fuck up! Don’t try to use that guide voice crap on us.” Desert Eagle hit Buck on the head with the butt of his gun and then wrapped his arm around Buck’s throat. “Manipulating the hearts and souls of righteous people. Forcing our boys to fornicate with the same sex. Leading them straight to hell. We can’t save the ones who have already been led to bond their souls with you filth, but we can stop you from taking any more of them.”

Eddie moved slowly from cover to cover, ever closer to danger, ever closer to guide. He felt the slight vibration of a subvocal growl deep in his chest. How dare they harm the guide. How dare they harm Buck.

Suddenly the vehicle bay doors started to open, and Eddie could see the engine on the street in front of the station. A police cruiser screeched to a stop in front of the door, blocking the engine from backing in. Vaguely he noted Sgt Athena Grant fly out of her vehicle toward the engine, ordering them all out and away from the building.

More vehicles were arriving behind her, but Eddie’s attention was focused on Buck and the two remaining men. Buck was struggling and barely getting enough breath.

Athena was talking, he caught her voice rise and fall in orders, but that arm tightened across Buck’s throat. Desert Eagle shouted back at her and all of the armed officers behind her. Demands, threats, pulling Buck up and back to cover him.

The one he called Bohrman had moved out of the line of fire and was trying to slip out of the room while desperately searching his pockets for something. Eddie’s gut flamed over, and he rushed him, tackling him to the ground. Somehow he knew that the man mustn’t find whatever he was searching for. Bohrman kicked him off and was up in a flash. Eddie rolled out of the way and up to his feet when Bohrman spun to kick him. Suddenly the fight was on, and they were trading strikes, punches, and kicks in rapid-fire succession.

Eddie noted that the slight limp from before was a weak knee. He altered his strikes to lull him into false security, then lashed out viciously at the knee. The moment he was down, Eddie was on him, striking again and again before raising up and sending a kick to the head that ended the fight.

He didn’t stop to check if he was merely unconscious or dead. Eddie had a greater mission. He turned back toward Buck and Desert Eagle, who was waving the gun back and forth between the police, Eddie, and Buck. Eddie barely saw it. His attention focused on the way Buck’s lips were turning blue.

Inside, it felt like an animal was clawing at a door in his mind trying desperately to get out. Desperately to get to Buck. Eddie approved. He felt his shoulders drop, and his hands widened. He shifted forward on the balls of his feet as he moved fluidly toward the gunman like a big cat stalking his prey.

Voices yelled, but he didn’t hear. The only sound was the absence of Buck’s breath. A flash of smoke and a burn along his arm barely registered as he launched himself at the gunman and ripped him away from Buck. The man raised the gun toward Eddie and suddenly jerked back as multiple bullets hit him, and he fell.

Eddie turned his back on him, focused on the guide. More moved in. Weapons near his guide. He growled in anger and started to rise once more, reaching for the weapon in his pocket. A stinging sensation struck him in the thigh. He reached down and pulled out the object, which was a red-tipped dart.

He growled again as another dart hit him in the arm. He looked up and took a step toward the offender.

Athena stared him down, tranq gun in her hand, “Sorry, baby.” Then she shot another into his shoulder.

He stumbled, knowing he was going down and needed to get back…to protect…. Eddie’s legs went out from under him, and he fell then tried to crawl towards Buck as his limbs went leaden around him. People were moving in. People he should recognize. People forcing oxygen into Buck, touching, evaluating. He growled, but it sounded more like a whimper as the animal trying to break down that door inside stared at him through the cracks before it slowed and stopped. Then darkness took him.



Eddie woke in soft restraints. The light was dimmed, and the soft sound of ocean waves was barely heard in the background. A familiar voice was reading aloud from a chapter of Dune.

He turned his head to look, and Daniel stopped reading and moved closer.

“How are you tracking, Eddie?”

“Daniel? Where am I?”

“You’re at the L.A. Center. This is one of the sentinel ISO rooms. You with us now?”

“Why am I restrained?”

Daniel looked at him a moment. “When they brought you in, they were certain you had flipped online in a feral drive. They’ve had to sedate you twice. But their tests show you’re still latent. They are keeping you restrained until they are certain you are in control and won’t hurt yourself or others.”

Eddie thought of that and felt a flashback to waking up in Germany. “What happened?”

“What do you remember last?”

Eddie tried to think, but things were a bit hazy. “I couldn’t sleep. I was working out. Buck was working on inventory.” Eddie coughed a little, his throat dry.

Daniel turned toward the sink in the corner and filled a pitcher with water. He filled a small cup and grabbed a straw. “Here. Do you remember anything else?”

Eddie took a drink, and the cold water felt wonderful on his throat. He swallowed it down, and an image of Buck with blue lips and bruises forming around his throat flashed in his mind. Eddie jerked, trying to rise. “Buck!”

“Calm down.” The cup disappeared.

“Is Buck ok? Where is he?”

“Eddie…Eddie…” A hand on his forehead pressed gently, and Daniel moved over him. “Eddie, look at me. If you don’t calm down, they are going to come sedate your ass again. I think thirty-six hours of that is enough, don’t you? Now calm down and listen to me.”

The voice had just enough similarity to Buck that Eddie forced himself to take a breath and stop.

“Better. Now Evan is ok. Do you hear me? He has a lot of bruising on his throat and won’t be talking for at least a week. He needed a few stitches on his scalp, and it’s a good thing that kid has a hard head. But he is going to be just fine. No lasting injuries.” Daniel kept his voice calm and light.

“I need to see him. Where is he?” Eddie looked down at the restraints and tugged lightly, frustrated.

Daniel shook his head. “I’m sorry, Eddie. The Primes ordered him into protective custody. He is safe, but they won’t tell us where they took him. Evan asked me to look after you, but they are going to keep him until the threat has passed.”

“He’s gone?”

“Yeah, he wanted to talk to you first, but they didn’t give him a choice. They have a lead on the Soldiers of Justice leadership who started this and want Evan under wraps until they track them all down.” He patted Eddie on the arm. “I’m going to go get the Doc and see if we can get you out of those restraints and into the shower. You need it.”

Eddie nodded and watched him go, feeling like a chasm was opening.  Buck needed protection, and Eddie couldn’t be part of it. He stared up at the ceiling and, for the first time in his life, was sorry he wasn’t online.



Chapter Ten

“This is complete bullshit!”

“Evan Buckley Meyrick, you will not speak to your mother like that!”

Evan thudded his head back against the padded headboard and let out a strangled yell of pure frustration. He took two deep breaths and then looked back toward the screen. “I’m sorry, Mom. You didn’t deserve that language.”

“Evan, honey, we all know that this isn’t natural for you. But for the safety of the community and the tribe, we need you to stay where you are.” Mom was shifting back and forth between Mom and East Coast Prime as she spoke. “Twenty-two latent sentinels came online in L.A. in response to your attempted murder.”

Yeah, everyone but the one sentinel he wants. He could feel the sentinel in Eddie pacing around the damn firehouse all damn day. It seemed like it was with them in the room when the attack happened. Then they tranq’d Eddie, and it withdrew, back behind the damn door keeping it in check.

“The FBI has gone all in on locating these people, and they have classified them a domestic terrorist organization. They have captured most of them and are closing in on the outliers.” Mom continued, “We finally were able to get crimes against sentinels and guides included as a hate crime. Between terrorism and hate crimes, we are certain they will pay for what they have done. If nothing else, it gives the leverage to get some of them to talk. I promise they will get you home as soon as possible.”

Evan sighed, “It’s been three months with no contact.”

“I know you miss Daniel and Maddie, but they understand the safety requirements.”

“Yes, but no one will tell me how Eddie and Christopher are doing. Hell, you at least let me say goodbye to Daniel before they took me, but no one would let me into Eddie’s room.”

Mom and Dad stared at each other on the screen before Dad spoke, “Evan, you can’t have contact with the Diaz family during the investigation. The one piece of this the FBI has found that they are keeping confidential for now is that the Soldiers of Justice have been traced to West Texas. Their members all seem to be part of a radical Hands of Salvation offshoot.”

Evan felt the blood drain from his face. “Eddie’s parents?”

“They are a true piece of work, but they aren’t SOJ. The FBI has determined that while they were not involved, they did provide the SOJ with your name and location.” Dad nodded when Evan felt his mouth fall open. “It seems that they have been complaining to friends, who we now know are leading members of the SOJ, about the unbonded guide who is corrupting their son and grandson.”

“Eddie would never…he knows the importance of…besides, he can’t stand his parents.”

“Calm yourself, Evan.” Dad gave him the do you need a hug look. “We are aware that Edmundo Diaz is not at fault for this situation. There were some incidents where young Christopher was forced to speak to his grandparents and unknowingly gave information when he was defending you against their rhetoric. He’s too young to understand that he provided enough clues for the SOJ to identify you.”

Evan’s heart ached. “Has anyone told Eddie?”

“No.” Mom shook her head. “The investigation is ongoing. Additionally, it has been determined that Christopher should not be allowed to learn that he was used in any manner that could have led to your death or the death of his father.”

“No, I never want him to know that. It wasn’t his fault.” He ran his fingers through his hair and saw that look on Mom’s face that said he needed a haircut. “How did they figure out the Diazs were involved?”

“When they sued for custody of their grandson.”

“They did what? Why didn’t someone tell me? Eddie must be devastated.”

“They tried to use his actions at the fire house during the attack along with a similar report from his time in service to show he was unstable and not fit as a parent. Don’t worry about him. Center Advocacy came down on it like a ton of bricks.” Dad smiled slightly, “He has all the support he could possibly need, and Daniel has stepped in to make sure he’s not alone.”

Evan felt the ache in his chest throb. He reached up to rub at it with a frown. “All of the support but me. I should be there for him.”

“Sweetheart, I know he’s your best friend, but…”

“No, Dad. He’s not just my best friend. He’s…he’s my sentinel.” Evan whispered the last.

His father sighed, “He’s latent.”

“I’ve felt it. He’s right there, just on the edge. It feels like he’s lived his whole life on the edge of online, but the sentinel is a part of him. Every time we’re in danger at work, suddenly, it’s there. A solid presence that is supporting and anchoring me. He has such a profound link to the psionic plane…. Mom doesn’t even have the link that Eddie does. The energy just flows in and takes the place of his senses and instincts when it’s needed. I honestly don’t know what it will take to bring him all the way, but it would have to be something life-changing. Something that threatens to reshape the world around him.”

“You almost died, and he’s still latent, Evan.”

“I know, Mom. I honestly think if it had gone on any longer that he would have flipped. He was almost there when they tranq’d him. How many latents have you heard of that could go into a feral drive?”

“One,” Dad responded softly.

Evan felt his eyes pop open wider, “What?”

“He was military and came online in action. When he was rescued, he drove himself latent and was sent home. About ten years later, he met his guide when a militia group took over the police station where he worked. His guide was one of the hostages, and he entered a feral drive when he led the officers to take back the station. He was taken to the local Center until he came down and then released as a latent. His guide tracked him down and read him the riot act about repressing his senses. A week later, he was online and bonded.”

“What happened to them?”

“They were the Pacific Northwest Primes before they took over as U.S. Primes. They retired just after you were born.”

“I never knew.”

“It’s information we keep among primes. It’s extremely rare that someone can suppress into latency. We don’t need hate groups trying to force that kind of issue.”

“What if they are? HOS indoctrinates their children in such a way they never think about coming online. Eddie had no education about sentinels and guides before the Army, and the only reason he allowed them to test him was the potential signing bonus. He had no clue what it meant. Is it possible his family and community built this block in him before he was old enough to choose for himself?”

“Anything is possible. There are not many studies on the phenomena because it is believed that a sentinel or guide comes online when they are called to serve. Service is different for each of us, so there is no indication what form that call will take.”

Spirituality and the Psionic Plane, by Sandburg. I believe you read me bedtime stories out of the companion book, The Tales of Panther and Wolf.”

“It’s a nice way to introduce young latents to spirit animals in a way that is open and natural.”

“Dad, what am I going to do?”

“You believe he is your sentinel. Have you told him this?”

“God, no. I know he’s attracted to me, but he won’t take that anywhere because he is a father, and he won’t enter into a casual relationship. And even if I want more than that, he’s not willing to risk that someday he will lose me to a sentinel. He says his son has already been abandoned by a parent, and he won’t set him up to have it happen again.”

“He’s a good father. He’s willing to forgo his own happiness for his child’s. I can’t fault that. Do you just want him because he’s your sentinel?”

“No! I don’t care if he’s my sentinel. I love him, and I love his kid. If the only way I can have him is as his friend, then that will have to be enough. I’ll take them whatever way he’ll allow me because not having them in my life would kill me.”

“Then you answered your own question. You’ll go back, and you’ll be his friend, and if that is all you ever have, then you’ll know that was your choice. All I’ve ever wanted was your happiness, Evan. That’s the way it is between fathers and sons. Latch onto whatever happiness comes your way, and don’t let go. Don’t let fear of loss prevent you from living.”

“I wish Eddie had a Dad as great as you to give him the same advice.”

“Maybe someday he will find someone to take that place in his life. You take care, Evan. You won’t be stuck there much longer. I know it’s not where you want to be, but as I recall, the lodge is pretty comfortable.”

“If Uncle Vin had his way, there probably wouldn’t be running water. Thank God Uncle Ezra likes his creature comforts.”

“And I am an impeccable decorator,” Ezra said from the open door. “Rand, June, it is nice to see you, but this call has exceeded the allowable timeframe. Besides, Vin needs your assistance finishing the meal. The two of you insisted on fishing for your dinner, so it is up to you to prepare it if you desire something other than cooked over a spit.”

From down the hall, a voice called out, “There ain’t nothing wrong with cooking over an open fire. Just because the two of you insist on all of these green things in it doesn’t make it better to eat.”

Ezra turned to head back toward the kitchen. “You, my dear sentinel, are a barbarian. We simply wish to expand your palate….”

“Gotta go. Love ya, Mom. You too, Dad. Give my love to Daniel and Maddie. And if it’s ok, can you let Eddie and Chris know I’m fine?”

“We’ll pass on your messages. Just a little longer, son.” Dad said as the call ended. Evan stared at the black screen a moment before he sighed and put it away.

Slowly he walked toward the kitchen and called out, “We better have capers for my lemon caper sauce.”

“You know I read that jar. Those things are pickled flower buds. Why would I want to eat flowers with my fish?”



“So, you had a meeting with your parents this week. Do you want to tell me how that went?”

Eddie sank down in the overly cushioned armchair that he preferred in Dr. Megan Tangredi’s office. “Well, I didn’t kill them.”

Her lips twitched. “I think we can agree that the absence of parricide is a positive outcome. Perhaps we can focus on what you did accomplish.”

“Well, to begin with, they were deeply insulted that I insisted that my attorney be present. I shouldn’t have involved a legal representative in what is a family matter. As if they didn’t start the whole legal mess to begin with.”

“Given their recent actions and your anger, I believe it was a reasonable decision to include your lawyer. Prior to the meeting, we discussed your concerns that they might try to manipulate you. Guilt is a common method.”

“Well, they failed there. They are deeply invested in their bigotry and homophobia. It’s toxic, and I made it clear that I want nothing to do with them going forward. They threatened to try for visitation rights since their custody petition failed.”  Eddie growled, “I let them know I was willing to make this a public spectacle to fight it. Chris is my son, and I won’t allow any contact between them until Christopher is an adult and able to make decisions for himself.”

“How did it make you feel to confront them?”

“Pretty fucking satisfied.” Eddie winced, “Sorry for the language.”

“It’s alright. No regrets?”

“Not a one. I can’t say I’ll never think of them again, but I don’t want to waste any more of my life on their opinions.”

“How is Christopher handling it?”

“The nightmares are getting better. He doesn’t constantly worry about them taking him anymore. But he is still having anxiety about people taking me away.”

“Do you think this is a delayed reaction to when you were restricted in the sentinel ward?”

“No. This is about his mother…and…and Buck.”

She leaned back and just stared at him for at least two minutes. “Do you think you’re ready to talk about that subject yet?”

“There’s nothing to talk about. Buck’s my best friend and my partner at work. Four months ago, he was the victim of an attempted murder, and he was taken away for his protection. It’s not remotely related to the situation with my ex-wife.”

“Two people you had grown to trust and depend on were suddenly gone from your life when you needed support the most. I think there are a lot of similarities.”

“I don’t blame them for the situations they found themselves in or the timing.”

“You’re allowed to feel hurt…betrayed….”

“I don’t.” Eddie shook his head when she raised an eyebrow. “Honestly, I don’t. I admit, I did feel all of that when Shannon came online. I didn’t understand her side of it, and I didn’t want to. But I’ve been through therapy for that. Buck is completely different. It’s out of his hands and was done to protect him and everyone here by removing him as a target. Do I miss him? Sure. Do I want him back? Yes. But I promise you that any frustration or anger I have about his absence is not directed at Buck.”

“Ok.” She made a couple notes on her pad and then placed it on the table. “So, this is the last mandatory session that the LAFD required. They were concerned about your lack of remorse following the deaths at the station house that day. The reports show you are processing that trauma as expected, which is all I am required to share. Your fitness status will not change with this latest session. However, I encourage you to continue seeing either myself or one of my colleagues. You’ve had a lot of stressors in your life.”

“I’ll think about it. I don’t think you can bring me online with psychotherapy, Doc.”

“Well, your reaction to trauma is classic online sentinel. You won’t feel remorse when your actions are a result of protecting a guide, the community, or the tribe. But there was no reason to waste the sessions when you were required to attend. I will keep an opening available for you if you want to keep working on those issues.”

“We’ll see.” Eddie stood up and gave a deliberate nod of the head to the unbonded guide. “Thanks for everything, Doc.” Then he headed out the door with a little smile of relief.

Peg at reception smiled back as he passed, “Same time next week, Mr. Diaz?”

Eddie started to shake his head and then stopped and looked back toward the closed office door. “Not next week, but maybe every other week? Just to keep checking in, ya know?”

“Sounds like a good plan. I’ll schedule your next few sessions and send you an email.”

“Thank you, Peg. See ya next time.”

“Have a great week, Mr. Diaz.”

– – –

Eddie sat on the back of the ambulance, watching as the 122 engine pulled in and everyone jumped out and started grabbing gear. They must have upgraded the fire to a four-alarm. He watched as their captain came running back from command and started issuing orders.

A small explosion on the other side of the building caused some shouting, and people started hustling in that direction. Eddie grabbed his helmet to follow.

“Oh, I know you aren’t planning to move from there,” Hen called out as she climbed into the ambulance to grab some more supplies. “Sit your little butt back down and put that oxygen mask on. It isn’t doing any good on the floor.”

“I’m fine,” Eddie insisted, feeling useless just sitting here while everyone was working.

“You eat smoke, you take oxygen. It’s either here or you take the next ride to the hospital. Your choice.” She stared him down, and he just growled in frustration and sat back down. “Oxygen!”

Eddie glared back at her while he put on the oxygen mask. He watched her run back toward the triage area and grunted in frustration, which caused him to start coughing again. He grabbed a water bottle to wash out his mouth, then put the oxygen back on. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door frame.

This whole situation pissed him off. He’s been doing pretty good. A-Shift has been making do with floaters since they lost Buck, Biggs, and Roberts. The floaters are mostly adequate, but they’re not Buck. Hell, they’re not Biggs or Roberts either, though Eddie understood they were just temp while Buck was in danger. Last he heard, the two of them were set to requalify this week and would be headed back to the SAR team. At least someone could go back to normal.

The problem is that when he needed him, Buck was just there. It was like he always knew exactly what Eddie needed and when he needed it on a rescue. They didn’t need words. They just worked. Now things…didn’t. Hell, nothing had worked right since he pushed Buck away. He had his one shot at having everything, and he didn’t have the guts to take it. And now there was something important missing in his life that he might never get back. He was always looking, always listening for a sound that was just out of reach. That was just…not there.

Suddenly light stabbed into his brain, and he flinched back. “What the hell?”

Chimney leaned back and smiled at him. “You with me now?”

“Yeah, what are you doing?” Eddie looked down and saw the blood pressure cuff on one arm and a pulse ox meter on the other hand. “I’m fine.” He reached for the meter, and Chimney’s hand blocked him.

“Well, since I called your name and shook you without you answering me, I think that stays on for now.” Chimney pulled out his stethoscope and pulled Eddie forward a little so he could place the ice-cold metal on his back.

“I must have dosed off for a moment.”

Chim gave him the stink-eye and kept checking him over. Finally, he leaned back and looked at Eddie again. “Everything is normal.”

“Told you.”

“You can take off the oxygen.”

Eddie reached up and pulled the mask off before Chim could change his mind. He started to stand, and Chimney put a hand on his chest and pushed back.

“Nope. You are going to sit there and drink that bottle of water until I come back to check on you again. Let’s see if you can stay awake and alert without oxygen for a while before you’re up and moving again.”

“Come on.” Eddie beat his head back against the ambulance. “I’m fine.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” A call had Chimney up and moving. Eddie looked up and saw Hen and Bobby moving toward them. Bobby’s arm wrapped around her as he used her for support and limped to the ambulance. Chimney slid in under his other arm. “What happened?”

“Guernsey,” Hen grumbled as they turned to let Bobby sit next to Eddie.

“He’s a menace, Cap,” Eddie growled. “You need to transfer him out because I don’t trust him enough to work another shift with him. I don’t think I would have been stuck with those kids in there if it had been Buck or any of you with me.”

“Not here and not now, but I want you to write it up in a report.” Bobby winced as Hen pulled his boot off. His toes were already looking bruised.

“That’s not good.” Chim shared a look with Hen, “Well, Cap, you just earned yourself some xrays.”

Bobby sighed and nodded, “Looks like it.”

Eddie looked at the foot and then bent down to pick up the boot. “Guernsey ran over it?”

“Yeah, the fire’s spreading to the east, and we were trying to move the vehicles on that side to create a firebreak. We don’t want to give it fuel to spread to the next apartment complex. He wasn’t paying attention to directions and backed over my foot before I knew he was moving.”

Eddie growled again and then shook his head and reached for his turnout. “I should get back out there while you two take him in.”

Chimney took the coat out of his hands. “Oh, no, sleeping beauty. I think you’re coming with us.”

“My stats are normal.”

Hen looked up from where she was splinting Bobby’s foot. “His stats were normal?”

“Yes,” Eddie responded.

“No,” Chim insisted before he took a breath and qualified, “Yes, but when I checked on him, he was unresponsive to initial stimuli.”

“I dozed off.”

“I shook you and called your name, and you didn’t respond until after I had taken your blood pressure.” Chim leaned his head down to meet Hen’s eyes, “That ain’t normal.”

“For mister hair trigger, no, it isn’t. You’re going in.” Hen stood up and motioned for Chimney to help her get Cap into the ambulance.

“Seriously? Cap, tell them I can go back to the fire.” Eddie didn’t whine, nope…no way.

“Don’t bring me into the middle of this. If the paramedics say you need to get checked out, you need to get checked. You can decline transport and care, but you can’t go back to active duty until you have been cleared.” Bobby cursed under his breath as he lay down on the gurney, and Hen strapped an ice pack to his foot.

“Your chariot, your highness.” Chim motioned into the back with one arm and bowed.

Eddie hung his head and climbed in to take a seat. He didn’t feel very talkative on the way but cooperated with Hen when she was getting readings on the ride. It wasn’t her fault. And the fastest way out when dealing with medical was to go with the flow so you don’t slow them down.

He put up with the check and the blood draws since that was what they needed to rule out any toxins in the smoke. They were packed in the ER, so they had put him and Bobby in together. The longer he sat still, the more twitchy he became.

The doctor came back in and was smiling, “Captain Nash, you are extremely lucky. No breaks, just bruising, but you won’t be walking on that foot for a while. I want to put you in a boot to protect it when you’re moving around, and you should be on crutches for at least a week. I will have someone come back in to fit you for that. They are getting you a follow-up appointment at the end of the week to re-evaluate.”

“Thank you.” Bobby let out a long, relieved breath. Then he glanced over, “Any word on Firefighter Diaz’s test results?”

He nodded as he moved over to Eddie’s bed. “So far, your results are normal. There are a couple more they are a little backed up on, and we are waiting for them. Do you mind if I have a listen?” He pulled the stethoscope off his neck and put them on.

Eddie shrugged and twitched, “Go ahead.”

The doctor touched him, and he flinched a little. “Sorry, it’s so cold.” He looked down and then paused and took a step back. “Do you mind removing your shirt first?”

Eddie rolled his eyes and pulled off his t-shirt.

“What’s that?” Bobby asked, staring at Eddie’s back.

“What’s what?” Eddie asked as he tried to look back over his shoulder.

The doctor grabbed a new pair of gloves and then reached out to touch his neckline. “I would say there was something in the smoke that you are having a reaction to.”

“A what?”

Bobby leaned over a little like he was trying to get a better look. “You’re getting a rash there.” He looked over at the doctor, “Anything we need to worry about?”

“It’s mild, but let’s see what we can do about that.” He peeled off his gloves and threw them in the trash. “I’m going to have a nurse bring you a set of scrubs, and we’re going to get you in a shower to get this off of you. Then we can have a look and see if a topical creme will handle it or if you need something stronger.” He left the room on that note.

Eddie nodded, then sighed and looked at Bobby. “Now I have to apologize to Chim.”

“Yeah, he won’t let you forget this.” Bobby leaned back in the bed and looked at him. “You’ve been in a bit of a mood lately. Wanna talk about it?”


“I’m not going anywhere for a while.”

Eddie looked around and then tossed his shirt aside. “I messed up.”


“I pushed Buck away.”

“Eddie, I’m pretty sure you had nothing to do with Buck needing to go into protective custody. That isn’t your fault.”

“It’s not…I’m not explaining this right. I don’t know where to start.”

“At the beginning?”

“That would be when I first started at the 118, and Buck hated me.”

Bobby held up his hand, “Buck never hated you. He was angry at me, and you got the brunt of that for that first shift. That was my fault, not yours. Besides, you two worked that all out.”

“Yeah, we did. We found common ground, and he became the best friend I’ve ever had.” Bobby nodded, just letting him talk. Eddie suddenly felt a desire to tell someone, anyone. “We had a chance for more. Buck told me how he felt about me, and I was starting to feel the same.”

“You’ve finally realized you’re in love with him.”

“How did you know?”

“Heck, Eddie, Buck has been making moon-eyes at you since that first week. Hen has been making book on when the two of you would figure it out and get together.”

“Seriously? They’re betting on that?”

“Well, in their defense, Buck has a bit of a reputation.”

Eddie growled lowly, “He is not a….”

“No, he’s not,” Bobby cut him off. “Buck is a typical unbonded guide in that respect. People fall back on old stereotypes without trying to understand the motivations, culture, and needs of unbonded guides. We know better, and Hen doesn’t let people spread that in-house. It’s just that a few months before the incident, he was struggling a little, and you were the one who seemed sort of brittle. Since he’s been gone, well, you act like a kid who lost his blankie.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You know what I mean. You lost your comforter, and you’re kinda adrift.”

Eddie couldn’t really dispute that. “Adrift is one way to put it.” Eddie looked away, “Before everything went down, I finally figured out how I felt, and I let him know. But I chickened out and stopped it before anything could get started.”

He looked back at Bobby, trying to make him understand, “I couldn’t take that chance. Shannon came online, found her sentinel, and left me when I needed her. I was afraid that if I tried to have more than just his friendship…I figured he would find his sentinel and leave me too. I didn’t think I could survive that again.”

Eddie gave a broken little laugh, “But now he’s gone anyway. I finally realize that he’s it for me. He’s all I want, and I threw it away for nothing. I threw it all away and left myself empty, you know? Because I was willing to have only his friendship if that was what would let me keep him, and now I’ve lost him anyway. He’s gone, and I can’t tell him how wrong I was. Having him is worth any pain because he is life and love and everything I need. I would rather have one day of everything than a lifetime of this emptiness.”

“Eddie, letting yourself love is one of the hardest choices we ever make. It’s a leap of faith that has the most potential to change your entire life. Both for good and for bad. When we choose to give that love wisely, it reshapes the world to allow two people, two families, to become one.” Bobby smiled softly at him, “If there were ever two people more compatible than you and Buck, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them. I can’t imagine anything that puts the two of you together ending in tragedy. I honestly don’t think the universe is that cruel.”

“But will Buck be willing to give me another chance?”

“Trust me. If there was ever anyone I’ve met that knows his own heart, it’s Buck. That kid doesn’t do anything half-way.”

The door opened, and a nurse stuck his head in, “Mr. Diaz, if you will come this way, we have a shower ready for you.”



“And that concludes the presentation portion of this. Captain Nash, I can’t thank you enough for allowing your station house to participate in our trials.” Daniel Buckley stood in front of A and B Shift. A selection of equipment in boxes on the table behind him. “And I want to thank B-Shift for staying behind for this part. I or one of my colleagues will be available all week to assist you with setup and answer any questions.”

“We’re happy to help.” Bobby shared a glance with Reynolds, “We saw your demonstration at the Captain’s meeting, and this looks exciting if it can do what you promise.”

“We have high hopes, and trials have gone well.” Daniel looked around at everyone, “Are there any questions before we issue the radios and run some test drills with the equipment?”

Eddie raised his chin to get Daniel’s attention, then spoke when he was acknowledged, “I know you designed these for sentinels in the field. Why replace everyone’s radio if it’s not designed for us?”

“Good question, Eddie. These are designed for sentinels, especially unbonded sentinels, in the field. But, those functions will work best if everyone on their team is on the same system.” He turned and picked up one of them, pointing out features. “I only briefly mentioned the sentinel-specific functions in the presentation since they didn’t apply to this crew, but the most important is that it allows noise enhancing, noise reduction, and haptic feedback. These functions can be controlled by you or by a remote user. For a sentinel, the hope is that someone in a command location, which will be at the 9-1-1 Call Center for now, can communicate with a single individual to provide feedback. Or that a sentinel and guide team can have a separate channel for their own communication. It also means that your Captain will have the ability to select to speak to the entire crew, two of you, or just an individual. Added to that, the voice activation allows for a hands-free trigger so that you can maintain communication in any circumstance.”

“While these will mate and function perfectly with the current LAFD radio system, it is our hope that eventually, they will replace the system since they will also give the dispatchers more flexibility in who they speak to. The radios are impact-resistant, heat-resistant, and waterproof. Let’s just say I know my brother and I tried to make them…Buck-proof.” Daniel smiled as if the hesitation in the name didn’t happen.

Eddie just laughed a little with the rest because he has heard some of the horror stories of what Buck has done with some of Daniel’s prototypes.

Eddie lined up with the rest as Daniel and his co-workers started handing out radios and walking everyone through set-up and charging protocols. Everyone was soon practicing how to trigger the functions, and calls were flying back and forth around the station.

Daniel grabbed Eddie as soon as he was through with the set-up. “Hey, Eddie, you got a moment?”


“I know I told you I wouldn’t have any problem picking up Chris tomorrow and bringing him over to your place when you’re ready.”

“Oh, if you can’t, that’s ok. I just need to notify the Center.” Eddie reached into his pocket for his phone.

“No, I’m still going to do that. I synced my schedule with A-Shift for the first week because Buck would never forgive me if I let someone else handle you guys.” Daniel laughed, “I’m excited to help Chris with his communication project. We’re going to have fun. It’s just that I wanted to let you know I’m going to have a couple guests arrive tomorrow. I wouldn’t feel right having someone near Chris without letting you know.”

“Thank you for that. Who is it?”

“Randall and June Meyrick.”

“Buck’s parents?”

“Yeah, there is a U.S. Prime Council meeting going on right now. The California Primes are hosting it in San Fran. They plan to drop in either tonight or tomorrow morning to visit. I lived with them while I was in college, and sometimes they feel more like my parents than my biologicals are. They’re excited to meet you and Christopher, but if you are uncomfortable with him being near them, then I understand.”

Eddie swallowed through a dry throat. “No, that’s fine. I mean, anyone who could raise Buck to be the man he is has to be good people.”

“They really are the best. Just don’t be surprised if they tag along when I bring Chris home.” Daniel smirked at Eddie, “Rand is a hugger, and June will make you question your life choices. I look forward to the meeting.”



Eddie stared at the coffee maker for at least twenty seconds before it registered with him that he forgot to replace the coffee filter. The grounds were plugging up the dispenser and causing the steaming hot water to back-up and overflow. There was a small river pouring over the cabinet and onto the floor.

“Fuck!” Eddie couldn’t get the thing to turn off, so he just pulled the plug out of the wall and then stared down at the mess. He threw the dish towel down on the floor to catch the runoff before grabbing for the paper towels to try to work the mess of grounds out of the machine. Twenty minutes later, he had it reasonably clean, and the cabinets wiped down.

Eddie threw the towel into the sink to be rinsed out later and decided that caffeine wasn’t in the cards for him today. Last night had been busy. Daniel’s radios were working great, but there was a definite learning curve in using them. He stayed with them until around one in the morning then his co-worker took over. Eddie was happy he got some sleep because Chris was going to wear him out.

Sleep was fleeting for Eddie. It wasn’t that they had a lot of call-outs. But Eddie had that itch in his gut again. It made it so hard to rest. And it wasn’t going away. He knew he should try to relax since he was all alone at home, and there was nothing to interrupt him, but it just wouldn’t happen. And he knew from personal experience that forcing the issue would do no good.

Eddie tapped on the table, listening to the sound echo in the silence, and finally had enough. He needed to be near people. Except for work and picking up Christopher, he had been alone for almost five months. He needs to get out of this house, get a little air, and talk to an adult before Christopher gets home. Maybe he should go pick him up? He could do that.

Eddie changed clothes and grabbed his keys by the door before he could second-guess himself. He twisted the knob and threw the door open, then screeched to a stop.

Framed in the doorway, his hand raised to knock, was a sight from his dreams.


“Hey, Eddie.”



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