Spencer nearly plowed into Aaron’s back as they entered their home. After a short day at the office to wrap up the remaining paperwork for their most recent, grueling case, Aaron had declared that the team could take the rest of the day off to heartfelt cheers. He and Spencer had signed Jack out of kindergarten a mere hour early and had headed home. Now, Spencer pressed his free hand against his sentinel’s back to steady himself and tightened his arm around Jack, securing him to his hip. “Aaron?”
His sentinel took a deep breath then tilted his head in his characteristic listening stance.
Spencer wrapped his hand around Aaron’s wrist to ground him.
“Daddy?” Jack whispered, his little head also tilted. “Why is Mommy making that noise? Is she hurt? Who’s that with her?”
With just those innocent questions Spencer knew what it was that Aaron and Jack were hearing. Why Aaron was so tense and unmoving. Spencer leaned his forehead against his sentinel’s back, tightening his hold. “I’m so sorry, Aaron.”
Aaron twisted his wrist free, but his hand slid up to lace their fingers, giving Spencer’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “Go pack yourself and Jack a bag.”
Spencer knew better than to argue when Aaron sounded like that. He tried to slip by the master bedroom without letting Jack see anything, but the door was wide opened and the young sentinel had very sharp eyes. Spencer could see the questions in Jack’s eyes, but thankfully the boy kept silent, obviously sensing that something was very wrong.
“Sweetheart, pick a few of your favorite toys, okay?” Spencer hurried to Jack’s closet, pulling out his little rolling suitcase and packed enough clothes for a week. When he turned back to Jack, the five year old was carefully piling his favorites, but he was biting his lip and his head was turned towards his parents’ bedroom.
“Yeah, Jack?” Spencer was grateful Jack was keeping his voice low, mimicking Spencer.
“I thought only mommies and daddies who loved each other sleep in the same bed?”
Spencer scrunched his eyes closed; wishing to God Haley had been smart enough to keep this out of their house. “That’s true.”
“But it wasn’t Daddy in there with Mommy!” Jack protested, a little too loudly.
“Shhh,” Spencer soothed, picking up him and settling Jack in his lap. The little boy clung. “Sometimes . . . sometimes mommies and daddies don’t love each other anymore.”
Jack’s eyes went wide and lush with tears. The wetness grew as the voices became loud enough for Spencer to hear.
“You’re never home, Aaron! What was I supposed to do? Forget my own needs? Be the good little wife?”
“But they will always love you,” Spencer hurried to assure him, turning Jack’s face towards him, hoping that the young sentinel would be distracted enough to focus on him rather than on his parents’ arguing. “Just like I will always love you, even when you find your own guide.”
He knew it was inadequate explanation and measly reassurance, but it was all he could give him right now. That, and slipping into the young sentinel’s mind to wrap him in warmth and love and security.
Aaron swept the hotel room, checking his temporary territory for anything that might hurt his shrinking family. With his wife’s betrayal, all he had left – his son and his guide – would need even more vigilant protection. He wanted to bar the door, his wife’s angry screams that she wanted custody of Jack ringing in his ears, but he knew it was an unnecessary fire hazard.
Aaron gathered his tiny son in his arms, holding tightly but carefully. “Yeah, buddy?”
“Are we leaving Mommy behind?”
He stared down into Jack’s face, saw dark eyes that reflected his own, saw a strange understanding that a five year old shouldn’t have. Aaron’s eyes narrowed, suspicions rising. Spencer must have felt his emotions surging because a long, slim body was suddenly plastered to his back, infinitely familiar waves of soothing warmth flowing into his mind. He let his guide calm him so that his voice came out stern, but still gentle. “Jack, is there something you want to tell me?”
Jack gave a one-shouldered shrug.
“Did you meet him?” His voice and arms shook with renewed anger, fury that his wife would let her lover anywhere near Jack. Aaron relaxed again as Spencer’s soothing presence surged in his mind, smoothing out the jagged edges of his anger once more.
Jack shook his head, something old and tired in his eyes. “I heard Mommy on the phone talking to Aunt Jessica. She said she had never been so happy.”
Aaron wondered if Haley knew how she had hurt Jack with such words. It was obvious Jack thought that she hadn’t been happy with their family, that she wasn’t happy with Jack. “She loves you, buddy. It’s me your mom’s not happy with,” he reassured easily. It was the truth. She may have hurt Jack, but she loved him.
Jack nodded, eyes slipping down.
“C’mon, bedtime.” Spencer said quietly, patting Jack’s back and nudging them both towards the bathroom. “You two go first.”
Aaron brushed a long lock of Spencer’s hair out of his face, letting his fingers trace down a downy-soft cheek.
Spencer smiled. It was the same smile he gave Aaron on the day they had met and bonded.
Aaron didn’t expect his guide to be fifteen years younger than him. He didn’t expect his guide to be a waif of a teenager with big hazel eyes, waves of russet hair to his chin, and a mind so utterly amazing Aaron didn’t have a clue sometimes how he was ever going to relate to Spencer Reid, fifteen year old super genius. And his guide.
He had already reached the ripe age of thirty, married and with the FBI, before his hypersenses had kicked in. Haley hadn’t been too happy when he had been sent to the northeast branch of the Sentinel and Guide Institute, but was mollified by weekend trips to see him in New York City. He had learned to control his senses with and without the aid of a guide. He knew that his control would never be perfect without a guide, but he hadn’t clicked with any of the guides he had met there. It didn’t help that Haley had glared jealously at any of the female guides that had approached him. He left the institute without a guide, but had promised to come back for the quarterly mix- and- mingles. Between his family and job, he hadn’t made it to a single one.
Therefore, to his great surprise, he met his guide when he was asked to give a lecture at Georgetown Law. He had barely stepped into the lecture hall when his senses latched onto his guide and the rest of the world fell away.
“Aaron? Hotch? Hotchner!”
Spencer lifted his head from his text book, blinking to refocus his eyes. The voices disturbing his reading were the two men surrounding a third at the front of the classroom. Dr. Lipinski was the lecture series’ coordinator; therefore the two other men must be the guest speakers from the FBI: Jason Gideon and Aaron Hotchner. While the lecture series had provided them with basic information regarding the two speakers, Spencer had done more research into them, interested in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, so he recognized the two men. As he watched, the older FBI agent shook his colleague but the other man – dark haired, chiseled jaw, handsome and alpha male to a T – didn’t respond at all. Something about the focused but vacant stare sparked Spencer’s memory.
He glanced about the hall but, while many were staring at the tableau, no one else seemed to realize what had happened to Agent Hotchner. Nothing in his research had mentioned that Agent Hotchner was a sentinel.
Quietly, slowly, he got to his feet, carefully not tripping over his messenger bag and, equally as carefully, skirting the other students and furniture. His gangly body let him slip right by Dr. Lipinski and Agent Gideon and right into Agent Hotchner’s personal space.
“Excuse me --”
“He’s zoned,” Spencer hurriedly explained as he stood on tiptoe. He was tall for his age, but he still hadn’t hit his growth spurt yet. Grabbing one of the sentinel’s hands, he placed it on his thin chest, over his heart and held it there. His other hand cupped the sentinel’s face, thumb brushing along his strong jaw. He breathed warm, moist air into the sentinel’s mouth and nose.
The sentinel inhaled.
Spencer found himself enfolded in a steel embrace and staring up into the darkest eyes he had ever seen.
“My guide,” the sentinel rumbled.
Spencer blinked and smiled.
As the door to the university’s bonding suite clanged shut, Aaron glanced once more around the room, giving his young guide time to prepare himself. They hadn’t even exchanged names when the university’s head sentinel/guide counselor had hustled them in here. His young guide was sitting on the edge of the bonding platform, slowly taking off his shoes, but Aaron could see a glint of tri-colored eyes peeking at him through a veil of soft, brown hair.
“My name is Aaron,” he introduced himself, hoping to buy more time, hoping to distract himself from the bonding need. He was a Harvard-graduated lawyer, an FBI agent, he would control his baser needs so that his guide could see that he had some semblance of control. It was hard, not to jump his guide, to bury himself in his guide’s emphatic mind, to feel the soothing warmth that all sentinels talked about, that unbonded sentinels dreamed about and bonded sentinels reveled in. He wanted, so badly. The barest touch that brought him out of his zone had been nothing but a tease. The sentinel wanted his guide *now.*
“Spencer,” the very young man answered. “Spencer Reid.”
“How old are you?” he blurted out, knowing the answer would help tame some of his demons.
“Fifteen,” Spencer whispered, eyes peeking at him again, gauging his reaction to having such a young guide.
Aaron pinched the bridge of his nose, the other hand digging into his own hip. Dear God, a baby. He was going to bond with a baby. A genius baby, but still, young, young, young. But the number did the trick. The drive to bond was tempered by the knowledge. He didn’t want to scar Spencer, didn’t want to traumatize him. “You’re very calm,” he observed out loud, hoping to keep the conversation going.
Spencer shrugged a shoulder, smile a little misty. “I’ve been waiting for my sentinel all my life.” Those eyes flirted with his again. “I never imagined I would bond with someone like you.”
Whatever Spencer was doing with his eyes and his body language, Aaron was intrigued, slowly moving closer. His feet moved without permission, his hands shed anything that would bring discomfort to his guide – shoes, belt, gun holster, tie, jacket. “Me?”
Spencer grinned, the first free expression of joy he’d had seen from the young guide. “I saw into your heart. You’re perfect,” he murmured lowly, still smiling.
Aaron could refute that statement, but the happiness on Spencer’s face, that poured from him, refused to let him ruin his guide’s delight. There would be time enough for Spencer to realize he had feet of clay just like any other. His mind searched for another topic of conversation, hoping to give Spencer more time.
So it surprised the hell out of him when Spencer sat back on the bonding platform and beckoned with both hands. “Come bond, my sentinel.”
He crawled in between long, sprawled out legs, set himself into their cradle, breathed in the tiny gasp of his young guide. Pressed his little guide down with the weight of his body, rumbling in pleasure as gangly arms wrapped around his broad shoulders and guided his head into the warm little nook of neck and shoulder.
Spencer wrapped himself around his sentinel: legs, arms, body, mind, heart, soul. Bliss in being wrapped in strength and solidity in return. His mind and heart sang with the unyielding force of his sentinel’s very being. Acceptance of his genius, fear of his age, longing for this bond, hope for friendship. It swirled and sang and embraced him through and through. He let his own acceptance and fears and hopes and dreams join in the dance. Felt nothing but peace and contentment through their bond.
Aaron’s big, heavy body pressed him into the platform, covering him, sheltering him. The slightest twitch of discomfort was answered with an easy roll. He stared down into his sentinel’s dark eyes, smiling. His smile grew wider as his sentinel gave him one in return, long fingers sweeping away the strands of hair in his eyes. He laid his head down onto Aaron’s muscled chest and slept.
When Spencer woke, they spoke quietly of their lives, not moving from their spooned positions. He liked being the little spoon, enveloped in Aaron’s arms. He liked the way Aaron spoke to him, careful but equal. He liked Aaron’s dry humor and the low laughter that shook his back where it was pressed against Aaron’s chest.
He snuggled deeper into Aaron’s hold, glad that his childhood dreams of his sentinel had held true.
“Morgan, could you oversee the unit today?”
Spencer stirred drowsily, hand reaching for the warm weight of his sentinel. Bonding always made him sleepy and Aaron encouraged it, cocooning him in soft blankets and his strong arms. Conversely, bonding made his sentinel more alert. Rested, centered, but alert to any possible danger. Spencer’s questing hand was caught and squeezed. He blinked up to find Aaron already dressed for the day and on the phone. On the other bed, Jack grinned at him before turning back to his morning cartoons.
“Spencer and I need a sentinel day to take care of some business.”
Spencer frowned. This was the first he’d heard of needing a day off and claiming it a sentinel day as well. Aaron never used his allotted sentinel days. Theirs was a stable bond, both partners happily surprised with their bondmate even from that first day. Spencer had a found a unwavering sentinel ready to be by his side and gave him the grounding that he had lost when his father had left and his mother had deteriorated. In Spencer, Aaron had found his perfect guide: unthreatening to his wife, friend to his son, partner in so many ways. Then he remembered Haley’s reaction to being discovered yesterday, her angry screams and threats to sue for a divorce and custody of Jack.
Spencer knew that although the discovery of Haley’s affair happened only just last night, their marriage had been heading in this direction for years. Aaron hid nothing from his guide, often using their bond to soothe his frustrations with his wife. Guides rarely divorced due to their ability to bond to their spouses. The spousal bond was a much paler imitation to the bond they shared with their sentinels, but it was there. Sentinels, on the other hand had a lower rate of divorce than the average population, but it still frequently happened. Divorce was the same process for sentinels and guides as it was for the general population.
Custody issues, on the other hand for sentinels and guides, were iffy due to the dangerous occupations sentinels were drawn to. Sometimes the judge ruled in the sentinel’s favor, sometimes not. And depending on the sentinel, it could get messy. Aaron, for all of his late blooming, had all of the sentinel’s territorial drive and strength of enhanced senses to be a beta for the DC alpha sentinel. With his possessive nature, there was no way Aaron would allow Jack out of his custody. If Haley found a sympathetic judge and promised to make sure Jack was properly trained as a sentinel, the custody battle would be ugly.
“Aaron?” he murmured quietly when his sentinel hung up the phone.
“We need to see Gibbs.” Aaron brushed a lock of Spencer’s hair from his face. “We have an appointment in ninety minutes.”
Spencer nodded, stretching once more before heading to the bathroom.
The Navy Yard that housed the Naval Criminal Investigative Services was only a few buildings away from FBI headquarters and was, therefore, easy to find. After flashing their badges and a charming grin from Jack, the three of them were escorted onto the floor that housed the Major Case Response Team.
“Thanks, Bob, I’ll take them from here.”
Aaron shook Anthony DiNozzo’s hand, the alpha guide grinning in welcome. “Agent DiNozzo, thank you for fitting us in.”
DiNozzo rolled his eyes. “Like he’s not going to talk to one of his betas when you call out of the blue. Spence, man, good to see you!”
Spencer dipped his head in a respectful, abbreviated bow. “Hi, Tony.” He shifted so that Jack was front and center. “This is Jack, Aaron’s son.”
DiNozzo bent over and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Jack.”
His son grinned up at him. “You’re a guide like Spencer, right?”
“Sure am!” DiNozzo nodded, grinning back. Then he jerked his thumb over his shoulder without looking. “And that’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs, my sentinel.”
Jack’s eyes were wide as he took in the silver-haired man. “He’s the alpha sentinel of DC!” he whispered loudly.
DiNozzo chuckled and nodded, leaning in to whisper conspiratorially, “His bark is worse than his bite, promise!”
“Is that so, DiNozzo?”
The younger man popped up with a beaming grin. “Hi, boss!”
Gibbs shook his head, but his lips were twitching. “Aaron.” He held out his hand.
Aaron firmly shook it, bowing his head in the same abbreviated bow that Spencer had given the alpha guide. “Thank you for seeing us, sir.”
“C’mon,” Gibbs waved away his thanks, leading them towards the stairs. “We’ll talk in the conference room.”
They were halfway there when a red-haired woman stopped them.
“Jethro, where are you going? We have a debriefing in MTAC in five minutes.”
Only Aaron and Jack could hear the tiny, exasperated sigh Gibbs released. “Sentinel business, Jenn.”
Her green eyes narrowed as they surveyed the group. “It can’t wait?”
Gibbs turned frozen blue eyes on her. For a full minute.
She broke first, huffing away to throw her parting shot over her shoulder, “Come to MTAC ASAP, Agent Gibbs.”
DiNozzo was frowning as he moved towards his sentinel, plastering his big body all along Gibbs’ back.
Aaron politely focused his hearing on Spencer and his son’s heartbeats to give them a semblance of privacy. He knew that Jennifer Shepherd, director of NCIS, hated the fact that while she was an agency director, Gibbs was the one who most people looked towards for direction, people both inside and outside of their agency. Gibbs was the alpha sentinel of DC and the surrounding states. He held dominion over every sentinel and guide in the tri-state area, including those that held the ears of some very powerful politicians as their protectors, healers and counselors. Gibbs was sought after by many military leaders for consultations on all sorts of matters and was a favorite of the Sentinel and Guide Primes in Cascade, Washington. Director Shepherd only had power over him when he let her.
He snapped out of his daze to see Spencer pointing towards the open doorway where DiNozzo stood waiting for them. Aaron grimaced in apology to Gibbs as they sat down.
Gibbs waved it away. Sitting back in his chair, he turned those sharp eyes on Aaron and waited.
Aaron quickly and efficiently filled him in, refusing to let any emotion into his voice. “I’m worried she may take Jack,” he finished, turning to smooth down his son’s hair.
Jack was happily ensconced in Spencer’s lap, coloring. He looked up at his name and smiled at his father.
“Your son is a sentinel,” Gibbs said.
It wasn’t a question, but all three of them nodded.
“Just like my daddy!” Jack proclaimed.
Gibbs visibly softened. He smiled at Jack, leaning over to look at his coloring. “Good job on the boat.”
Jack preened under the compliment from the alpha sentinel. “Thank you, sir!”
“You’re welcome.” Gibbs turned to Spencer. “You’ve been overseeing his grounding and training?”
“Yes, sir.” Spencer straightened in his chair, arms curling protectively around Jack. “He knows all the basics and is rapidly improving his control.”
Gibbs nodded, then exchanged a glance with his guide.
DiNozzo nodded then turned a huge grin on Jack. “Hey buddy, want to come with me and meet my friend, Abby? She’s a Goth!”
Jack blinked at the other guide, obviously having no idea what a Goth was.
Aaron grinned and nodded encouragingly. He had meet Abby Scuito before and found her as wonderful and unique as Garcia.
“She’s cool,” Spencer said in encouragement as he turned the chair to nudge Jack towards DiNozzo. “She’s like Aunt Penny.”
Jack’s eyes lit up. “Like Aunt Penny?” he parroted.
Aaron hid his grin this time as Spencer struggled to adequately explain how alike, yet unlike, the two women were. Swallowed his laughter when Spencer glared at him over Jack’s head. “Go say hi to Abby for us, Jack.”
“Okay. Bye!” Jack carefully took DiNozzo’s hand and was gone.
Spencer watched as Tony led Jack away before turning back to the alpha sentinel. Gibbs made him nervous without the buffering presence of Tony. Everything about the alpha sentinel was intense: his laser eyes; his unwavering regard; his aggressive, forward-leaning body language. There was a reason Gibbs was the alpha sentinel and it wasn’t just because his senses were stronger than everyone else’s. Spencer scooted closer to Aaron.
“Your wife, you think she’s going to fight for custody?” Gibbs asked, completely no nonsense now that innocent little ears were out of the room.
“Yes, sir.” Aaron didn’t betray his agitation, but Spencer could feel it.
He reached out to slide his fingers into Aaron’s hand. He sent waves of comfort through their bond. Spencer saw the approval in Gibbs’ eyes and relaxed, leaning more heavily against Aaron to give his sentinel even more support.
“What’re her chances?”
“Excellent,” Aaron spit out. “She’s a stay-at-home mom. She has a stable family and a sister whom she can call on for support at a moment’s notice.”
They fell silent.
“What’s prompting this?” he finally asked.
“We came home too early.”
Gibbs nodded again, not needing any further explanation. Rumor had it that was why he divorced his third ex-wife. “You have a lawyer?”
“I was hoping to make use of the clan lawyer, sir.”
Gibbs nodded. “You need her number?”
“No, sir.” Aaron sighed. “I just wanted to notify you of the situation.”
“An email would’ve worked,” Gibbs pointed out.
Spencer ducked his head, hoping that his long hair would hide his very large smile.
Apparently not enough.
Gibbs huffed. “You could’ve sent it to DiNozzo.”
Gibbs was notoriously bad with technology.
Aaron didn’t bother hiding his smile. “I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”
Gibbs rolled his eyes.
Since the house they lived in had been in Aaron’s family for three generations, Haley was gone by the time they got home that afternoon. Of course, it had taken Marie Sinclair, the clan lawyer, contacting and asking her to leave the premises for her to do so. Marie had sent some lower level sentinels to ensure that Haley hadn’t taken anything that wasn’t hers and that she hadn’t destroyed anything as she was leaving. Aaron didn’t think Haley would do either of those things, but, as lawyer himself, he knew to sit back and let Marie do her job.
Aaron dropped his things in the foyer then dropped his body into the overstuffed couch. Closing his eyes, he sighed, wondering how things had gotten so bad.
“Jack, why don’t you go unpack?” Spencer’s soft voice instructed before a long, lithe body tucked itself between him and the couch. His left arm was wrapped in a warm hold; silky hair tickled his ear where Spencer had tucked his head.
Aaron sighed once more, consciously relaxing back into his guide’s embrace. He could feel the tendrils of Spencer’s empathy curling around him. He opened his mind to his guide and sank into their bond. He went from being held to doing the holding. Aaron swept sensitive hands up and under Spencer’s layers, savoring smooth, sweet skin. He bore down on his guide, laying Spencer back onto the couch cushions, burying his face, his senses in his guide’s body. Nuzzled the little hollow behind Spencer’s ear, taking in his pure scent. Licked that tiny patch of skin, savoring the taste that exploded across his tongue. Drowned himself in the steady heartbeat that matched and countered his own. He nearly purred when surprisingly graceful fingers slipped into his hair, rubbing soothing circles in their wake.
Spencer was his anchor in all of this turmoil.
He had been married to her for over fifteen years, they were high school sweethearts. They were each other’s firsts and he had thought they would be each other’s lasts. But now, she was trying to take away his son, she had violated their home, his territory. Jack was too young, barely understanding what exactly was going on but wise enough to know his family was changing. He and his son clung to Spencer, his young guide barely twenty-five but shouldered the burden of being there for them both.
He tightened his arms around Spencer. He vowed just this one last moment of weakness before taking back that burden.
Spencer carefully glanced at his watch; it was nearly 6 pm. After six months as Aaron’s guide, Spencer knew that he never left the office before the rest of his team. So as he surreptitiously took in the empty bullpen and dark offices, he felt no guilt as he let his body slump and a tiny yawn escape.
He peeked over to his right, at his sentinel whose desk was at a right angle to his own. Aaron’s desk was in the immediate line of sight to the door, while Spencer’s smaller desk was perpendicular to the wall with the window and door to the bullpen, tucked back against the bookcases behind him. Aaron, like all sentinels, wanted his guide in his territory and as safe as possible.
Spencer had been surprised Aaron had rearranged his office and given him a desk. After all, Spencer wasn’t a real FBI agent yet. As Aaron’s guide, he was allowed to join the FBI at sixteen, but only in the guide capacity. After his classes had ended for the day, he hopped the subway to Quantico, and spent his time doing homework and studying. If Aaron’s team had a case, he would fly with them but his study routine only changed when Aaron went out to the crime scenes. There he would ground his sentinel but he was never allowed into dangerous situations. When Aaron was needed to take part in a takedown, Spencer was with him – bullet-proof vest, FBI jacket and all – but he never left the safety of their black SUVs.
For now, he was all right with this. He was still only sixteen. In five years, the FBI would make the guide exception for him and allow him to become a full-fledge FBI agent so that he could join Aaron in the field. His current studies in psychology and sociology would aid him in contributing to the Behavioral Analysis Team, and he took the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge now as possible. It always warmed him when Aaron – and the rest of the team – encouraged his studies, taking the time to explain any and all profiling concepts.
Unfortunately, right now, Aaron seemed too focused on his paperwork to really pay any attention to his guide. Spencer pouted, but only a little. He knew exactly how to get his sentinel’s attention so that they could go home at a decent hour. He yawned again, louder this time, and added a full body stretch. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Aaron twitch. He hid his grin as he bent to mindlessly shuffle his books and papers. “Aaron?” he called softly.
Spencer hesitated, fidgeting in his seat.
That got Aaron’s full attention. “Are you all right?”
He nodded, peeking at his sentinel. “It’s just. It was a long day at the lab. My barriers . . .”
Aaron immediately stood, striding over, worry written all over his body.
Spencer bit back a triumphant grin, merely standing to let himself be wrapped up in Aaron’s arms. He sighed heavily, laying his head down on a strong shoulder. “May we go home?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Thank you.” He let loose the grin now, beaming at his sentinel. Aaron returned his smile and turned to pack it up for the night. Only once Aaron’s back was turned did Spencer let his grin turn smug. One of his first guide teachers had been a sly, older woman whose sentinel was a workaholic detective with the NYPD. She had given all of her students tips on how to gently persuade their sentinels to do what was best for them . . . without letting on that it was for their benefit, not their guides.
Spencer grinned happily as they left the building and went home.
Spencer said nothing as movers came to take the bed – mattress, sheets, frame and all – from the master bedroom. He had only barely stopped Aaron from setting it on fire yesterday; instead, he talked his sentinel into donating it to a needy family. Aaron had nodded, but his lips had been a tight, white line. He also oversaw the packing of Haley’s things. Spencer had sent Aaron and Jack to the park while he made sure that every last speck of Haley and the other man’s presences were gone from the house. After the movers were finished, the cleaners came in. Cleaners that were good enough to eradicate a person’s presence but used only cleaning products that would not aggravate sentinel senses came at a cost, but Spencer knew that a quick trip to Atlantic City would solve that problem easily.
Once the cleaners were gone, another set of movers came in to replace the bed. Just as large, just as comfortable, but of a completely different design. This bed was chosen by Spencer as Aaron couldn’t care less what kind of bed he slept in as long as it was comfortable. Comfortable it was since Spencer had chosen it from a specialty store that dealt solely in sentinel-approved home furnishings. Probably because it was started by a sentinel and guide pair. The bed matched the dark wooden furniture that Spencer had elected to keep in the master bedroom, but the king size Tempur-Pedic mattress was completely new. After testing out the mattress, Spencer was fairly certain that if they bonded in that bed, Aaron was never going to get Spencer to leave it for his own conventional mattress. It was ridiculously comfortable.
The bed made to his satisfaction and all of the movers and cleaners gone, Spencer picked up his cell phone.
“Spence, what’s up?”
Spencer bit his lip, wondering if this was the right thing to do, but he knew that Aaron always felt better when his tribe was near. “Are you free tonight? Aaron and I are bar-b-queing.”
Morgan’s laugh was deep and hearty. “Yeah, man, I’m free. Want me to bring anything?”
“Your mom’s potato salad?” Spencer smiled as he headed towards the kitchen to start marinating the meats.
“Got it, pretty boy. See you in a couple of hours?”
“See you then.” After hanging up, he called the next person on the list. Within twenty minutes he had confirmation that their tribe would be descending upon their home.
Aaron knew his team was wondering where Haley was but not a single one of them had asked. He had never been more thankful that his tribe consisted of perceptive profilers who didn’t need questions to find their answers. Instead, food and drinks and laughter flowed. Everyone had made it: Morgan, Rossi, Prentiss, Garcia and Kevin, JJ, Will, and their son Henry. Surrounded as he was by his friends and family, he felt the tension caused by Haley and their situation melt away. He had his arm slung around Prentiss’ waist and was laughing at Rossi’s quip when his senses caught her on the fringes of the yard.
“It didn’t take you long to replace me, did it?” Haley’s voice was sharp and hateful, effectively silencing everyone.
Aaron didn’t turn to look at her, choosing instead to watch his son and Spencer. His guide had quickly made his way to Jack, sweeping him up in his arms. For his part, Jack merely watched his mother. It surprised him that Jack wasn’t running towards his mother. Aaron wondered how long Haley had been ignoring him in favor of her lover for Jack to react this way.
Morgan was already bristling and glaring. Rossi was calm but wary, having already seen the signs the second he arrived. Garcia and Kevin both stared in confusion, keeping silent. Will stood between the coming confrontation and his family. JJ had scooped up Henry much like Spencer had Jack and now stared at Haley with suspicious eyes. For whatever reason, Haley had always called her whenever she couldn’t get a hold of him, so of all of his team, JJ knew that his relationship with his wife had been shaky at best these last couple of years.
For her part, Prentiss slanted a look at him, slanted another look at Haley, then with a militant gleam in her eyes, leaned against him even more heavily. Thankfully, she left it at that.
“Haley, what are you doing here?” he asked, finally addressing her.
She glared at Prentiss which only made his agent loop her arms around his waist. Haley continued to glare at her but addressed him, “I came to see my son.”
Aaron didn’t answer her, instead slipping out of Prentiss’ arms and towards his son and guide. He didn’t need to ask, Spencer’s face said it all. He rubbed reassuring circles into Spencer’s back. Jack looked scared, his little hands twisted into Spencer’s shirt. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Haley.”
“What? You don’t trust me anymore, Aaron?” she huffed, rolling her eyes.
“No, I don’t,” he answered quietly, his words carrying in the unnaturally still yard.
“I’m his mother!” Haley stomped towards them but stopped immediately when she saw how Jack cowered away from her, wrapping himself more securely around Spencer. “Jack, honey?” Her voice has softened, notes of hesitancy and regret coloring it.
Jack never looked at her, shaking his head and burying his face in Spencer’s neck. Spencer wrapped his long limbs around the boy, nearly enveloping him completely.
Haley bit her lip, a sure sign of remorse, as she stared at their son. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mommy’s sorry.”
“Okay,” he said. His voice was muffled because he still wouldn’t take his face out of the crook of Spencer’s neck.
Everyone fell silent, everyone stared at Haley.
Whose shoulders fell. She seemed to shrink in size as defeat colored her body language. “I won’t sue for custody,” Haley said, finally breaking the silence. “But I would like visitation rights.”
“Of course,” Aaron agreed immediately. She was a good mother. Perhaps she had been caught up in new love and that was why she had neglected Jack, but he knew she loved him and would care for him. There was no reason to keep Jack completely away from her.
Haley backed out of the yard. The light of the porch lights gleamed on the tears in her eyes, still glued to Jack’s back. “Bye, sweetheart. I’ll see you soon, okay?”
Jack didn’t answer, but he moved just the tiniest bit to glance between his lashes at her. He held up his hand in a small wave.
Haley gave birth to Jack two days before Spencer’s twentieth birthday.
In the birthing room, he kept Aaron from gutting any of the doctors or nurses. Aaron’s sentinel instincts were front, center, and nearly feral with his wife in labor pains. His sentinel’s rational thinking had fallen to Spencer, so he kept their bond humming at mid-level, keeping Aaron calm.
Haley gave birth to the beautiful little boy, but he was immediately whisked away by an experienced nurse who went through the rigmarole of caring for the newly born infant, ignoring Aaron’s growling the entire time. Once she was done, she immediately turned and placed Jack into Aaron’s arms. Only then did Aaron completely calm, even as his senses heightened to protect his new son.
Spencer had stared at the tiny human in his sentinel’s arms, only feeling it was safe to come closer when Aaron beckoned him.
“I’ve imprinted him,” Aaron had whispered, eyes still devouring his son’s little features. “Your turn.”
Spencer nodded absently, all of his attention on cradling his arms and hands just right to hold the baby. The second Aaron placed Jack in his arms, Spencer smiled as he felt the baby’s mind. Like father, like son, Jack was a sentinel. All five senses, just like his father, were fully latched onto Spencer, imprinting him as surely as Jack had imprinted on his father. Spencer did what he did with Aaron, wrapping the infant sentinel in a light bond, showering Jack with love and warmth.
Jack gave him back the same.
Spencer’s smile was ridiculous as he beamed up at Aaron but he found the same smile on the sentinel as he wrapped his guide and his son in his arms. “He’s perfect, Aaron.”
Two Years Later . . .
“Hey!” Spencer yelped when Rossi came up from behind him and grabbed his arm.
“Come with me.”
Spencer didn’t have a choice as the older man pulled him the long way around the BAU bullpen and into his office. “Why didn’t you want Aaron seeing us?”
“Sshhh!” Rossi closed the door and immediately turned on a white noise generator.
Spencer stared questioningly at him. He knew he had nothing to fear from Rossi, the man was a mentor unlike Gideon – completely differing in style, but a mentor and friend nevertheless. Still, why wouldn’t he want Spencer’s sentinel to overhear their conversation?
“All right.” Rossi pushed him down into a seat. “I know you’re probably a virgin --”
“Excuse me!” Spencer yelped.
Rossi rolled his eyes. “Please, you’ve been Aaron’s guide since you were fifteen. He’s territorial as hell. He’s even one of the betas for the DC area, for god’s sake. There’s no way in hell you could have snuck out to lose your virginity on his watch.”
Spencer’s mouth moved but he couldn’t find any way to refute Rossi’s reasoning. He could only add to it really.
“Now that I have your attention,” Rossi continued smugly. “You have to make your move.”
Spencer blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“Reid, you know the signs right? He likes her. He’s going to ask her out. If you don’t do something soon, you’re going to die a virgin.” Rossi was talking with his hands. Neither the words coming out of his mouth nor out of his hands made any sense at all.
Spencer gingerly stood, backing away slowly. Maybe Morgan or Garcia knew what he was talking about. No wait, they went out to lunch. Maybe JJ or Prentiss?
“Reid, are you listening to me?”
“Yes, but nothing that comes out of your mouth makes sense.” Spencer was gratified to see Rossi completely flummoxed.
Rossi heaved a sigh, palming his face and shaking his head. “Okay, let’s start from the beginning--”
“Yes, please.” Spencer had no idea why Rossi glared at his politeness.
“Right. Reid, you know this woman Aaron’s been training with? For the triathlon? Beth?”
Spencer nodded. “Yes, Beth Clemmons.” He had met her and she seemed nice enough.
“You know Hotch is attracted to her, right?”
Here Spencer squirmed. No, he hadn’t known that. When he had met her, it was a quick greeting before he whisked Aaron away for a case. And there was nothing in their bondings that indicated Aaron felt anything more for her than friendship.
Rossi was eying him. “The triathlon is coming up in three weeks. Their last training sessions start next week, right?”
Spencer nodded. He already had plans for him and Jack to be there at the finish line to cheer Aaron on. He planned on making Aaron’s favorites as a victory celebration. Jack was already making cards and decorations, desperately trying to hide them from his sentinel father.
“After the triathlon, he won’t have any reason to see her anymore,” Rossi said slowly. “He’ll most likely ask her out on a date after their last training session together.”
Spencer squirmed again.
Rossi bent, staring him in the eyes as if to impart how important this next bit truly was. “You need to make your move on him or you may never get your chance with him. As his lover.”
He could feel the heat of a blush start in his cheeks and spread all over his body. He dropped his eyes and bit his lip. His fingers twisted nervously. His blood raced. “Am I. Am I that obvious?”
“Only to the team,” Rossi said quietly, gently. “You know you can let your guard down around us, so we can see it when it’s quiet, when we’re done with a case, before we start a new one.”
“Oh.” He fidgeted again, still unable to meet Rossi’s eyes. “He doesn’t think of me that way. I’m just his guide. Did he . . . say something?” Spencer couldn’t help the hope that filled his voice and heart.
Only to have it crushed when Rossi shook his head.
“Look, Reid, Spencer, he may not have said anything but we’re profilers. Trust us when we tell you that you need to make a play for him or you’re going to lose him to Beth.”
Spencer stayed quiet as his mind zoomed through several avenues of thought. He couldn’t deny that he felt more than just the love of a guide for his sentinel, or the love one would feel for a close friend or family member. The day he realized he felt something more for his sentinel than just the bonds of family and friendship had been an ordinary day at best. A Saturday spent doing chores, before heading to the National Aquarium with Jack.
As Aaron hoisted Jack up to get a better look at the moon jelly fish, Spencer watched father and son reverently touching the glass and the animals behind it. The iridescent light of the jelly fish light up their smiles and the happiness in their eyes: Jack’s pleasure was for the unusual creatures, while the joy in Aaron’s eyes were only for his son and his delight. Aaron had turned that smile on him and Spencer’s breath had caught in his throat. All he could think was, “I want to kiss that smile.”
Spencer had smiled back, but his heart and mind were reeling with this new knowledge.
These feelings he had for Aaron, he had locked them away in the far reaches of his mind, not wanting his sentinel to sense them during their bonding. He wasn’t sure how Aaron would react to such feelings and was so unsure of them, himself. He just wasn’t sure if it was the kind of love one felt for a lover. He bit his lip, wondering if his friends would be willing to help him find out.
Friday night and he was still in his office. Aaron shook his head. There was no reason he wouldn’t be. After all, he was the BAU chief and it was his job to stay until everything was finished for the week. He glanced out his window but, of course, the bullpen was dark. He had sent Spencer home with the rest of the team; otherwise he would have still been there. Everyone was gone and all was still and silent.
Until his phone broke it.
“Hotchner,” he answered automatically, without checking the ID screen.
“Aaron?” Spencer’s soft voice soothed nerves he didn’t even know were ragged.
“Spencer, is everything all right?” He focused his hearing but heard nothing beyond Spencer’s voice and heartbeat.
“Sentinel, you better retract your hearing right damn now!” his guide barked.
Aaron winced. He hated when his guide admonished him for anything. “Sorry, Spencer.”
“You were worried, I know.” Voice back to soft and soothing again. “When are you coming home?” An easy, simple question but it hit him hard.
He glanced down at the report and decided it could wait for later. “I’m leaving now.” He stood, gathering his briefcase and coat. It was an irony that Haley could never get him to leave with just a simple question. He always felt guilty: guilty at leaving work on his desk, guilty for not being at home with his family. But now, as he pulled out his keys, he realized he didn’t feel guilt at all. He wondered if it was because Spencer never used it against him. “I’ll see you in thirty minutes.”
Aaron could hear Spencer’s pleased smile.
“I’ll hold dinner for you then.”
Thirty minutes later, just as he promised, he was pulling into the driveway of their home. Letting himself into the house, he realized he could only hear one heartbeat: Spencer’s. It was a little faster than normal, as if he was nervous, but there were no other sounds in the house other than the soft jazz that was playing. No other heartbeats, no smell of anything more dangerous than their gun oil and Spencer’s gun coming from the safe in their office. Another scan of the house revealed nothing, so he divested himself of work: briefcase on his desk, gun in the safe, suit in the hamper. Donning jeans and a soft sweater, he followed his nose to the lasagna – Spencer’s specialty and one of Aaron’s favorites.
“Where’s Jack?” he idly asked, sneaking a taste of the cake that had to be from his favorite bakery.
“Aaron!” Spencer admonished, pushing his hand away from the cake. “The girls stole him.”
Aaron hid his smile. Whenever JJ, Prentiss, and Garcia took Jack out for an outing or play date with Henry, Spencer always referred to it as them “stealing” Jack. He found it endearing how crazy his son and his guide were about each other. It had been that way since Jack was born. If he wasn’t secure in his relationship with his guide, he would have thought Jack was trying to steal Spencer.
Dinner was pleasant, but not once did Spencer breach whatever topic was on his mind, instead talking about the day’s consultations and articles he had read for his latest degree. Aaron didn’t need Spencer’s emphatic gift or even his profiling skills to know that something was up. Spencer was clearly nervous, hands twitching more than usual, biting his lower lip, his eyes darting glances towards him every few seconds.
He pushed his empty dessert plate away. “Spencer, what’s going on?” he asked softly.
Spencer blinked at him, biting his lip lower lip again.
Aaron unleashed his senses upon his guide when no answer was forthcoming. Dilation of his pupils; quick, shallow breaths; the tensing of his fingers on his napkin. It wasn’t until his sense of smell kicked in that Aaron realized why Spencer was so nervous. He sat in shock as he replayed his entire day. The women of the BAU usually asked his permission before taking Jack, but not this time. All of his favorites had been on the menu tonight. Every so often they would have one of his favorites at dinner, but not an entire meal made of them. Spencer was dressed in clothes tighter than normal, not clothes he normally chose. Aaron’s eyes narrowed. As if someone else had chosen them for him.
There were no candles on the table or Marvin Gaye playing the background. This may not have all the cheesy trappings of a seduction attempt, but it had to be one.
Aaron stared at his guide, utterly flabbergasted, only able to croak out, “Spencer?”
“I knew this was a bad idea. Why did I listen to them?” Spencer jerked out his chair, angrily mumbling under his breath.
Aaron wrapped his hand around Spencer’s wrist before he could sweep past.
Spencer jerked his whole arm. “Please, Aaron, just let me go die of humiliation in peace.”
There was no way Spencer was leaving this room without an explanation. Aaron reeled him in until he had his guide sitting stiffly in his lap. He wrapped his arms around Spencer’s slim body, caging him in. “Spencer?”
His tone was stern, confused, but gentle.
Spencer caved under Aaron’s voice and the weight of his dark eyes. The story spilled out, every ounce of it truth. When he finished, he couldn’t meet Aaron’s eyes, choosing instead to stroke the soft sweater that Aaron wore, wishing he could push beneath it to the feel the heat of Aaron’s body skin to skin. “I love you, you know,” he confessed when the silence went on for too long.
“Spencer – I.” Aaron shook his head. “You were fifteen when we met. You never got a chance --”
He knew everything Aaron was going to say. He couldn’t know that he was in love with him, how could he? He had never experienced anything remotely normal in his life. College and graduate school while in his teens, being younger than all of his classmates nearly all of his life. Then bonded to a territorial, beta-level sentinel. When would he have ever had the chance to experience romantic love?
“I asked them. All of them. To show me what it felt like to be in love. Garcia’s heart smiled when she realized she loved Kevin. JJ melted when Will grinned at her. Prentiss showed me the difference between the sweetness of first love and the ache that said that he was the one.” He laughed a little. “Morgan showed me what it was like to have attraction grow into love. And Rossi . . .”
Aaron surprised him by chuckling. “Showed you every time he fell in love?”
Spencer grinned a little, nodding. It had been humbling, the trust his friends showed him when they let him sink into their minds as they experienced such intimate emotions. It had been beautiful and breathtaking each and every time they showed him something of their lives. His feelings for Aaron were not perfectly echoed in what they showed him, but they were similar enough that he was confident in them, sure that this was love.
Looking down into Aaron’s beloved face, Spencer gathered his courage and pressed a small kiss to the corner of his mouth. He pulled back, not daring to look into Aaron’s eyes. Shivered as Aaron’s large callused palm cupped his cheek and jaw, closing his eyes as his head was tilted to the right angle, whimpered against long, thin lips.
As the kiss lengthened and grew, passionate but gentle, Spencer could feel Aaron’s senses wrapping around, embracing him fully. His mind and soul opened, sinking themselves into Aaron’s heart and mind as surely as his fingers sank themselves into Aaron’s rough, dark hair.
Demons that had been reigned in since their very first bonding surged against their reins. They wanted – he wanted – Spencer so badly, but Aaron ruthlessly controlled all of his baser desires.
Spencer was a virgin and his guide. Aaron would not let anything or anyone hurt his guide, including himself and his own desires.
He had locked away the attraction and romantic love, sure that Spencer deserved better than a divorced workaholic. Sure that Spencer preferred little, pretty blonde women. His crush on JJ. He had kissed Lila Archer. Aaron had never seen Spencer even look at another man.
“It’s only ever been you,” Spencer whispered into his mouth.
Aaron clutched his guide close, pressing them both deeper into his bed, both still fully clothed as Aaron was determined to take this as slow as possible. He froze in shock and awe as Spencer dropped all of his shields. Love, need, want, admiration, more fiery love swept through his mind, filling him to the brim. He dropped his own shields, showing Spencer how his every emotion was returned.
“Please, Aaron?” Spencer squirmed under him, hips dancing restlessly, brushing his hard cock into the hollow of Aaron’s hip.
Aaron forced himself to stillness, watching with unabashed lust as Spencer experienced the sweet friction. Beautiful hazel eyes wide with delight, pretty pink mouth panting and murmuring sounds that were pure sin. His heart was beating a rhythm Aaron would forever remember and associate with his guide’s pleasure. A fine sheen of sweat perfumed the air with Spencer’s pheromones.
Aaron licked a long stripe up the ivory column of Spencer’s neck to growl into the shell of his ear. “Just like that, my guide. Come for me.”
Spencer arched in his arms, legs wrapped tight enough to bruise his hips, a moan so sweetly filthy filled Aaron’s ears. The sight, sound, smell, touch and taste of Spencer coming in his arms imprinted itself in his soul. Aaron moaned softly at the beautiful memory as he soothed his lover down from his orgasm.
Spencer was still panting as he lifted his head, eyes wide and fastened on Aaron’s. A slim, sneaky hand slid slowly down his stomach.
He caught it before it reached its goal, pressing a kiss to the back of it.
“Aaron?” Uncertainty flickered then stayed on Spencer’s expressive face.
He kissed it away. “Why don’t we take these clothes off?”
His demons cheered, Spencer nodded enthusiastically.
Jack wasn’t sure why, but Aunt JJ put her finger to her lips. He nodded, putting his finger to his lips too as they quietly walked into the house. Maybe Aunt JJ was trying to hear? He tightened his fingers around Aunt JJ’s hand and pushed out his hearing just like Spencer had taught him. He heard two heartbeats: one slower and deeper, the other faster, lighter. His dad and Spencer. He followed the sounds up to his dad’s bedroom.
On light feet, Aunt JJ followed him.
The door was wide open as he slipped inside his dad’s bedroom. He frowned down at the clothes all over the floor. It was weird because his dad didn’t like messes. On the bed, he found his dad and Spencer. His dad was wrapped around Spencer. That was normal. Dad always wrapped himself around his guide, but something was different. Then he remembered the clothes all over the floor. He looked back at them, seeing pants and shirts, but also underwear. His friend Mike had told him that when people made love they took off their clothes and kissed. At least, that’s what Mike’s parents had said when he and his brother found their clothes all over the living room.
Jack glanced back at Aunt JJ to see her smiling.
Jack smiled too. It had been a long time since his dad had someone to love him and he had never seen Spencer sleep in any other bed other than his dad’s. But those had all been times of bonding, his father and Spencer had carefully explained to him. It was the clothing on the floor that made it different.
It must have been Aunt JJ who woke his father because those dark eyes flashed over his head at her before landing on him.
Jack smiled at his dad, who smiled back.
His dad glanced over his head again. “Thanks for bringing him back,” he said softly.
Aunt JJ nodded, her grin was huge as she nodded towards Spencer. “Congratulations.”
His dad huffed but his smile grew as he tightened his arm around Spencer.
“I’ll just lock up as I leave.” Aunt JJ murmured. “Jack’s things are in his bedroom.”
His dad nodded, turning his attention back to Jack. As soon as they heard the front door closing, he patted the bed.
Jack carefully climbed on after slipping off his shoes, trying not to wake Spencer, but he heard his breathing change.
“Our son is home.”
Jack grinned at his dad’s words, liking the sound of that. His dad needed someone to love him and Jack always thought Spencer would be perfect for him. And he knew Spencer loved him and thought Jack was just as amazing as his dad. He loved Spencer as much as he loved his parents.
Spencer shifted, sounding still sleepy. “Our?” His head jerked up, wide eyes blinking and trying to see without his glasses.
His dad grinned, kissing Spencer’s lips. “Ours,” he said again.
Spencer’s grin was sappy and sweet.
Jack turned around, since it was weird seeing Spencer and his dad smiling at each other like that, and grabbed Spencer’s glasses.
“Thanks,” he murmured, then blinked at him from behind the glasses.
“Good morning!” Jack leaned forward and hugged Spencer as tight as he could.
Spencer’s long arms wrapped around him, his mind slipping easily into Jack’s.
Jack let all of his feelings show, his happiness, his love. In return, he felt Spencer’s love for him and his dad. Jack sighed giddily when he felt his dad’s hand cup his head and then his dad was brought into the light bond, his presence strong and firm, but just as happy as they.
“Dad? Pops?” Nearly ten-year-old Jack stuck his head through the opened bedroom doorway. His fathers were still asleep, but his sentinel parent stirred at his presence.
“Jack?” his dad asked, sharp eyes becoming more awake and aware by the second.
“Mom called. She wants to take me to the zoo.” Jack rolled his eyes, as if he hadn’t been to the zoo dozens of times already. Sometimes he felt like this mother tried too hard. He was okay with her getting married again and having more kids with Hank, but he thought she must feel guilty or something because she was always trying too hard. She always brought him stuff and was taking him places, but she was always too busy being a mom to his half siblings to really spend any time with him. He was okay with it only because he knew he was the center of his father and Pops’ world.
His dad must have seen the eye roll because he was sternly glaring as he asked, “Do you want to go?”
Jack shook his head as he moved to stand next to their bed. “Pops promised he was going to take me to the Sentinel Training Center today.”
He was beyond excited about going each and every time they went, because each and every time could be the time he would meet his guide. His father had warned him that it could take a long time to find his guide, but Jack knew he wouldn’t have to wait as long as his father did for Spencer. But he knew he had to wait until his guide was ready for him, just like his father had to wait until Spencer was ready for him. And he definitely wanted a guide as special as Spencer.
His dad ran a hand down the long, slim, naked back of his guide-and-husband and Jack’s pop. They’d been together now for three years and married less than one. Uncle Dave said they were still in their honeymoon phase, whatever that meant. To Jack, they were just Dad and Pops (sometimes Papa) and that’s how things were.
“Call your mom back and tell her you had prior plans.”
Jack winced. The last time he told her he would rather be with Pops she had almost cried.
Now it was Dad’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
Score! Jack grinned. “Thanks, Dad.”
On the bed, Pops stirred, turned over to blink sleepily at him. “Morning, sweetheart.”
“Morning, Pops! When are we going to the Center?” Jack eagerly climbed onto the bed, bouncing a little on his knees in excitement.
Pops turned to stare blearily at the clock.
Dad grinned, hiding it in Pops’ hair. “It’s 7:30 now.”
Pops nodded. “Ten?”
“Okay!” Jack smacked a kiss onto each of their cheeks before squirming off the bed. “Cartoon time!”
He listened to Dad’s rumbling laughter, Pops grumbling about early mornings, and their soft kisses until he turned on the T.V.