Aliens, actual extraterrestrials, were real and had been on Earth, different types of aliens even. Humans had traveled to other planets, dozens of them.
That tv show Marcus had liked, Wormhole Extreme, had in fact been an unauthorized rip-off of the Stargate Program, which had been protecting Earth from alien threats for years.
Esca worked for a secret government agency that was something like "The Man From UNCLE crossed with Men In Black, to use an easy cultural shorthand," Craddock had said dryly. "Marcus did know The Man from UNCLE, right?" Marcus pretended he did, and looked it up on his phone later on. It sounded worth watching. Except Craddock continued, they "mostly left the aliens to the Stargate people and focused on conspiracy groups like the Trust or investigating American allies in the Stargate Program." Apparently even while facing threats from outer space, the Americans, British, and French didn't trust the Chinese and Russians. Marcus should expect to travel anywhere, from Siberia to the Pegasus Galaxy.
Esca's official cover was that he was a researcher for a company that provided information for people who wanted to rely on more than the Internet. He supposedly did background research for investigative journalists, libraries, companies wanting details on competitors, or anyone willing to pay who wanted to take advantage of both Esca's investigative skills and Sentinel senses.
Esca admitted he'd even used the lack of a Guide to justify having such an abnormal job for a Sentinel. People often found him surprising, expecting a Sentinel to be police or military, not a researcher.
Craddock had dropped his bombshells two days ago, and Marcus still felt like his mind was blown. Relaxing on a lounger by the pool, letting the sun bake into his skin, he tried to imagine what it would be like, to feel responsible for protecting the entire planet from internal and external forces.
Marcus opened his eyes to see Esca standing by the lounger. "Hi."
"You look comfy."
"I'm still thinking...about things," Marcus finished inelegantly, aware his uncle was somewhere in the house.
"It's a lot to take in." Esca's fingertips stroked from Marcus' throat, down the center of his abdomen, to the waistband of his board shorts. "You should wear a speedo. You're getting all that lovely sun on your chest but nothing on your thighs."
"Speedo? Nah, those are just embarrassing."
"You tan amazingly, don't you? That Italian olive skin from your father. You could wear a speedo and get all brown..." Esca teased Marcus by running a fingertip on the fabric covering his groin area. "Except this little strip would be pale. I'd like to see that."
Marcus snorted, flattered by Esca's open admiration but also still embarrassed by the thought of himself in a speedo. "Seriously, guys who wear speedos look ridiculous."
"Hmmm." Esca placed a knee on one side of Marcus' body and swung his body over, settling his butt on Marcus' pelvis. "You won't wear one? Not even for me?"
Groaning, Marcus clasped Esca's hips, running his hands up and down his sides, regretting that Esca was fully dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. "You know you'll talk me into it," he admitted.
Esca's eyes gleamed with satisfaction. "Your uncle does know your leg is better, right? We can go shopping this afternoon."
"Yeah." Marcus licked his lips. "That day Craddock came, we talked. You didn't ask about it."
"He's your uncle, Marcus. He was in your life long before I was. I figured you'd talk about it with me when you were ready to."
"He worked for Craddock's group. He was more senior than Craddock then but he didn't say what he did."
"I could tell they knew each other."
"Probably long enough ago he didn't deal with aliens. I don't know for sure. But he saw us one night, he knew my leg was well, he figured out who had been responsible."
"Your uncle is an intelligent man."
"You're not really surprised, are you?"
"I've thought he was trying too hard to be..." Esca shrugged his shoulders. "Nice. He's always very nice."
"You didn't say anything."
"He's your uncle. I know how much you love him and have relied on him. I didn't want to throw suspicion if I was wrong." Esca gave him a hesitant look. "I did listen to your conversation with him, you realize that? It's not hard for me to talk to Craddock and listen to you at the same time. I always keep track of you, where you are, what you're doing."
"Oh, right. I guess I'll get used to all that you can do. And everyone having secrets."
Esca kissed him, lightly, but coupled with the feel of his body, his hands resting on Marcus' sun-warmed skin, the sensations went to Marcus' dick, making it swell. "We won't need to have secrets from each other."
"Christ." Marcus' hands clenched on Esca's sides. "How are we still bonding? We're never going to have secrets because we'll spend half our lives in bed." Fucking, he thought, they'll spend half their lives fucking and every damn minute would be glorious.
"We've bonded completely. My senses are completely imprinted on you. We're just—"
"Young and horny?" Marcus finished for him, grinning, sliding his hands down to cup Esca's tight ass.
Esca made a muffled noise of pleasure, kissing Marcus as the sliding glass door opened.
"Oh—" Silvius stopped in the doorway, holding out the cordless phone. "I'm sorry to interrupt but the LA Sentinel Center is on the phone."
"What?" Marcus asked, Esca's kiss still overriding his thought process as Esca swung back off him. He was thankful that his uncle's appearance killed the start of his hard-on.
"The landline, Marcus. You're not answering your cell. It's an emergency."
"Thanks." Marcus stood up, hastily walking toward his uncle, accepting the phone. He'd left his cell upstairs, not interested in texting with anyone. "Hello?"
That felt strangely good, to be called Guide. Since he hadn't expected to bond, no one ever much used the title. "Yes, this is Guide Marcus Aquila."
"This is Sentinel Potter. I need you to come to Temple Hospital, pronto. We have a Sentinel in distress. We think she's been tased. Her Guide is missing. We can't bring her out of a zone."
Marcus glanced over at Esca. From the expression on his Sentinel's face, Marcus could tell that Esca was using his enhanced hearing to listen to both sides of the conversation. Future birthday surprises would have to be organized through text and email, assuming that Esca wasn't capable of distinguishing which keys were being typed. "I haven't been trained in that kind of work. I've only ever brought one Sentinel out of a zone, and that was my own."
"My Guide tried but it didn't work. We have reason to believe that you would be effective in this case."
Though his inherent helpfulness told Marcus to hang up and start moving, he also felt a weird distaste at the thought of helping a stranger as he had helped Esca. "What makes you think that?"
"The Sentinel is Diana Aquila."
"Then my dad—"
"Your dad is missing, son. We've got people out looking for him."
"I'm on my way," he said, handing the phone back to his uncle.
"Is something wrong with Flavius?" Silvius asked, having only heard Marcus' side of the conversation.
"Diana's in a zone and dad is missing," Marcus answered, already heading for his bedroom.
"Go get dressed, I'll tell your uncle the rest of the detail," Esca said.
Marcus ran up the stairs, worried about his dad and step-mom, but immensely grateful for his healed leg and Esca.
"You haven't talked much about your dad and Diana," Esca said, as Marcus drove them to the hospital, trying to not think about his dad in danger.
At least LA traffic required his focus. He hated LA traffic so much, so very much, but at least he was familiar enough with the city to take back roads. Every time he caught a glance at the freeways, he marveled at the multiple lanes so crowded that cars barely moved. "There's not much to say," Marcus said dismissively. "I don't see them much. I barely know her. I don't see how I'm going to help her when a trained Guide can't."
"They're counting on family smell, I imagine."
"Family smell? That's seriously weird."
"There are ... base notes, I guess you could say. You and your uncle use different products and of course, he smokes cigars, but you still smell similar. It's hard to describe."
"He smokes cigars? He told me he stopped."
Esca gave him a look that said, Oops. "He doesn't smoke very often. Maybe a cigar every few weeks?"
"Huh." Just little enough that Marcus' regular sense of smell didn't pick it up. Marcus cursed for what seemed like the umpteenth time that Sentinel Central had essentially dropped him after his accident. His knowledge was lacking, and he felt a fierce passion to know everything that might help his Sentinel. And he was so totally scolding his uncle for pretending with him. "Anyway, I've only met her a couple of times. I don't even really know what they do, but they travel a lot. My dad always did when I was growing up."
"You didn't go live with them after your mother died?"
"No." No one had even suggested it, which might have hurt more at the time if Marcus hadn't been focused on losing both his mom and his football career. "I was in the hospital for a long time and I wanted to finish high school, so Cottia's aunt and uncle said I could stay with them. Then uncle Silvius showed up and he'd gotten me into a college in California, where I could live with him, so that seemed the best thing."
"Your uncle got you into college?" Esca asked, his tone a bit bemused. "I thought American colleges would have a lengthy admittance process."
"Yeah." Marcus shrugged and gave a finger at a car that slipped into what should have been too small a gap. "I figure he made a big donation so they would wave all that. I'd just lost any chance at a football scholarship, I didn't much care. I did well though," he added quickly, not wanting Esca to think he had been a slacker who hadn't appreciated being handed his college admission on a silver platter. "I studied my ass off. I got accepted into my doctorate program by myself."
"I believe you. You do everything well."
"Anyway." Marcus shrugged uncomfortably. "I never treated Diana particularly well. I wasn't mean to her or anything, I just didn't pay her much attention."
"I'm sure she understood that a teenager watching his parents' marriage break up would have a certain amount of resentment toward the cause."
"I didn't really blame her. It was dad's fault as much as hers. He should have waited for his Sentinel."
"Maybe," Esca said, placing his hand on Marcus' thigh and squeezing, "but then I wouldn't have you. And I rather like having you."
Marcus put his hand over Esca's, squeezing his fingers. "Yes," he agreed, feeling a bit better about his dad's choices in life.
A Sentinel and his Guide were waiting for them outside Diana's room. They were oddly unimpressive, both short and dressed in plain short-sleeved button-down shirts and trousers. The Sentinel was possibly two decades older than his Guide, surprising Marcus with the age gap. He'd thought his dad and Diana were fairly unique in their age difference. "Guide Marcus Aquila," he said, offering his hand to shake. "My Sentinel, Esca MacCunoval."
He reached out, as he'd been practicing more with his Guide talents, trying to read their emotions, feeling only concern and determination.
"Sentinel Henry Potter, my Guide Walter O'Reilly." The four shook hands as the Sentinel continued to speak. "The LAPD is still investigating the scene where she was found but will come back when she's responsive. Anything you can do to help her will be appreciated. A sketch artist is on her way."
"Yeah." Feeling nervous, Marcus wiped his hands on the back of his jeans. "I have to point out again, I've had no training on this and I've only done it once."
"You can't actually make it worse," Potter said. His bluntness wasn't reassuring.
"You know the basics." With his index finger, O'Reilly pushed his glasses further up on his nose. "Activate her senses, talk to her."
"No. MacCunoval and I should stay out here. A Sentinel in recovery can find other Sentinels alarming. O'Reilly can come in with you if you think you need it."
"Marcus, try by yourself," Esca said softly, giving his arm a reassuring squeeze. "You've got this."
"Okay." Marcus gave a heavy breath and headed into the room. Diana was lying on the bed, dressed in dark blue slacks and a red top. She was as beautiful as he remembered, even more beautiful than Cottia, her long dark hair spread out around her head, green eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Activate the senses, starting with hearing. "Diana, it's Marcus."
He sat on the edge of the bed, conscious that he didn't want to hold her the same way he'd held Esca. She was tall but slim. It was easy to slip his arms under her back, lifting her torso and cradling her into his arms, one big hand on the back of her head, tilting her nose into his neck. His scent wasn't his dad's, but maybe it would help.
"Diana, you need to come out of this, okay? We don't know where Dad is. He might be in trouble, right? I bet he is in trouble, I bet that's why you zoned. Your Guide was in trouble and you got tased and couldn't do anything. That must have hurt. But now we need you to do something. We need you to come out of this so you can tell us who attacked you."
As he talked, he stroked his hand slowly down her back.
"I've got a Sentinel of my own, have they told you? We registered with Sentinel Central, but I don't know if they shared the news. His name's Esca. I love him so much. He's asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I know we haven't been close but I want you and Dad to meet him. You two and Uncle Silvius and Cottia are my family."
Her arms had been lax at her sides, but they came up, circling and hugging him. She drew several long, slow breaths. Her voice was shaky as she asked, "Flavius?"
He hugged her harder with one arm, keeping up the comforting strokes down her back. "No, Diana, it's Marcus. Your step-son."
"Marcus." Her voice was firmer.
Marcus felt the moment that she leaned away from him and let her go. "Diana, you okay now?"
"Yes. We were attacked, Flavius was tased. I started to hit one of the attackers and was tased too."
"They must have taken Dad, he's missing. There's a Sentinel and Guide outside, they want to see if you can give a description of the attackers."
"I should go after them."
Her voice was lightly accented, and with a pang, Marcus realized he didn't even know where she came from. His dad had probably told him, mixed in with the 'I have to leave your mother' speech, but the teenage Marcus hadn't paid much attention to details about the interloper. "You need to rest. The LA Sentinel Center is working with the LAPD. They're bringing in a sketch artist."
"I need to find him."
"Hey." Marcus squeezed her upper arms gently. "Dad would want you to be okay. Being tased has got to hurt. Rest, talk to the sketch artist, okay? They'll have the entire police force looking for him. That's the best thing you can do."
She looked over at the closed door. "You said you found your Sentinel."
"Yes, Esca MacCunoval."
"The sketch artist has arrived."
She must be able to hear her talking to Potter and O'Reilly in the hallway. Were her senses as good as Esca's? Or even better? He knew Sentinel Central had a way of measuring, but it wasn't advertised. "Good. You okay now? I'll get out of the way."
"I'll be okay when I have Flavius back, but I can function."
"Okay." Impulsively, he hugged her. He didn't think he'd ever hugged her before. She had seemed too beautiful to touch, and he'd been too angry at her and his dad. "I'll send Sentinel Potter in."
The door was open, and the other three were waiting, along with a fourth person. Marcus stepped out, letting the others enter. Esca fisted one hand into the soft cotton of Marcus' shirt, staring intently at him for a long moment before beginning to walk down the hallway, tugging at Marcus. "Esca, what?"
Marcus thought about digging in, bracing his feet and refusing to budge. Esca couldn't make him move without his agreement. Or maybe he could; he knew Esca was trained to fight, but he doubted he'd get physical here in the hospital. Looking at the tightness of Esca's expression, he let himself be dragged down the hallway and slung into an empty room, dropping to his knees.
Esca stood in front of him, his hands clenching on Marcus' shoulders. "I went online when my family died. They've always said it was why I didn't have any territorial instincts, my sense of territory was destroyed. They said I would make a good military Sentinel, I can go anywhere."
"I'm sorry," Marcus said. "You haven't said much about their deaths. I didn't realize the connection."
"You, Marcus, you are my territory. I feel such a connection to you."
"And I feel a connection to you, but I'm not—" he shrugged helplessly. "What is this about?"
"You were holding her and hugging her and stroking her. Another Sentinel, in my territory."
"You knew why we were coming here. You knew what I would have to do."
"I knew. I didn't know how hard it would be to listen to, to hear the soft strokes of your palm on her clothes."
"She's my step-mom, that's all."
"She's gorgeous and she—clung to you."
"Esca, what do you want?" Marcus nuzzled the faded denim over Esca's crotch. "Do you want me to blow you? Right here, right now? I would, if that's what it takes for you to feel like I'm yours." Marcus felt his cheeks redden. "Though I'd rather we go somewhere with a locking door."
Marcus could feel the automatic response of Esca's cock, pressing against his zipper, and his mouth watered. Esca's caveman reaction to Marcus touching another Sentinel was disturbingly hot. He was disappointed when Esca seemed to collect himself and stepped back. "There are two Sentinels down the hallway and no white noise generator on this floor."
Marcus stood, conscious of the easiness of that action. His leg used to make getting up and down from the floor an exercise in careful maneuvering. "We should focus on helping to find my dad," he said, restraining the impulse to argue, to point out that he could have Esca coming in minutes, and how much attention could the other Sentinels be paying to what happened down the hallway?
"Yes, your dad." Esca grimaced and paused for a moment. "They're all talking," he said. "No one's listening. They'll send us away. I'm a researcher and you're a college student as far as they know."
"No, we let them. Sentinel Central and the LAPD have their own methods. It's not going to hurt having them investigating separately from us."
"If you think so," Marcus agreed.
"I want to go home. Argue a bit but let them convince you we're not needed."
"Why? Shouldn't we stay close? We don't even know where they were attacked."
"I didn't think to get a weapon. I want one, since we're dealing with multiple attackers. And they've surely taken your dad somewhere else. We should be able to call for assistance." He looked toward the ceiling, then back at Marcus, who nodded, catching the reference. The Hammond was in orbit, which was still amazing in Marcus' mind. "If we can get them to assist, that'll be faster than driving somewhere."
Marcus found it easy to accept Esca's determination on the best course of action. He trusted his Sentinel. "Okay."
Everything went exactly as Esca predicted. Potter wanted them to go home, gruffly insisting, "We'll handle this now." Marcus gritted his teeth at the condescension, hugged Diana goodbye, and said she and dad should come stay at the house after he was rescued, leaving her speaking with the sketch artist.
He didn't ask why they hadn't let him know they were so close, tabling that issue to discuss with his dad.
He tossed the car keys to Esca as they reached the car, then let him make the mistake of getting on the freeway. Marcus waited the few minutes it took until the traffic hit a stop and go patch before reaching over and cupping Esca's cock. The instant response was gratifying, Esca's dick hardening under his palm, as he began undoing the zipper and easing it down.
Esca's look was startled but he didn't make any motion to stop Marcus. "You realize sex while driving is a risky endeavor."
"Considering what you do for a living, I think you're used to a few risks. Besides, you need this. I need this." Truer words were never spoken.
Esca didn't argue, pushing back in the seat as much as he could, widening the gap between this body and the steering wheel. Marcus pulled Esca's dick out of his jeans, wrapping his hand around the length and stroking. Esca was uncut, his dick rapidly hardening. Bending his head, Marcus ran his tongue over the loose foreskin, tasting the drops already forming.
It was fun to blow Esca, to make him writhe and pant, but Marcus wanted to bring him off quickly. He lowered his head until the head of Esca's dick bumped up against the back of his throat, pleased at the shivery noise Esca made.
Bobbing his head up and down Esca's length, he dropped his shields, opening himself fully to Esca's emotions, feeling warmth, desire... and love. How was he so lucky, to have found this man?
Esca drove with one hand, the other running through Marcus' hair. Marcus put a hand on Esca's thigh, feeling the slight motion as his foot eased between the gas and the brake.
Marcus emptied his mind of everything but sensations, his lips stretched around Esca's cock, the tickle of Esca's groin hair on Marcus' face, the musky smell of Esca's arousal. In return, Esca's emotions—desire, love, trust—swamped Marcus' mind. When Esca's release filled his mouth, Esca's pleasure washed through Marcus' senses, almost making him come too.
"Fuck. Fuck." Esca took shaky breaths as Marcus tucked him away, forcing his own arousal down. "I love you. I really love your mouth."
Grinning with satisfaction, Marcus watched the road in front of them, his thoughts returning to his dad, who could have taken him, and why.
Marcus glanced at the house as they drove up, thinking about what to tell his uncle. At least Silvius knew that Marcus and Esca worked for Craddock, so he wouldn't ask a lot of questions about why they'd left Diana. "The door's open." That was weird; his uncle never left the door unlocked, much less open.
Esca parked the car. "Let me go in first."
"Marcus—" His expression had that look of concentration that meant he was using his senses.
"What? What don't you want to tell me?"
His voice was gentle. "I don't hear any heartbeat in the house."
For a Sentinel to not hear a heartbeat—Marcus was out of the car and racing inside, ignoring Esca's yelling, "Let me go first!" No one was in the hallway or the living room. Marcus kept running, to his uncle's bedroom, the attached bathroom, his study, the dining room, kitchen, and the family room, back to the hallway, where Esca was just coming down the stairs. "He's not upstairs."
"I'll check there. You do the backyard."
Marcus obeyed, but the backyard was empty, no sign of his uncle or his collapsed body. "The garage?"
"No, no sign of him and his car's here. He must have walked out the front and not got the door properly shut."
"He wouldn't have done that. He always locks the door. Always."
Instead of replying, Esca sat on a stair and spread his legs, leaning down to pat the one below him. "Sit, Marcus."
"We need to find him."
Esca's tone had that whip sharp crack that Marcus had first heard in Big Jim's cellar. "Guide, sit!"
Impatiently but obediently, Marcus threw himself down on the stair, like Esca, facing the door. "Why?" he asked sullenly, though his cock felt heavy, as it had done the first time Esca ordered him.
Esca's hands rested on his shoulders. "I want to see what I can find out with my senses."
"He walked out the door, what could you tell?"
"Be quiet. Take deep breaths. Clear your mind."
Marcus didn't respond, but he knew Esca would hear him obeying, taking long, deep breaths, releasing them slowly. Worry made it hard to clear his mind, but he rested his eyes on the white marbled tile and the white door, trying to let blankness soothe his troubled thoughts.
"People were here after we left. Men. I can smell cologne and tobacco."
"Cigars. This is cigarettes. And there's been an electrical discharge."
"An electrical discharge?"
"Yes, like a taser."
He twisted to look at Esca. "You think whoever tased dad and Diana came here?"
"It would be an unbelievable coincidence if it was anyone else. I wonder if it was a Sentinel who smelled Flavius and recognized the relationship to Silvius, and that's why they focused on grabbing him."
"But Dad wouldn't have brought them here. He wouldn't endanger his brother."
"They may have used a ruse, maybe let him think they had Diana still and he had to cooperate for her safety. Or he might have thought he'd have a better chance to escape. We can't know until we find them."
Marcus turned away again, contemplating what might have happened and why anyone would want his dad and his uncle. A red fox sat on the tile, between Marcus' spread legs, looking at him inquisitively. Marcus stretched his hand out and the fox sniffed at his fingers. "Esca, there's a fox in the house."
"She's my spirit animal. I haven't seen yours yet."
"I haven't seen mine yet. I forgot that part." That had seemed like a cool bonus when he'd understood that his dad was a Guide, when he'd been tested and identified as one himself, this invisible personal animal that only you and your Sentinel would see. But then he'd had the accident and tried to block all his Guide senses, struggling with his own pain and the bleed over from other patients. Cute animals had dropped by the wayside.
"It seems to be a variable thing for Sentinels. Mine doesn't show very often, mostly when I'm upset. Every once in a while when I'm bored with waiting, she'll sit by me."
"You think she's here because I'm upset?"
"Probably. Or just to meet you."
"Hey, little girl, you got any good ideas? What do we do now?" The fox tilted her head inquisitively.
"There's nothing physically distinctive about your dad, is there? He doesn't have any handy metal plates? I know the Hammond can scan the city, but they'd need something distinctive to search for. Even that might take a long time."
"No. How about the guys who took him?"
"No, there's nothing useful from the lingering traces."
"So what do we do now? Do we tell Potter?"
"We might as well. And Craddock." Esca shifted behind him, pulling his phone from his back pocket. "Potter's calling. You answer, I'll listen."
Marcus accepted the phone. "This is Guide Aquila."
"Sentinel MacCunoval there?"
Potter grunted. "Sentinel Aquila has slipped out. My Guide thinks she's trying to track her Guide."
"Can she do that?"
"We're looking at her record and she probably can. Thankfully she took her purse and her phone's still in it. We've asked LAPD to see if they can track it."
The LA Sentinel Center wouldn't typically need such investigative resources, existing primarily to support Sentinels and Guides who had been identified by routine testing in school. Esca tugged at Marcus' pocket and Marcus pulled his phone out, handing it to him. He guessed Esca wanted to text Craddock and wasn't surprised when he started immediately typing. "That's good. What do you want us to do?"
"I just want you to stay ready. If she's feral, we might need you to calm her down."
"Number?" Esca whispered, and Marcus tapped on his phone, grateful that he put Diana's number in the phone when his dad had given it to him several years ago, though he'd never planned on calling it. Esca seemed to understand the gesture, pulling up his contact list.
"You think she's feral?"
Potter sighed over the phone. "Not really, no. She was calm and she made a calculated decision to slip away. But if she does actually find your dad and he's in trouble, she may go feral. She could attack anyone who hurt him."
Would Silvius being at risk too make her more likely to go feral? Not that she and Silvius knew each other well, but to have both her husband and his brother in danger... Marcus knew that Sentinels could be dangerous when feral, but the thought of his step-mom as crazed and out-of-control was bizarre. She'd always been so polite and a little reticent, mostly hanging back and letting Marcus interact with his dad whenever they visited. As he got lost in his thoughts, Esca took the phone from him. "Sentinel Potter, this is Sentinel MacCunoval. We've discovered that Marcus' uncle is gone too. There's a smell of multiple men and an electric discharge that might have been from a taser."
Esca paused, and Marcus wished he had the Sentinel ability to listen to both sides of a phone conversation. "Yes, I do think it's the same people, and if you do end up locating her, make sure you are ready to rescue both Flavius and Silvius. We'll wait to hear from you. You have both our numbers? Good." He handed the phone back to Marcus.
"I can't imagine Diana going feral."
"If she does and hurts someone, at least there's good documentation of the entire situation. A feral Sentinel won't be held accountable if her Guide is in danger."
"You're concerned about an assault charge? How can you even think about that now?"
Esca rubbed his nose against the back of Marcus' head. "Asks Mr. click it or ticket. I believe in contingency planning and being aware of consequences." His phone beeped and he glanced at it. "The track has started. We should take the car and try to meet up with her whenever she stops. It'll be best to not need to ask the Hammond for transportation. People appearing and disappearing can raise questions. I'm going to get my gun first."
"Okay." Marcus waited as Esca ran back upstairs, hoping that they would be successful in finding his family.
As his first car chase, trying to track Diana across Los Angeles was somewhat disappointing. Her route was winding, with occasional pauses. Marcus navigated, using his better knowledge of Los Angeles and its traffic issues to keep them moving closer to her. "Do you think she's stopping so often because of traffic? Where she is shouldn't be this bad."
"My guess is that she's stopping and scenting."
"She's really tracking him down in a city the size of Los Angeles? How can she do that?" Marcus asked.
"Assuming she succeeds, she's incredibly powerful. I couldn't do it."
"You couldn't find me?"
"In a smaller area with fewer distractions, certainly. But not Los Angeles. What does she do?"
"I don't actually know. They work for Sentinel Central."
"I bet it's search and rescue."
"Like kids who get lost in the forest or something? I've never seen them on the news or anything." Marcus contemplated what he had seen on the news, as he studied the blinking dot on the phone and gave Esca directions. "We're really close, turn left at the next light. You know, it's weird, it's been ages since I've seen a Sentinel on the news. They used to make a big fuss about it."
"A Sentinel and a Guide got kidnapped by a crime cartel a few years ago, and were being forced to work for them. Sentinel Central decided that the risks were more than the benefit of identifying individual Sentinel as heroes."
That decision was probably wise, but seemed a shame. Sentinels and their Guides often accomplished feats that were miraculous compared to what normal people could do. "She's not moving. I think we're going to catch up with her. She's halfway down this block. There," Marcus said, catching a glimpse of Diana striding toward a warehouse on a block full of industrial buildings. A man was running after her, holding up her purse.
"Deal with the rideshare driver," Esca said, easing the car into a parking space.
"What are you—" But Esca was already gone, bolting out of the car.
Marcus swore, and ran toward the rideshare driver, grabbing her purse. "It's on her credit card, right?"
"Yeah, but that was a weird ride—" Marcus headed toward Diana and Esca, barely hearing the driver yell, "I expect a good review! Five stars!"
Diana was at a door into the building, a man having opened it. He looked startled, but she only gave him a second to register her presence before bending her leg and lifting it to her chest, snapping her leg forward to kick him squarely in the middle of his torso. As he staggered back and fell to the ground, she stepped over him and into the building, Esca right behind her.
By the time Marcus ran into the building, two men were down and unmoving, though he missed seeing how Diana had handled the second one. Marcus had never realized Diana was trained in fighting, but clearly she'd had experience.
His dad and uncle were both tied to chairs, several feet away from each other. "One more step and I'll blow his brains out," a third man said, the barrel of a gun pressed against Flavius' temple. A Glock, Marcus thought, and there was no way he could miss. Sentinels had super senses, but they weren't superhuman. They didn't have super speed like comic book heroes. Everyone paused, all looking at the man and Flavius.
"Flavius..." Diana's voice was anguished.
"Diana. It's okay. I love you," Flavius responded. A bruise had formed around one eye, and there was a small trickle of blood on the side of his mouth.
The man holding a gun to Flavius' head was perhaps Marcus' age, pale skinned with dark hair that looked like it was growing out of a Mohawk. His emotions were easy to feel, anger and frustration. "Flavius Aquila. Silvius Aquila. I know you now." His voice was accented, sounding possibly French.
"What is this about?" Marcus asked. "Why have you hurt them?"
The guy glanced between Marcus and Flavius, then laughed, but it wasn't a pleasant sound. He looked at Silvius. "You don't have a son, but you have family. You have a brother, a nephew. I'll hurt you, old man."
"Leave them out of your delusion," Silvius said, his voice harsher and darker than Marcus had ever heard.
"It's not a delusion, old man. You killed my father. You will pay."
"Again, I can only repeat—"
"Stop lying to me! I know! I know your scent. Stop moving!" He directed the last toward Esca. Marcus glanced around. His Sentinel had paused, his gun now held in his hands, raised and pointing at the man.
"If you kill him, you die next," Esca promised.
"You're a Sentinel."
"As are you."
"You have two Sentinels protecting you, old man? You are a lucky man."
A person on a motorcycle came driving in through the back doors of the warehouse, and up to the Sentinel, wheeling around so that the back of the machine was next to him. The motorcyclist was wearing a black jacket and a helmet, making it impossible for Marcus to tell if it was a man or woman. Determination and worry were the person's emotions. It had to be the Sentinel's Guide.
"This isn't over. I will see you again," the Sentinel said to Silvius. He swung a leg over the back of the machine, the muzzle of his gun now inches away from Flavius, but still too close.
Esca was moving again, quietly, toward Silvius. As he stepped in front of him, Marcus realized that he was preventing the guy from shooting Silvius as he was driven off. "No!" he yelled, throwing himself in front of Esca, but the two strangers were already roaring out of the building. Marcus felt a strange disconnection, realizing everyone was safe. "Oh thank—" he grabbed onto Esca, holding him tight, feeling strong arms wrap around him in return.
Diana straddled Flavius' lap, her hands in his hair, kissing him fiercely, Flavius returning her kiss with equal intensity.
"We should go after him," Marcus said, starting to turn out of Esca's arms and toward the front door.
"Marcus." Esca grabbed his forearm, restraining him. "He's on a motorcycle, there's no point. He'll have vanished before we even get to the car."
"I didn't get enough of his scent to track him," Diana said regretfully, still sitting on Flavius' lap, but looking toward them.
"We're just going to let him go?"
"We're going to take the win that we have everyone safe. And get these fellows both restrained and medical attention." Esca jerked his head at the unconscious figures. "They should be able to tell us more about him and his Guide."
"If someone could free me, I would appreciate it," Silvius said, sounding almost impatient for him.
Marcus went to untie his uncle while Esca checked on the two guys on the floor and Diana untied Flavius.
"They're out cold," Esca said, before calling Potter on his phone, reporting that they had found Sentinel Aquila and needed an ambulance. "Yes, two people are injured, possible concussions, feral Sentinel incident."
"I'm not feral," Diana said as Esca tucked his phone away. Flavius was free, but still sitting, with Diana leaning over him, hugging him from behind. They both looked like they needed the reassurance of each other's touch. They had never been so physically demonstrative in Marcus' presence, and it made him uncomfortable.
"A Sentinel can't necessarily make that determination by themselves."
"I can know if I'm out of control," Diana snapped.
"Look, whoever you are—"
"Dad, this is Esca MacCunoval," Marcus said hastily, cutting off Flavius and crossing to take Esca's hand. He hadn't thought much about introducing Esca to his dad, but he certainly wouldn't have pictured it in the middle of a rescue. "He's my Sentinel."
Flavius' expression instantly softened from irritation to pleasure. "You found your Sentinel? Marcus, I'm so pleased." Flavius stood, stepping forward to hug Marcus and then shake Esca's hand.
Marcus relaxed a little at Flavius' immediate acceptance. "Yes, back in Texas actually."
"But he's not—"
"Texan, no, obviously. Could we save explanations for later?" Silvius interrupted his brother. "Marcus, did you drive? Please take me home."
"Uncle, there will be an investigation. They'll want to take a statement from you."
"That's fine, they can send someone out to the house. They don't need all five of us to stand around and wait."
"Uncle." Marcus waited until Silvius looked up from massaging his wrists. "This is because of you. Your statement will be the most important."
"No, Marcus, this is because of some deranged Sentinel who's probably done too many drugs in his life."
"He thinks you killed his father."
"And he's confused."
It hurt, it hurt more than Marcus could have believed possible. He did not want to ask this, not with Esca and Diana already at odds, how much family disharmony did they need? But he had to know the truth, and he couldn't yet trust what his own Guide senses were telling him. He looked at Esca. "Is he lying?"
"Yes." Esca's voice was very gentle. "I'm sorry, Marcus. He's trying to stay calm, but his heartbeat is elevated and his pupils are dilated. He knows something about this situation that he doesn't want to tell us."
Marcus looked back at Silvius, feeling his hands twitch. He fought the desire to shake him, focusing on staying calm. "Uncle?"
"I'm an old man who was attacked in my house. Of course I'm upset. Sentinel senses are extraordinary but that physical stress means I'm lying is only an extrapolation of data, and it's an insulting one."
Marcus briefly considered his uncle's reasoning but discarded it. He'd seen his uncle upset several times over the years they'd lived together but never so defensive. Esca's belief that he was hiding something simply felt like the truth, and validated his own senses. "Uncle, my dad was attacked. Diana was attacked. You were attacked. Esca was standing in front of you to take a bullet for you. That man may return and try to kill you. We deserve the truth."
The shrill noise of an ambulance's siren cut through the silence. Help was arriving quickly, just when Marcus wished they had more time.
"If you don't tell me, I'm going to repeat what he said, and then Sentinel Central and LAPD will know. They'll write it up, that guy thinks you killed his father."
Marcus and his uncle had rarely argued. Silvius had been unfailingly supportive and direct with him. Playing hardball with his uncle felt unnatural and unpleasant, but necessary.
Silvius looked at Marcus levelly, then at the others. Marcus could almost see that he was weighing the odds of getting someone else to side with him. Then he sighed. "I can get you the name of the father, but that may be the best I can do. But it shouldn't become official that he thinks I killed someone."
"You get us that name and we all say that he fled without saying why he attacked you."
"Stick to he was angry and didn't make sense," Esca suggested, his voice very even. "That's less of a lie. Potter will be less able to tell that we're not being completely honest."
Fuck, right. Having so many Sentinels around posed problems that Marcus had never expected to face. "Okay." Marcus turned to look at his Dad and Diana, fully realizing he was suggesting lying to all of them, but instinctively determined to protect his uncle no matter what. "Okay?"
"As long as we get the name," Diana said. "I have to know how to protect my Guide. Though these two may know the whole story," she added, gesturing to the two unconscious men. "They'll be questioned by the LAPD."
"They may not know much more. They seemed like hired help." Flavius stood, like Silvius rubbing at his wrists. "Mostly the Sentinel was insistent at learning if I had any male relatives. I tried to not bring you into it, Silvius, but he could tell I was lying and I had hoped that going to your house would allow me a chance to escape or contact someone."
Silvius waved a hand dismissively. "I understand, Flavius. It's not easy being confronted with a crazed man with a gun. And I will get you the man's name. That should help you identify the son. Can someone take me home now?" Silvius' voice was surprisingly plaintive, and Marcus looked to Esca, deferring to him.
"Go ahead, Marcus. Take him home," Esca said as EMTs rushed into the building. "We'll handle making a report."
Marcus was working out when Esca appeared in the doorway. Silvius had gone to his room to rest, claiming tiredness and stress, so feeling at loose ends, Marcus had gone to the exercise room. Straining his muscles always made him feel better, especially now that he could exercise his full body. "Hey. I just finished."
Esca rested a hand on Marcus' sweaty chest, leaning down to give him a gentle kiss. "I still haven't managed to see your entire routine."
"It's just weights. I've worked in my legs now that I can. Are dad and Diana here?"
"No." Esca looked like he was hesitating, before he continued. "Potter and Reilly took them to their hotel. They're going to pack up and come back here to stay. I got a rideshare home."
"They were staying in Los Angeles and didn't come here?"
"Apparently so. Potter showed up and we gave a report as we discussed. The Sentinel was angry and irrational and seemed to have some sort of grievance against your family but it didn't make sense to us. You and Silvius can email your report to Potter, I've got his address."
"Did he buy it?"
"Enough that he didn't call us on it. Your uncle is in his room?"
"Yeah, he's resting. You can't tell?"
"He's using his white noise generator."
So his uncle's past that involved working for a super secret spy agency had involved killing at least one person, his dad and Diana were visiting his city without letting him know, and Marcus himself was never going to let 'aliens exist' escape his lips to his family. And Esca and Diana were Sentinels, which meant they could detect lies, while he and his Dad were both Guides, so were supposed to be empathic and able to read feelings. How could his family life be so riddled with duplicity? "You want to go for a run?"
"Sure. Let me change."
The run was good, just what Marcus needed to clear his head. Though the sun was bright, the day wasn't too hot, and the sidewalks in his neighborhood were nice and wide, without a lot of walkers to avoid. Esca kept pace with him, lengthening the stride of his shorter legs. It felt so good, the muscles in his legs moving smoothly, his feet eating up distance, his Sentinel by his side.
They paused in the shadow of a big tree, doing calf stretches. Marcus reveled in the feel of flexing his muscles, especially the thigh that he'd thought would always be a burden.
"Your step-mom is quite amazing, you know that. That she managed to find Flavius in a city of this size, that she took out two attackers without weapons, that her Guide was at risk and she never went feral."
"You implied she did."
"I suggested it was a possibility." Esca rolled his shoulders back. He did different stretches than Marcus, not surprising with training in dance rather than football. "I've been dealing with hiding the existence of extraterrestrials for several years. I do have a tendency to think about deniability."
"Why are you bringing this up?"
"Because I don't have to be able to feel emotions to tell that you're angry at your dad. And I know you have good reason to be." Esca ran his palms up Marcus' arms, resting his hands on his shoulders. "It wasn't a good thing he did, to divorce your mom to be with her. But just—hear them out, find out why they're here without telling you, okay?"
Taking Esca's hands, Marcus brought them up to his face, resting them on his cheeks. He focused on his breath for a few moments, then on Esca, reaching out, feeling the other man's emotions, his sincerity and love. "You don't have any family."
"A few aunts and uncles. Cousins. No one I'm close to. Good friends have been my family."
"Okay." He kissed one of Esca's palms, then the other, before dropping his hands. "I'll listen. I'll try not to judge."
"That's all I ask. Thank you, Marcus."
"Is that why you stepped in front of my uncle? Because he's my family?"
"Mostly it was just a calculated gamble that the Sentinel wasn't interested in killing me and wouldn't shoot."
Marcus shook a little, thinking of the fear he'd felt when he'd realized where Esca's stealthy movements had placed him. "I don't want you risking yourself like that for me."
Esca's smile was oddly sad. "Marcus, you don't get that say. I'm a Sentinel. I'm going to do what I have to, to do my job and to protect you."
"No. That's non-negotiable. You either accept that, or we find a safer line of work. But you do know to contact Craddock if I get hurt, right?"
"Could they have used the nanites? To cure you in Texas?" Why hadn't they? Esca had recovered well, but his time healing could have been so much faster.
"Probably not. The nanites aren't under Craddock's control and they're used sparingly." Esca shrugged. "There's a concern of them getting loose. But there are some other medical devices from the Ancients and other alien cultures. Craddock would find a way to get access if one of his agents was severely wounded."
"Okay." Marcus nodded, remembering how Doctor Beckett had programmed the nanites in advance of their meeting. Should the ones in his body be removed? Could they be? He should email Beckett. "But if it's non-negotiable that I accept you'll risk your life for me, then it's also non-negotiable that I'll risk my life for you. You're as important to me as I am to you."
"Marcus." Esca pulled his head down, giving him a hard kiss. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Marcus was laughing as he stumbled into the house, Esca hot on his heels. "I won," he crowed, looking at Esca, still delighting in his ability to run, and to put on a burst of speed the last few yards. Belatedly, he realized that they had an audience, his uncle, dad, and Diana all standing in the foyer, two suitcases showing that their recent arrival. "Dad, Diana," he added, as Esca shut the door behind him.
"You were running?" Flavius asked, his tone of disbelief belatedly making Marcus remember that he didn't know about his healed leg or the deactivated nanites in Marcus' system.
"Yeah, just a quick one. Let me shower and I'll get some dinner started." He started for the stairs, Esca still following.
"Marcus," Flavius said, and Marcus instinctively paused in response to that parental tone, turning to face him. "When did your leg get healed?"
"Let him shower, Silvius. I've ordered dinner, Marcus, but it should be here soon. Come down as soon as you can. I'm starving. Flavius, Diana, you know where the guest bedroom is." Silvius didn't wait to see the results of his orders, heading for the kitchen, so Marcus took the opportunity to escape.
"The white noise generator is still going in Silvius' bedroom," Esca said, as they reached Marcus' bedroom. "I understand his need for privacy, but it'll diminish my ability to tell when someone is approaching. I can overcome a generator if I really need to, but it takes a lot of focus."
Marcus pulled his t-shirt off and dropped it in the hamper. "You think that guy will risk coming to the house?"
"Possibly not, but he might. I'll talk to uncle about leaving it off most of the time. It's good the house has a security system for when we're gone."
"I can talk—"
"Let me. I'm the Sentinel. If he has any questions about my senses, he should ask me."
Marcus kicked off his sneakers, sitting down to remove his socks. He'd expected that the three of them would have to make some adjustments, living together, but protecting Silvius from a crazed Sentinel hadn't been part of the expected negotiations. "Let me be there. We should talk about what happens when we're gone too. I'm glad uncle got the security system upgraded after Big Jim's attack, but we may need more if we're dealing with a Sentinel and a Guide."
"Tomorrow maybe? I think it should be just the three of us." Esca took his sneakers and socks off too as he spoke.
"Yeah," Marcus agreed. He loved his dad, but he had the sense that Silvius wouldn't want his younger brother in his business. The two of them had never been particularly close. At least it was a topic that could be discussed, and not hidden. "Fuck, Diana and dad will know when I'm lying, won't they?" Diana would pick up his accelerated heartbeat, while Flavius could feel his tangled emotions. He remembered being a kid, and how often his dad would say, "You can't lie to me." Marcus had learned from a very early age that a Guide for a parent could be a disadvantage and that honesty was the best policy.
"Probably. Diana's a Sentinel and your dad knows you. Stick close to the truth, that it was a recent experimental procedure," Esca suggested, stripping off his clothes and dropping them in the hamper. His skin gleamed with sweat from the run.
Marcus groaned at the sight of Esca's nakedness. Everything about his Sentinel instantly aroused him.
"Should we shower together?" Esca asked, with a wicked smile.
"No." Marcus threw himself to his bed, telling himself that making his uncle wait for dinner so that he and Esca could have sex would not be appreciated. He grabbed his phone off the nightstand. "I'll check email. Be fast."
"Yes, Guide," Esca said, disappearing into the bathroom. Marcus let himself appreciate Esca's firm backside before forcing his eyes back to his phone.
The family seemed to have made an unspoken agreement to wait until food was served before starting difficult conversations. Marcus and Esca set the table as Flavius and Diana unpacked the take out boxes, salad, pastas with both cream sauce and marinara, garlic breadsticks, and tiramisu. Silvius opened a bottle of red wine, pouring glasses for everyone, and they settled down to eat, making light conversation about food and wine.
"So." Flavius paused, staring at Marcus, his fork in his salad. "How did your leg get healed?"
Marcus stared back at his dad. His mom always said that he looked just like him, but it was more obvious now that they were both grown men. Flavius was wearing his hair slicked back, and was older, but Marcus had clearly inherited his features from his dad and though he was slimmer, their builds were similar. Marcus deliberately finished his bite and swallowed. "Why did you and Diana come to Los Angeles without contacting me?"
Diana smiled, pressing her napkin to her lips to hide her amusement. "He has grown up to be very much like you." She dropped her napkin to the table, leaning forward slightly. "Marcus, it was my request that we come to the city for a few days first before reaching out. Don't blame your father."
Flavius and Diana looked at each other, as if seeking support. "We've decided to start a family."
Marcus was shocked at his dad's answer. "What?"
"We're going to try to have a child, hopefully two. We've discussed it for a while and have decided it's time."
"Flavius is being tactful, but I'm getting old to be a mom. We can't wait much longer. We would like you to be a part of his or her life, Marcus. Their lives. I'm so sorry that you and your father haven't been close, I know that's been my fault," Diana said earnestly. "I'd like to make up for it, as best that I can."
"You aren't responsible for my decisions. I was the one who didn't wait for you."
Of course, there was no reason to assume that his dad and Diana wouldn't have kids. They just hadn't, and Marcus had never thought very much about it. The possibility of becoming a brother at his age hit him strongly. For that matter, he and Esca could be thinking about a family, through surrogacy or adoption. He looked at his Sentinel, the calmness of his expression comforting him. No matter what, he always had Esca's support now. "So you're starting right away?"
"We found a specialist who deals in Sentinel pregnancies that Diana likes and have talked to a real estate agent. We're ready to settle. We were just about to call you when those men attacked."
"I understand that pregnancy can be very difficult for a Sentinel," Esca said. "We are so accustomed to having control over our bodies and our senses."
Diana looked briefly at Esca, then back at Flavius, love in her eyes. "It will be worth it."
"It seems to be a family tradition, siblings separated by time," Silvius said as he stood. "I think the occasion calls for another bottle. You're still drinking alcohol?" he asked Diana belatedly.
"For a few more days."
"Marcus? Your leg?" Flavius prompted.
Marcus glanced again at Esca. "There's not really much to say. Esca's boss knows a specialist who has been working with experimental procedures."
"And yet, your emotions are—erratic."
"It's been a big change. I spent years feeling like a cripple." Flavius flinched at the word, but Marcus continued. "I know, that's not a word to use any more, but it's how I felt. Worthless. I was going to be a football star, not a professor. I know some people would say I should be grateful, that I could still walk, but that accident, seeing mom dead—" He couldn't speak, looking down as his plate of food, trying to swallow his sudden grief, not surprised when Esca stood and pressed close, bending over him, his arms around Marcus.
"I'm sorry," Flavius said softly. "I should have insisted that you come live with us."
"No, that's fine." He pulled himself together, leaning back in the chair, giving Esca's arm a quick squeeze. Reassured, Esca sat down again, as Silvius' hand dropped on Marcus' shoulder. He poured Marcus more wine. "It's been good, living with uncle."
"I have loved you living here, Marcus, and I'm glad Esca is here now."
"We won't be here all the time." Silvius must have figured that out, but this seemed to be a good time to let his dad and Diana know. "I'm dropping out of my PhD program and joining Esca's company. We'll be traveling for work."
Flavius looked disappointed. "You're not going to finish your PhD? You've put such work into it."
"It was always a fallback plan. I have my Sentinel now. I'll work with him."
"In research of some sort, right?"
Marcus wanted to bristle at his dad's carefully neutral tone, but Esca spoke first. "Yes, it's been an interesting job. I was actually in Texas, researching human trafficking when I met Marcus. He rescued me from someone who didn't appreciate my inquiry."
Flavius nodded in recognition of the name. "I saw that he'd been arrested. You were involved with that?"
"It was Marcus really. I was mostly unconscious at that point. Big Jim had me beaten up."
"Getting into danger is unsurprising for a Sentinel, but research is an unusual profession for one."
Esca seemed unconcerned at Flavius' critique. "I hadn't found my Guide. Marcus wasn't coming to mixers. I needed a job and this was available. I've grown to like it. I know sometimes people think it's wasting my Sentinel abilities, but I've done a lot of good, helping to expose people being dishonest."
"And you think you'll enjoy this?" Flavius asked Marcus.
"I've already signed up."
"We will be home regularly," Esca added. "I don't have much family of my own. I look forward to being—"
"A half-brother too," Diana insisted, when Esca paused, hesitant how to finish.
"And a son-in-law," Flavius added. "Marcus' Sentinel is our family."
Marcus appreciated that his dad and Diana were so insistent on including Esca, even if he still felt odd about the prospect of having such younger siblings. "We are planning on getting married, so that will be official." They were enjoying talking about plans, sharing traditions and expectations, though Marcus still wondered if Esca had been trying to fool him when he'd insisted that the English had fruitcake as their wedding cakes. At least they both wanted chocolate for theirs.
"Liathan King," Silvius said suddenly, looking at his phone. It had been resting by his plate, which was unusual. Most of the time, Silvius didn't even acknowledge he had a cell phone, but he tapped on it lightly and without hesitation. "I was able to get the Sentinel's name. I've forwarded you what I have. It's time for that tiramisu," he added, standing and beginning to clear plates. "Marcus?"
Marcus shot a glance at Esca, who gave a shake of his head and also stood. "Let me help too."
"Silvius, we should talk about this," Flavius insisted. "Who that man was, and why he wants to hurt you."
"We should do many things in this life, Flavius. Right now, I'm going to have some dessert and coffee. Do you want some?"
Marcus picked up his plate and his dad's, silently supporting his uncle in his avoidance as his dad grudgingly accepted with a terse, "Black, please."
Marcus shut the bedroom door firmly behind them, beginning to strip for bed. He used to sleep in boxers but these days naked seemed most efficient. Today had been stressful, rescuing his dad and uncle, learning of his dad and Diana's plans, not being fully honest about his own future. He wanted nothing more than really good sex with Esca and to not think for a while.
"You okay?" he asked Esca as he pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it at the hamper.
The Sentinel was leaning his butt against the edge of the desk, not moving. "I'm fine, just thinking it's both a good and bad thing that the white noise generator is going."
"Yeah. At least the security system is set." Marcus glanced toward the door, thinking of his dad and Diana in the bedroom down the hall. "I guess you wouldn't want to hear that."
"Though they must be beautiful together."
"It's my dad and my step-mom." Marcus kicked his shoes into the closet and unbuckled his jeans. "I am not going there."
"She's gorgeous and he looks like an older version of you. You're going to age well."
"Not going there," Marcus repeated. Naked, he threw back the covers and laid on the bed.
"Have you ever had sex with a woman?"
Marcus linked his fingers behind his head, bending one knee, foot flat on the bed, spreading his legs slightly. "I want to have sex with you, if you would get naked."
Esca smiled at Marcus' persistence but began undressing. "You have, haven't you?"
The instinct to be fully honest with his Sentinel warred with his natural reticence at discussing sex and experiences that now seemed vaguely disloyal. "What makes you think that?"
"You're not denying it." Esca stripped the rest of his clothes, revealing his taut, toned body. "It was Cottia, wasn't it?"
"God." Marcus covered his eyes with one forearm. "You are too good at guessing."
"I thought it had to be." Esca settled on Marcus' body, the same way he had that morning, his butt on Marcus' hips. "Your first time?"
"Way too good at guessing," Marcus muttered. He liked when Esca sat like this, that he had the solidness to accept his weight. "What does it matter?"
"It's an important thing to anyone, their first time. I want to know everything about you."
"She liked this guy but she was nervous about it, and whether he'd be too rough. Teenage guys in Texas can be assholes. And I was young and horny and wanted to have sex but I wasn't out, I wasn't going to risk hitting on a guy.
"I borrowed my mom's truck and some sleeping bags. She swiped a bottle of Jack from her uncle. We drove out to an area we knew was deserted, and just—you know."
"Yes, had sex."
"Laying under the sun, on sleeping bags in the back of a pickup truck, two horny naked teenagers. You two would have been gorgeous too."
"It was nighttime. It would have been even weirder in daylight."
"Did you like it?"
Marcus considered the question seriously, finally removing the arm from his eyes. "I liked the way she responded, the way she enjoyed being touched. I've always liked hugging her."
"It's just embarrassing to talk about."
"Haven't you realized nothing you've done is wrong in my eyes? You have no reason to be embarrassed to tell me anything."
"I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get it up. We were fooling around and taking our time and having a few shots. Cottia started talking about a few guys at school and how hot they were and then I was able to do it."
"Ouch." Esca winced. "She didn't take that personally? That she wasn't enough."
"She didn't seem to. She seemed to like that we'd done it together."
"Did she come?"
"You don't let anything go, do you?" Esca was like a dog with a bone. Marcus could understand why he was such a good investigator.
"Not where you're concerned."
"No, she didn't come. I was horrified, but I used my fingers afterwards until she did. Can we stop talking and have sex now?"
"Was she the only one?"
Marcus exhaled, long and slow. "No, there were a few when I first started college. I was still figuring things out. But none of them were serious, and Cottia's the only one still in my life."
"I find myself grateful to Cottia, that it was a good experience, even if I'm always going to wish it was me."
"What about you? Who was your first time with?"
"It was—not very good really. Awkward."
"I'm sorry," Marcus said softly. "I'd still like to hear about it."
"Someday. Right now"—Esca placed his hands flat on Marcus' chest, his thumbs rubbing on his nipples—"right now I really need to affirm that you're mine."
Finally. "I'm your territory."
"Yes. Is that too possessive?"
"No. I like it. Property of Esca MacCunoval. Do you want me to turn over?"
"No." Esca kissed Marcus, the kind of kiss that demanded submission. Marcus opened his mouth, letting Esca's tongue invade. "I want to see your eyes. Can you—" He took Marcus' forearms, placing his arms over his head. Marcus accepted the direction, not moving, as Esca trailed his fingertips all over his chest.
"You're so handsome, so strong."
"I want to be, for you." He wanted to be perfect for Esca, to be whatever Esca needed. If his dad felt this strength of emotion for Diana—maybe he could begin to forgive him for abandoning them, but that was something to contemplate more later. Right now his focus was on Esca.
"You are." Esca's expression was absorbed, his concentration totally on the feel of Marcus' smooth skin. His fingers drifted downwards as he shifted to sit on Marcus' thighs, his hands caressing Marcus' dick, already rock-hard. "I want to fuck you."
In answer, Marcus groped for the lube, and dropped it on his lower torso. Esca grinned, and picked it up, coating his fingers as they moved comfortably, Esca resettling on his knees between Marcus' thighs. He started with one finger but quickly moved to two and three, Marcus encouraging him by grinding down on his fingers, helping to stretch himself.
"Your hips are a work of art."
"That's plenty." Marcus groaned with pleasure as Esca's clever fingers brushed on his prostate. "Come on, Esca. Do it."
"Yes, Marcus," Esca murmured, with a tone of amusement, and then he was thrusting in, so good, thick and hard and deep. "I love you."
Marcus squeezed his thighs around Esca's hips, and it became a kind of battle, Esca plunging in and out of him, Marcus rocking with him, encouraging him on. Their bodies moved smoothly together, fully in unison. Marcus felt like he was drowning in Esca, in the fierce pleasure that flowed from his Sentinel's mind, the strength of his slim body, the stiffness of his cock deep inside.
"Touch me," Esca gasped, and Marcus obeyed, groping for Esca's buttocks and squeezing tightly as Esca shuddered in his arms, coming with a long groan. The sensation was too much to bear, and Marcus followed, come shooting wildly from his dick, falling on his belly.
Esca recovered first, freeing himself reluctantly, getting a wet washcloth and gently wiping Marcus clean, grabbing his phone and turning off the light before he snuggled back into bed, pulling the covers over them.
"You want to read email?" Marcus asked. Contact with the outside world was the last thing on his mind at the moment.
"I want to see what your uncle sent."
"He sent it to both of us?"
"And your dad and Diana." Esca shifted so that his head rested next to Marcus', holding the screen so that both of them could read the limited biographical information, the name, the birthdate, what Marcus assumed were schools in France.
"He's only a few months older than us."
Esca made a humming sound of agreement, forwarding the email to Craddock. "I'll see what Craddock knows, assuming that this didn't come from him in the first place. We can do more research in the morning."
"You handle this well. You're very—cool."
"It's my training."
"He's still out there, and he still wants to hurt Uncle."
"It's only one Sentinel and Guide." He twisted, kissing Marcus lightly. "Besides, every great team should have a Moriarty, right? Though that's probably giving him too much credit, just because he got lucky once. We can handle whatever comes, now that we're together."
"Yes," Marcus agreed. "Together."
There was a sudden pressure on the bed, and Marcus glanced down to see Esca's red fox curling up at their feet, as he felt a sudden gust of wind. A bald eagle landed on one of the bed posts, its intense yellow eyes looking at the two of them.
"I guess that's one question answered," Esca said. "Very appropriate for an Aquila."
"Hey, girl," Marcus crooned. The eagle blinked her eyes once, then shut them, tucking her head into her breast and falling asleep.
"Mine has never slept with me like this. I guess they both approve." Esca tossed his phone onto the nightstand, following the example of their animals, curling into Marcus' body, pillowing his head on Marcus' chest. Twisting his fingers into Esca's hair, Marcus let himself drift off, feeling at peace. The four of them were complete now.
~ the end ~