The team had flown into Denver but had to drive for nearly four hours to reach Homestead, Colorado, population: 5,000. It wasn’t the most remote location they’d ever been to, but it would stick out as the most stressful to Spencer.
All because of a deputy with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Death Star . . . Garcia’s words, not his.
Deputy Ryan Johanson was resentful of everything. From the sheriff, because the man had the gall to win yet another election and to stay the incumbent sheriff rather than letting Johanson win the position. To outsiders, because it was his case and he didn’t need their help, damnit. But most especially sentinels and their guides, because his much beloved and lauded younger brother had been born a sentinel and was the pride and joy of the entire community, let alone their parents.
More than once Spencer had seen Aaron carefully control himself in the presence of Johanson. No one else could hear what the disgruntled deputy muttered, seemingly to himself, but it was obvious that it was inflammatory and meant for sentinel ears. The asshole had even spiked the coffee, placing minute traces of cod liver oil into it. Aaron had embarrassingly spit out an entire mouthful in front of the sheriff and a few of his other deputies. The spittake had been so bad it necessitated a wardrobe change for Aaron. Disgusting for Aaron but neither actions had any adverse effects.
In addition to the under-the-breath insults and the cod liver prank, the deputy began wearing cologne so offensive Aaron had to leave the room. Spencer left with him, glaring that the smug bastard. He usually wouldn’t gather his sentinel into his arms and encourage him to bury his face into his neck in public, but Aaron plainly needed to clear his nose of the noxious smell.
“Better?” he murmured, steadily ignoring the curious stares of the small town officers.
“Yes. Damn sage.”
Spencer hid a smile in Aaron’s shoulder at his sentinel’s thoroughly disgruntled grousing. Like the Alpha Sentinel Prime, Aaron was allergic to the herb. Now knowing the cologne was sage-based, Spencer pulled Aaron into the lightest of bonds. “We should lower your sense of smell to a three; that should help.”
Aaron quietly hummed, body easing as he was able to breathe without sneezing. They stood there, for a moment longer, enjoying the bond rather than needed it, but finally Aaron lifted his head and pulled away.
Searching Aaron’s face, Spencer was satisfied his sentinel was back on even keel and let him go. They both turned to go back into the briefing room where their team greeted them with relieved nods and commiserating glances. The sheriff’s craggy face was utterly apologetic as his unusually bright green eyes glared daggers at his deputy.
Rossi and Morgan – as well as the rest of the team – had been warily watching their unit chief. Even though Aaron rarely, if ever, lost his temper, they were ready just in case they had to run interference.
Spencer surprised the hell out of himself, and everyone else, when it was him that snapped.
They had just solved the case, catching the brother and sister psychopaths that were killing out-of-towners to feed their other sibling, a cannibal suffering from a truly incredible amount of psychoses. All three had been taken into custody, the small town law enforcement officials handling the killers and especially the cannibalistic brother with extreme caution and absolute disgust. The sheriff was following behind his officers, thanking Aaron who walked beside him.
Aaron suddenly jerked, hands flying to protect his ears, feet staggering into the path of an oncoming car, the driver too busy watching the spectacle to stop.
Spencer was too far away to do anything but scream a denial.
Morgan lunged, tackling Aaron out of the way.
Aaron lay on the ground, still writhing in agony, clutching his ears.
Head whipping about, he searched the crowd. Everyone was watching, gossiping, confused.
Johanson’s eyes gleamed above his loosely cupped hand, a sliver of silver reflecting in the morning light.
Nothing registered until Aaron touched his hair, fingers sinking deep into his long hair, rubbing into his scalp.
“Spencer, I’m all right. You can stop, my guide.”
He pulled back, heaving in air, staring down at the unconscious man under him. His fists ached and were stained with blood. Johanson’s face was broken and bloody, bloody prints on his shirt matched the pattern of Spencer’s knuckles. People around them had held hands over their mouths, horror and shock on their faces. It was strangely silent except for the roaring of his pulse echoing in his ears.
Large, gentle hands cupped his shoulders and eased him away. Long arms wrapped around his waist and chest, one hand pressed against his heart, pulling him close against Aaron’s solid chest. It was easier to breathe in his arms, easier to match his breathing to Aaron’s.
Spencer only fully relaxed when Aaron curled completely around him, surrounding him warmth and strength. He latched onto Aaron’s arms, lacing their fingers together. Their hotel room was silent except for their quiet breathing. The shower had cleaned what the CSIs hadn’t collected from him, but his mind still whirled at the damage he had done to another human being. He had shot someone in the line of duty before, he had even killed in the line of duty before, but never before had he bludgeon someone unconscious with his bare hands before. It felt barbaric, he felt barbaric.
“You were very fierce today, my guide.” Aaron’s soft voice brushed by his ears, lips just as soft brushing along his skin. “Thank you for protecting me.”
Spencer nodded, knowing he was in the right, but still so unsettled by what he had done. “I’ve never hurt anyone like that before,” he confessed quietly. “I mean, I shot and killed Dowd. I’ve shot at other unsubs, but I feel like I’m dirty, like my hands aren’t clean anymore.” He huffed a weak laugh. “I sound like Lady Macbeth.”
Aaron pulled their laced hands away from Spencer’s chest, bringing them to eye level. “You protected me with these hands.” He brought them up higher, pressing kisses to the back of them, but said no more. It was completely unsurprising the way Aaron had twisted his words into something positive. For all of their civilized demeanor, sentinels were a warrior species, protectors who did what they had to do to protect the tribe. Guides, while never as warrior-like as their other halves, were still protectors. Perhaps it was his empathetic abilities that made him feel awful for the damage he had done, or perhaps it was society’s veneer of civilization that made him think it barbaric to defend a love one with his bare hands.
Deciding to push away the feelings, to compartmentalize it all, Spencer closed his eyes, pressing his face into the side of Aaron’s, breathing in his sentinel. He opened up his mind and soul, tugging Aaron into their bond. Aaron, as always, joyfully surged into their bond, wrapping them both up in his strength. He melted into the bed and Aaron’s body as he was eased by Aaron’s sheer essence. He could sense no disgust regarding his actions, only the pure love that his sentinel had for him, only the security at knowing that no matter what, Spencer would be there for him, to protect him, to care for him. Spencer felt the same, knew the same.
He tightened his grip on his sentinel, falling asleep with solid assurance in his mind and heart.
“I want him arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer!” Johanson screamed, face bruised and cut, covered with bandages. One arm in a cast and sling, the other waving wildly at Spencer even though the deputy was seated in front of the sheriff’s desk.
The sheriff sighed, rubbing at his eyes with both hands. “Ryan, you can’t file charges --”
“Like hell I can’t! I have witnesses!”
“It wouldn’t do you any good,” Aaron quietly, sternly pointed out. “He’s a guide.”
“So?” Johanson sneered. “Doesn’t mean he gets to attack me and get away with it.”
“Actually, it does,” Rossi interjected from where he leaned causally against the wall. The older man looked almost gleeful as he announced, “Section 2B of the Sentinel and Guide Law provides protection for the guide when a misdemeanor is committed by the guide in the course of protecting his or her sentinel.” He bared his teeth at Johanson. “Since you nearly got Aaron killed with your little prank, Spencer was fully in his rights to protect him.”
Johanson gapped like a fish, jaw flapping up and down without a sound. He was so wrathful he was actually incoherent. He stormed out of the sheriff’s office without another word, slamming doors and flinging things about as he left the station.
“I apologize for him,” the sheriff tiredly muttered, still rubbing at his face with both hands.
“Please, don’t,” Aaron refuted as he shook his head and gave the other man an understanding look. “While he may need to apologize for his actions, and while we have already tried to offer him our apologies, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for, sheriff.”
“Well, thank you, but I still feel like I should say something about him.” The weathered man indicated the path Johanson had taken. “He’s never been this bad before.”
“Well, I’d keep an eye on him,” Rossi instructed, dark eyes serious and body language intense in an effort to convey the severity of the situation. He didn’t even bother sugarcoating what they were all thinking, what they had all profiled about the man. “His kind of anger? And willingness to endanger the health of another human being? He’s liable to lash out again with deadly consequences.”
The sheriff stared at Rossi for a long moment before nodding his head. “Yes, sir, I hear you.”
Aaron offered the sheriff his hand. “Thank you, sheriff.”
“No, thank you.”
Spencer stepped into his place by his sentinel’s side, smiling at the rest of the team as they fell in around them as they headed back to their SUVs. His smile grew soft when Aaron laced their fingers together and squeezed.