Title: Emergence – Chapters 13-16 & Alpha Interlude
Author: Jilly James
Betas: Elsa Kallan and Naelany
Emergence Main Page
– – – –
Saturday morning, Gibbs got up earlier than usual to meet Horatio in the restaurant at the Courtyard Marriott near the Navy Yard. On the drive over, his mind kept going back to last night’s Alpha meeting. Tony had covered up his shock at seeing Gibbs really well. But part of the surprise was on Gibbs, because Tony had looked incredible. Definitely at his charming best, though Gibbs preferred him when he was more natural. Plus, he looked healthier than he had in weeks.
Truth be told, Tony had been handling things a lot better than Gibbs had expected. The impromptu poker game was such a minor rebellion in the grand scheme of things. And it had been funny as hell. Gibbs had immediately decided to play along, which probably surprised the hell out of Tony, who was not at all accustomed to Gibbs indulging him.
Then the call afterward… It was just like Tony to try to pin him down about something he didn’t want to talk about. But Gibbs felt that he had to tell the truth. He sensed it was important to give that to Tony.
Shaking off his thoughts, Gibbs pulled his truck into the Yard. He was gratified to see that even early on a Saturday morning, security was tight. It seemed to be colder than usual today, but Gibbs parked and walked the few blocks to the hotel. The Council employees were all staying there, and had several of the meeting rooms reserved for planning and logistics. Many of the visiting Alphas were also checked in, including Jeremy and Richard in one of the suites.
He found H near a window, sipping coffee, his ever-present sunglasses in place. “Already missing the sun, H?”
“Mm. Cold here,” Horatio murmured. “Your coffee is on the way. I told them if they had a tankard, it would probably still not be enough. By the way, last night was the most entertained I’ve ever been at one of these things.”
Gibbs tried to fight back his smile and lost. Tony was in rare form last night. Letting Tony have free rein was a risky proposition at best, but it had gone well as far as Gibbs could see. “When was the last time you played for pretzels?”
Horatio snorted. “Never.”
“You staying the week, or going home, then coming back?”
“I’m leaving later today. I’ll be back on Tuesday night. Miami’s always open, Gibbs. I need to be there.” A couple beats passed before he raised a brow in inquiry. “What did you need to see me about?”
“The Council has a couple conference rooms set up with white noise generators. Let’s go find one.”
H slipped his sunglasses off and got to his feet. “I hate those things.” But he followed Gibbs up a level and to a small meeting room. It was so early, there was little chance of anyone needing the room Gibbs appropriated.
He flipped on the generators, then sat across from H. “Jim called me last night about some of the Florida Alphas. I realize you’ve been Alpha Prime for less than two days, but we need to get a laser focus on this as soon as you can. If you have people you trust to start digging, I would set it in motion.”
Horatio nodded slowly, obviously thinking around the corners. “What do we have so far?”
“Before this whole goat rope started, Blair was preparing some info to send you. Orlando seems to be the center of the problem.”
“Mario and Lorenzo,” H mused.
“Yes. And interestingly, we had problems with both of them yesterday.”
Horatio cocked a brow in surprise. “I was there for Lorenzo’s meltdown last night. I’d have liked to have personally shown him the fastest route out of town. What happened with Mario?”
“He apparently tried to bully Tony when they met in the session before ours. Not to the degree of Lorenzo last night, but noticeable to Jim.”
“How did Tony react to that?” H asked curiously.
“According to Jim, he gave Mario an unremitting five-minute rundown on men’s fashion.”
Horatio gave a startled laugh. “I like him, Jethro. He’ll be good for you.”
“That’s not a given.” He refused to expect this of Tony. Though Tony’s call from last night was still rattling around in Gibbs’ head.
“Whatever you have to tell yourself to get by,” Horatio retorted.
Gibbs decided to just ignore it. “Mario was the most problematic in our meetings last week in Miami. I had wanted to assess him in person anyway, because he’s in charge of Orlando, and the sheer number of complaints filed about him with the Council are staggering. He’s always claimed he’s just a hard ass, but now having heard that archaic rhetoric about Omegas from one of his people?”
“What are you thinking, Gibbs?”
“I’m thinking he’s corrupt. And I’m concerned that he’s on the path to corrupting other dragons.”
“There’s something you’re leaving out.”
Gibbs hesitated. It was a big deal to accuse a dragon of being corrupt. But it was his responsibility to see this through. “Mario didn’t used to be like this. He’s getting this from somewhere. There’s a big picture here, H, and I’m not seeing it yet. I don’t want this spreading further in Florida, and I sure as hell don’t want to see it spreading beyond Florida. But I also need to know where this started. I’m not trying to say corruption is contagious, but something is not right.”
Horatio gave a short nod. “I wouldn’t tolerate corruption in Miami, and I’m not going to tolerate it in Florida. I assure you, Gibbs, we’ll find the truth.”
At 0800 sharp, Jim was waiting at the pedestrian gate for Jeremy and Richard Turner. They had both agreed to waive any special access, and entered the way all other Alphas had to. It seemed colder this morning than the last couple days; it had snowed last night and the Yard was covered in a thin blanket of white.
He spotted Jeremy and Richard when they were about a block away. Jeremy was quite tall for an Alpha at 6’5, lean with very close cropped greying hair. Jim wasn’t certain exactly how old he was, but figured it was late sixties. He and Jeremy had their scale color in common, midnight blue.
Richard was fairly typical for an Omega, but a bit taller, which was probably good for Jeremy’s back; he was also about twenty years younger. Jim had seen him in his dragon form a couple times, and he was a pale champagne color with a pinkish tint. He and Jeremy had been together for nearly twenty years.
As he approached, Jeremy called out, “If I’d known it was going to be this wretchedly cold, I’d have insisted on driving in!” He had a leather bag slung over his shoulder, arm wrapped around Richard.
They exchanged quick greetings, then walked the half block or so to the meeting room, where they shed their coats and got seated.
Jeremy immediately pinned Jim with a glare. “I land to find a mountain of complaints, James. A mountain! Most of them I’ll disregard simply because it amuses me to do so, but did you really let an unmated Alpha into the sleeping quarters? I’ll grant you that Gibbs has a lot of leeway because he’s running security on this ship, but that’s unacceptable.”
It took Jim a minute to actually figure out what event Jeremy was referring to. “Let me guess. A report from Rupert Sewell?”
Richard dug around in the bag Jeremy had brought, and after flipping through a couple pieces of paper, he nodded, passing it to Jeremy to review.
Jim managed to not roll his eyes in irritation at Sewell’s long lasting effect. “That was one of my high priority briefs for you.” Jim gave the rundown on the whole situation, concluding with, “I was doing a security check with Gibbs when Sewell started spouting his insanity, and I took off to try to intervene. Gibbs followed me thinking there was an emergency, but I was also followed by a half squad of Marines and a gaggle of Betas. He never had actual contact with Tony or spent any time with him until the Alpha meeting last night.”
Jeremy was displaying nothing, but Richard looked aghast. “How did a nit like that make it into a critical position in our organization?” Richard looked directly at Jeremy. “I won’t have it, Jeremy! You will not allow Omegas to be treated like that!”
Dropping his stoic veneer to placate his Omega, Jeremy wrapped his arm around Richard’s shoulders. “I promise I’ll deal with it. If I have anything to say about it, and I do, he’s out of the organization. I’ll have the Center director begin an investigation into who hired him.”
Richard huffed a little, muttering under his breath. “Asking an Omega to take their shirt off… it’s ridiculous!”
Jeremy continued to rub his partner’s back, but turned his attention back to Jim. “I’ll just ignore Mr. Sewell’s complaints about being booted out of the States, shall I?” He shook his head, mostly in seeming exasperation. “At any gathering, I expect a certain degree of complaint.”
“Let me guess,” Jim interjected, “you’re getting a bunch of complaints about Alphas not getting their time with Tony?”
Jeremy nodded. “Are the meetings not going well? Is he unable to navigate the situation?”
Jim pressed his lips in a thin line, trying not to laugh. He thought Tony navigated the situation just fine. “Tony’s just determined to do things his own way.”
“In what regard?” Richard asked, leaning forward in interest.
“Well, the first meeting, he briefly met everyone, then corralled them into a group and spent most of the time talking about college football. Which worked since everyone able to make it on site that quickly were from the eastern half of the US.
“The second meeting he got most of them playing a verbal game called Two Truths and a Lie, with Tony on the hot seat. A couple Alphas refused to participate and insisted on alone time with Tony. For which they were treated to a discourse on men’s fall fashion.”
Richard burst into laughter, and Jeremy was looking at the table, lips twitching faintly.
“And the third meeting?” Richard prompted.
“He made everyone play draw poker using pretzels as the stake. He kept conversation going for an hour and twenty minutes with almost all the Alphas engaged. We had to evict one who really pissed him off, which I’m sure you have a report about.”
Jim considered for a moment before adding, “I know you’ve gotten some complaints, but there are more Alphas who were quite happy with the meetings. Tony isn’t going to play by the normal rules, and I hope you aren’t planning to try to discourage him. I think letting him have free rein in these meetings is going to keep him going along with this.” It didn’t sit well with Jim to talk about Tony like they were trying to handle him, but he wanted to be sure Jeremy saw the advantages of Tony’s approach.
“No, no, James… far be it from me to rein in such a free spirit. I look forward to meeting the young man. I assume that will be happening soon?”
“Yes. They were up and starting what Tony refers to as his ‘dragon lessons.’ They know we’ll be stopping in.”
“Excellent. Then let’s begin.”
They reviewed security, logistics and plans for the gathering. At the end, Jeremy had a short list of heads to knock together, but no issues with how things were being handled. Though later today, he wanted to survey the building where the emergence would happen.
The meeting liaison arrived to get things set up for the first meet n’ greet which would happen at 1000 hours. Hopefully nothing had happened in the dragon lessons that would get the day started badly.
After an early breakfast, and once Tony was off to the shower, Blair grabbed Spence and pulled him into the private room. “Okay, Spence, what’s going on?”
Spencer shook his head. “I’m fine.”
“Seriously, man, you know I know that’s not true. You’ve been pensive and unsettled. What’s going on in that big brain of yours?”
“I’ve been thinking about my own emergence. There were many things I didn’t like about the process, but I went along with it, and now I’m wondering why.” He hesitated, then asked, “Were you more like Tony, or more like me?”
“Hmm… I guess I’d be somewhere in between. When I didn’t like something, I could really dig my heels in, but I also generally went with the flow of what seemed like a well oiled, long standing tradition. Tony actually isn’t changing all that much. He’s going along with everything, he’s just doing it his own way. Tony’s not being difficult or intractable. It’s more…” he trailed off, not sure how to describe it.
“Subversive?” Spence threw out with a grin.
Blair laughed. “I think there’s a lesson to be learned in what he’s doing. We need to make the gathering suit the personality of the Omega, not the traditions of the Alphas. It’s something we can work on with the Council. But I don’t want to see you doubting yourself, Spence. When it comes to what you do on your job, you rewrite the manual nearly every day. I think you go with the flow for things that don’t really matter, and cause paradigm shift where it does.”
“I’d say the emergence matters quite a bit.”
“Of course it does, but I don’t think you’re the type to worry about the logistics of something that should be routine. You didn’t realize you didn’t like it until you were knee deep in it. And I know I felt like I was one against hundreds. Did you feel like you could really affect change on a process you were smack in the middle of?”
Spencer appeared thoughtful for several seconds. “I see your point. We have to be sure that, if nothing else, the Omega’s preferences are taken into account, and they aren’t bullied into anything.”
Blair had been present for Spencer’s emergence, and he’d been able to see that the young man was struggling under the pressure of the meetings. Blair had fought with a little bit of learned helplessness as he watched Spencer struggle. It was that situation that had resolved Blair to not let another Omega suffer like that. That was partly why he’d been so aggressive with Jim about taking care of Tony first, and then giving him space when needed. He shared those thoughts with Spence, apologizing for not doing a better job of taking care of him.
They talked for several more minutes, bouncing ideas off each other, then there was a soft tap on the door and Tony stepped in. Blair was happy to see that Tony was looking even healthier than yesterday. The higher concentration tea was helping his body get back on an even keel.
Tony was wearing snug jeans and a close-fitting black turtleneck sweater. Blair didn’t envy the Alphas at today’s gathering. Tony may not be a typical Omega, but he sure as hell was an attractive one. This was like waving a red flag at an arena full of bulls. Blair nearly laughed out loud.
“We ready to get started?” Tony asked.
“Yup! How about we start with questions. Anything on your mind, or perhaps something that came up yesterday?” Blair responded.
Tony flopped on the bed next to Spence. “Yes. Something I’ve been wondering about is my hair. Is it,” he gestured vaguely to his body, “going to grow back? Because as much as it’s nice to not have to shave, this feels weird.”
Blair couldn’t help his laugh. “Yes, it’s permanent. We’re not exactly sure why we even retain our head hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. But no dragon has any other hair.”
“Even Dra- uh, Alphas and Betas?”
“Nope. Not a bit of it. Aside from the pre-scales, it’s a pretty certain sign of emergence.”
Blair laughed again. “I hear you, man. I had the best chest hair before. Anything else?”
“It’s kind of not a terribly relevant question, but how does this gathering work? Do the Alphas really just hang around waiting for my inner dragon to decide it’s done baking?”
Blair and Spencer both smiled at that, then Blair realized something. “Actually, can we check your scale progress? It’s sort of relevant to the answer.”
Tony shrugged and turned his back to them. Blair had to practically choke Tony to pull the turtleneck down. He and Spencer both checked the scales, then glanced at each other. “Wednesday?” he murmured, and Spencer nodded his agreement, quickly texting Jim the news.
When Tony was facing them again, Blair said, “We’re probably going to want to check that twice a day. I think it’s going a little faster than I thought. We were thinking Thursday, but now I’m guessing late Wednesday.”
“And that matters, why?”
“Well, normally we have at least two weeks, and sometimes three, for this process. The most desirable slots are the first ones. The Alphas announce their intention to come, get a meeting slot and schedule their flight. Then they usually go back home, and come back 36-48 hours prior to our target time, and remain until emergence is complete. The reason why the last slots aren’t the most popular is because we adjust the emergence timeline as the scales develop.
“The second most desirable meeting times are indeed the few days prior to expected emergence. The very last slots can be risky because, by the last week, our estimates can be up to twelve hours off. So the last few days are in flux the whole time, making them desirable from a time consumed perspective, but also chancy because they may not get to meet the Omega at all.
“The timeline for you is so tight that most Alphas are staying for the duration, arriving fairly close to their scheduled meet time. I understand the schedule is full already. They had part of Thursday already arranged, so they’ll be trying to fit in extra meetings.”
Tony groaned. “This is asinine. These pre-meetings don’t affect anything. It’s just a colossal waste.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Tony said immediately, then frowned. “I’m not sure how I know. It’s just, in my dream, I didn’t have a sense of pre-meeting anyone. When it was time to choose a mate, I went to the gathering grounds and picked one that felt right. I don’t know. Maybe it does make a difference for some Omegas.”
Blair could sense Tony’s mood had shifted from fairly happy to frustrated, so he tried to steer the conversation elsewhere. “I think you’ll be able to sort your thoughts out about it easier after you emerge. Was there anything else you particularly wanted to know?”
“Um, sure. Rossi mentioned what a typical Omega is like.” He quirked a brow at Blair.
“So I’m nearly the stereotype. But in my defense, most don’t have curly hair.”
Tony snorted. “And you had already mentioned that all Omegas are male.”
“So, what are the stats for Alphas and Betas?”
Blair gestured to Spencer, who quickly replied, “Alphas tend to emerge between the ages of 17-30, with the average being 27, the median height, adjusted for increasing height averages, is 5’11, 165 pounds, blue eyes, dark brown hair. They are predominantly male, with .6 percent female.
“Betas tend to emerge differently. Greater population density means greater concentration of Betas, but they also tend to emerge more during times of war, even if there’s lower population. That being true only for male Betas. Female Betas decline by 22 percent during wartime in war-torn regions.
“Betas usually emerge into their early forties, with an average age of 32. However, they can emerge all the way into their sixties, though that is quite rare. As a population, the average height is 6’1, 175 pounds, there are no eye or hair color norms greater than the general population, so hair is primarily brown, eyes brown. Because the rate of female emergences varies so greatly, it’s difficult to get a historical trend of male to female ratio, but in terms of living Betas today, it’s 57 percent male, 43 percent female.”
Tony blinked a few times, and Blair nearly smiled. That was actually a pretty tame statistical summary for Spence. When he got into historical trends, it could get really involved.
“Huh,” Tony finally managed. “Ducky’s pretty atypical for a Beta. It’s like he and I were reversed.” He shot them a quick grin. “I’m surprised there are that many female Betas. I haven’t noticed all that many in any of the departments I’ve worked for in the past.”
Spencer again replied, “The protect imperative manifests differently in male and female Betas. At first it appears much the same, but once a female dragon has children, all her protect instincts center completely around her offspring.”
After considering for several seconds, Tony asked, “Is that information fairly well-known?”
Blair took that one. “Yeah, it’s pretty commonly available. There’ve been a lot of papers written about the ‘Fierce Mother Dragon’ phenomenon. One of them by me.”
“So my avoidance of all things related to dragons is kind of biting me in the ass now,” Tony replied on a sigh.
Tentatively, Blair queried, “Why was that? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I don’t mind you asking… I’m not sure it makes much sense.” He hesitated a second. “I grew up in Long Island, and it’s one of the most dragon-free areas in the US.”
“For suburban areas of its size, excluding the rest of the New York urban sprawl, that’s true. Bottom two percent,” Spencer interjected.
Tony’s lips quirked faintly. “Thinking back on it now, I think my father must have disdained dragons in some way, because there was never any mention of it when I was growing up. RIMA had some compulsory classes related to dragons in the military, but I actually didn’t have to take it because I had no dragon blood. That may have been the beginning. I went from no exposure, to being told ‘this doesn’t apply to you, DiNozzo, you’ll never be a dragon.’”
Blair frowned. “That’s a ridiculous attitude for them to have. Even if you had no dragon blood, odds are you’d work with them.”
“No one at RIMA thought I was going to be career military.” Tony shrugged. “Anyway, I don’t think I actively avoided dragons, but it was like my curiosity was turned off about the subject, which is weird, because I tend to be curious about everything. When I joined the police, I felt like I was sometimes being compared unfavorably to dragons. Mostly from this one lieutenant. It still didn’t really bother me, I just decided I wasn’t going to spend any time on something that had no impact on my life.”
Blair could tell Tony was holding something back, because somehow Tony wound up working for a dragon. Though he picked an Alpha who had a ‘no dragons’ policy. There was definitely more there, but Blair decided not to push.
“So, you two will have to suggest reading or something… I’m really behind the curve.”
“There are websites you can look into whenever you’re ready; stuff about dragon history, the Dragon Council, politics, etcetera. But it’s nothing you need to know now. If you want to learn some of that stuff, we’ll be happy to help, but I don’t want you to feel like you need to take on any more than you already have.”
Tony nodded. “Just one more question.”
“Does the term ‘corrupt’ have any special meaning in regards to dragons?”
Blair stiffened, which Tony clearly did not miss, and thought about how to reply. “Has someone said something to you?”
“No… I’m just curious. And your reaction tells me I have reason to be curious.”
Thinking about how best to respond, Blair considered that Tony had heard something, but was choosing to keep it to himself. He decided to let it go because it wasn’t his job to pry out Tony’s secrets. And if it was anything nebulous related to his gift, pushing would just make Tony frustrated. “It is a specific term we use. It’s just about the worst thing you can accuse a dragon of being.”
He paused a moment, trying to think of how to say it. “Sometimes, though very very rarely, a dragon just goes wrong… we don’t know what causes it, or if it’s the influence of the person they were before that does it, but we call it corruption. I realize that word means something different to humans, so you may want to consider using a synonym at other times.”
Tony looked perplexed. “Is it a huge deal when a dragon goes wrong?”
“Massively huge deal. Dragons are creatures of massive strength and power who are functioning members of a primarily human society because of the benefit we bring to the entire human tribe. When a dragon is corrupt, all that power is focused on something bad. Humans can bring a dragon down, but there’s a lot of damage and possible loss of life that goes along with it.
“So our agreement with the human governments is that we police our own. If a dragon starts engaging in criminal or unethical acts, it’s our responsibility to control them. The Council has pretty much world-wide carte blanche to handle any corrupt dragons in our community.”
“What does ‘handle’ mean in this context?” Tony asked, looking concerned.
“Most human prisons can’t contain a dragon. The methods necessary to do so would actually be cruel beyond belief. So, if a dragon is confirmed corrupt, the Council has them killed,” Blair answered baldly.
Tony’s eyes widened. “How do you confirm corruption?”
“There’s an investigation and then the Council has to agree there’s no hope.”
“Jesus. Are there any shades of gray here?”
“Well, if a dragon is starting to go off the rails, the Council steps in and takes away any responsibilities they have, puts them in a position where they are closely monitored by someone trusted. It’s rather exhaustive and exhausting. Betas can sometimes be rehabilitated this way, but Alphas… almost never.”
Blair paused and leaned forward, choosing his words carefully. “You’ve got to bear in mind that career criminals don’t emerge as dragons. We’ve long theorized there’s a spiritual component to who emerges, along with the physical requirements. We can’t prove it, but there’s pretty substantial evidence. So corruption isn’t something they emerge with. It happens after. We don’t know what the influencing factors are.”
Blair didn’t mention how overt corruption was easier to handle than something quiet and insidious. If an Alpha builds a drug empire, it’s an open and shut case. But someone’s skewed ideals could be an indicator of corruption, but ideals were far from conclusive proof, that often the dragons were completely twisted by the time the Council could get the evidence needed to make a decision.
He could tell Tony had more questions about corruption, but they were interrupted by a soft knock at the door. Blair opened it to find Jim, advising them that Jeremy and Richard had arrived. Blair checked the time. Tony had a meeting in an hour, which gave him some time with the heads of the Council.
Everyone trooped out and Tony insisted on shaking hands with both of the Brits. Jeremy’s lips quirked faintly in response. Small talk was made for several minutes, but it was pretty clear that that Jeremy wanted to speak about the Drake / Wyvern issue. Their private rooms were really only useful for three people. You could stretch it to five if two were willing to stand.
Blair decided to just take the bull by the horns and suggested that Jeremy, Richard, Tony and Jim head to the Private room for a chat.
Tony looked uncertain, but quickly covered it. He pointed to a bag near his bed. “Since I don’t know how long this is going to take, and my next meeting is in forty minutes, could you set that up next door?”
Blair nodded, but first pulled out his cell and quickly typed Tony a text. – If there’s something you don’t want to talk about, just say so. They won’t make you. –
He looked to Spence. “Let’s keep ourselves open to how he’s feeling. If he gets upset, I want to head in there.”
Then he looked in the bag. How the hell was Tony going to work that into a meeting? Oh well, he’d do as requested, then wait for the show.
Tony was getting frustrated. Jeremy and Richard were both unfailingly polite, but they seemed to want to know things he either didn’t know the answer to, or wasn’t willing to tell them yet.
Now that he knew what corrupt meant to a dragon, he really wanted to wait until after he emerged and talk it over with Blair. Preferably after he’d been able to talk to Precious again. He just had a bad feeling about telling them now. Besides, all he could tell them was the existence of the pair, not how to find them or what to do about them; or anything else particularly useful.
He’d thought about discussing his weird feeling about Horatio last night, but decided to put that off as well. Now that he’d been around mated and unmated Alphas, he could sense who had a bond to a Wyvern. And H felt just like that, only fainter. Like it was tentative or something. Besides, Tony had half persuaded himself that he was hallucinating it at all.
Tony felt enough like an oddity, he didn’t want them poking at him any more. Especially while he didn’t have enough control over whatever this was to be able to give them answers. So he wrapped the conversation with ten minutes to spare. They assured him they’d be around until the bonding stuff could be sorted out, and they would see him periodically in the interim. He got the sense they would drop in on some of the meetings today.
After getting freshened up, he made it over to the meeting room right on time. Henri and Rafe peeled away at the door, but Jim and Hotch came in. He found Blair and Spence already there, and they had set up his diversion. Excellent. He pulled a disc out of his pocket before hanging up the heavy winter coat.
He introduced himself to everyone then plopped in the chair in front of the TV he’d requested and slipped Forzo Motorsport into the Xbox Blair had taken setup. He pinned a fairly young looking Alpha with a look and patted the chair about twelve inches from Tony’s. “Sit,” he ordered. “We only have a few minutes, so you have to pick your car quickly. You are demonstrating your ability to make fast decisions and carry on a conversation while driving. I cannot emphasize enough how important a skill this is.”
The young Alpha was a fairly perfect choice because he had no problem handling the game, and carried on a really good conversation while thoroughly beating Tony.
Tony grinned at the guy. “That was awesome!”
The young man turned the controller over to someone else and moved away to watch. About half the Alphas were fairly willing to play the game. Then he switched to a trivia game, and turned each question into a discussion point, ferreting out the Alpha’s opinion on the subject, so each five minute block only got about two questions in.
About forty minutes in, Jeremy and Richard came in and observed. It made Tony a little nervous, but he wasn’t going to change the way he did things.
After everyone had a turn at the controllers, he got the Alphas in a group and encouraged them to ask questions they didn’t get answered before, or tell him anything they particularly wanted him to know. For the sake of peace, he tried to respect the spirit of the thing, even if he was sure it was a colossal waste of time.
After it was over, he went back to the barracks. He had one of these scheduled every two hours today, for a total of six sessions.
For the second session he asked if he could have lunch with the Alphas. By weird chance, there were twelve Alphas for that meeting. Mentally he was doing a last supper routine, though he kept it to himself, because who knew how anyone would respond to that? He even did the big arms thing, just for his own amusement.
He was pretty sure Rossi and Hotch knew exactly what he was doing, though neither commented on it. Rossi spent an inordinate amount of time looking at his shoes. He knew Blair would have gotten it, but Blair was having lunch with Spence.
Session three, it was back to poker, this time with M&Ms for stakes. He got burned out on the pretzels as winnings really fast. There were four ‘denominations’ to play with, plain, peanut, almond and, god help him, pretzel. The pretzel M&Ms had to be new. He didn’t much like them, so tended to throw the hand if there were too many in the pot.
During session four, he played Two Truths and a Lie again. That one seemed to work well for the Alphas because they got to grill him for information. For that game there were fifteen Alphas. Tony had to be really careful with his two truths, because they weren’t at all hesitant about asking invasive questions.
He brought the Xbox back out for the fifth session, sticking with Trivia games, but letting the group play as a unit and encouraging group discussion. He grabbed dinner quickly between meetings.
He was so tired by the last session at 2000 hours that he took the easy conversation approach from his first meeting and steered the group towards basketball and football. Jeremy and Richard had popped in on his sessions a few times during the day. They never stayed more than ten or fifteen minutes.
In between the marathon of meet n’ greets, he actually took downtime to either read his kindle, check email, or watch a movie on the portable DVD player Abby had thoughtfully brought him. Whoever was around usually watched with him; although everyone was also trying to keep on top of their own lives and tended to spend time on their laptops.
Ducky had called. He had planned to stop by, but something came up with his mother. Tony readily let him off the hook… he had way too much on his plate as it was.
Tony was a social creature by nature, but this was pushing him past his limits, and he still had days of this ahead of him. He explained to Blair that he needed to be let out of tomorrow’s dragon 101. He also insisted they cut the last session tomorrow. They could make the others bigger, but he wasn’t going so late when he had Abby to spend time with.
Tony was back in the barracks by 2130 and happy to get ready for bed. By 2200, he was downing his tea. It had been a fucking long day!
He registered what sounded like an explosion just before the tea did its job.
Jeremy Turner considered himself an even-tempered man. Even when he was angered, he leaned more toward a quiet anger than explosive rages. So it said quite a lot about the situation that he felt close to committing a homicide.
The day had gone well. If he could change one aspect, he wished he had more to go on with this bonding business. You just couldn’t pull information from someone who didn’t have it. But all said, Anthony was a charming young man who seemed intent upon showing them that just because they’d always done it a certain way, they didn’t have to continue in that vein.
He’d been most entertained by Anthony’s handling of the Alpha meetings. Some of his ideas seemed to have more merit than others. Richard had readily pointed out that the key takeaway was that these things suited Anthony, rather than the Alphas, and wasn’t that a nice change?
It certainly gave Jeremy something to ponder, and he very much doubted his Omega would let him get away with not making changes in the future.
James had turned them over to Jethro Gibbs, who had taken he and Richard on a tour of the site, including the structure designated for the actual emergence gathering. It was an enormous building that was essentially gutted, and being given a cursory spruce up to ensure it posed no dangers. More attention was being paid to one of the few office rooms being converted into a space for the mating of the new pair.
He had made certain to impress upon Gibbs the importance of having the fire brigade on hand as soon as Anthony showed final signs of emergence. It had been a long time since an Omega had caused a fire, but it would not pay to be poorly prepared.
In all, it had been a productive day and he’d been able to chat with several Alphas he hadn’t seen in many a year.
So receiving a call after ten at night that someone had planted a small explosive device on the HVAC system for the two barracks being used by the Council was not good for his blood pressure. Right now, even worse, he was being denied access to the Navy Yard, which was in security lockdown. He was freezing his bollocks off and having no success in gaining admittance.
Richard was staying in physical contact as he stretched his empathy out, searching for signs of trouble. The only motivation for an attack like this would be to force their hand into moving Anthony out of the Yard. And it just might work.
Gibbs appeared on the other side of the access gate, giving the order for the Marines to let them in.
Jeremy guided Richard forward, immediately asking, “What is the situation, Jethro?”
Gibbs led them toward the barracks. “No perpetrators caught, though we have roving patrols searching for anyone who shouldn’t be here. We think the charges were likely set earlier in the day when it was more chaotic, timed to go off at ten. This cold snap is going to drive the temperature down in there quickly.
“We’ve already secured a couple electric heaters to keep the area around Tony warm, but the number of electric heaters it would take to heat a room that size would overload the breakers.”
“Had he already ingested his tea?”
“Yes. He had just taken it.”
That was bad luck. If they had to move, it would be better with Anthony conscious.
Gibbs continued. “It’s a clear attempt to get us to move DiNozzo, and it seems like a desperate attempt. Jim was pretty adamant that he’d rather move into another building than leave the Yard, which seems to be what someone is preparing for.”
“What are the best options?” Jeremy was impressed by how much security had been deployed so quickly. The place was fairly crawling with well-armed Marines.
“SecNav is pulling strings to get someone out here with a new HVAC unit sometime tonight. In the interim, I have someone getting oil-filled radiators, which have low electrical drain. They take a long time to heat up, but won’t fry the breaker.”
“Should we consider moving to another building now?”
“Even with the time lag caused by moving the equipment through heightened security, I think it would take fairly equivalent time to clear another building. I’d recommend we stay on course, stay locked down, keep looking for the intruders and keep Tony warm.”
Richard got Jethro’s attention. “I felt a spike of concern from you, Jethro. Is there something we need to know?”
Gibbs hesitated briefly, then replied, “Tony’s had pneumonic plague. His lungs are vulnerable. I’m not saying he’s fragile, because he’s not. But he’s been in and out of the cold and wet all day today, and I’m just concerned about several hours of cold on top of that.”
“Who in the world gets plague anymore?” Richard asked aghast. Jeremy was rather surprised, too. There were parts of the world where plague still occurred on occasion, but mostly in Africa, Asia or South America. Even in those cases, it was mostly bubonic, not pneumonic.
“It was a bio-engineered plague, antibiotic resistant… sent to our office a few years ago. Long story.” They were coming up on the back of the barracks, and Gibbs pointed out where a group of men were clustered. “They’re collecting bomb debris and looking for prints. If this is a desperate attempt to get us out of the Yard, someone has to be watching, so NCIS and FBI have assigned agents to try to determine where they might be waiting outside the yard.”
Jeremy nodded. Good. He’d look in on the investigation tomorrow, for tonight his focus was on the safety of the emerging Omega. As an Alpha Prime, the immediate safety of the Omega was of primary concern. Ironically, despite his prior words to Blair, Jeremy would in fact be staying in the barracks. At least until this was sorted.
“Is there a possibility someone could go after power next?” Richard inquired tensely.
“It’s possible, but futile. The Yard is fully equipped with backup generators for key areas. Also security is very tight right now around anything vulnerable like transformers or generators. Still, we’re working on a new evac plan should they manage to bring the whole house of cards down.” Gibbs showed them to the door of the sleeping quarters. “I’ll be in touch with updates,” he said as he turned to leave.
Richard intervened before Jeremy could say anything. “Just come in and let’s all sort this thing together. I’d say this comes under the heading of an emergency.”
Jeremy nodded and they all headed inside, quickly closing the door behind them. They were met with several weapons pointed at them, but Jeremy wasn’t fazed by that in the least. It was warmer inside, but definitely cooler than it should be. Most of Anthony’s contingent, as Jeremy thought of them, were clustered around the far end of the room where the young man was sleeping.
Blair and Spencer moved to sit on the same bed where Anthony was lying, gesturing for Jeremy and Richard to have the seat they’d vacated. They all settled in to review contingency plans to the nth degree, and Jeremy prepared himself for a long night.
– – – –
A lot of noise pulled Tony from sleep much earlier than he would have liked. He still felt tired. He cracked his eyes open, then slammed them shut. Ouch. All the lights were on. What time was it?
Aside from the loud racket, there was this pervasive whirring noise that reminded him of lots of fans, or possibly space heaters. He rolled to his side and tried opening his eyes again. Shocked, he blinked a few times at finding Richard Turner sitting by his bed; as well as Blair and Spencer. The three of them lined up in a row on Blair’s bunk.
“What’s going on?” he rasped. He noticed the Alphas were hanging back a bit, but they were all there.
“It’s still early, Tony. A little before four. We have some stuff to tell you, but we’ll let you wake up a little first,” Blair replied quietly.
Tony managed to get himself upright and shivered a little. It was a colder than they’d been keeping it. Then he noticed lots of space heaters, connected to some power lines coming in from a window with towels stuffed into the crack to keep the air out.
He blinked a few times. “Let me guess, that’s part of what you need to explain?” At the trio of nods, he held up a hand. “Hold that thought.” He grabbed a sweatshirt to pull on over his t-shirt. He noticed he had several extra blankets on his bed. Putting off the questions, he headed for the bathroom. He was very much aware that he was followed, though whoever it was stayed out of sight.
After quickly brushing his teeth, he returned to his bed, sitting on it but wrapping his covers around him. He freaking hated being cold. “Okay, what’s going on?”
Surprisingly, Richard was the one who gave him the rundown on the sabotaged HVAC system. This was some seriously fucked up shit. Why was someone so desperate to get him to leave the Yard? Were they that frantic to get an unmated Wyvern?
“Since we didn’t move, I assume we’re still trying for a replacement?”
Blair chimed in. “The earliest they can get the units they need is late morning. We were trying stop-gap measures but ultimately decided to bring in a portable generator to power the space heaters, so they don’t overload the breakers. The oil filled radiators didn’t take quite enough chill off the room, so they’ve been moved to the meeting room next door to at least keep it from freezing over there. We just got the generator going about forty minutes ago, so it’s starting to warm up now.”
Richard leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I fear you’ll find the gathering room a touch cold for your first meeting or two, but it should all be sorted after lunch. Are your lungs doing well?”
Tony blinked a few times. “Ah, yes, thank you. They’re fine.”
“You’ll tell us straight away if that should change?”
No. Tony wasn’t about to do any such thing.
Blair cocked a brow at him and he suddenly remembered Blair could tap into what was going on with him physically as well as emotionally. He rolled his eyes and reluctantly conceded.
Jeremy moved closer. “Anthony, do you think you’ll be able to get some more rest?”
“I highly doubt it.” Though he still felt really tired. “Has anyone else gotten any sleep?”
“No.” Jeremy shook his head. “I’m afraid with our perimeter breached in this manner, we’re all rather on alert.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. I don’t need sleep more than the rest of you.”
“Young man,” Richard said in mild exasperation, apparently ignoring the fact that he was only about ten years Tony’s senior, “you may be becoming a dragon, but you’re still human. Dragons are hardy creatures, quite capable of missing a night of sleep. Everyone will go down for a nap sometime tomorrow and be fine for the day. Aside from already having had a full day, your body is going through changes that make one exceedingly fatigued. So, yes, you do need the sleep more than the rest of us.”
Tony blinked a few times, noticing that Blair was turned away a bit to hide his smile. He cleared his throat. “I’m really not sure I could sleep with all this going on.”
“Well, you won’t know if you don’t make the attempt!” When Tony didn’t react, Richard pointed at the bed. “That means assuming a position conducive to rest.” Tony just blinked at the crazy Brit. “Means lie down!”
Tony looked around for a little help, but no one seemed inclined to offer any aid. With a roll of his eyes, he lay down, straightening his covers. “Happy now?”
Richard just cocked a brow.
“Are you in the habit of sleeping with your eyes open?”
“Oh come on!” Tony was not in the habit of being put to bed like a five-year-old. But the five-year-old in him wanted to insist that everyone else had to go to bed if he had to.
Richard just met his gaze calmly, utterly immovable.
Finally Tony rolled his eyes, yanked the covers over his head, and lay there listening to the racket in the room. Which was basically the whirring sound of the heaters, the engine-like sounds of the generator, and the occasional soft murmur. He realized no one was talking in order to keep it quiet for him. He’d prefer it if they all just stayed up together rather than everyone tiptoeing around so he could sleep.
He blinked as someone nudged his shoulder, and pulled the covers back down. It was daylight and the room was fairly warm. Everyone was still up, though they were no longer clustered around his bed. “Christ, I can’t believe I fell asleep like that. What am I, five?”
Blair was the nudger, and sat on his bed laughing. “No, you were just tired. We let you sleep as long as possible, but it’s almost nine. Your first meeting is in an hour. You’ve got enough time for a shower and breakfast. Fair warning that it’s still kind of chilly in the other building, so dress warmly. Hopefully we’ll have the new heater installed by the time your meeting is done.”
Tony showered as fast as he could, because the bathroom wasn’t really all that warm, then dressed in black jeans with a cream cashmere pullover. He spent a few minutes chatting with Spence while trying to decide what to do for the first meeting.
He decided to hold a press conference. Or, rather, his version of one. The type where none of the Alphas could be aware they were playing the part of the reporters. Basically, all he had to do was sit in front of the group and give ‘em free rein to ask questions, holding veto rights on the answer, of course.
Much to his surprise, Jeremy and Richard were escorting him, along with Rossi and Derek. Jeremy even made him put on his scarf! To walk thirty whole feet. For fuck’s sake! Whoever told these folks he’d had the plague was seriously gonna get it.
The first meeting went off well. There was a difference in that there were some Alphas from other countries for this session so there were a couple of approved translators in the room, adding dimension to the logistics Tony had to manage. By the time the meeting wrapped, the heater was almost installed.
He decided to check his personal email for the first time since all this had happened. He’d managed to keep a vague handle on his work email, but his personal inbox was packed with messages from what seemed like every person Tony had ever met. In the mix were about a half dozen from McGee, one from Ziva and one from his father. He read none of them, just closed his laptop. His father had written. Damn.
Sitting on his own bed, Blair looked up sharply from his laptop. “What’s wrong, Tony?”
“Nothing. Nothing.” He got to his feet and started to pace. “I need to move.” His hands were moving furiously with agitation. “I can’t stay indoors any more. I have got to move.”
His circuit was halted by Rossi who guided him towards the door. “Let’s go for a walk, then.”
Tony was so relieved, he didn’t even pay attention to who was coming along; he just got into his coat and scarf and headed outside. He’d been walking for about fifteen minutes when he realized he was being carefully guided in a loose orbit that kept him near the barracks. There were a ridiculous number of Marines as escort, as well as five dragons plus he and Rossi. And finally, he realized that his lungs were getting irritated.
He stopped in his tracks, causing about a dozen people to halt as well. Then he started laughing.
This was too absurd.
He’d frequently had the thought that his life was turning into a Lifetime movie of the week, but now he thought it was more like a special on Comedy Central. He laughed until he started coughing, then let himself be dragged inside to be met with three flustered Wyverns, who desperately wanted to make him better. Which, for some reason, made him start laughing again.
Richard pushed him down on a bed and handed him some tea. Actual tea. The British kind, not the dragon stuff that made him unconscious. For some reason, a Brit plying him with tea made him laugh harder.
“I believe he’s become hysterical,” Richard commented dryly.
“I am not hysterical. This is just too much.” He took a few calming breaths, trying to get himself under control. “When’s my next meeting?”
“Approximately five minutes, but it can be postponed until you’re well.”
“Oh, I’m about as well as I’m gonna get. Someone grab the M&Ms. I’m feeling a card game is in order. Should be extra fun with translators. Maybe poker is a universal language.”
All of the Wyverns looked like they wanted to stop him.
“Please,” he said softly, “just let me get on with my day.”
Reluctantly, the others let him go, but Richard and Jeremy once again accompanied him. He got through the meeting, though he was mentally not there. He smiled and said all the right things, but his brain was stuck on that email from his father, who he hadn’t heard from in years. Who was either writing finally because Tony was a dragon, and was only interested in his son for that reason, or because he wanted nothing to do with his son ever again. He wasn’t sure which he’d prefer.
The meeting broke up promptly at 1300 hours. After the Alphas left, he asked if lunch could be delivered here. He only had an hour break, but he wanted to drive a car and forget about his crazy life for a bit. Most of the crew piled over for lunch and they played Motorsport the entire time. In a bizarre turn of events, he even got Hotch to play, who was the undisputed best at the damned game. And Tony had been driving a Bugatti! Tony glared at his controller as if it had betrayed him.
When the Alphas started arriving at 1400 hours, most of the crew cleared out, leaving Rossi, Jim, Blair and Rafe. Since he was sitting in front of the game system, he went with that, putting in a history trivia game. He turned each question into a group discussion, which he felt met the criteria of meet n’ greet because they got to hear his views about historical events. Yeah, that was his story and he was sticking with it.
For his next break, he lay down. He was feeling emotionally wrung out, and needed to save his energy for the next session. A little before 1600 hours, he let himself be dragged next door once more. Tony opted to play poker again because he was too fried to think of anything else. Besides, the Alphas always let him win, so it wasn’t like he was running out of M&Ms to stake the games with.
That meeting had a little difference that perked him up and got him forgetting his troubles. He was intrigued by two Alphas who clearly already knew each other. Both were near enough to his height. One had dark hair, deep blue eyes, an easy smile and really deep green scales. The other was blond, had green eyes and black scales. And they both already had Wyverns. They felt just like Horatio did.
They played poker shoulder to shoulder, and the brunette, named Buck of all things, was a shark about the peanut butter M&Ms. He was also particularly gregarious and helped Tony keep the conversation going. Chris was more taciturn, and never smiled, but didn’t hesitate to look Tony square in the eyes. Tony was pretty sure the guy’s glare could rival Gibbs’ if he were so inclined.
He found out they both worked for the ATF out of Colorado. Team 7 in fact. Tony was impressed; everyone in law enforcement had heard of Team 7. Their reputation was legendary, and he wondered how much was fact and how much fiction.
As the meeting was breaking up, Buck had made an offhand remark about how much fun they’d have if Tony wound up joining them in Colorado. Tony was perplexed for a second before he realized that if he’d chosen someone besides Gibbs, he’d be expected to join his Alpha in their chosen occupation. Christ, what a thought. If he hadn’t chosen Gibbs, he’d be leaving NCIS on top of everything else.
Tony made a vague affirmative noise to Buck, and moved on to the next conversation, but his brain was stuck on his realization. It was pretty obvious, so maybe no one had thought to spell that out to him? He’d be pretty pissed if he wasn’t already certain of his choice.
He ended the meeting pretty close to on time and was back in the barracks by 1710 to find that Abby had arrived. She gave him a big hug and didn’t let go, and he realized someone had filled her in on his little meltdown.
“What happened?” she whispered in his ear.
Whispering wasn’t going to give them any privacy, but everyone was pretending they weren’t paying attention. He decided to just get it out there, because Abby was tenacious. “My dad wrote. Please,” he said as soon as she started to say something, “don’t ask. I really don’t want to talk about it.”
She bit her lip, but reluctantly nodded. “Are you done for the day?”
“Not yet. We cancelled the late meeting, but I have another one in about forty-five minutes. After that, I’m all yours.”
Jeremy and Richard turned up, and didn’t bat an eyelid at Abby’s mini-kilt over black tights, and a tight black t-shirt with two dragons breathing fire on each other. He had to wonder what PJs she’d come up with for the occasion. He knew she had dragon PJs, question was, would she wear them?
He got Jeremy’s attention. “There are three Alphas so far I’d like to talk to after my emergence. Regardless of who I choose. There could be some more as I finish the meetings. Is that a problem?”
Everyone was staring at him, and Jeremy looked bemused. “It’s unusual, Anthony. It’s rather customary to spend the week after mating becoming acquainted with your Alpha.” Jeremy said that as if his very presence here wasn’t about talking to Tony right after his mating.
Tony’s brows lifted in feigned surprise. “Really? So I’m going to be left completely alone with my new Alpha for a week? How nice,” he said a bit caustically.
Richard snorted behind his hand, and Jeremy flashed his partner an annoyed look, then sighed, looking back at Tony. “I will pass on whatever messages you desire.”
“Great. I’d like to see Horatio Caine, Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington after I’m all, you know, out.” Tony decided to emphasize his request. “It’s important I see them in person. There may be others I identify as the week goes on.”
“I don’t supposed you’d be willing to disclose the reason for your request? And please do be aware that your Alpha may take issue with this.”
“Nope, and it’ll be up to me to handle my Alpha.”
Jeremy nodded reluctant acquiescence.
With Abby around, the time passed quickly before his last meeting of the day at 1800 hours. Tony headed back out, promising Abby he’d be back soon. It had started snowing again, and he walked a little faster than usual.
He was barely in the door, coat half off, opening his mouth to start his pro forma introduction, when he caught sight of the last person he expected, or wanted, to see. Completely frozen in shock, he failed to finish entering, preventing those behind him from coming in, and letting in cold air.
“No,” he finally gasped out.
“Tony, what’s wrong?” he heard Richard say from behind him. “You’re blocking the entry.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he growled.
“I’m here to meet in a neutral environment, get to know you, and make my case for you choosing me,” the interloper retorted smoothly.
Tony was gaping, and then felt himself being physically moved by one of the Alphas, either Jim or Jeremy, so everyone could get in. “Again, I say no. You’re not welcome here. Get out.”
“That is not how these matters are conducted, Agent DiNozzo,” the man replied. “I assume you know that there is at least a fifty percent chance of you choosing someone you knew before your change started. I’d say that puts me in good stead.”
“Get the fuck out,” Tony hissed again, too angry to remember his code phrase.
The man just smirked at him.
“Fine. You won’t leave, I will.” Tony spun on his heel and left, not paying attention to anyone as he stalked back to his barracks. As soon as he was inside, he rounded on Jim who had followed him back. “What the fuck is he doing here?”
“He’s an unmated Alpha, Tony. He called and asked to be put on the schedule as soon as possible. We didn’t think there was a reason to deny him.”
Tony was shaking he was so angry. It had never occurred to him that the fuckhead would want to be here. “I want him gone. I don’t want him anywhere near me.”
Richard stepped up, trying to smooth things over. “Tony, it’s a complicated situation.”
“NO!” Tony yelled. “He’s gone. I don’t want him around. I refuse. I decline. NO. Whatever word I have to use to make him go away.”
Abby pulled at his arm. “What’s wrong, Tony. What happened? Who was there?”
He jerked away from her and started pacing. “Eli David,” he spat with loathing.
Abby’s eyes widened and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. “He didn’t!”
“Oh, he did. He seems to think he has some real chance of me choosing him.” He caught Spencer and Blair exchanging a speaking look. “Okay, what was that?”
They hesitated, before Blair carefully replied, “It’s not that uncommon for someone to pick a mate they had issues with in their human life.”
Tony’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “Are you fucking nuts? I am not going to choose Eli fucking David as my mate. It’s not happening. Never. EVER. Frankly, if I thought it was a real possibility, I’d eat my gun,” he said in all seriousness. Not wanting to spend another second defending his choice, he whipped around and retreated to the Omega room.
He waited about ten seconds and realized he was missing something. “Abby, get your butt in here!” he hollered out into the room. As soon as she was inside, he shoved the door closed.
Tony tried to calm down, but he was so enraged he wound up punching the wall repeatedly. How dare he show up here, like he hadn’t tried to see Tony in jail, like that interrogation had never happened, like he hadn’t abandoned his daughter to hell and nearly gotten her killed.
“Tony!” Abby yelped, grabbing onto his arm, then inspecting his bruised knuckles. “Please calm down.”
“I am not calming down!” he nearly roared. “I’ve had enough, Abby! I’ve played nice and done what they asked me to do. But I am not playing this game anymore. I’m not going to let them throw people at me that I find offensive just for the sake of some ridiculous tradition.”
Abby was practically chewing her lip in distress. “But, what you if did pick–”
“I am NOT choosing Eli David! That’s the end of it!”
“Tony,” she whispered, “you can’t just say things like that about your gun.” Her eyes were tearing up. “Please don’t do something stupid.”
“Oh, Abby.” He pulled her close. “I am not choosing that fuckhead. I know it in my soul. Don’t fret about that.”
“But would you really rather…”
“Yeah, I really would. First, I’d not choose anyone, but if I thought there was a real chance? Then, yeah. I won’t, Abby. I can’t.”
There was a knock at the door, and Tony called out, “Whoever it is, please go away.” When there was no more response, Tony heaved a sigh and plopped down on the twin-size bed and lay back.
Abby curled up next to him, head resting on his shoulder. “Are you really done?” she whispered while playing with his sweater.
“I really am. I’m getting off this merry-go-round, Abbs. I’m not cut out for this.”
They were left alone for a while, and Tony just held Abby and pretended like everything was normal.
Eventually, there was another tap at the door. When Tony asked again for them to go away, the door opened and Rossi stuck his head in. “Gibbs is here. He’d like to talk to you.”
Tony was up like a shot, almost dumping Abby on the floor as she scrambled to get up, too. He brushed past Rossi and his eyes zeroed in on Gibbs standing at the far end of the barracks.
Their eyes met and Tony could see the worry. “I choose you,” he blurted out across the room. Something in Tony shifted as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
Everyone stared at Tony wide-eyed, and Richard took a cautious step toward him. “It doesn’t quite work that way, Tony.”
“Well it does today.” He looked back at Gibbs again and took a couple steps to bridge the long gap between them. “I choose you. Do you accept?”
Gibbs took a measured breath, looking faintly sad. “Tony, I know you’re upset–”
“Do you accept?”
With a resigned sigh, Gibbs replied, “Tony, you have to understand–”
“Goddammit, Gibbs!” Tony shouted. “I’m choosing you. Do you accept me?”
Gibbs had an odd look on his face. “Of course I do, Tony.”
Tony’s stomach knotted and his back was on fire. He collapsed with a strangled scream, clutching at the back of his neck. He felt this immense sense of pressure from everywhere.
Chaos reigned. People were talking, touching, but he couldn’t focus on anything but the pressure.
“Christ! He’s emerging.”
“We have to start the gathering.”
“No! I mean he’s about to shift. We have to get outside!”
He was being moved and there was yelling, then cold swept over him and all he could see was white.
The Wyvern shifted into awareness. It blinked, trying to bring the world into focus. It was tired, having been pulled too early. The world was white, and it was ringed by dragons in their small form. There were also several humans.
It lifted its head and took a deep breath. Its Drake was close by. The Wyvern followed its nose to a cluster of dragons – some Drakes, some Wyverns – to find its mate being held back.
The Wyvern growled and hissed. It wasn’t quite prepared to use fire, but it would soon if they didn’t cease. Fortunately, the mate was released. Cautiously, it nudged the mate with its snout. It waited, but the Drake didn’t respond, and the Wyvern gave a small whine of sorrow. It nudged its mate again and still received no response.
It was being rejected.
Distressed, it dropped onto its belly, curling up so it could push its snout under its foreleg, keening softly.
It suddenly felt a touch on its neck it was sure was mate, and the soft murmur of a voice. Then there was the vibration on the air of a dragon taking its true form. The Wyvern lifted its head, coming snout to snout with its mate, who nudged back. It was so tired, but managed to nudge again, issuing invitation for the third time.
This time the Drake curled around it, resting his head on the back of his Wyvern’s neck. The Wyvern knew there was more to do, but it needed rest first. Closing its eyes, it let the world fade away.
Blair stood shivering in the snow, gaping at the sight in front of him. They’d had to get outside fast, and there had been no time for cold weather necessities.
A coat suddenly dropped over his shoulders and he quickly struggled into it, then felt Jim’s arms come around him. He was content to stand in his mate’s arms and watch the two dragons curled around each other.
“Is that really a white dragon?” he whispered. “Or am I having a really weird dream.”
“We’d be sharing that dream, Chief.”
White dragons were unheard of. But everything about this whole emergence had been strange. In the barracks, Tony’s upset had been so intense, and his threat about his gun so alarming, all the Omegas had persuaded Jeremy they needed to call Gibbs in to settle Tony down. Jeremy had been reluctant, but finally agreed to it if Gibbs stayed on the other side of the room.
Then Tony had come out, claiming he was choosing Gibbs. The whole situation had been surreal because it just didn’t happen that way. When Tony collapsed, Blair and Richard were the first to reach him, pulling his hand away from his neck. They’d been shocked to see the pre-scales rapidly forming in front of their eyes, filling in the few inches remaining on the back of his neck. Then they’d started to ripple in the way that indicated the first shift was about to happen.
Jim had carried Tony outside, and Blair’s heart had been in his throat. The Alphas had gotten the Marines to back up and secure a wide perimeter. There was a grassy area covered by snow right by the parking lot; it was the only place the emergence could happen considering the time they had. Jim had left Tony in the snow, and they’d all retreated as far as they could.
The Alphas had clustered around Gibbs, Jeremy insisting that he had to stay away from Tony, that they had to summon the other Alphas for the gathering. Blair had thought Jeremy was speaking from a place of shock, falling back on policy rather than thinking. Tony had forced his emergence to choose Gibbs. That was something seriously meant to be, and not something the Council should be interfering with.
Then suddenly there was a white dragon before them. A white dragon. Blair had been able to see the fatigue in every movement, but the dragon still honed right in on Gibbs.
A hissing Omega had persuaded everyone to back off Gibbs, who had somehow managed to ignore the first two invitations from the white Omega, probably because of whatever bug Jeremy had put in his ear.
When the Omega had curled up, keening in distress, Gibbs had broken and reached out to touch. After making sure everyone was clear, he had shifted. And now, the large black Drake was curled around his white Wyvern, protecting his sleeping mate.
Now that the shock and adrenaline were wearing off, everyone started trying to figure out what to do next. Jim indicated for the Betas to stay spread out around the circle, helping guard with the Marines.
The other Alphas and Omegas all converged on their position. Blair was glad to see that somehow everyone had managed to step away and grab coats.
“The mating hasn’t occurred,” Jeremy observed, still looking stunned.
Richard grabbed onto his Alpha’s arm, looking upset. “They just need a little time. Tony’s clearly tired, Jeremy! Are you really suggesting we try to hold the gathering?”
Gibbs’ large head came up and swung around to glare in their direction.
Jim held up his hands in a surrender gesture. “We’re just talking, Gibbs. No one is going to try to take him away.” He looked at Jeremy. “I really think the issue is settled.”
Jeremy rubbed his forehead. “So it would seem. And, no, I wasn’t suggesting, just thinking out loud. I don’t know what to make of the situation. I really have no idea what to do next.”
“How about we focus on the practical,” Richard offered. “Let’s get a blanket for when Tony shifts back. Did anyone warn him he won’t shift with his clothes the first time?”
Blair winced. “No. We hadn’t gotten to that yet.” The first time an Omega shifted, they destroyed their clothing. Which actually made sense. More sense than the fact that normally a dragon’s clothing went along for the transformation. It was just one of the many things that they didn’t understand about dragons. Drakes didn’t have to kill their clothes the first time, that was a uniquely Omega trait. Almost as if they were supposed to appear in their new human form naked the first time.
Normally, they cleared the gathering area so the new pair could have privacy. But the dragons were lying between a parking lot and Marine barracks. How could they give Tony any privacy?
“Well, he’ll find out soon enough,” Richard said wryly. “Let’s have a blanket on hand to give to him right away. In the interim, assuming they proceed straight to the mating, we need to get a space set up. I think the meeting room would do nicely. We’ll need to bring over blankets and pillows, but should be able to sort it out quickly.” He looked to Jeremy for agreement.
Jeremy took a deep breath, then nodded. “Also move the sound generators to that building. Give them as much privacy as possible.”
Jim took charge and began issuing directions. Richard and Spencer were going to get the room set up. Rossi was tasked with keeping an eye on things not happening directly around the two shifted dragons.
Jim moved closer to Gibbs’ head to have a one-sided chat with the large Alpha.
He became aware that Abby was standing nearby, lost in her own world. She had tears on her face, but was smiling broadly.
Blair needed to check in with the Betas and make sure they had all the cold weather gear they needed, but he couldn’t help but stare for a few more moments at the large black Drake wrapped around the smaller white Wyvern. He found himself thinking they were like Yin and Yang. Perfectly balancing each other.
Gibbs was curled as much as he could be around the smaller white dragon. His mate. Tony had made it clear, over and over again, that Gibbs was his choice. And he’d made Gibbs choose, too, which was just like Tony. Now Tony was his.
As they’d watched the new Omega shift for the first time, Jeremy had been insisting Gibbs needed to stay away, to let the gathering happen. Let Tony choose at a real gathering. So Gibbs had tried to resist. He ignored his gut and tried to do things the right way. The Council way. But that wasn’t the DiNozzo way.
Ignoring the first invitation had been hard, ignoring the second had been nearly impossible. But when Tony had pulled away and curled up, making that heart-breaking sound, Gibbs’ resolve had broken.
He moved close to Tony’s head, reaching out to stroke the beautiful pearly white scales. He’d never heard of a white dragon before, but he wasn’t familiar with the breadth of Omega scale colors. Still, Tony was the most beautiful thing he’d seen. He’d spoken some reassurance he couldn’t even remember, then made sure the area was clear and shifted.
Tony’s head had come up and Gibbs had butted against it. It was taboo to issue invitation to an Omega, but his gut said he needed to draw Tony back to him. Tony had firmly nudged back, and Gibbs had felt a connection settle between them.
He could feel that Tony was dead on his feet, so he’d curled protectively around the exhausted Omega, protecting him as he fell asleep.
“Gibbs,” Jim called out to him from nearby.
He lifted his head and stared down, cocking it slightly in inquiry.
“We’re setting up the meeting room for your mating. It’s really the only choice.”
Gibbs growled a little, annoyed at the prospect of taking his mate to a place where all those other Alphas had been courting him. Still, he recognized that it was the best option given the circumstances. He dipped his head a little in acknowledgment.
“We have a blanket for when he shifts back. Figure out how you want to handle it.”
The snow continued to fall as he again rested his head on his Omega. The snow melted quickly off the dragon-warm scales, causing a slight steamy mist to surround the pair.
He felt the pull to claim his mate, but for now he was content to wait.
– – – –
Gibbs was content to stay curled around his mate for as long as it took, but he felt some relief when the Wyvern began to stir. He realized the more he thought of Omegas as Wyverns, the more right it felt.
Tony twisted sleepily, bringing them belly to belly, tails twining without thought. He sleepily nuzzled against Gibbs’ throat, then without warning, nipped. Suddenly the Wyvern’s scent changed and Gibbs felt something in him shift, and the need to mate was nearly unstoppable. Tony was squirming against him, and Gibbs barely managed to hold on to his rational mind. They had to shift back and get indoors. Now. They couldn’t indulge their dragons the way they were meant to.
It was natural to spend some time in dragon form before shifting back and mating, but he was acutely aware that they were out in the open with an audience. Also, they didn’t have the room necessary for the way dragons tended to play.
He issued a short warning growl, and felt the white dragon still with an impatient whine. Gibbs shifted back to human, and someone shoved a blanket into his hand, but his eyes were locked on Tony.
The Wyvern cocked its head to side as if confused by Gibbs’ shifted form. He could tell Tony wasn’t all back yet. He remembered how it had taken time for the dragon and the human to coexist easily. Another reason why they usually stayed shifted for a while after their emergence.
He was nudged a few times, with whines of complaint, before Tony was suddenly standing in front of him, blinking in confusion. He instantly wrapped the blanket around Tony, barely absorbing the expanse of tanned skin with bands of pearly white scales.
It felt so wrong to cover that body up, but he didn’t want anyone else looking at his mate. He pulled the blanket tight around Tony, who, now that Gibbs was close, was doing his best to distract Gibbs by kissing along his jaw. In a hurry, he swept Tony into his arms, the position doing nothing to deter Tony from his task.
Ignoring everyone, including someone trying to tell him something, he made it into the room quickly, kicking the door closed behind him. Tony’s attentions had made him hard as a rock, and it was nearly impossible to ignore his own drive to complete their mating.
Gibbs lay Tony down on the nest of blankets and pillows positioned in the middle of the room. The blanket around Tony fell away as he sat up and started pulling at Gibbs’ clothes. He could tell Tony wasn’t all there, the dragon was more in charge than the man, and his gut was telling him that Tony would be upset if their mating happened this way. And Gibbs needed Tony to be present.
He grabbed Tony’s wrists, covering the scales, and Tony abruptly stilled, blinking at him. Gibbs would have to figure out what trigger that was some other time.
With Tony still, Gibbs released the wrists and cupped his mate’s face, looking intently into beautiful green eyes. “You with me, Tony?”
His mate blinked a few times and squirmed a little bit.
“Come on, Tony. I need you here with me. I know we both want to get going, but I want you totally present.”
There was no change. Gibbs really didn’t want to do this, because it was not something his inner Drake was remotely comfortable with any more, but he felt he was running out of options. Biology was going to win out soon, and he didn’t have time to talk Tony around. He gently slapped Tony on the back of the head.
Tony blinked. “Gibbs?”
Awareness washed over Tony’s features. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. We haven’t discussed this or anything and I was just–”
Gibbs clapped a hand over Tony’s mouth. “No, Tony. This is what we’re meant to do. It’s what we both want. But I needed you aware. I’m gonna remove my hand, but I want you to listen to me.”
At Tony’s nod, he carefully pulled his hand away.
“You’re meant to spend more time in your dragon form after you emerge. More conscious time, I should say. During that time, your human mind gradually merges with the dragon. Because of your sudden emergence, we were out in the open with humans around. I couldn’t give you the play time in dragon form that you needed. So you were still locked in your instincts when we came in here.”
“I still feel it, though. Feel like I have to have you now.” Tony looked incredibly conflicted.
Gibbs cupped Tony’s face again. “I do, too. We’re meant to mate soon after you choose. It helps protect you, and it settles the dragons in us. There’s nothing wrong with your instincts, Tony. But it has to be both you and the dragon. Now that you’re back, we can keep going.”
Tony still looked upset. “But now I don’t know what to do.”
“Don’t be an idiot, DiNozzo, you know exactly what to do.” With that, he pulled Tony closer and, fighting the fierce urge to mate, pressed his lips against Tony’s for the first time.
Tony was stiff for several seconds, then slowly relaxed, opening his mouth to admit Gibbs’ questing tongue. Gibbs groaned, sweeping his tongue in, plundering Tony’s mouth. His dragon was urging him on and he pressed Tony down, settling over his naked mate, continuing the kiss.
Something wasn’t right.
He broke away and looked into Tony’s bright green eyes. He could see the ongoing struggle. “Stop it, Tony.”
“I don’t understand,” he said with a touch of desperation.
“Stop fighting your dragon. You’re not letting yourself blend with it.” Their urge to mate would let him continue on, but he refused to take Tony with him so conflicted.
“I don’t want to do this because I have to!”
“Do you want me, Tony?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Have you wanted me for nine years?” Gibbs asked gently.
Tony laughed, but it sounded like half choked off sob. “Yes. But I still want to be me.”
“You will be. You are. We rarely get so lost in our instincts that the conscious mind has to give up control. You just needed more time and you would have been fine. Now you’re fighting what should be natural. Let go.” Gibbs could tell Tony was still fighting, just by the tension he felt in the body underneath his. “Please, Tony,” he whispered. “Trust me. You’ll still be you. If I didn’t want it to be you, I wouldn’t have waited until you came back.”
A small smile and a lessening of the tension was his reward. Then there was a glint of humor in Tony’s eyes. “You know, this is kinda weird. We’ve barely been in the same room together since before you went to Florida, and now I’m naked and you’re lying on top of me.”
Gibbs snorted. “Seriously, Tony, shut up.” Then he leaned down and claimed those lush lips again. This time, Tony responded eagerly, wrapping his arms around Gibbs, participating wholeheartedly in the kiss. He could still sense some lingering conflict. He’d give it a few minutes and see if the sense of struggle waned.
His questing fingers made contact with Tony’s bicep scales and Tony gasped, arching his head back. Gibbs eagerly ravaged Tony’s throat, his dragon seeming to be looking for something, while he continued to stroke Tony’s arm scales.
Tony’s responses were becoming more ardent and Gibbs had to fight the urge to be inside his mate now. Tony’s hands were furiously yanking at Gibbs’ pants, and together they wrestled them off.
He wanted to explore, but the urge to mate was becoming overpowering. He reached between them, palming Tony’s rock hard erection. When his fingers glanced over another ring of scales at the base of his cock, Tony stopped breathing, back arching off the floor.
“Fuck, Gibbs!” he exclaimed.
He broke away from Tony’s cock, sliding his hand up to Tony’s chest, pressing down, holding his mate still. “Jethro, Tony.”
Lust-fogged eyes met his. “What?”
“My name, Tony. Say it.”
“Jethro,” Tony replied immediately.
“God,” Gibbs groaned, feeling his cock give an impatient twitch. He lunged at Tony, biting at his neck and shoulder again. “Just like that, Tony. Don’t ever call me Gibbs when we’re in bed,” he hissed in Tony’s ear.
Tony’s body went sort of boneless as his arms wrapped around Gibbs’ shoulders. “Yes, Jethro,” he whispered, and Gibbs could actually hear the Wyvern nature in the response.
With a growl, Gibbs pulled one of Tony’s legs over his shoulder and guided the other around his waist. His cock nudged Tony’s entrance, feeling the warm slippery fluid. With gritted teeth, he waited.
Tony felt the pressure of Gibbs’, no, Jethro’s thick cock pressed against his opening. Jethro’s eyes were boring into Tony’s, waiting for Tony to be ready. His body was ready, in every sense, straining for their mating to be complete, but Tony was still wrestling with his dragon.
Giving in to Jethro was the easier part, giving in to his dragon was proving difficult. His thoughts spun, trying to find a way to accept how everything had changed. He had to reconcile himself to the fact that this was his life now, because everything was different now that he was an Omega.
His brain faltered on that thought.
No, he was a Wyvern. A race both ancient and powerful. That was real, that was true. And that had given him Jethro. In that instant, he gave in and he felt the surrender in every cell of his body. A second later, Jethro slid inside him in a single hard thrust. Tony’s back bowed up, a scream choked off in his throat.
Jethro’s lips were against his ear, whispering, “Ride it out, baby. It’ll pass.”
It hurt and it felt good and his body was on fire, and he wanted more. The second his muscles eased a fraction, Jethro was moving. “Oh, fuck…” he gasped. He’d never felt anything like this. He clenched his leg tighter around Jethro’s waist, urging him to go harder, faster. Jethro fucked him ruthlessly, hands gripping so tightly they bruised. The pace was brutal, but it still wasn’t enough. “Jethro, please,” he whimpered.
His mouth was suddenly claimed, Jethro’s tongue sweeping inside. Tony groaned into the kiss, turning to a near shriek as his cock was stroked, the sensitive scales at the root driving him to a frenzy.
Jethro ripped his mouth away, “Come for me, Tony.”
The orgasm was sudden and felt like it ripped him to pieces. His teeth clamped down on Jethro’s shoulder, as he fought back a scream. Jethro braced one hand on the back of Tony’s thigh, thrusts becoming erratic until he too dropped over the edge. Tony shuddered at the sensation of Jethro coming deep within him.
Jethro slowly lowered Tony’s leg as they both panted for breath. He remained in Tony as long as possible, and Tony moaned when Jethro finally slid out.
His Drake dropped to the side, pulling Tony close, fingers absently running over Tony’s bicep.
Really, scales were the best thing. Ever. He lifted his arm and stared at his wrist as it finally penetrated his brain that he was white. And wasn’t that a great surprise.
Tony continued trying to catch his breath, trying to let his mind be blank and revel in the bond settling between them. But it wasn’t settling, and it was starting to drive Tony crazy. He needed this connection to his Drake. He was reaching for it, but it wasn’t working.
He couldn’t stop a hiss of frustration.
Jethro’s arm tightened around him. “What’s wrong?”
Then Tony remembered what Precious had told him about bonding, said he’d know what to do when the time came. He closed his eyes and took a few breaths, then followed his gut. Shifting to his knees, he reached for Jethro and pulled him up so they knelt facing each other.
Jethro cupped his cheek. “What do you need, Tony?”
Tony extended his arms out as if waiting to be cuffed. Jethro looked down, then back up at Tony, an inquiring look on his face. “Encircle my wrists,” Tony prompted, not sure of why yet.
Hands immediately closed around his wrists, obscuring the white scales, and icy blue eyes met his.
Unsure of where the words came from, Tony whispered, “I surrender myself to you.” As soon as the words were out, Jethro gasped, pupils dilating. “I summon your fire to ensure my protection.” Tony felt his wrist scales heat under Jethro’s hands. “I offer my blood so that we may be one.” He tipped his head back and to the side, offering his throat, aware of an odd pressure in the air.
Jethro jerked him forward, trapping Tony’s arms between them. Teeth, suddenly sharp, sank into the side of Tony’s neck. Tony didn’t even feel the pain, but the blood running down his body burned everywhere it travelled.
“I wear your mark so all may know I’m yours.” With those words, he felt a sharp tingling sensation ring the base of his throat.
Still keeping a tight grip on Tony’s wrists, Jethro growled, “I bind you to me. I pledge my fire that you may always be safe. I offer my blood so that we may be one.”
Tony felt a tingling in his mouth as he leaned forward and bit into Jethro’s left bicep, newly sharp teeth slicing the flesh easily, letting the blood run down his Alpha’s arm.
As Tony leaned up, Jethro licked the blood from the corner of Tony’s mouth, and fiercely whispered his last phrase. “Wear my mark so all will know you are mine!”
The tingling around his throat turned into a sharp burn, and all of his bands glowed with internal fire. Jethro’s eyes were fixed on his throat, a light of triumph in them.
Tony waited until Jethro met his eyes again. “As I am yours, so you are mine. I offer my scales as a sign of my love and devotion, may they anchor you to me.” As Tony watched, the bite mark on Jethro’s bicep disappeared under a two-inch band of pearly white scales. He knew in that moment that the scales around his own neck were black.
They were staring at each other, both breathing hard, and Jethro suddenly bore him back down, keeping hold of his wrists and pinning them above his head. A knee was roughly pressed between his thighs, which he quickly pulled apart. A beat later and his Alpha was pressing urgently inside him again.
His back arched and he shuddered in ecstasy at the sensation of suddenly being filled. He was sore, but it was the best soreness of his life. Of their own volition, his legs wrapped tightly around Jethro, urging him on.
Jethro rode him hard for several long minutes, staring into his eyes. He lowered his head. “Mine, Tony,” Jethro hissed against Tony’s lips, and gave a particularly hard thrust. “Say it!”
Tony felt himself spiraling towards orgasm, the fire burning hot inside him. “Yours, Jethro. Only yours.”
Jethro lowered his head to Tony’s throat, teeth and tongue worrying at the black scales. The sudden sharply pleasurable sensation threw him over the edge, and he pulled Jethro with him.
Tony tried to get his breathing under control again, but his Alpha’s tongue continued to tease at his throat, while still pressing his wrists firmly against the floor.
“God, Tony, you look so incredible with my scales around your throat.” Another long lick caused Tony to shudder with a pleasure that was almost too acute.
“Sensitive,” he whimpered.
Then Jethro groaned, pressing tighter into Tony’s throat and licked again. Tony twitched and moaned, so Jethro did it again. And again. He held Tony down and tormented his neck scales, riding it out as Tony writhed and whimpered under him. He was relentless, not stopping his ministrations to Tony’s neck until Tony suddenly screamed in orgasm.
Jethro licked one more time, eliciting a strangled screech from Tony.
“God, please, no more, no more,” he pled hoarsely. Three orgasms was ridiculous. He couldn’t take any more.
His Alpha finally moved his head, and released Tony’s hands, but then slowly dragged a finger along the front of his throat, causing Tony to whimper helplessly, and try to capture the hand torturing him.
“Any time I touch these scales, I want you to get hard,” Gibbs whispered, staring at Tony intently. “Just when it’s my touch.”
Tony didn’t think that would be much of a problem. He’d never experienced anything so sensitive in his life. They were much more sensitive than any of his other scales. Jethro was staring at him intently, waiting for a response.
“Just your touch,” he managed to rasp in affirmation, and then found his lips seized and Jethro’s tongue claimed his mouth once again.
When Jethro pulled back, he was smiling down at Tony. A big genuine smile like Tony had never seen before. “Did we just bond, Tony?”
Tony just grinned and pulled his Alpha back down.
Abby cuddled up on her assigned bed, trying to get warm. She’d stayed outside too long and was now feeling the long exposure to the cold. She didn’t have a dragon’s constitution, so while they all shook off the chill fairly quickly, she was still shivering.
She had remained outdoors as long as she could, watching Gibbs and Tony. The way the melting snow off their bodies created a slight steaming effect, lending an ethereal air to the whole experience. It was otherworldly.
Then the Richard Turner, one of the heads of the Dragon Council, had noticed her shivering and herded her inside. More than half the barracks’ occupants were still outside, but those that were in here had seemed rather busy.
Richard handed her a mug of tea. “Are you feeling a bit better?”
She was a little intimated that the most powerful Omega in the world was making her tea. “I’m fine. I didn’t even realize how cold I was getting.”
He seated himself across from her and smiled. “It’s a beautiful experience, no?”
“Oh, yes. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” She bit her lip. “I promised Gibbs I wouldn’t be asking a bunch of questions, and I’m totally breaking that promise, so if you can’t answer I understand…” She hesitated, then quickly asked, “What happens now?”
“Ah.” He frowned, thinking. “That is a difficult question. I must say, you and the young soldiers out there are probably the first humans in several hundred years, if not longer, to witness an Omega emerging. It’s something we usually keep quite private. I trust anything I tell you now will remain between us?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t tell anyone anything. I promise.” She crossed her heart and held up a hand solemnly.
Richard smiled. “I can see you are a good friend to Tony, Abby. Very well, this was a rather unusual circumstance, I gather you already realize that?”
“You mean because Tony emerged early?”
“Yes.” He sighed. “Tony seemed to force that somehow, and we don’t understand what he did, so I can offer no illumination on that topic. So, to some degree, we’re flying a bit blind in regards to what comes next. Normally the Omega would desire to mate immediately after choosing an Alpha, but as you could see, the emergence exhausted Tony. We can only surmise that things will resume their normal course when he wakes, though we’re trying to prepare for Tony to take us on a different path, yet again.” He smiled wanly.
Gibbs had told her about some of that, so it wasn’t a shock that they might head right to mating. “Why wasn’t Gibbs letting Tony choose him?”
Richard’s expression was a bit sad. “The gathering of Alphas is a long held tradition. One that we believe, after a fashion, goes back to our time before we shifted to human form permanently. When Tony emerged, there was only one unmated Alpha present, hence there was no gathering. It’s not considered much of a choice with a field of one. So Gibbs was encouraged to resist Tony if possible.”
“But it seemed like Tony pulled his dragon out in order to choose Gibbs. Why would you want to stop that?” Abby asked plaintively.
A new voice responded. “Because we’re all fallible, Miss Abigail.” Abby looked up to find the head of the Council moving to stand close to his Omega. “In the face of something we had never before encountered, I fell back on long-held tradition and asked Gibbs to wait. Which, in retrospect, was a poorly conceived idea.”
“What would have happened if Gibbs had kept ignoring Tony?”
Jeremy looked a little abashed. “Ah, yes, well… that we don’t know. Alphas don’t reject Omegas. It’s just not done.”
Abby tried not to scowl at the guy. What if that rejection had done something bad to Tony? It certainly didn’t sound like it was doing anything good! He’d seemed so broken when Gibbs kept refusing him. She took a sip of her tea to keep from saying anything. She figured everyone was having a rough time. “So, they’ll mate and everything will get back to normal?”
Jeremy and Richard exchanged a look.
“What?” she prompted, getting concerned. “Is something wrong with Tony? Is pulling his dragon out early gonna make him sick? What? You have to tell me.” At Jeremy’s raised hand, she managed to rein it in.
The two dragons exchanged another look, communicating with a series of eyebrow quirks, head tilts, nods and shakes. Abby was getting really worried. “Abby,” Richard started, “Tony is a white dragon.”
She bounced a little in excitement, nearly spilling her tea. “Yes! He was so pretty. Like he was made out of pearls or something.” She frowned a little. “Is that bad? Does it mean he’s sick or something?”
Richard shook his head. “No. It’s just that there’s never been a white dragon before.”
Abby blinked. “What, like, ever?”
“Not for as long as we have recorded history, no. He’s the first. It doesn’t mean anything negative, we’ll just want to talk to Tony. Perhaps he’s white because he emerged early, and his true color will settle? Perhaps there’s something else unique about Tony. Normally a newly mated pair would spend about a week alone together, but it may be a bit longer for Tony and Jethro. Because the Council is going to request some of their time.”
“You’re not going to, like, stick him under a magnifying glass and do experiments or something are you?” she asked, prepared to make these men disappear if they messed with her Tony.
“No, no. Nothing like that at all. It’s just talking, I assure you,” Richard answered emphatically.
Abby kind of hoped Tony wouldn’t be changing colors, because he was really pretty like he was. And he looked so good next to Gibbs’ deep black. But she also knew Tony would be gorgeous whatever he turned out to be. Even if he were pink!
Several more people trooped in, including Jim and Blair, who moved over to them. “They’ve shifted back and moved inside,” Jim started. “The Marines are going back to maintaining the normal perimeter. The rest of us will alternate shifts in pairs to ensure nothing interrupts them. We have some concern about security feeds. We’ve kept a close eye on the Marines present, but word will get out and any surveillance video could be an issue.”
Abby leapt to her feet, ignoring that she spilled her tea everywhere. “Abby’s on the case!” She grabbed her computer bag and returned to the bed. “Those videos are as good as gone! I’m sure someone was monitoring, but they won’t have access to download them without the help of someone with clearance. We’ll just have to make sure we get there first.”
Everyone exchanged looks, but Abby ignored them, booting up her laptop. It would be faster from her NCIS computer, but probably better that it be from here.
“You sure, Abby? You won’t get in trouble?” Blair prompted gently.
She blew a raspberry and waved them off. “Hush. Working here.”
It took her half an hour, and she had to get some pointers from Tim, though she didn’t tell him why she was asking. It was clear that a security guard had tried to get into the system, but she downloaded the videos first and moved them onto a flash drive, deleting them from the server, along with any record of her intrusion.
“There,” she exclaimed, handing the key to Jeremy, “all gone. And someone had already tried to access it, but didn’t have the right clearance level. I figured it’s best someone have a copy in case SecNav pitches a fit or there’s a reason to review that footage.”
Jeremy blinked at the thumb drive, then dipped his head in acknowledgement. “Thank you, Abigail. That was most helpful.”
Blair was feeling a bit tired. The last few days had been a roller coaster, plus no one had gotten any real amount of sleep last night. Now that Tony and Gibbs were sequestered, Blair just wanted to sleep for a week.
Gibbs had gotten Tony covered up pretty fast, but Blair had seen enough to know that Tony had nine bands. Tony seemed destined to go down the path of the least common. When they’d discussed the bands, he hadn’t told Tony that the average number of bands was four. Spencer, with seven, was in a small minority, and Blair and Tony with nine, were in a rare one percent.
He did not subscribe to the theory that Tony’s scale color would come with time, that the white was an effect of the dragon emerging early. It was a good theory, and fit the facts, but Blair just knew it wasn’t the case.
He left Abby chatting with Richard and moved to his own bunk, slumping wearily.
Jim’s arm came around him. “You doing okay there, Chief?”
Blair wrapped both arms around Jim’s waist. “Just worn out.”
“We’ll be able to go to sleep soon. Besides, another day or two, and we can head back to Cascade, get back to what passes for normal in our lives.”
“Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be that simple. We don’t know what’s involved in this spirit walking, or bonding. We could be here for a while. Just tell me we can move into a hotel?” Blair really needed some quality alone time with his Alpha.
Jim pressed a kiss to his hair. “I promise we’ll be out of these barracks as soon as possible.”
They stayed close together for a while, talking about nothing in particular, just enjoying a few minutes of peace. Then there was an odd sensation in the air that they both reacted to, sitting up straighter. Whatever the weird feeling was, it increased, feeling somewhat like an ear that needed to pop only more intense. Blair noticed all the dragons were affected, looking around for the cause. Abby didn’t seem to notice, as she was confused by the dragons’ sudden preoccupation.
Jim and Blair rose in unison, wondering if something needed to be done, if there was a problem somewhere. All of a sudden, the sensation was gone, like someone had popped a balloon. In its wake, Blair felt oddly refreshed and energized, all his fatigue just sliding away.
Jim was frowning, and Blair knew how Jim felt about things he couldn’t readily explain. “What the hell was that?”
Blair had a sudden burst of inspiration. “Check on Jethro and Tony.”
Everyone was moving to be closer together to discuss the oddity. Blair could see by the way the Alphas’ heads were cocked, that they all dialed it up at the same time. And he could tell when they all shut it down again. “They’re busy,” Jim replied without inflection.
Blair nearly rolled his eyes. Of course they were busy. But Blair was pretty sure what they had felt was bonding. He’d have to find out later how far that effect was felt.
Richard seemed to get what Blair was thinking first. “Do you believe that was…” he trailed off, and Blair simply nodded in response. The Alphas and Spence seemed to get it at the same time. The Betas, having not been read in on the situation, just looked perplexed.
Abby was looking from dragon to dragon, an expression of concern. “What’s wrong?”
No one was prepared to spill that secret to a human, especially when they didn’t really know anything about it. “Nothing, Abby,” Blair offered carefully. “We were just checking in on Tony and Gibbs… thought we heard something odd, but everything’s fine.”
She seemed skeptical, but apparently knew enough to let it go.
With a human present, the Betas knew not to ask anything. Jim went outside to check in with Connelly and Cassie, who were on guard duty at the moment, to make sure they knew the subject should be discussed at another time.
Several minutes later, a scream even a human could hear issued from the barracks next door, and Jim had to go out again to make sure the Marines didn’t try to save someone where saving was not required.
Clearly Tony and Jethro were having a lot of fun.
Abby had jumped to her feet, looking wide-eyed. “Was that Tony?” It took a few seconds, but comprehension dawned and her expression turned wicked. “Way to go, Gibbs!”
– – – –
Tony woke to the sensation of being watched. He was warm and happy, though he’d rather be lying on something other than the floor! His ass was a little sore. Okay, a lot sore, though it was a really nice sore. It was a little surreal how accepting he felt, but he wasn’t going to question it for the moment.
Something in his awareness was different. He realized there with this sense of Jethro he hadn’t had before. He could feel contentment coming from his mate, and felt the innate power of his mate tethered in some way to Tony.
He didn’t think he’d been asleep very long, but it seemed as if his dragon had been busy settling their bond. He adjusted his head a little and felt Jethro’s arm tighten around him. Opening his eyes, he looked to his mate but found Jethro just stirring from sleep. So why did he feel like he was being watched? A wave of concern swept through him, and a moment later Jethro’s arm tightened painfully.
“What’s wrong?” Jethro asked, eyes lasering in on Tony, any hint of sleep immediately gone.
“Nothing,” he prevaricated, feeling like he shouldn’t be saying anything out loud. He’d been having these gut feelings about what he should or should not say since his second dream, but it was much more intense now. Maybe it was his bond with Jethro? Maybe because of his own new dragon instincts? Either way, he really felt like he shouldn’t say anything, but at the same time knew he needed to do something about it.
Jethro rolled on to his side so they were face to face, fingers gently stroking Tony’s cheek. Tony wasn’t particularly used to tenderness directed his way and reveled in the sensation. Jethro’s brows were drawn together as if he were working something out. “Do whatever you need to do, Tony. I’ve got your six, no matter what.”
Tony blinked a little in surprise. But Precious had warned him that Jethro’s knowing would get stronger. He’d have to be sure to warn his mate about that. Tony wanted nothing more than to spend time getting to know Jethro, spend time exploring one another, but all along something bigger than them had been happening, and he had to see it through. “I want to be alone with you,” Tony whispered desperately.
“But it’s not going to happen right now,” Jethro stated with a resigned smile.
“I’m sorry.” He was silenced with a kiss that while being fairly chaste, was oddly intimate.
“I’ve got your six,” Jethro repeated. “What do you need?”
“I think we need to get the others over here.”
Tony thought for a second, not sure.
“Just go with your gut, Tony. You seem to be doing fine with that.”
“Just the Alphas and o-Omegas,” Tony nearly stumbled over the word.
“Wyvern,” Jethro corrected. “That’s what you are.” After a couple more quick kisses, he asked, “Go there or stay here?”
“Ah, I think Abby’s over there.”
Jethro cocked his head to the side, then winced. “Ouch. Shouldn’t have dialed up the hearing that far. Didn’t know it could go up that high. Yeah. Abby’s over there. So, we’ll bring them here.” Jethro ran his hand down Tony’s chest. “We both still have blood on us, so we should shower quickly. They brought over some of your stuff earlier, so you’ll be set. My clothes are salvageable.”
“Speaking of that,” Tony said indignantly, “I thought the clothes shifted with you.”
Jethro smirked at him. “Not the first time with Wyverns.”
Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Just Wyverns?”
“Yes.” Jethro’s smile got bigger.
“That’s just… I’d say it was sexist, but we’re both men. The whole thing is tough enough, but to have to shift back naked. It’s ridiculous.”
“If you’d been able to give in to your mating drive right away, would you have wanted to be clothed?”
“You were dressed.”
His Alpha just smiled, looking pleased.
“Ass,” Tony muttered.
“Come on.” A hand suddenly smacked him on the butt. “Hop in the shower. I’ll call Jim and tell him to come over in ten.”
Tony bit his lip, wondering if this was a good idea. “Maybe everyone is sleeping.”
“Is that your gut or your brain?”
“Then get in the shower.” Jethro got to his feet, then pulled Tony up. Instead of letting go, he held Tony at arms’ length, giving him a heated once-over. “God, you’re beautiful,” he said softly.
Tony felt himself flushing, and his cock gave a twitch of interest.
Jethro gave him a gentle push. “Go, before I change my mind about letting anyone near you for the next week.”
Tony really, really wanted to be alone with Jethro. He was still unsettled about everything with their new relationship, but he knew this feeling of being watched was more important. He showered quickly, then dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt while Jethro cleaned up. He’d rather have been in there with him, but knew if they showered together there’d be no figuring out this icky feeling of someone looking over their shoulder.
While Jethro was dressing in the bathroom, there was a knock at the door and he let in the Alphas and Wyverns. They were all shucking coats, when Blair made a choking noise. “Holy god! What in the world?” He was staring at Tony’s throat. And then everyone was staring.
“That’s my bonding mark,” Jethro said, emerging from the bathroom. All eyes swiveled to Jethro, who pushed up the sleeve of his polo, revealing the band of white scales. “His bonding mark.”
Everyone’s eyes ping-ponged between them.
“Wow,” Blair breathed. “That’s just… wow.” His hand touched his own throat. In fact, all the Wyverns touched their throats. “I’ve always wondered why no one had bands there. Makes a weird kind of sense that the Alpha is involved in putting it there.”
Really, really involved, Tony thought privately. Instead of answering the questions everyone was poised to ask, Tony ushered them into seats.
“What can you tell us about this bonding?” Jeremy inquired immediately.
“Well, the obvious physical difference you can see, but since I’ve never been mated without a bond, I don’t know how to articulate what’s different compared to what you have now.” Tony shrugged helplessly. “But I think it’s important that someone else bond. Like, tonight.” He cast a meaningful look at Blair.
Before anyone could ask more questions, Blair held up a hand. “This is important, Tony?”
Tony nearly sighed with relief. All along, Blair seemed to have an immense regard for Tony’s instincts about things dragon related. “Yes, it’s important.”
Blair shared a glance with Jim, who nodded. “We’re game. Does this need to be done in private?”
Tony let his instincts guide his response. “I actually think it’s supposed to be witnessed. It’s sort of the dragon version of marriage. I didn’t really have that info when we did it.” He’d said the words without thinking about them, but all of a sudden the reality swept over him. “Oh, hell! I got married!” He leaned over and braced his hands on his knees, reminding himself to breathe.
Strong hands pulled him out of his chair and upright until he was looking into Jethro’s laughing eyes. “Problem, Tony?”
“I’m a lousy roommate,” Tony managed weakly.
Jethro’s expression shifted to an understanding smile. “We’ll sort it out. Don’t worry.” He dropped a gentle kiss on Tony’s lips. “Come on. Let’s get this show on the road. I want to get you alone again.”
Tony managed a smile, forcefully pushing down his marriage freak out, promising himself he could lose his mind about it later. He turned back to Jim and Blair. “It’s up to you. I can tell you how to get started, and give you some time alone, or we can all stay.”
“I’m game to have witnesses. If your gut says that’s the way it should be, I say let’s revive the old ways!” Blair bounced a little on his toes. “Jim?”
Jim was frowning a bit. “How much intimacy is involved, Tony? I’m not thrilled about Blair being naked in front of everyone.”
Tony managed to fight back a smile as all the Alphas nodded. Territorial bastards. “Well, I think you’ll want your shirts off. There’s some biting involved, and you’d get blood on them otherwise. You’ll probably want to renew your mating afterward, but you won’t be compelled to.”
Jim and Blair exchanged another series of looks before they both nodded. “How do you want us?” Blair asked.
Projecting a confidence he didn’t really feel, Tony said, “You can either stand facing each other, or kneel facing each other. Up to you.”
Jim and Blair both stripped off their shirts and stood facing one another.
“How would you like the rest of us?” Richard asked.
Tony made a vague ‘circle-up’ gesture and everyone moved into position around Jim and Blair. He suddenly knew he couldn’t tell Blair what words to use to kick start the process. The only person who should speak them was Blair. “Um, does anyone have a pen and paper?” Of course Spence did, and Tony scribbled down the line.
He showed Blair how to put his arms, and had Jim hold his wrists, then he flashed the piece of paper in front of Blair. Tony stepped back to join Jethro in the circle.
Jim and Blair stared at each other for a long time, before Blair strongly said, “I surrender myself to you.”
Jim gasped and nearly swayed. When Blair summoned Jim’s fire, the bands Tony could see started to glow like they were burning. There was an odd sense of pressure in the air that intensified with each new phrase spoken.
Perhaps because they’d been mated so long, the bites seemed less savage, less bloody. Once the silvery pale blue scales finished forming on Jim’s forearm, where Blair had chosen to bite, the pressure in the air suddenly released and Tony felt completely invigorated. Jim and Blair were staring at each other, breathing hard, Blair’s hands still trapped between them.
Tony had the sudden sense this wasn’t done. He still had something to do. Jethro seemed to know it as well, because he nudged Tony forward. He stepped up to Jim and Blair, who both turned to look at him, seeming a little dazed. “Blair, by my right as Guardian, I summon your dragon spirit.”
The circle parted when a silvery blue dragon appeared. It wasn’t full size, only about eight feet in length, but was clearly a Wyvern. Blair turned towards it, head cocked in curiosity, then seemed to understand. He broke away from Jim and reached out for the dragon. The moment they touched, they merged in a bright flash.
Blair staggered a little and was quickly caught by Jim, who looked to Tony. “Why only Blair?”
Tony shrugged. “It’s the only one I could do.”
Blair seemed to come back to himself and patted Jim’s arm. “I have to do the rest. I’m the…” he trailed off, struggling for the word.
“Priest?” Tony supplied, thinking it sort of fit.
Blair frowned, shaking his head. “Shaman, maybe.” He seemed to roll the word around in his mind, while desperately holding on to Jim’s hand. “Shaman,” he said decisively. Blair frowned, glancing around the room. “What is that?”
“That is why I needed you.”
Blair seemed to be considering, then nodded firmly. “Tony, by my right as Shaman, I summon your dragon spirit.”
Tony’s eyes widened. He’d really wanted Blair to deal with this on his own. But there was the white dragon, standing right in front of Tony. Couldn’t he take one part of this thing at a slow pace? Taking a deep breath, he reached out for the dragon, although he could sense Jethro’s trepidation through their bond.
They merged in a flash, and Tony felt this overwhelming sense of rightness and awareness and knowing. It was almost too much for him to process.
He opened eyes he hadn’t realized he’d shut to find Jethro supporting him. “Sorry, Jethro,” he heard Blair say. The next thing he knew, Blair was reaching for him and everything went blue.
Blair found himself standing in front of one gold and two peach Wyverns in a clearing made with everything in shades of blue. The gold dragon shifted into the man Tony had described. Though Tony was right, man didn’t quite seem to fit.
“Your ability to use your gift so strongly is quite unprecedented, young Blair. You made good use of the bonding energy to propel you here. Though I wasn’t expecting you to bring Tony. The newness of his emergence and the nature of his gifts will make the spirit realm somewhat uncomfortable for a bit.”
Tony! Blair looked down and found Tony gasping, kneeling on the ground. He reached for his friend, pulling him to his feet, keeping a supporting arm around his waist. “You okay?” he asked.
Tony nodded but didn’t say anything.
“Precious?” Blair queried looking back at the gold dragon, wanting to be sure he had the right being.
Brows suddenly drew together. “It was very much a mistake to tell Tony my name loosely translates as such in your language.”
Blair bit his lip, trying not to smile. Did Tony have a reverent bone in his entire body? Blair had a thousand questions, but they were here for something serious. “What was watching us?”
“The corrupt ones. The Alpha has begun to spread his taint to others. You must put a stop to them.”
Blair looked up at Tony. “You knew?”
“That this was the task? Yes. But everything I had in me said not to talk about it,” Tony replied calmly.
“That was the wise course of action,” Precious said – and Blair could not seem to shake that name from his mind. “Allow me to tell you the tale. Approximately fifteen years ago an emerging Wyvern was kidnapped in England, and never found. His emergence happened in due course, but only one Alpha was present for the gathering, and the Wyvern refused to choose, so became locked in his human form. The Alpha tried to force the Wyvern to choose through a variety of ill-conceived methods, and after a long period of isolation and starvation, the Wyvern said simply, ‘I surrender to you.’ Unknowing about the chain of events he was starting.”
Blair and Tony both winced, but Tony quickly asked, “Tell me he wasn’t raped.”
“No, Tony,” Blair reassured immediately. “There’s no hope of a Wyvern choosing an Alpha who raped them. That’s long known in our history.”
Precious nodded in agreement. “The Wyvern refused to say the rest of the bonding phrases, but the words alone, if the Alpha accepts, are enough to trigger at least a partial bond, even without mating. That bond gives the Wyvern a tether for their gifts, which strengthens them. The warped nature of the bond, the lack of mating; every factor is tainted and has steeped the Alpha in corruption. This Wyvern should have been a spirit master, like Blair. But even with his gifts blunted, he can spirit walk, and that enables him to spy on you for the purposes of the corrupt Alpha who holds his leash.”
Blair was horrified, felt like he wanted to vomit at a Wyvern being forced into the service of a dragon so corrupt. “Considering that Tony was reluctant to say this out loud, I take it this Wyvern cannot read thoughts?”
“No, only see actions. And can only view one thing at a time. The Alpha forces the Wyvern into the spirit plane for many hours a day, watching high priority Alpha Primes to ferret out useful information, or the possibility of another Wyvern emerging.”
Blair frowned, thinking through the problem. “I take it this is who was after Tony?”
“Yes. The corrosive nature of the bond is killing the Wyvern. The Alpha is desperate to find another. He’s unaware of the true nature of Wyvern gifts, and expects you will all be the same. Spirit mastery is exceedingly rare, and he has no assurance of a Wyvern with the same abilities.”
Considering carefully, Blair finally asked, “How did he even learn how to come here?”
“A spirit master’s connection to this plane of existence is profound. To learn to use the gift quickly is difficult, but eventually the knowledge will settle on its own. And a Wyvern desperately seeking escape will easily reach for this plane.”
Blair nodded, though he hadn’t fully wrapped his head around the situation. “I take it you wanted me here for a reason?”
“Even though your gift is settling, and you need time to learn to use it fully, you have the power to block this Wyvern’s access to the spirit realm. This you must do. It will give you the ability to plan how to proceed in private. As long as you are watched, your attempts will fail.
“The rest of your small group needs to bond, and you must summon their spirit guides to enable them to fully access their gifts. Then your Alphas will need to kill the corrupt ones.”
Blair cringed. He hated that aspect of dragon justice. “Is there no hope for the om– Wyvern?”
“Perhaps. The Wyvern resists as much as he is able, but his spirit is crushed. Even if he is not corrupt, he may not wish for redemption.”
“You cannot tell if the Wyvern will be saved?” Blair asked in confusion.
Precious looked enlightened. “Ah… my future sight. No. I chose to exist in this plane, rather than moving on to the afterlife, but I no longer have my gifts. What future events I know, I saw before my death. I have some abilities in regards to walking between the spirit and the ether, which is how I found Tony, but there’s very little guidance I can provide. I can see what is happening in the mortal realm, but not what will happen.”
Blair could easily become overwhelmed, but he had to push that back and deal with what was in front of him. “You know, I really don’t think it’s healthy for any one person to have this much power.”
“And that’s why it’s you who must hold it. Those who do not wish it, are the best custodians,” Precious responded sagely.
“That is seriously bullshit rationalization, man. There have to be checks and balances.”
“There are, Blair. Your Alpha, your Wing, your Guardian. They all provide balance.”
Tony had been listening silently, but at that he waved at Precious. “And what is a Guardian?”
Precious smiled fondly at Tony. “You are the Guardian Wyvern, your mate will become the Guardian Drake when he merges with his dragon spirit. I will not tell you the full scope of your role, Tony, because you need to come to the awareness and acceptance of your new life on your own. But you are a protector and leader. You will also have insights into Wyverns that no one else will have. And with the anchor you have in your Drake’s gift, you’ll be able to help all dragons after a fashion. You’re already on the path, just have some faith in yourself. There is much for you all to learn and do, but to know too much now would hinder, not help.”
“That’s some serious messed up mumbo-jumbo,” Tony replied looking annoyed. “You give such straight answers sometimes, and then that.”
“Tony, of everyone, you need more time to acclimate,” the elder Wyvern rejoined quickly.
Blair nudged Tony. “He’s totally right. You do need time. Your emergence has been a runaway train.” Curious about something, he looked back to Precious. “Will Tony stay white, or is that an effect of him pulling his dragon out early?”
Precious smiled. “The Guardian is always white.”
“We’ve never documented one before,” Blair said, perplexed.
“There hasn’t been one. Not since my time.”
Tony chimed in. “Is Jethro’s color significant? Because you said he was going to be a Guardian, too.”
“Jethro Gibbs took up the mantle of Guardian when he mated with you. Black dragons are Warrior Drakes, dark blue are the Sentinels, and so on.”
Blair was nearly vibrating out of his skin. There was so much to learn. “What about the others?”
Precious held up a hand. “Your time here is not indefinite. Lack of time with your gifts, and the lack of training will not allow you to have a lengthy connection to the spirit plane. Additionally, your mates grow concerned.
“All this knowledge is available to you, Blair, but you need to stabilize your gift and train it before you can remain here for an extended duration. You must seek out the spirit walker and block him from the spirit realm before your hold on the spirit plane weakens.”
“But how do I do that?” Blair asked with an edge of desperation.
“You have to trust in your gift and your instincts, Blair.”
“Why? Why is that so important? Why can’t you just tell me?”
“Because reading from a script is not the same thing as acting with power and authority. If it comes from within you, the power will follow,” Precious replied with certainty.
That Blair could understand. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead of him.
Tony wrapped an arm around his shoulders and gave a quick squeeze. “You’ll do fine, Blair. Trust yourself.”
Blair wanted to ask how to get started, but knew this was on him. He took a few deep breaths and cleared his mind, focusing on finding the spirit walker. He felt a pull. He looked up at Tony and gave a nod that was more confident than he actually felt.
As he moved further into the spirit realm, he heard Tony ask, “In all seriousness, I have to know, are you male or female?”
Blair nearly laughed as their voices faded. He let the pull guide him on a path surrounded by odd shimmering blue pools. A tired looking man in his forties was kneeling at the side of the path, looking into one of them. He came up behind, focusing on not being felt by the other. The shimmering surface showed an image of the tangible realm, Jim and Gibbs holding Blair and Tony, trying to get them to wake up. He could see the panic in his Alpha. Everyone else was standing or kneeling by them, trying to offer help.
He needed to end this and get back before he gave Jim a stroke. “What are you doing?” he asked gently.
The man whipped around, wide eyed. “Who are– oh god, Blair Sandburg.” He looked back at the pool. “That’s why you collapsed. You came here.”
“After I bonded, I could feel you watching. I cannot allow you to continue walking here, in this sacred place, and watching others.”
“I don’t have a choice,” the man said desperately.
Blair felt moisture in his eyes and quickly blinked it away. “I know you don’t. Some way or another, this will end for you.”
The man looked a combination of scared and relieved. “Do you promise?”
“Yes.” Blair was almost unable to contain his pity for this poor Wyvern. “Can you tell me anything about where you are, or who has you? Eventually I’ll be able to spirit walk well enough to find you, but…” he trailed off, hoping the Wyvern wasn’t so far gone he couldn’t be helped.
The man hesitated, deep brown eyes filled with uncertainty. “I don’t know where, I don’t even know his full name, but he calls himself Rupert.”
“I’m so sorry we let you down.” Blair closed his eyes, choking with suppressed emotion. From deep within, the words he needed came to him and he poured his intent behind them. “By my right as Shaman and Spirit Master, I ban you from this realm until such time as I remove this geas from you.”
The man was instantly gone, and Blair dropped to his knees, trying to get his emotions under control. He was not letting that Wyvern go. He would save him.
Once he felt steadier, he focused on Tony and appeared back by his side. Conversation instantly stopped and Tony clasped his arms, looking at him intently. “You look terrible. Are you okay? What happened?”
Blair patted Tony reassuringly. “Let me only tell it once. We need to get back. Jim and Jethro are really worried.” He looked at Precious. “Can we talk again sometime?”
“I’d enjoy that, young one.”
Blair almost asked how to get back, but the knowledge was already in him. He grabbed a hold of Tony and focused on returning.
He blinked his eyes and Jim swam into view. His body felt stiff and he moaned.
“Jesus, Blair,” Jim muttered, pulling Blair close to his chest. “Where the hell did you go? It felt so weird, it was like you were just gone.”
“Let me up and I can explain to everyone.” Blair heard similar mutterings going on from Tony and Jethro.
Eventually, they got the overprotective Alphas to let them up and everyone was in chairs. Blair could see that Jeremy was barely able to contain himself, he so desperately wanted information. Jim and Jethro refused to let him and Tony sit within touching distance of each other.
“I’m sorry, Jethro,” Blair started. “In retrospect, I didn’t need to take Tony along for that, but he’s been so integral to this process, that it didn’t occur to me that he didn’t need to go.”
Jethro looked like he was barely keeping it together. “Where exactly did you go?”
“Uh, we went to the spirit plane. Spirit walking if you will.”
“And why couldn’t you tell us first?” Jethro bit out, and Tony reached for his hand. The touch seemed to soothe the agitated Drake.
“We were being watched. Tony and I could both feel it. And if I had said anything, it would have tipped off the watcher. It was important that we get that taken care of immediately. So important,” Blair added sadly, still reeling from what had happened.
Jim got his attention. “Fill us in, Blair.”
Blair went over everything he had experienced. The Alphas were all fighting back rage, while the Wyverns all looked unbearably sad. And everyone knew who the corrupt Alpha very likely was. Rupert Sewell II, their obnoxious former liaison’s father, who no doubt was the source of his son’s warped views.
“How do we proceed, Blair?” Richard asked.
Blair leaned around Jim to meet Tony’s eyes. Tony gestured to Blair, indicating Blair should take the lead on this. He took a deep breath. “We should settle the last pieces of the bonds for Jim and me, Tony and Jethro. Then, if you’re all amenable, we should proceed with the bondings for the rest of you. I think we need everyone fully in touch with their gifts before we decide what to do about the corrupt Alpha.”
Jeremy looked thoughtful, exchanged a glance with Richard, and then finally said, “I think those are good next steps. Afterward, I think we should all move into more comfortable environs. Everyone needs a rest, and I suspect we’ll need alone time after the bonding. I know some of you are local, but I believe we should all stay together for speed of action.”
Richard nodded his agreement. “Perhaps everyone should come stay at the hotel, at least for the night? We can sort out the rest tomorrow.”
Blair could feel the relief from everyone at the prospect of even a brief stand down from the high alert they’d been on; not to mention that with his gift, he could sense the fatigue practically permeating the room.
Jim and Jethro reluctantly agreed to merge with their dragon spirits. He could tell the mystical side of this made them both really uncomfortable, but they were prepared to go along with it.
The mergings went well. As soon as Jim merged with his dragon, Blair felt the bond sharpen and almost snap into place. He could feel Jim in every fiber of his being. Then he was in Jim’s arms, clutching at his Alpha’s shoulders.
It took a while for them to be willing to release one another. When they finally separated, Jethro and Tony were gone.
Richard offered, “I think the recent nature of their mating has made them a little less able to resist tactile reassurance. They’ve retreated to one of the private rooms. Jethro assured me they’d be back shortly.” Which was likely Richard-speak for the two were making out like teenagers.
It gave Blair a few more minutes to get his bearings and sort out who was next. Because of the potential complications with Spencer’s double-mating, he wanted to go last.
Tony and Jethro reappeared a few minutes later. Tony looked overwhelmed, while Jethro looked more content than Blair had ever seen.
Richard and Jeremy’s bonding went very smoothly. Richard wound up with Jeremy’s midnight blue scales around his neck, and placed his mark on Jeremy’s forearm, leaving champagne pink scales behind. Again, the bonding and merger with the spirit animals left them overwhelmed, and they opted to retreat to privacy for a few minutes, despite the fact that they’d been mated the longest of anyone in the room.
Blair could sense that Spencer was really worried. “What’s going on, Spence. Your agitation is palpable.”
Spencer hesitated until Aaron took his hand and prompted, “Spence?”
“I don’t want this gift to get any stronger. I can barely handle it now,” Reid replied with an edge of desperation.
Rossi hunkered down in front of Spencer’s chair. “I wish we’d known how hard this was for you.”
Spencer shrugged. “I just can’t handle more.”
Blair and Tony exchanged looks and Blair felt strongly that Tony should take this one. He made a ‘go on’ gesture.
“Spencer,” Tony started cautiously, “I believe that your gift will become stronger, I think that’s inevitable for all Wyverns, but with every fiber of my being I believe you’ll have the ability to control it. I think the anchor you’ll have in your Alphas will blunt how deeply it affects you and give you strength to manage it.”
Spence still looked worried, but Aaron and Dave crowded around him, talking lowly, encouraging and comforting.
Blair scooted his chair over next to Tony and murmured, “I have the very clear sense that you get all the Wyvern matters.”
Tony shrugged, but he looked a little less nonchalant than he was trying to portray. “At least I don’t have to do all the weddings,” he quipped
Mock-glowering at his friend, Blair retorted, “There are going to be others who can do what I do, but you’re on your own, buddy.” For which he got a huff of indignation, and a look of concern from Gibbs. He had a hunch Gibbs didn’t like the unique aspect of Tony’s gifts.
Jeremy and Richard returned from the back room. Jeremy appeared calm and collected, as usual, but there was underlying serenity Blair wasn’t used to. Richard just seemed ecstatic.
Finally, it was the trio’s turn. Blair wasn’t quite sure how to approach it at first, but Tony said, “Go with your gut, Blair. Like Jethro said, it’s been working so far.”
Shrugging, he went with what felt right. He had Aaron hold Spencer’s left wrist and Rossi the right. The wording had to change a little to include two Alphas, but Spencer seemed to have a gut feeling for how to get through it after the first phrase was said, just like they all had. This really was instinct.
Both Alphas bit Spencer’s neck at the same time, and when the scales formed, Rossi’s deep purplish brown covered the bottom of the ring, and Aaron’s forest green made up the top. Spencer chose to bite both Alphas on the bicep, Dave’s left, and Aaron’s right.
When the spirit merger was complete, Spencer collapsed, holding his head and shuddering. Blair was terrified he’d done something wrong.
It took Rossi and Hotch several minutes to get anything coherent out of him. “I don’t feel all these emotions pressing at me anymore.” Spence was nearly in tears. “There’s this barrier… it’s the two of you. I can feel you inside me, holding it back.”
Blair was able to breathe easily again. Spence was going to be okay, hopefully even better than before.
Jim pulled him close, which was exactly what he needed. “I’m worn out, big guy. I can’t take any more today.”
“No more, Chief. Come on, let’s figure out what needs to be done to get out of here and get some sleep.”
Blair reached up, hands on the sides of his Alpha’s neck, gently stroking the dark blue scales behind his ears. “I love you, Jim.”
“I love you, too, Blair.”
– – – –
Hotch gradually wakened feeling more refreshed than he had in a long time. He rubbed a hand along Spence’s side, feeling the warm soft skin and even warmer waist scales. Spence normally slept poorly, had since they’d mated, but last night he’d slept like the dead. He pressed even closer against his Omega’s back, though Spencer was sleeping too deeply to rouse at all.
He felt another surge of guilt at how much Spencer had been suffering in silence. Spencer was the greatest thing in his life, matched only by his son, and he felt like he’d failed him.
“Stop it, Aaron,” Dave admonished softly. Spencer was resting against Dave, head on his shoulder, arm clamped around his waist. With Hotch pressed up against Spencer’s back, they kept their Omega sandwiched between them.
Hotch’s brows lifted in surprise. “I’m fine, Dave.”
“You’ve been so focused on Spencer you haven’t noticed that through him, we’re connected to each other. I can feel what you’re feeling, Aaron, so you can’t ‘I’m fine’ me,” Dave whispered. “If we’d known, I’d have been right with you on camping out on the front lawn of anyone who might be able to help. But we didn’t. And the good news is that he won’t be able to hide this from us anymore.
“We have to let it go. It will just upset him if we drag this on. He thought he was doing the right thing by coping with it alone.” Despite the strident words, Rossi remained relaxed, and his emotions coming through the bond were gentle, giving off nothing that might disturb their mate.
Hotch nodded his acceptance, forcing himself to let go of the guilt and frustration he felt over the situation, though he was certain they’d rear their ugly heads again. “If it’s the last thing I do, Dave, he’s going to realize he can count on us.”
Dave reached out and threaded his fingers with Aaron’s. “He’s not used to relying on anyone. We’ve only had him for fifteen months, he’ll get there.”
Hotch nodded, though he privately thought that Spencer had been willing to rely on Gideon. The hurt Spencer had suffered at Gideon’s disappearance from their lives still sat badly with Hotch. He considered Gideon a friend, albeit a friend he held a bit of a grudge against. Well, maybe a lot of a grudge.
With the dark curtains it was near impossible to tell what time it was, only that it was daylight. He looked for the clock, finding the glowing readout behind Dave. It was shortly before 9 AM. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had six straight hours of sleep. “We should check in with Jeremy.”
“No. The world won’t stop turning if we don’t check in immediately. I don’t want to wake him, so you’ll just have to suck it up and cuddle up.”
Hotch’s lips twitched, fighting a laugh. He didn’t particularly want to wake Spencer either. In response, he simply pressed a kiss to the back of Spencer’s neck, squeezed Dave’s hand, then relaxed fully against his Omega.
Rossi felt the faint thrum of emotion over the bond fading as Aaron slipped back into sleep. He’d always thought the connection the three of them shared was intense and profound, but since the bonding there was just more. It felt stable in a way their connection hadn’t in the past, though he would never have known there was anything wrong with what they had.
The last few days had been a wild ride, and it was hard to believe less than four days had passed. The culmination of the insanity had been the bondings last night, after which there had been a frenzied hour getting relocated to the hotel. Jeremy had a suite and had offered the second room to the trio. The hotel was full except for the suites, so Jim and Blair, Tony and Jethro were sharing another two-room suite.
The six Betas and Abby had booked the last two available suites. With the exception of Rafe and Brown, everyone else was local and could have gone home, but Jeremy wanted to debrief with the Betas who had carried a huge burden the last few days. And everyone seemed to want Abby to feel included, especially considering that she’d lost her night with Tony.
Spencer had been in no shape to help make decisions. The respite from the constant barrage of emotions he fought seemed to cause him to just fold in on himself. He and Aaron had tried to get some meaningful response from him, but he was fairly out of it. So they’d just stripped him down and gotten him to bed. Spence had fallen asleep almost immediately, which was completely unlike the younger man. His overly active brain normally made settling down into sleep difficult unless they wore him out first.
His mate had a lot of difficulty with simple affection, but Spence had taken to sex with his Alphas like a duck to water. After the events of last night, Rossi had a suspicion that the closer connection they had when mating had been blunting Spencer’s empathy temporarily. Not that he didn’t think Spencer truly enjoyed sex, he was just beginning to suspect there was sometimes more behind the aggression in the bedroom.
David had very little use for guilt, so even though he managed to not beat himself up for what Spencer had been going through, he still worried. In part because he needed more information. Why was Spencer’s empathy so hard to handle? Was there something unique about it? How could they make it better for him, give him more control? He would do whatever it took to fix things for Spencer, even if it meant taking leave from the BAU.
That would be a hard sell for Aaron, but ultimately if it was the best thing for Spencer, he knew Aaron would come around.
He wasn’t particularly sleepy any longer, but was content to simply rest with the two most important people in his life.
Jeremy lay on his back, his sleeping Omega pressed up against him, and contemplated the events of the last few days. When he received the initial call from Blair – at three o’clock in the morning! – about a difficult Omega emergence, he had no way of knowing that it would transform everything they believed they knew about dragons.
Jeremy was privately of the opinion that it wasn’t just the emergence that was difficult, but the Omega, too. He rather liked Tony, but he was predicting chaos in Tony’s wake. He was relatively certain the number of complaints he had to deal with would at least triple in the future. However, it seemed as if the positive aspects would far outweigh any increase in bureaucratic nonsense.
He relished the new closeness with his mate, being able to feel his Omega at such a deep level. Jeremy had always been protective and possessive, most Alphas mated to Omegas were, but he found the feelings somewhat blunted now. As if this new surety in their bond had taken any negative edge off those feelings. He knew he would still do whatever it took to protect his mate, but he didn’t think he’d try to take off the arm of a stranger who simply accidentally touched Richard.
Gently, he traced his fingers over the scales on Richard’s throat. His dragon had always been somewhat obsessed with the base of the throat, and he now realized his dragon knew there should be something there. Seeing his blue scales on Richard settled something within him in a profound way.
There was so much that needed to be done, but he couldn’t quite manage to care about it yet. The most important thing in his life needed a good rest, and Jeremy was going to be sure that happened. It’s not like it was any great hardship for him.
Jim woke slowly, the kind of lazy waking that only happened when his Wyvern was close and happy, and the world wasn’t making demands. Which was odd because the world had lots of demands for them today, but, in that moment, it seemed inconsequential.
He was pressed up against Blair’s back, his face pressed into Blair’s hair. He pulled back a little and stroked the hair to the side, observing the new band of dark blue melding with the pale blue spine scales. He wanted to touch, but knew from long experience that would wake his mate. The spine scales were too sensitive, and he was really looking forward to discovering how sensitive the throat band was. He settled for stroking the soft tangle of curly hair.
Dialing up his hearing a little, he listened for Tony and Jethro, then winced and dialed back down some. His hearing was much more sensitive. Ouch. He’d have to work on that, because he was pretty sure he tuned into the whole hotel just then. He tried again and was able to get what he thought was Tony and Jethro’s heartbeats. Their heartbeats. Holy shit this was extreme. From the consistent, slow rhythm, he was pretty sure they were sleeping.
When they’d first heard about the notion of bonding, Jim knew he wanted it. Anything that brought him closer to Blair. He thought he could envision what that meant, but he was wrong. This was so much more than he expected. Probably more than he deserved, but he wasn’t about to complain. It felt like he was saturated with Blair, like he was nesting his senses in his Wyvern. Even his emotions felt on a more even keel. The baseline of Blair’s emotions was so steady and calm it couldn’t help but impact Jim.
“Seriously, man,” Blair murmured sleepily, “if you’re gonna play with my hair, you’d better be ready to put out.”
Jim just grinned into his partner’s hair. Game on.
Gibbs went from sleeping to awake in an instant, just like he always did, but there were differences today. First, it was much later than normal. Second, and more importantly, Tony. Which still left him reeling a little. Tony had chosen him. And not just chosen, he had done the near-impossible to have Gibbs. He wasn’t sure he deserved the kind of devotion Tony had offered him, but he wasn’t about to give it up.
Tony was lying on his stomach, with Gibbs half draped over his back. Gibbs nuzzled into the back of Tony’s neck where the black band met the white scales on his spine. The black bled into the white for about half an inch, then disappeared to reform on the other side of the spine. It was beautiful and could easily become one of his favorite things to look at.
Gibbs rolled away when Tony started to show signs of stirring, but rather than wake, Tony just wiggled onto his side and latched onto his Alpha. With difficulty, Gibbs resisted the urge to touch any of Tony’s scales.
Last night their mating was too new to simply give into the fatigue that weighed them down, so they’d come together twice already. As much as he wanted to be inside his Wyvern again, Tony really needed more sleep. Gibbs was feeling fairly well rested, but through their bond he could sense how tired Tony was. That alone was a great gift, because Tony was the master of misdirection when his health was involved.
For all that he was more content than he could ever remember being, he was also worried. Tony was unique. In all of dragon history, since they’d assumed human form, there hadn’t been one like him. There was no doubt Tony was special to Gibbs, always had been, but he wasn’t sure he wanted Tony to be special to everyone. That was a burden he wouldn’t wish on anyone.
He had a feeling their duty as Guardians was going to be full time for a while. That left things in a bad place with NCIS, but Gibbs would work it out. Tony came first, his Wing second; NCIS didn’t rate, all things considered. He’d hammer something out with Vance. Perhaps recommend that Connelly be promoted to Lead and take over for Weaver, then Weaver move up to Major Case. When Tony and Gibbs came back to NCIS, they’d sort out what team they’d have. Assuming they came back.
Gibbs would still have to deal with Ziva. McGee was a non-issue, he’d go with whatever team the Director wanted him on. But Ziva was a bigger concern. And Abby. Jesus, Abby was going to be crushed when Gibbs and Tony didn’t immediately return to work. He’d figure something out to keep her plugged into their lives.
Also, he’d have to get some help from someone more politic than himself with soothing SecNav after he’d been so accommodating because of the political gain he’d receive by having Tony in his organization. It seemed like something the Turners could take on in exchange for the intrusion they were no doubt going to be on Gibbs and Tony’s isolation period.
It was a little after 0900, but Gibbs was pretty sure they wouldn’t be meeting until closer to 1200, and that suited him just fine.
Tony stirred a little, arm tightening around Gibbs reflexively as he fought waking. Gibbs gave into a smile of happiness. He was reminded that, whatever the problems were, he had the best incentive to work things out.
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