Emergence – Chapters 21-24

Title: Emergence – Chapters 21-24
Author: Jilly James
Betas: Elsa Kallan and Naelany
Emergence Main Page

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Chapter Twenty-one

Wednesday morning, Tony woke much earlier than he should have considering the activity the night before. It was almost 0630 and he’d actually woken before his early-riser Alpha. He was content to just keep still and watch his mate sleep.

“I can feel you watching me,” Jethro muttered, cracking his eyes open, squinting against the weak morning light coming in through the curtains.

“Does this seem surreal to you?” Tony asked out of the blue.

“I feel you in every fiber of my being, Tony. It’s too real to me to be surreal.”

Feeling his heart in his throat, Tony whispered, “Wow. That was almost poetic.” He ran his fingers over Jethro’s Alpha Mark. “I think that’s why I’m not freaking out more. Because I feel complete for the first time in my life. I think I’ve always been really lonely, and suddenly I’m not.”

Jethro was quiet for a long time, reaching up to trace Tony’s wrist scales. “This is new to me, too. I loved Shannon, that will never change–”

“Jethro… you don’t have to–”

“Let me finish,” Jethro said patiently. “We never had a bond beyond our feelings for one another. I never put much stock in the Alpha/Omega bond because I thought it couldn’t be any more than what I already had experienced, but this is something else. This is being whole, and I have nothing to compare it to. So we’re together in this… not knowing what’s next or what to expect.”

“You just seem to be handling this so much better than me.”

“Oh, Tony…” Jethro looked a little sad. “I’ve let people in before. I stopped because it never came close to what I’d lost, but I do have the experience. I’m not sure you ever have.”

Tony glanced away, not wanting to acknowledge the truth of that.

Jethro’s fingers on his chin forced him to look back. “There aren’t many people who could handle everything that’s been thrown at you in the last week. You’re incredibly resilient.”

Tony wasn’t sure about that. Vin and Ezra both seemed to accept the dragon thing better than he did.

Jethro seemed to read his mind. “No one ever has had to take on what you’re taking on. And instead of actually freaking out and falling back on your humor and misdirection, you’re moving forward and doing everything that’s asked of you.”

Tony resorted to staring at Jethro’s chin since he couldn’t move his head away.

“While you were sleeping yesterday afternoon, Blair pulled me aside to make sure I knew how remarkable you are, and that I would support you fully. But I already knew that.” Jethro tapped Tony’s nose to get him to look back up. “I’m proud of you, Tony.”

Feeling like his throat was constricted, Tony blinked furiously. He’d reached his limit, but Jethro seemed to know that, and just pulled him close. After several long minutes, Tony muttered, “I’m not sure I can call you a functional mute anymore.”

Jethro’s chest vibrated with his low laughter. “I say what needs to be said.”

“What would you say if I said I really want to feel you in me again? Like, now.”

Jethro apparently had nothing to say, he just rolled Tony onto his back and proceeded to drive him to distraction.

A while later, the rude beep of Tony’s cell phone text message forced him to shake off his post-orgasm lassitude to roll over and grab the offending device.

‘Tony, how are things going there? Some progress here. Call when you can. –Blair’

“It’s Blair. I better give him a call,” Tony murmured.

“Remember you’re on a cell,” Jethro warned.

Tony frowned in consternation. “Wish we’d had time to get one of the Council sat phones.” He quickly punched in Blair’s number.

Hey, Tony! How’s it going?”

“Well, it’s certainly going.”

Problems?”

“Not exactly. I think we’re done here. Need to stay a bit to wrap up, but then I think we can come back.”

So it wasn’t what you thought?” Blair asked sounding disappointed.

“No, it was,” Tony hedged carefully.

I’m not following.”

“You know how these trips go, you meet people, squeeze in a couple quick weddings in your spare time, then go home.”

Blair made a choking noise and finally managed to squeak out, “What? Are you saying

“Blair, seriously, we should have gotten the sat phone before we left.”

There was a long pause. “Okay, is the wild card in this situation white?”

“Mm hmm.”

I have to talk to Jim. Don’t do anything crazy like come home before I call you back, okay?”

“Okaaaay.” Tony hesitated. “We’re just starting the day, so if we don’t answer, we’re probably in the shower.” Tony hung up and flipped over to face Jethro, who was looking a bit pensive and felt concerned. “Is the bathroom free?” Tony’s hearing had definitely improved but nothing like Jethro’s.

“Yeah.”

Tony dragged his mate to the bathroom. They had to be quick in case Buck or Ezra got up, which was a shame because he really wanted some quality shower time with Jethro. He wanted quality time with Jethro to do lots of things.

When they got out, there was already a text from Blair asking him to call, and also asking that Jethro call Jim. “Jim wants to talk to you, and I need to phone Blair.”

“I’ll do it from the kitchen. Need coffee.”

Tony dressed quickly, then called Blair again. “What’s up?”

Jim has some concerns about this new development. Actually everyone does. Jim called in a favor from an Alpha fairly close to you. We’d like you guys to get down there, consult on the situation. You can fill him in on everything.”

Tony wanted to argue with Blair, but there didn’t seem a lot of point when they practically had to speak in code. “Just me and LJ, or the whole gang here?”

I think all of you would be best.”

“I assume Jim is relaying this to Jethro now?”

Yeah.”

Tony sighed. “Fine. Any developments there?”

A few things. You’ll be able to call me from a secure connection once you get there,” Blair replied evasively.

“Okay, Blair.”

Tony, I know this is annoying, but it’ll all get explained soon.”

Tony wasn’t one to shoot the messenger, so he finished up the call with Blair, then joined Jethro in the kitchen. He gratefully accepted the cup of coffee. “I assume you got the same message from Jim that I got from Blair?”

“Yep. We need to go soon. I can hear that Chris is already up. If they don’t want to go, we’ll need to rent a car.”

“Where are we going?”

“Not sure yet. Jim’s concerned our calls could be monitored, so he said he’d text the location as soon as we’re on the road.”

“Doesn’t this seem a little paranoid to you?” Tony asked, feeling bewildered.

“No,” came from the doorway, and Tony whipped around to find Chris already dressed in his usual black leaning against the doorjamb. Vin squeezed around him and headed for the coffee pot. “I’ve been thinking about it off and on all night. There’s risk to you for sure, and possibly by extension to Ezra and Vin.”

Tony blanched. What if he was putting people in danger?

Vin squeezed his shoulder as he passed. “Wouldn’t change a thing, Tony. Even if I knew in advance there’d be risk, I’d a’ still done it.”

Chris nodded his agreement. “We just have to manage the risk. I’m pretty sure I know where we’re headed, and I’d trust him to do an unbiased threat assessment of the situation. We could set up a secure connection from here, but Jack has better resources and I trust his judgment.”

Tony glanced at Jethro. “What do you think?”

“My instincts have been to keep you under lock and key since you emerged, Tony. I’m trying to be reasonable about it.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed at what felt like a prevarication. “Okay. What do you know?”

Jethro met his eyes unflinchingly. “My gut knotted up as soon as you started talking to Blair.”

“Well, shit.” He wanted to argue, but he knew to trust Jethro’s gut. “When are we leaving?”

Chris pushed off the doorjamb and into the kitchen. “I’d like to leave in fifteen. Not sure if we’ll be back tonight, so best to bring your stuff. Already woke Buck and Ez, they should be down shortly.”

The next fifteen minutes were a flurry of activity. Chris, Vin, Jethro and Tony went in Chris’ truck, with Buck and Ezra following in Ezra’s Jag.

They headed south for ten minutes before Jethro had Tony text Jim for the location. “Colorado Springs,” Tony said, reading the text. “That what you were expecting, Chris?”

“Yep. Only about forty-five minutes now.” Tony noticed traffic was mostly headed north into Denver.

Jethro handed over his cell. “Make sure I have the phone number and address of where we’re going.”

Chris already knew, but Vin handed over his cell as well, commenting, “Just text Buck and tell him we were right about the location. He’ll make sure Ez has the info.”

When they were about twenty minutes from Colorado Springs, Chris swore. “I think we just picked up a tail. A black SUV was approaching quickly, but now seems content to stay a few cars back from Ezra. Vin, call Buck. I want them in front of us, let’s see what the SUV does. Tony make the call and let Jack know the situation. We may need backup.”

“Who am I calling exactly?” Tony asked.

“Major General Jack O’Neill.”

Tony noticed Jethro was totally focused out the back window. Tony blocked out Vin’s call as the line began to ring.

O’Neill.”

“General, this is Anthony DiNozzo, we’re en route to see you.”

Ah. The reason I’m happily playing hooky this morning.”

Tony noticed Ezra passing in the Jag as Chris had instructed.

“If you say so, sir. We think we’ve picked up a tail, a black unmarked Tahoe. Unknown number of occupants. Unclear yet whether this is about to get ugly or if this will be a party at your place. Could also just be someone with suspicious driving habits.”

How far out are you?”

“About twenty.”

Hold.”

Tony could vaguely hear murmuring in the background, but most of his focus was on the black SUV behind them.

The General came back on the line. “Looks like you have a welcoming committee here, getting you set for an ambush. No one’s tried anything at my place in at least a week. I’ve already called in pest control from the base. We’ll act as if this is a military matter since they’re camped out near me. Don’t approach until I can confirm the area is clear unless you have no choice.”

Tony relayed the message to Chris.

DiNozzo,” Jack got his attention. “Put me on speaker and keep the line open until you get here. I’ll have you on mute so I can coordinate. I have military vehicles en route to intercept.”

The next few minutes were tense. Tony hoped whoever was back there wasn’t really after them. If they were, perhaps the paranoia about Tony’s safety wasn’t misplaced.

“Military Hummers ten o’clock,” Chris said suddenly.

Two military vehicles attempted to box in the Tahoe, which promptly gunned it and took off with the Hummers in pursuit. Another two Hummers fell into escort position.

“You still there, General?”

Yep. Didn’t figure you needed me nattering on.”

“Should we actually be following the military vehicles?”

If they take you to my house, yes. If not, then I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Tony muttered.

We’re secure on this end.” Jack’s voice came back over the line. “How many vehicles inbound?”

“Two, plus the escort. Black Jag, two passengers; black Dodge Ram, four passengers.”

A different voice responded, “Jack’s talking to the base, we’ve got three men in custody. Your escort has already radioed that you’re five minutes out.”

“Who’s this?”

Daniel Jackson. I have the dubious honor of working with Jack.”

Hey!” was shouted in the background.

And I’m the pain in the ass’s mate. Keep the line open, though we’re not expecting any more problems.”

“Gotcha.” Tony’s drama tolerance was getting low. This was ridiculous. What did someone hope to gain by kidnapping him?

A few minutes later they pulled onto a long drive leading up to a rustic-looking L-shaped wood and stone house. There were several military vehicles in the drive and soldiers practically crawling through the shrubs.

The soldiers cast them cautious looks, but had apparently been ordered not to ID anyone. Buck and Ezra rejoined them looking a little stressed. Tony figured they all did. They were let into the house by a man about Tony’s age, six foot, blue eyes and short dark hair.

As they were shucking their outerwear, the man introduced himself as Daniel Jackson just as a slightly taller man with graying hair and brown eyes entered. Tony quickly spotted the Alpha Mark at his Temples, which was black just like Chris and Jethro’s.

They were quickly assessed and there was a flash of surprise in the brown eyes. He pointed to himself. “Major General Jack O’Neill, with two L’s.” He held up three fingers. “Call me Jack. And I see you’ve brought me three Alphas, one of which is the number two dragon in the US.”

“Really?” Tony whispered to Jethro.

Jethro just quirked a brow.

The General continued. “And what I believe to be three Omegas with neck accessories that don’t make much sense. Am I going to want popcorn for this?”

“Only if you think it’s too early for beer,” Tony replied dryly.

Jack smirked, and Daniel smacked him on the arm. “Don’t even think it Jack.”

They were herded into the living room and introductions made. Jack and Daniel quickly reassured them that no one could eavesdrop.

Daniel was fairly fixed on the throat scales of the other Omegas and was clearly burning with questions. “I heard about your emergence,” he pointed at Tony. “But I haven’t heard about the other two, and I’ve met all the Omegas in North America. Is there a reason two emergences were kept secret?”

Tony rubbed his hand through his hair. “It happened unexpectedly. It’s part of the long story we’re here to tell you.”

Daniel and Jack shared a look, before Daniel said. “It happened unexpectedly? I can’t even make sense of that, so I’ll just hold my questions for now. Go ahead.”

Everyone looked at Tony. “Seriously? You all know the story by now. Or most of it.” When he was met with nothing but expectant expressions, he sighed. “Well, Blair said to tell you the whole thing, so I’ll start at the beginning and take you up to this morning.” He filled them in on everything including the part about Gibbs’ gut and how it had started pinging this morning.

Daniel looked like he wanted to ask questions several times, but always subsided when Jack laid a hand on his arm.

At the end of the tale, Daniel looked stunned, while Jack grunted a, “Huh. I think this calls for something stronger than beer. Whiskey, maybe?” He looked at Daniel hopefully.

“No,” Daniel said absently, caught up in his own thoughts. “I’m half tempted to agree with you, but I know better than to give you an inch.”

“I’m turning into a hen-pecked husband,” Jack groused.

Daniel’s head whipped around and he stared at Jack. “Apparently not husband yet, but you will be soon.”

Jack’s brows shot up. “Are you serious? We don’t know anything about this. Besides, forgive me for being a little leery of you doing anything spiritual.”

Jack!”

There was clearly some subtext here Tony wasn’t getting, but considering the closed expression on the fairly affable General’s face, he was pretty sure he didn’t want to know.

Jack broke the staring contest and sighed. “Well, kids, you wanted threat assessment, but I’m pretty sure Jim had something else in mind.” Jack got up and retrieved a folder from the dining room table, he handed it to Jethro, inside was a picture of Tony. “That was on the men we detained from outside my place. I’d say the threat has been assessed,” he said sardonically. “You’ve got trouble.”

Tony blinked at the photo, and felt his stomach lurch. He was wearing a black jacket, leaning against the side of his friend’s house. His friend’s purple house. That photo only existed in two places. Ken had it, and Tony had it. “Unless my buddy leaked that photo to the press when I hit the news, someone broke into my apartment.”

Jethro laid a hand on his arm. “We’ll figure it out, Tony.” Looking back at the General, he asked, “So what do you recommend now?”

“I believe what Jim was hoping for was that the military had some tech that could help find Tony if he should go walkabout.”

Daniel chimed in. “We have some advanced subderm GPS chips, they can only be tracked by our systems, so if something were to happen to you, we’d be the ones to find you.”

Jack wagged a finger at Tony. “So no going to the store without telling anyone and causing a domestic crisis over an errand.”

Tony rubbed his hands over his face. “You really think this is necessary?”

“Considering the welcoming committee here for you? Yes,” Jack retorted quickly.

“You think the threat is just to Tony?” Chris asked carefully.

Jack shrugged. “Maybe. Could be they’re just after the latest emerged Omega, hoping the mating isn’t settled yet. Which would put these two,” Jack flicked a finger between Vin and Ezra, “in just as much danger if their status comes out. Not that you’re going to be able to hide it, unless they’re living in turtlenecks.” He shared a look with Jethro. “Though once news of those pretty little collars comes out, it’s not hard to connect the dots to Tony. I don’t even have to think out of the box for that one.”

“Next steps?” Chris asked intently.

“I’ll talk to Jim about issuing a threat alert to all mated Alphas about the attempted kidnapping, and that we think there may be increased danger to all Omegas. Normally the bigger the meeting, the more useless, but I think in this case we need input from Jim and Jeremy. I have some ideas, but we’d have to run it by them.” Jack clapped his hands together as he got to his feet. “I’ll call the mountain and get the technical mumbo jumbo going, while Daniel starts his questioning, because I know he’s about to burst from curiosity.”

Before Daniel could begin, Jethro asked if he could have coffee. Tony knew he had to be about dying to from caffeine withdrawal. Daniel just waved him toward the kitchen, saying there was a pot on the counter.

Chris left with Jethro, but Buck stayed glued to Ezra. Tony felt a flash of guilt for not finding out how Ezra was doing, but they had been in a bit of a frenzy this morning. He could get nothing from Ezra’s face, but he tuned into his emotional state and had the oddest sense that Ezra was content. There was a thread of anxiety in there somewhere. Maybe he really was like Tony, and was freaking out about being okay. Or maybe he was having a perfectly normal reaction to the day’s events.

Daniel’s questions started with what Vin and Ezra’s emergence was like; what they experienced, and so on. He then asked how they felt about Tony.

Tony had not been expecting that.

Vin shrugged and casually said, “Feels like family.”

Ezra considered for a moment. “I confess I feel rather fond of Anthony, which is peculiar considering the short duration of our association.”

Tony was a little floored by the comments, not sure how to respond.

Daniel pinned him with a look. “And you?”

Tony really wasn’t prepared to admit that he had parental feelings toward two grown men he’d just met. “Uh, well, I feel really connected to both of them.”

“Hmm. What about the other three you met?”

Tony frowned. “I’m not… it’s different. I like all three, but it’s just… different.”

Daniel hopped to his feet and hollered, “Jack, we’re going outside.”

Jethro and Chris appeared from the kitchen looking concerned, and Jack came stomping out from wherever he was, holding a phone to his ear. “What the hell for?”

“I need to shift.” Daniel was already pulling on his coat.

“Daniel,” Jack said with a pleading tone.

“Oh, stop it. The place is crawling with Marines, and it’s not like half the base hasn’t seen me shifted already.”

Jack looked resigned. “I swear, if another picture of you pops up on the internet…”

Jethro didn’t look pleased, but he offered, “We’ll be out there. No one’s going to use a camera.”

Shaking his head, muttering about stubborn mates, Jack headed back to wherever he came from.

“Why are we going outside?” Tony asked bewildered.

Daniel just shoved his coat at him and made a hurry up gesture. “An experiment. I want to see if this bond to you is limited to those you birthed or if any contact with you in your Wyvern form causes it.”

Tony choked, his scarf dropping from nerveless fingers. “Birthed?”

Daniel seemed to finally focus on Tony and not on whatever was in his head. “What would you call it? I’m speaking of the verb form; to act as midwife, to originate, to produce.”

“I don’t care what you call it as long as you pick a different word! Pull, draw, attract, extract…”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “How about sired? Is that better?”

Tony’s shoulders slumped a little. “Marginally.”

Daniel hustled Tony outside, leaving the rest to follow, and everyone but Jack came. He made sure the Marines kept their distance and then shifted.

“Okay,” Tony said sotto voce, “I’m not calling myself a disco ball anymore… that title goes to Silver Wing the Magnificent over there.” Daniel was platinum colored with the same pearly cast that marked all Wyverns.

Daniel heard him and glared.

“Hey, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.” The glare didn’t let up and it occurred to Tony that Daniel was so focused on the situation, he didn’t really care about anything else and just wanted Tony in his Wyvern form. With a sigh, Tony shifted, not sure what Daniel was hoping to accomplish.

They contemplated each other for a long time, and something did seem to happen… a shift of some kind. Then Daniel pressed the side of his head against Tony’s. Instinctively, Tony pressed back. Daniel shifted and before Tony could do the same, he’d told Vin and Ezra to shift as well.

Tony sensed this was about the other three, so he moved back a bit, though the yard was crowded with four shifted Wyverns. The Marines were staying professional, though Jethro, Chris and Buck were making sure no one even thought about taking out a camera.

The three other Wyverns contemplated each other for a long time before exchanging greetings, then they shifted back. “Okay, let’s go in,” Daniel said looking distracted. Once they were inside and seated back in the living room, including Jack, Daniel said, “I think we’ve missed out tremendously on a bond that Wyverns form.

“I’ve met many Wyverns, and I’d say at an instinctual level, I feel closer to the three of you than even Blair, who I’ve known for years. That’s something we’ll want to factor in as we go on. The possessive territoriality of Alphas has worked against us in this regard. Though, Tony, my sense of you is more, ah, paternal.”

Tony huffed in annoyance, knowing what Daniel had wanted to say.

Jack held up a hand. “Before we make plans for Omega love-ins, we have some higher priority things to deal with. We have a sat phone, but I’m not inclined to have this conversation without better security. It’ll take about an hour to get equipment on both ends.”

“Oh good, that gives me more time to ask questions.” Daniel looked back to Tony, ignoring Jack’s caustic, “Of course it does.”

“Tony, you mentioned about spirit gifts, and how Vin has the potential to become spirit master. What can you tell me about other gifts? Say Ezra’s or mine? I’ve never felt particularly inclined toward any gift other than some basic empathy.”

Glancing at Ezra, Tony asked, “You okay with me talking about this openly?”

Ezra nodded. “I appreciate the consideration, but it’s paramount that everyone be informed.”

Tony tried to think of how to articulate the pictures in his head. “Okay, we can probably break the gifts up into areas. Spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. There’s some overlap, I think, like spirit walkers can probably have an emotional impact on someone they touch spiritually.”

Daniel nodded. “That makes sense.”

“So, Ezra, the green scales indicate mental gifts. I think the exact nature develops based on things I don’t fully understand yet, but your gift feels similar to LJ’s. It’s like a knowing, or a truth telling. I think you’ll always know if someone is lying, or perhaps have an intuition about which way is best… something like that. LJ’s gift seems somewhat danger oriented and there’s almost a clairvoyant aspect.” Tony felt his mate react badly to the word, but couldn’t do anything about it now. “But yours is a little more general and immediate. I really wouldn’t want to play poker with you.”

Ezra frowned at that, but Buck just laughed. “Hell, Slick, think of all the money the rest of us will save.” He glanced at Tony. “Ezra’s the best poker player I’ve ever seen, and that was before this.”

Tony winced a little, but could only shrug. “Sorry, Ezra.”

He was waved off by a resigned Ezra. “It’s of no consequence. I feel this gift will be adequate compensation for a lost diversion.”

Nodding, he glanced at Daniel, and concentrated on what he’d felt when they touched earlier. “Were you latent?”

Daniel frowned. “Yes, but you’ve said that the test is for the wrong blood.”

“You’re right, it’s not a test for Wyvern blood, but it does tell me you’ve got a lot Drake blood in you and I think that’s relevant for some reason. I’m pretty sure your gift is in the mental area as well, but I don’t think you can access it without a bond.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Of course it’s a mental gift. This is Daniel we’re talking about.”

Daniel elbowed his partner, then got to his feet. “Let’s bond, Jack.”

“What? Don’t you think we should talk about this first?” Jack asked sporting an expression of alarm.

“We just talked about it. Now up!” When Jack just stared, Daniel crossed his arms. “Everyone here is bonded. It’s natural for our kind. Is there a reason you don’t want to bond with me?”

Jack sighed and slumped a little. “I’m just worried about anything else spiritual with you.” Which still made no sense to Tony. “Weird shit happens to you, Danny.”

Daniel just raised an eyebrow and waited. Finally Jack sighed and got to his feet. “Fine, but if I find myself in some alternate reality, you’re doing my paperwork for a month.”

Tony waved a hand at Vin, indicating he should do it. “Seriously, Vin, this is gonna be your area. Might as well keep practicing.”

Once they were in position, and Daniel was saying, “I surrender myself to you,” anything Jack might have said otherwise vanished under the pull of the bonding. When Daniel summoned Jack’s fire, Daniel’s scales lit up until they were almost painful to look at.

When the bonding was done, Jack articulately said, “Holy shit.”

Before anything else could be said, Vin summoned their spirit dragons. Daniel was enthused about his, but Jack seemed hesitant at first. After the mergers, Daniel looked excited about something, but before he could say anything, Jack hauled him out of the room, which didn’t really surprise anyone.

Tony slumped against Jethro. “Somehow I think this roller coaster has barely started and it’s not even lunch yet.”

– – – –

Chapter Twenty-two

While Jack and Daniel were in the other room, Tony answered Ezra and Vin’s questions about the Wyvern being held captive, since that was new information to them. Both wanted to help if needed, though Tony thought they likely had a big enough team. To be fair, he had no idea what went into dealing with a corrupt dragon. And there could be more than one.

He had a thought. “LJ, Ezra, I have some questions for you. Or more accurately for your gift. Let me ask a question, and I want the first thing that pops in your head. Okay?”

Jethro gave him a funny look but nodded, and Tony felt concern from him. Ezra nodded but looked a little reluctant.

“Are the newly mated Wyverns in danger?”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Are newly emerged Wyverns in more danger than usual?” Tony asked, taking the next logical step.

“Yes,” came cautiously from Jethro, and no response from Ezra.

“Are Wyverns from longer term pairings in more danger than usual?”

No response from either, so whatever threat existed was nothing out of the ordinary, or too far off to be registered by either.

“So this is nothing specific to me?” he asked hopefully.

They both cocked their head in the exact same way, and Tony realized the question was phrased badly. “Okay, trying again. Am I in more danger than any other Wyvern?”

“Yes,” was emphatically said by Jethro.

“Yes,” came more hesitantly from Ezra.

Tony slumped back into the sofa. “Damn. Sorry to do that to you, I don’t want to treat you like some sort of dragon divining rod. I just thought it might help us narrow it down. And it really didn’t.”

Chris shook his head, disagreeing with Tony’s assessment. “It sort of justified our concerns. Having both of them feel there’s a generic danger tells me we need to remain vigilant.”

Jethro wrapped his arm around Tony. “And I know you’re not going to like it, but I feel strongly that you’re in the most danger. The precautions are going to rub you the wrong way, but it’s necessary.”

“It may always be necessary,” Daniel said as he and Jack returned to the living room. “It seems like you’re pretty vital to the dragon community flourishing and being restored to the way it should be. So you may always be a target for someone. Particularly if they can connect the dots between your emergence and our suspected upswing in the Wyvern population.”

Tony shook his head, refusing to accept that he had to give up so much in order to be the Guardian. Jethro got up and pulled Tony to his feet, guiding him into the kitchen.

“Everyone can hear us, LJ.”

“Yeah, and sometimes illusions help. Listen to me, a lot of people are invested in making sure you’re safe, but we also want you happy. I don’t want to keep telling you, ‘let’s figure it out later,’ but I don’t know what else we can do. We have several problems in front of us. Let’s solve those, then figure out how to have a life around the rest.”

Still overwhelmed, all Tony could do was nod.

Jethro pulled him close and held him tight. “If it’s ever too much, just tell me.”

Face buried in Jethro’s neck, Tony nodded again. After a few minutes, he managed, “I’m fine.”

“Uh huh,” Jethro muttered sounding skeptical.

A knock at the front door had them pull apart somewhat reluctantly. Daniel opened it to someone in an Air Force uniform with a lot of gear. “Set it up on the coffee table,” he directed.

Everyone was quiet as the tech set up the equipment. Daniel apparently knew how to use it, so the tech left. “As soon as we get word they’re set up in D.C., we can start the call. In the interim, we sorted out my gift.”

Tony raised a brow in inquiry.

“Jack and I can communicate telepathically. Seems kind of limited in scope, but now I can bug him from a distance.”

Jack was giving Tony the stink eye. “And thanks for that, Tony. You’re on my Christmas list.”

“Great. No power tools,” Tony replied absently, mostly thinking about Daniel’s gift. “You know, I don’t think that’s it, Daniel. I think that’s more a side effect, or maybe a bonus.”

Daniel frowned. “Then what is it?”

Tony got to his feet. “Now that you’re bonded, maybe I’ll get more info from touching you.”

“What?” Jack spluttered.

Tony rolled his eyes and held out his hand to Daniel. “Let me touch your wrist scales.” Immediately Tony had a sense of Daniel’s gift and jerked his hand away. “Okay, yeah, that needed bonding, because we wouldn’t want that out of control. No… Jack, feel free to keep your Alpha self in the way of that.”

Daniel was looking alarmed. “What?”

“You know, I can’t think of an analogy that doesn’t sound bad. But, uh, you’re the dragon equivalent of a cell phone.”

Daniel scowled, and Jack started cracking up.

“No, seriously, the silver dragons were how the different Wings kept in touch. I think your gift is half spirit, because I’m pretty sure the connection is on the spirit plane, not physically mind to mind.”

Looking more interested, Daniel just said, “Anything else?”

“Well, I’m not perfect clear on this, but I’m pretty sure you could direct communication out to whomever. So if you wanted to notify all the Wyverns of something, it’s perfectly secure comms no one can trace or intercept. I’m pretty sure distance is irrelevant since the connection is spirit. And I think one with all ten bands can bridge communications.”

Jack was looking intrigued. “Meaning?”

“Someday, the kind of call we’re about to have could be facilitated by Daniel.”

And Jack was laughing again. “Conference calls via Daniel? Sweet!”

“Jack!” But Daniel was too busy thinking to really direct much ire at his mate. “Why was it important that I be bonded?”

“Pretty much the same reason as Blair or Vin. Bonding anchors and buffers our gifts. Can you imagine someone with your gifts without an anchor? You could be sending random messages to random dragons like a staticy radio you can never turn off.”

Jack suddenly sobered. “This is a big deal?”

Tony shrugged. “Depends upon how you look at it. It’s one of the more powerful gifts, which is why he needed to bond in order to access it. It also requires a lot of control and skill. It’s not much without that. But, yeah, I’d think if he could communicate with any dragon anywhere, anytime, that it would be a big deal.”

Jack looked pensive, so Daniel gave him a nudge. “Wouldn’t this have been useful when we still did field work together?”

Managing a strained smile, Jack retorted, “Might have made it easier to keep you out of trouble.” He glanced around at the rest of the room. “No one else knows about this, okay?”

Tony was about to reply, but Daniel got there first. “It doesn’t quite work that way, Jack. I know of one other platinum Wyvern, and we could wind up with many more. We can’t just forbid them knowledge of their gift and how to use it because you’re trying to shield me. Besides, from what Tony said, I really need to be working with a spirit master, and possibly someone like Richard to get a handle on this thing.”

Jack groaned. “Couldn’t you just go along with the secrecy thing?”

“Jack,” Tony replied, “no one is going to indiscriminately run around telling random people. I think we’ll all be pretty tight-lipped about it. But some people need to know about the platinum dragons. At least eventually. Right now, it seems like we have a mountain of other stuff on the plate.”

Instead of replying, Jack glanced at Daniel. “Can I have beer now?” then pulled out his cell phone as it chimed.

Daniel snorted. “No.”

“Okay, campers, that’s Jim. They’re ready.”

The call was picked up immediately. “Holy shit, Tony,” Blair’s excited voice came over the line, though sounded tinny from the speakerphone. “We keep trying to come up with some explanation for what you said other than what you said!”

“No other explanation. Vin and Ezra are here with Chris and Buck, they emerged, bonded, everything, last night.”

How is that possible?” Richard asked.

“They touched me while I was shifted.”

Before Blair could really get going, Jack whistled, causing the phones to screech a little. “Before we get into it, who’s on the line on your end? Here we have Gibbs, Tony, Larabee, Tanner, Wilmington and Standish. Plus me and Daniel, because it’s our house – and our phone.”

Jeremy chimed in with the introductions on their end, which was everyone except Garcia and Abby.

“Okay,” Jack started, “let’s get some of the basics down first. There was an ambush set up for them down the road from my house, and they had someone following. The apparent target was Tony, though we don’t have confirmation that he was the only target. Tony’s going to get a really advanced tracker stuck somewhere under his skin.

“We’re pretty sure there’s a generic threat to any newly emerged or newly mated Omega. Vin and Ezra are in the clear for now, but won’t be for long because we can’t keep this secret forever. Did I miss anything?” Before anyone could reply, Jack waved off the entire room. “Yeah, yeah… I missed lots of stuff. Anything we’re not going to rehash in minute detail later when we’re making plans?”

Most of the room shrugged, Chris and Jethro remained impassive.

“Great. Now what’s going on there?” Jack said to the folks on the other end of the line.

Jeremy took the reins. “The young ladies have made good progress. Through means I do not understand, and using language that frankly eludes me, they have basically determined who Mister Sewell has been in contact with in the last year, properties he owns that are not well known, hidden financial accounts, and several aliases. It would all be quite damning from a legal perspective, but that’s of less concern to us.

Additionally, and this is particularly for Jethro, they have found direct links between our corrupt Alpha and several Alphas in Florida. James has informed me that there have been a lot of issues from there of late.”

Jethro swore and rubbed his forehead. “So, Sewell has money and connections. Explains how he managed to track Tony to here. We’re pretty sure the cell call this morning was traced. He still managed to get his ambush team in place damn fast.”

Jim’s voice came over the line. “We’re thinking of sending someone to read H in on the situation, but want your input first.”

“Before I answer that, how close are we to being able to go after Sewell?” Jethro asked.

Blair piped up. “I’m assuming you mean how are things going with the spirit walking? It’s not going as fast as we’d like, but better than expected. I’ve made it to the spirit plane, but fizzle out while I’m there before I make it very far. I think if I could get Richard there with me, he’d be able to help me figure it out, but I need more oomph.”

Tony looked right at Vin and Chris, who exchanged long glances, then nodded.

Jack offered, “No response on that yet, part of the room are making eyes at each other. Most of us are in the dark.”

“Blair,” Tony said, “Vin is blue, too. All ten bands. Do you think another spirit master would help?”

There was a pause, before Blair excitedly replied, “Yeah, I really do, Tony.”

“Blair, this is Chris, with concerns about safety right now anyway, I think we should head your direction ASAP.”

What about Ezra and Buck? Are they coming, too?” Blair asked.

The pair in question exchanged looks before Ezra decidedly shook his head. “Ezra says no,” Buck said. “We’ll need to sort out what our plans are.”

“I really hate to say this,” Jack sounded truly aggrieved, “but let’s talk out all the details.”

Daniel covered his mouth, clearly hiding a smile.

Two hours later, it felt like they’d covered everything at least three times and Tony was getting hungry.

“Okay, okay,” Jack finally erupted. “Let’s stop talking it to death. Let me summarize.” He hesitated. “Actually, not me. Daniel, summarize.”

After giving his mate an exasperated look, Daniel consulted his notes. “Jeremy and Richard are going to issue a threat alert to all the Alpha/Omega pairs; Sewell is clearly desperate. Vin and Chris are going to leave for D.C. tonight on Jim’s plane. Chris’ team is going to come here this afternoon to be briefed and work out security for Ezra since there are two other dragons on the team. Security will also include the two Betas from Jim, who will stay with Ezra and Buck and give some additional manpower to Chris’ team. That whole contingent will return to Denver together this evening. We still have to decide about a tracker for Ezra. Depends upon how the discussion goes this afternoon.

“Tony and Gibbs are going to stay here for the moment while we work out the tracker. Jim’s going to contact Rick Connelly about checking out Tony’s apartment for a break-in. Jack has a base to run, so he’s going to keep Marines on guard here, and Jack wants Tony to meet with some of the Alphas on our project to see if they have Wyvern bonds. If they do, we’d like to go through the process with as many as possible, unless you make quick progress and Tony and Gibbs are needed back there. We’re also going to check if any Wyvern can do what Tony does to midwife an emergence.”

Tony scowled at the term, but Daniel ignored him and continue on. “Jim and Rossi are going to make a quick trip to Miami tomorrow to brief Horatio Caine on the situation with Sewell and the connection to Florida, and then determine the level he’s going to be involved. News about Horatio’s Wyvern will be held until Tony can go personally. The Wyverns in DC are going to try to shift and see if they bond the way we did without Tony present. Did I miss anything?”

“One more thing,” Jack said, which surprised everyone because Jack was the most impatient to end this meeting. “Jeremy, Richard, you two need to start working a plan to release the information about bonding. Figure out how to make it secure; make them set up appointments, train up the blue Omegas first, whatever; the sooner we get this unique stuff common, the less problematic it is, and the less danger for new Omegas. I realize it’s a logistical mess, but it’s your mess to figure out.”

Daniel gave Jack a confused look. “That was really insightful.”

“Hey! I can have insight.”

Daniel turned back to the phone. “We can justify the secure satellite connection for both of us for a bit, so the equipment will stay there if we need to call each other.”

Tony, can we talk later today or in the morning?” Blair asked.

“Sure. I’ll text you later and let you know how the day is going.”

Everyone got in last comments, then the call was terminated. Jack rose to his feet. “I’m ordering pizza, any preferences?” After there was a general consensus, he left to make the call. Chris stepped into the kitchen to contact his team.

Jethro grabbed his arm, pulling him towards the front door and tossed him his coat.

“Where we going, LJ?”

“Walk. Place is crawling with Marines, we can walk around a bit.”

Tony hesitated, wondering if he was putting people in jeopardy.

“Tony, stop it. You’re one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met, and you’ve been penned up for nearly a week. We’ve taken reasonable precautions, now get outside.”

It wound up being just what Tony needed. They didn’t talk, just walked around the house in areas well covered by Marines with big-ass guns. It was cold, and he hated being cold, but he felt the tension start to drain out of him.

When the pizza driver arrived, looking freaked at being met by armed Marines, they headed back inside. Once everyone was eating, Chris said that his team would arrive in about ninety minutes.

The rest of ATF Team 7 was comprised of one Beta, one unmated Alpha, and one human who was latent. With six of seven team members emerged dragons, it was a huge number on one team. He also wanted Tony to check the unmated Alpha for a Wyvern bond.

Jack was having six of his eight Alphas arrive at 1800 hours. Of the other two, one was stationed in Antarctica, of all awful places, and the other was on leave. Seemed like a lot of Alphas for one military program. Especially something called Deep Space Radar Telemetry. Tony knew a cover when he heard one, and that one was particularly lame. What kind of project involving radar telemetry could need nine Alphas, plus who knew how many Betas?

Tony had fairly insatiable curiosity, but even he wasn’t inclined to pry into a program that was stationed under NORAD.

Jethro and Tony were going to be staying in Jack’s guest bedroom, which was apparently mostly Daniel’s library with a fold-out. So they brought in their bags and got things situated. Tony longed for a nice private hotel room, but security would be a bitch. Jethro insisted Tony spend some more time in his dragon form while they had some free moments. Daniel seemed to want to talk to him, but agreed it was more important Tony get in shifted time.

Vin and Ezra joined him, as they needed time as well, and the three Alphas kept an eye on things while the Wyverns prowled around the property. Tony hadn’t spent any time in dragon form where he wasn’t busy or sleeping, so being able to goof off was good for his spirits.

Jethro called for them to shift back when they had word that Chris’ team were five minutes out.

Tony really liked the rest of Larabee’s guys. Josiah was the unmated Alpha, and Tony detected no Wyvern bond. There was something very Zen about Josiah. He felt restful. Nathan was a Beta, mated to another Beta, who they agreed would be kept out of the loop for now. And JD was human, though latent. And he felt just like Garcia did… like he was on the cusp of being a Beta. He actually felt more like that. Having had the feeling twice now, Tony was less likely to dismiss it. What was it about Chris that drew dragons to him? It was a little bit odd.

They did not fill the team in on the situation in D.C., but had to tell them about some of the stuff surrounding Tony, because there was no other way to explain the sudden emergence of Vin and Ezra.

The three took things pretty much in stride, though JD seemed kind of excitable. He reminded Tony a bit of Abby in terms of temperament. And he had the tech skills, too. They all felt keeping Buck and Ezra at Chris’ place was problematic because it was isolated enough to make it vulnerable, even if it had more room.

Ultimately, they decided to stay with Josiah, who had the room and was in town and could also accommodate Henri and Rafe. They also decided to keep Ezra’s status a secret as long as possible. He had a habit of dressing very formally, so could keep his throat band and wrists covered without arousing suspicion.

Ezra looked right at Chris, expression closed and said. “Though I will be capable of returning to work immediately, I presume you are aware that I will not be able to continue in my current capacity?”

Chris’ brows shot up in surprise. “Of course not, Ezra.”

“And you wish me to continue with the team?”

Frowning a little, Chris replied, “Why wouldn’t I want you on the team?”

Ezra just nodded and the subject seemed closed.

Eventually, Tony asked to talk to Chris privately and they wound up outside. He wanted to tell Chris to go easy on Ezra, but knew Ezra wouldn’t appreciate it. Instead, he just offered, “I don’t sense a bond on Josiah.”

“Hmm.” Chris rubbed his jaw, thinking. “He’s never been interested in mating, never attended a gathering that I know of, and I thought it might be that he felt a connection to someone already. Thanks for checking.”

“Before you go back in… I’m picking up something odd from JD. I’ve encountered it once already, and I’m pretty sure he’s on the cusp of emerging as a Beta.”

Chris’ eyebrows shot up. “Really? You can tell that?”

“I’m not one hundred percent sure, but that’s what he feels like. I think you’re going to have an all-dragon team soon. Should we tell him?”

Chris seemed to mull it over. “Not sure. On one hand, JD’s always wanted to be a dragon, so I hesitate to see him get his hopes up if you’re not sure. But he’s got a girl he’s just started getting’ serious about. Human, only enough blood to be dormant, and it could save him some grief if he ended it now; even though some Betas do make relationships with humans work. Let me run it by Buck. They’re close.”

Tony thought he’d be out of the discussion, but Chris had Buck come out to talk to them both.

Buck thought it over for a long time. “How much does he feel like a Beta to you?”

“A lot, actually. More so than the other person I met. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch that I’m right. This is all too new.”

“JD!” Buck stuck his head in and called out. “Get out here.”

Buck filled JD in, and the kid looked a little annoyed. “Stop funnin’ with me, Buck. It’s not amusing.” Chris gave JD a look, which caused JD to pale. “You’re serious? I mean I’ve been feeling kinda funny, but I didn’t think it was that. Could it be that? Is it too soon? Do I not feel far enough along? Maybe it’s nothing.”

Buck clamped a hand over JD’s mouth. “I’m sure it’s just bad Chinese, but let me look.” He checked behind JD’s ear, then barked out a laugh. “You have exactly three pre-scales. When did you start feelin’ funny?”

JD looked glazed over. “I, uh, my stomach started hurtin’ a little last night.”

Chris and Tony exchanged a look. What were the odds JD would start emerging the same night Vin and Ezra emerged? JD was totally overwhelmed, so Buck guided him back into the house.

“You think this is you?” Chris asked.

“No. I’m pretty sure it’s not me. I’m not sure what’s at play here.”

Jethro joined them on the front porch. “I heard everything. Who else was it that you felt this from?”

“Garcia. It was fainter somehow. It was so strong with JD, it was like being smacked in the face with it.”

“I’ll let Hotch know at some point. He can keep an eye on her. Let me know if you feel this with anyone else, okay?”

An hour later, the entire Denver contingent was preparing to leave. Vin and Ezra both expressed a bit of reluctance to leave Tony, though Vin was the only one who outright said it. He managed to survive hugs from Vin and Buck, a handshake from Ezra and slap on the back from Chris. All of them said thanks, though Ezra was oddly the most affected emotionally.

He knew he’d see Vin and Chris soon, but felt he’d see the rest soon as well. He slipped Ezra his card and asked him to keep in touch. He had a real sense of kinship with Ezra… there were few people he’d ever met that he understood so clearly.

After everyone was gone, Daniel cornered Tony to get some questions answered while the Alphas headed outside. A lot of Daniel’s questions Tony couldn’t answer. At least, not yet.

“I’m not sure,” Tony said to yet another question. “Listen, I think I should be able to answer these questions, but I feel like I’m sort of half-baked right now, and I don’t mean that in the same way Jack’s half baked.” Daniel laughed outright. “Whatever this Guardian deal is, it’s not done developing yet. Precious told me I’d need to learn how to spirit walk, so maybe there’s something there that will fill in these gaps for me.

“So, I’m not sure why Wyverns are mated to Drakes. I’m really not sure how reproduction used to be handled. I’m really, really not sure how old the species is. There is one thing I’ve had a kind of building sense of, and it was triggered by something Precious said, and that’s the difference between Alphas and Betas.”

Daniel leaned forward eagerly. “That would be tremendous. Anthropologists have been trying to determine that since the beginning of it as a formalized field of study. Oh! Whatever it is, you need to share it with Blair, too. Let’s get him on the phone.” He made the call on the secure satellite system and the phone was answered fairly quickly by Richard, who got Blair on the phone in short order.

Hey Daniel, hey Tony. What’s up?”

“Tony was just about to tell me the difference between Alphas and Betas, other than what we already know, but I knew you wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Are you kidding me? Man, that’s like… wow. Okay. I’m all ears.” Tony could practically feel Blair vibrating with excitement.

“Uh, I’m not sure it’s as much as you’re hoping for. I think there didn’t use to be a difference, I think all Drakes started as what we would call ‘Beta’, but something happened to cause the need for a sort of, um…” Tony trailed off trying to find the right word. “Sort of a warrior caste. I have a sense the Wyverns were directly involved in whatever that was. Anyway, I think the Drake went through a kind of emergence process when they were called to be an Alpha. I guess it was the very first type of emergence. They got bigger, their scales darkened, sometimes changed colors altogether, etcetera.” Tony had pictures in his head, but he was having a hard time stringing it all together.

Oh wow, Tony,” Blair breathed. “Man, that’s incredible. You remember what Precious said about warrior Drakes and sentinels?”

Daniel was actively taking notes.

“Yes! The color an Alpha became had a direct connection to their role in the caste. And I’m pretty sure that was an influence of the Wyverns, who were classified by color to begin with. I don’t think the Drakes had any distinction before. I think they were just brightly colored dragons.”

Daniel looked up. “What do the colors mean?’

“Well, Precious said that dark blue were sentinels, which I think was like a watchman. From what Blair has told me, Jim has always had ridiculously sharp senses and they’re even better after the bonding. I think that a Wing wouldn’t need many sentinels, so I’d guess it’s a fairly uncommon color?”

Yes,” Blair chimed in. “I should check in with Jeremy and see how his senses are since bonding. Anyway, green is most common.”

“Hunters,” Tony suddenly got a picture. “Though that might not be the best word. Stealthy, good at reconnaissance, that kind of thing. The dark green would have nearly been camouflage. I’m not sure how that evolved into what we have today.”

Dark brown?” Blair asked.

“Strategists, planners, something along those lines. Though I’m pretty sure they were all fighters and protectors, I think there were specialties. Again, not sure how that translates to today.”

I remember Precious said black were warrior Drakes. What do you think that means in context, Tony?” Blair prompted

Tony had to consider for a couple seconds. “I think that meant fiercest fighters. Front line, most aggressive, biggest, that kind of thing.”

Daniel was making more notes than Tony was speaking words, so he figured there were questions and theories being noted.

I don’t think you’ve seen these yet, Tony, but the rarest color is a really deep red. Looks nearly black. Any sense of that?”

Tony immediately got a picture, but took a minute to interpret it. “I think that’s like a subset of the black Drakes. I want to call them the fire masters? I’m not sure about that. It’s like they had abilities with fire beyond a normal dragon.”

Man, this is so great,” Blair enthused. “Give me a sec… I’m making notes. You’ve kind of alluded to this, but it seems gifts go along with these roles?”

“Hmm. Yes, some of them are clearer to me than others. Warrior Drakes, including the red ones, would have an enhanced danger sense. Kind of where LJ’s gut comes from, I think, though LJ has something extra there. Plus the red ones have the advanced fire… whatever that means. The sentinels had ridiculous senses, the picture in my head is of a blue Alpha hearing something that was what I think of as miles away.”

Miles? Really? Wow, Jim and I are so working on that! Anything on green or brown?”

Tony considered for several seconds. “I can’t really interpret it. I see dragons doing things in my head, like strategizing or spying on another Wing, or a different type of dragon, but I can’t tell you what that translates to as far as gifts.”

Daniel looked up. “We could probably infer it. Like the brown dragons have a clarity of thought or sight that makes them particularly good at planning. Or perhaps it’s more like a sixth sense telling them which path to take. If we think through our most recent planning session, Rossi was the best at cutting through the crap to clear, concise ideas. We’ll need to talk to a bunch of Alphas to get an idea of what’s going on.”

Tony shook his head. “No. I am not signing up for that.”

Blair laughed. “No worries, Tony. Figuring this stuff out and documenting it is right up my and Daniel’s alley. We’ll have fun with this. How do you think mating affects the abilities?”

“I think it amplifies them, grounds them, and perhaps even evolves them. For instance, Blair, I think your gift will affect Jim to some degree. Even if he’s not comfortable with it, I think he’ll develop an additional sense around spirit activity… like he might be able to feel if you’re being spied on, or something like that.”

Wow, that’s something to think about. Once we have others who can spirit walk, I’ll have to test that out and see how it affects Jim. Hey, what about Daniel? I assume you’ve figured out if you have a gift. I know you’ve always thought you didn’t, but I’m totally not buying that.”

Daniel looked up over Tony’s shoulder and raised a brow. Tony looked behind him to find Jack and Jethro, who had apparently been there for a bit.

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Jack nodded, so Daniel explained what they’d worked out about Daniel’s ability.

Whoa, man, that’s huge, Daniel,” Blair nearly exploded. “When you get that developed, it’s going to be… wow.”

Daniel looked a little more skeptical. “I can see that it would be useful, but a little less necessary in the age of cell phones and computers.”

No. I think it’s going to be bigger than that. We have to get you trained up and see what this can do. Oh! I have news for you guys. Richard, Spence and I shifted together and found that whatever this bond thing between Wyverns, it’s not dependent on Tony.”

Tony nearly sagged with relief. At least that didn’t have anything to do with him.

Blair continued. “I have a hunch there’s something to these bonds, Spence said he feels even more settled. So, they’re supposed to do something. Tony do you have any ideas?”

Before Tony could reply, Jack made a frantic gesture. “If you guys are starting the love-in, I’m going to have a beer.”

Jethro flashed Tony a quick smile, then followed Jack.

Daniel shook his head at Jack’s departing back, but smiled somewhat fondly.

Tony turned his attention back to Blair. “My hunch is you’re right, but I don’t have a sense of it yet. Add it to the list of things to ask Precious.”

They continued talking a few more minutes, then Tony remembered Blair wanted to talk to him about something. “Hey Blair, what did you need to talk to me about?”

There was silence for a moment. “I’m a little concerned about Abby. I think she’s figuring out that it may be a while before you and Gibbs are back at NCIS, if at all and she’s a little down.”

Tony jerked as if physically struck, and felt his heart start to race. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. He hadn’t considered that he might wind up losing his job anyway. He’d wrapped so much of his identity up in his career, he wasn’t sure what to think about it not being there.

Jethro was suddenly in front of him, hands framing Tony’s face. “I felt you react to that. We still need to sort this out, Tony. Don’t borrow trouble.”

Tony tried to pull away, but Jethro wasn’t having it. “I’m fine… I’m fine. Just, I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” He needed to get out of this situation. Like now. He needed time to think.

God, Tony, I’m sorry,” Blair said.

“Blair,” Jethro said, still looking straight at Tony, “I’ll talk to Abby when we get back.”

Yeah, of course.” There was a pause. “Look, the reason I brought it up at all is because Jeremy’s talking about recruiting her to do scientific research for the council. No pressure, but think about it for when you can talk to her.”

Tony was at his limit, and really needed some time to think, but couldn’t seem to get away from his Alpha.

“Got it. We’ll talk to you later.” Jethro pulled Tony to his feet and hustled him back to the guest bedroom.

Once the door was closed, Jethro pressed him against the door, then whispered, “I’m sorry.” Why in the world was Jethro breaking a rule? A second later, hands closed over his wrists and he felt a sudden calm come over him.

His muscles felt leaden and as the adrenaline receded, he felt a lassitude sweep over him. He felt himself moved to the fold-out and stripped out of his clothes, down to his boxers, then he was lying in Jethro’s arms.

“Why did you do that?” he whispered, not liking having his emotions hijacked that way.

Jethro ran gentle fingers through Tony’s hair, briefly caressed his spine scales then repeated the process over and over. “You were on the edge of a panic attack. It’s been too much too fast. You’re constantly at the edge of overwhelm, and that pushed you too far. We have time before Jack’s Alphas arrive. Just rest for now, and forget about everything.”

Tony felt like they needed to talk this out, but he found himself falling asleep.

– – – –

Chapter Twenty-three

Tony woke to the same sensation he went to sleep with; Jethro stroking his hair. “How long have I been asleep?”

The hand stilled briefly. “Only about fifteen minutes.”

“I don’t like that you did that,” Tony whispered.

“I know.”

“You’d do it again, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes.” Jethro rolled them so he was braced above Tony, looking into his eyes. “I don’t have the answers to all of this, but there must be a reason Alphas can do that. I felt like a switch flipped and I had to help you.”

Tony frowned. If it was part instinct, he guessed he could be grateful Jethro had made it to the bedroom before going all Alpha on him. It still felt like emotional manipulation, and he really didn’t care for it.

It wasn’t the first time in his life he’d freaked out, not even the first time he’d freaked out around Gibbs, but he’d always been able to hide his emotions before. He suddenly felt raw and exposed.

“What’s going through your head?” Jethro asked stroking a thumb along Tony’s cheekbone.

“Just… I’m trying to adjust to you knowing what I’m feeling all the time,” Tony replied, shrugging one shoulder.

Jethro watched him closely for several seconds before softly asking, “Or is it that you can’t use your masks with me?”

Forcing down the discomfort, Tony nodded jerkily.

Pressing a kiss to Tony’s temple, Jethro murmured, “I won’t pretend to be sorry, because I don’t want you hiding from me.” His lips touched Tony’s in a barely there caress. “Nothing is more important to me than you. If this is too much, and you need to stop for a while, we’ll stop. Got it?”

“Yeah.” Tony realized he’d never been first with anyone before. He thought he’d been when he was engaged back in Baltimore, but that had been proven false. But he could feel that he was first with Jethro. Knowing that his needs would matter made all the difference in his ability to endure this mess. He pulled his mate down for several slow, drugging kisses.

They wound up in their prior position, with Tony wrapped around Jethro, absently stroking his chest. “What are we going to do about NCIS?” His job had been the center of his world for a long time, it was difficult to contemplate losing it.

“We don’t have to do this now, Tony.”

“I know, but I want to have some idea of what’s going on. I should have put the pieces together that we can’t go back right away.” He noticed something odd from Jethro. “You’re starting to think we won’t go back at all?”

A reassuring hand stroked up and down his spine. His scales were sensitive, but the touch that would normally be arousing, was instead very soothing. “I don’t know. For right now, I’m recommending to Vance that he promote Connelly to the head of his existing team, and get Weaver to take over MCRT. We’ll be on leave until we determine what we’re doing.”

“What about Ziva and Tim?”

He felt something angry from Jethro. “Tim will be fine. He’ll either work for Weaver or go to Cyber. Ziva…” Jethro trailed off. “I’m not sure she’s going to make it at NCIS.”

Tony stilled, feeling Jethro’s anger. “What happened?”

“I confronted her and McGee about the insubordination while I was gone. McGee is trying to separate his head from his ass, but Ziva went too far in expressing her opinions on some things.”

“Namely me?”

“Yes. She’s been on administrative leave since that day. I’ve spoken to her once. The time off didn’t seem to be helping.”

“Let me guess, she was angry about my emergence?” Tony ventured, though he was almost a hundred percent sure.

“Mm.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“I need to give Vance a recommendation about disciplinary action. I’d handle things my way if I were there, but as things stand, he’ll have final say. In her case, the action could range from extending her probationary period and a permanent note in her file, or she could fail her probation and be dismissed.”

“Jesus.” Tony sat up, scrubbing his hands over his face. “When we get back, unless we need to urgently jet off somewhere, I want to talk to her.”

Jethro moved to face him. “That’s not a good idea.”

Tony lifted a hand in a stop gesture. “LJ, I put my life on the line to save her, I’m not just writing her off without talking to her.” Something occurred to him. “The day we bonded, I got an email from her, but I never got around to reading it.” He deliberately didn’t dwell on the email from his father that he hadn’t read either. He got off the fold-out and grabbed his laptop bag.

“Tony, don’t. It’s not going to be good.”

He met Jethro’s eyes while the laptop booted. “Since I’m imagining the worst, I might as well know.” Jethro said nothing else while Tony got set up. He had a Wi-Fi hotspot McGee had setup for him, so didn’t have to chase Daniel down for the password. The thought gave him a pang. He’d been working with McGee for nearly six years… this wasn’t going to be easy.

He still only had one email from Ziva. Taking a steadying breath, he opened the message. It was short.


You will make a mockery of dragons, the way you have made a mockery of a Special Agent.

You do not deserve it.

Tony blinked at the screen. Yeah, he could have done without reading that.

Jethro pulled the laptop from his nerveless fingers, swearing colorfully after reading the terse message. With little regard for the laptop, Jethro tossed it to the side and it landed on a pillow. He lifted his hands and framed Tony’s face. “Do not pay any attention to that bullshit.”

Closing his eyes, Tony took a deep breath. “She’s been so angry. It’s like she’d rather I died.”

Stop it!” Jethro sighed and gentled his touch and his voice. “Stop, Tony, just stop. It has nothing to do with you. She has a lot to be angry about, and none of it has to do with you. You’re just a convenient target.”

“I just don’t understand,” he said with a hint of desperation.

Jethro stroked his thumbs over Tony’s cheekbones. “Ziva created the situation that led to Michael’s death. I left her in Israel. Her father set her up with Michael, then left her in Somalia. She can’t face being mad at the three people who actually deserve it.”

“Why in the world would she deserve to be angry with you? I thought she chose to stay in Israel,” Tonty asked, completely mystified.

Jethro sighed, his hands dropping to Tony’s shoulders. “Ziva wanted you off the team. I said no. She could have returned and moved to another team, she chose to stay behind.” Before Tony could say anything, Jethro continued. “But I did do what she’s angry about, whether it’s fair or not is irrelevant. The point is that you have nothing to do with it.”

Tony thought about it for several seconds. It was like a punch to the gut that Ziva had tried to get him off the team, but he was so pathetically grateful that Jethro had chosen him.

Jethro gave him a little shake. “There’s nothing you can do.”

Shaking his head, Tony replied. “I’ll try to let it go, but we’ve been through too much for me to just end it like this. I need to try to talk to her.” Before Jethro could object, Tony added, “You can be there, bring whatever backup you want, but I want to talk to her.”

With obvious reluctance, Jethro gave in. “All right. We’ll make it happen.”

Tony pulled away and reached for his laptop again. “Let me pop off an email to McGee. There’s like ten from him. I have no idea what’s going on.” After a few minutes of mostly amusement at McGee’s rambles, Tony typed off a quick response.


McGoo,

Stop with the freak out over me emerging and choosing Gibbs. Life as we know it is not over.

You explained in ridiculous detail why you’ve been supporting the Ziva madness… What in the world makes you think I didn’t already know why? Why the hell do you think I was putting up with it? Not because I like abuse! But neither of us did her a favor by letting her spin so far out of control.

I have no clue if she’s coming back to the team. It’s not my call. The only thing I know is that I’m not putting up with the shit anymore.

I hear you’re working with Weaver… he’s a good agent. Make sure you’re a good agent, too, because I know you can be.

You’re a good man, Tim. Don’t lose sight of that.

See you when I see you,

-Tony

He saw that he now had three emails from his father, but closed his laptop before he could be tempted to read them.

“What was that?” Jethro asked from where he was reclining at the head of the bed.

“What?” Tony asked, deliberately obtuse.

“You felt something really negative right before you closed your laptop.”

Feeling a little chilled, Tony got up to pull his clothes on.

“Tony?”

“Jesus!” Tony rubbed his forehead. “My dad has sent me several emails.”

“Did you read them?”

“No.”

“Why?”

Tony sighed, then sat on the edge of the fold-out. “Jethro… I haven’t heard from my dad in nearly two decades, other than some occasional wildly inappropriate Christmas gift actually sent by the stepmom du jour. The first time since I was in college that he reaches out is the day my emergence hit the news. Either he’s telling me off for becoming a dragon in our pristinely dragon-free family, insinuating I’m not his actual son, or he actually wants to see me. Make me his show-child again.”

Jethro slipped across the bed and settled shoulder to shoulder with Tony. “You can just delete them.”

“Yeah. I know. I think I’d rather not know than it be the last thing.” Tony shook his head, not sure how to articulate it.

“What do you need, Tony?”

“How much time do we have before Jack’s Alphas arrive?”

Jethro consulted his watch. “Only about fifteen.”

“Hmm. When we’re done with whatever’s happening tonight, can we just be together for a bit? No Guardian stuff? Oh! Will you watch a movie with me? I promise to pick something I think you’d like,” Tony asked eagerly.

Chuckling, Jethro nodded. “Sure, Tony.”

Tony bounced a little and grabbed the laptop again, scrolling through the few dozen he had ripped to pick something Jethro would like. He had almost decided when he heard the muffled sound of the doorbell ringing.

Three of the six were already there. Tony figured they must have driven together. Since they were unmated, and Tony was very newly mated, he couldn’t shake their hands, which he still thought was ridiculous. They were all staring in confusion at Tony and Daniel’s necks.

Jack made a vague gesture between the two. “I’ll explain the neck candy when we have a full house. Make yourselves comfortable. Or feel free to stand around awkwardly.”

Two more arrived, followed very shortly by the last Alpha. The last one had been at his meet n’ greet, and Tony belatedly realized some of the others had probably been on the list that he never got around to meeting.

He wasn’t sure he could trust his intuition with this group, because what he was getting didn’t make much sense. So he made a point to talk to each one of them individually. The youngest of the group, a Lieutenant by the name of Simmons, seemed very uncomfortable talking to Tony.

Jack came up to them and patted Simmons firmly on the back. “Suck it up, Lieutenant, he won’t bite.” He fixed his gaze on Tony. “Well? You done sniffing my Alphas?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yes, Jack.”

“Well?” Jack prompted impatiently. “Any of ‘em?”

“Yes.” Tony noticed the Alphas shift uncomfortably.

“Excellent!” Jack rubbed his hands together. “Who?”

Tony crossed his arms a little defensively. “All of them.”

Jack made a weird choked noise. “What?”

“Well, I can’t make much sense of it either. I probably met 150 Alphas this past weekend and only noticed three. You bring me six and it’s one hundred percent? One of them I met over the weekend, and didn’t feel it. Believe me, I’m doubting my ability here.”

Jethro put a hand on his arm. “You weren’t mated then, Tony. You could be more sensitive now.”

But Jack was still staring at him. “All of them?”

Tony threw his hands up and shook his head. He really didn’t know. His dragon sense said yes.

“Sir,” the only Colonel in the group, named Mitchell, stepped forward, “can we know what this is about?”

Everyone was looking at Tony again, but Tony turned to Daniel. “Do you mind? I’m getting burned out on the spiel.”

Daniel did a thorough job of explaining. Very thorough. Maybe Tony should have done it, because he would have made it shorter. He couched the whole thing as Tony’s gift, the way some Omegas had empathy, and left out the whole Guardian bit.

Six shocked Alphas stared at Tony. Mitchell finally managed, “You’re really saying you think each of us already has an Omega?”

Tony shrugged. “That’s what I’m getting. But I could be wrong. Daniel told you what the symptoms are. If you can’t think of anyone who fits the bill, then I’m wrong.”

“No… I knew who you were talking about immediately. He’s the new anthropologist on my team, but I’ve known him for years.” And Tony really wasn’t going to think about why a deep space monitoring project needed anthropologists and archaeologists. Really, he wasn’t.

Each of the other five chimed in that they too knew exactly who Daniel had been talking about.

“So, now what?” Tony asked. No one had been prepared for six.

There was brief discussion about not taking any action right away, but all six Alphas got tense. He guessed it was sort of like offering a thirsty man a cup of water that he could have a few days from now.

In the end, Daniel suggested that he get together with the six men in question tomorrow morning and explain the situation and get their reactions. Based on their responses, Daniel would figure out the logistics since Tony couldn’t stay in Colorado for very long.

Jack had to make it an order that none of the Alphas discuss this with the six potentials beforehand. Tony couldn’t quite wrap his head around the logistical aspects, so was happy to leave it with Daniel.

Jethro wrapped an arm around Tony and steered him from the room. Tony was kind of shocked at the abrupt departure, but called back, “Uh, bye! Nice to meet you all!”

Once they were in their room, he glared at his mate. “That was kind of rude.”

“Still a bastard, Tony. And I’ll happily use it if it gets you a much-needed break. I promised you no more dragon stuff than necessary tonight.”

A smile slowly formed and Tony impulsively hugged his Alpha. “Thanks. But maybe after the movie there’s one more dragon thing we could do?”

Jethro raised a brow questioningly.

“Maybe we could review those dragon mating rituals?”

He found himself tumbled back on the bed, mouth claimed in a bruising kiss. They wound up making out for a long while, though Jethro never let it escalate too far, both aware that there was a houseful of people.

Jethro finally broke away, and Tony was left gasping for breath, acutely aware of his arousal in the form of his erection and the slippery sensation between his ass cheeks. And self-lubrication was still weirdness, but he just wasn’t gonna think about it. He was getting really good at his internal Scarlett O’Hara impersonation.

“Movie, Tony?”

“My brain no longer works, Jethro.” But he rolled to seated position and set up the laptop and travel speakers. “We’ll try this one, but if you hate it, I have lots of other choices.”

“What kind is it?”

“Western parody.”

Jethro looked really skeptical, but settled down next to Tony with the laptop on a pillow to watch Rustlers’ Rhapsody. When the movie got his mate to chuckle a couple times, Tony considered it a win.

After the movie was over, Tony stretched his hearing and could still hear the murmur of voices. “The Alphas still here?”

“No. Sounds like there was some impatience and three of the Wyvern potentials were called over. They’re talking to Daniel…” Jethro trailed off leaving something unsaid.

Tony could easily fill in the gap. “But they’re not fully sure if they truly are Wyverns and need me to confirm. Well, we forgot that in the plan for tomorrow. Let’s get out there. Besides, I’m hungry and we need to figure out dinner.”

“Tony, no one is going to think less of you if you want to take a night off.”

“It’s fine, LJ. It’s just shaking three hands.” He jumped to his feet, and pulled Jethro up impatiently. “And then food.”

The three men definitely were, and Tony talked with them and Daniel while Jethro and Jack went to deal with food. Two men were scientists, while the third was a Lieutenant specializing in explosive ordinance. All three men were set on emerging, but that led to logistical issues that made Tony’s head hurt. He excused himself to join Jethro and Jack and found them making dinner.

Jack made vague gestures toward some vegetables on the counter and said, “Salad.” Tony interpreted that as a directive for him to make something edible from the greenery.

After the baby Wyverns had left and dinner finished, Jethro excused them early and hauled Tony back to their room. Soon he was lying naked under his Alpha, being practically devoured.

Jethro pinned Tony’s wrists to the bed, licking at sensitive throat scales. “You’re going to have to be quiet,” he whispered. “Can you do that?”

Tony groaned softly, fighting frustration, but nodded. His mate was in a near frenzy and his impatience was winding Tony up as well. Tony wrapped his legs around Jethro’s waist. They’d no doubt come together more than once, but Tony suddenly felt desperate and needed this first time now.

A hand was clamped over his mouth a second before he was entered roughly, and he screamed. Then the hand was gone and he was being held down again. They strained against one another, racing to reach climax. The orgasm was as fast and brutal as their coupling, leaving both gasping for breath and dripping sweat.

Jethro managed to stay in Tony until he was fully hard again, then began moving slowly, licking at Tony’s throat scales, causing Tony to tremble and whimper. His Alpha adjusted Tony’s legs over his shoulder, opening Tony wider, making the penetration deeper. Unable to move, Tony groaned, head arched back, offering up his throat.

His mate was determined and patient and kept him on edge for over an hour. By the end, Tony’s wrists were pinned with one of Jethro’s hands, and the other was over his mouth, muffling the pleas. After Jethro finally relented and let him come, Tony surrendered to sleep almost instantly.

The next morning came way earlier than Tony would have liked, though Jack and Daniel had already left, leaving a note that they’d be in touch on the secure phone with an update later in the morning. Tony realized it was Thursday. A full week had passed since his life became insane!

Jack was a man after his own heart and had Cap’n Crunch cereal. Jethro just shook his head in exasperation at Tony’s breakfast choice. After eating, Jethro hustled Tony outside to spend some time shifted. There were Marines still present but they were maintaining a wider perimeter, giving the two dragons plenty of space.

Jethro seemed content to just sit there melting the snow, but Tony wasn’t having it. He wanted play time, so leapt onto his Alpha. They wrestled around for a while, Jethro growling a little when Tony got too rambunctious or ventured too far from the house. Tony found himself hissing a few times when Jethro did something he didn’t like. It surprised him a bit how much more instinctual his behavior was in his shifted form.

Abruptly, Jethro shifted back and called him to come inside, the phone was ringing. It was Daniel.

Morning, Tony, Jethro. I wanted to let you know that I’ve finished speaking with all six and they want to proceed, assuming the last three pass the Tony test. They’d also like to go the speedier route, if you’re agreeable.”

“I’m not sure how you’d handle the logistics, Daniel, but if you can work it out, and we can do it soon, I don’t mind. Won’t Jack care if he has twelve people out of rotation for a week at one time?”

I think Jack considers it a fair trade-off to get six pairs up so fast. We’ll sort out the issues and I’ll call you back.”

Figuring he had some time, Tony made a call to Blair. Vin and Chris had arrived the night before and Blair felt he and Vin were making good progress together. Then he talked to Abby for a few minutes. She babbled at him about new things they were finding and the code they’d written and, and, and… He’d likely never understand what she was talking about when she really got going.

Daniel called back right after lunch. “Okay, it’s complicated but we’re going to get started soon. We’ll have someone there to pick you up at three o’clock. It will be two of the men you met last night, not sure which two yet. Bring a bag, not sure how long this will take.”

Tony was kind of astonished, but just agreed. “Hey Daniel, be sure they know that unless one winds up a spirit master, which would enable me to summon the spirit guide, the spirit dragon summoning can’t happen until Vin gets back.”

Got it. I’ll let them know. I think as long as the bonding is done, they can wait a bit for the last piece. We’ll see you soon.”

After they had everything cleaned up and their bags packed, they still had almost an hour. Tony shoved Jethro down onto the bed. He stood between his mate’s legs, then dropped to his knees. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to do…” Jethro’s pupils dilated as Tony freed his Alpha’s thick cock. He hadn’t blown anyone since college, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t something you forgot how to do.

Half an hour later, Jethro pulled Tony up onto bed and hungrily claimed his mouth. “You’re incredible,” Jethro murmured against Tony’s ear as he reached into Tony’s pants.

They were barely able to get themselves back together in time to be ready for their ride. They were taken to a riverside inn outside the city. There were a few military vehicles, but mostly civilian cars. Behind the inn were a bunch of cabins next to the river. Tony counted maybe ten of them.

Daniel was in one, but no Jack. “There’s some issues at the mountain. Jack’s going to join us later. So, here’s the plan. The inn is barely occupied this time of year, and the cabins are usually closed in winter. It didn’t take much to move the six people staying here elsewhere. Skipping a lot of really boring details, we have the place to ourselves until tomorrow. Most of the civilian vehicles belong to the Betas who are going to be taking care of security.”

“How many Betas?” Jethro asked.

“There are fifty-three in Jack’s command, and we have eighteen here now, and twenty that will relieve them later. We know the mating is going to happen here, but we’ve talked to everyone and they know to be prepared to move on-base as soon as they can. My hope is that we’ll be done and have the new pairs back at the mountain before it’s too late so we don’t have to sleep out here.”

Daniel gave them an overview of the site. There was a large area between the cabins and the trees, which was probably used for picnics, where the shifting would occur. Tony and Jethro’s cabin was closest to that spot since Tony would have to attend every emergence. He also had a stack of extra blankets, so the new Wyverns could be covered up afterward. Each Alpha had been assigned their own cabin. However, getting them from the emergence ground to their cabin could be a chore.

Tony turned to Jethro. “How’s your gut doing with this?”

He nodded cautiously. “I think we’re good.” He looked to Daniel. “Make sure the men on guard duty stay focused on security and keeping humans away. This is something even most dragons will never see. I don’t want people getting distracted by the novelty of it and fail to notice someone with a camera.” Jethro left with a couple of the Alphas to make sure everyone knew to stay sharp.

After a few more minutes, Daniel asked, “Any reason not to get started?”

“Nope. Who’s first?” Tony replied, eager to get going.

“I have the potentials in my cabin, let’s just have you meet the last three, and then we can decide.”

All six men were definitely Wyverns. Two were built more like Tony and Daniel, while the other four were more the ‘stereotype’. Impulsively Tony said, “Why don’t you all come watch the first time. I can feel the nerves pouring off some of you, and it might help.”

Once everyone was assembled in front of Tony and Jethro’s cabin, he turned to the baby Wyvs. “Here’s what’s going to happen… I’ll shift, you need to make eye contact with my dragon, then touch me. Keep eye contact, otherwise, I’ll have to shift back to reestablish it. You’ll know when it’s okay to look away, you’ll probably be cold, just press up against me and I’ll keep you warm for the few minutes this will take. Questions?”

The most nervous-feeling man asked, “This will really only take minutes?”

“Yep. Okay, I’m going out. Remember to leave behind anything you care about.” Daniel had briefed them all well, because none were surprised by that.

Everything went off exactly like with Vin and Ezra. The champagne pink Wyvern selected the Alpha they were expecting. While the new pair were doing their dragon-wrestling-thing, Tony headed back toward the others.

“Daniel, let’s have you start the next one. My hunch is that it needs to be me, but we haven’t exactly tested it yet.”

“Sure, Tony.”

The rest of the afternoon and into evening felt like pure chaos. It was a non-stop shuffle that never seemed to fall into a predictable rhythm. Daniel was not able to facilitate the emergence, but Tony thought it might still be worth trying with Blair. Jack showed up around 1830 hours. He’d called in extra backup when another two black SUVs were spotted near the inn.

All told, it was nearly midnight before they were able to get the last pair off in a vehicle to be taken back to the base. The final tally was three peach, one champagne pink, one blue and one green. The blue Wyvern had only seven bands, so Tony couldn’t summon his spirit dragon. But once Vin was back, he could do it and they’d have a spirit walker in the mountain to take care of everyone else. He found it interesting that the blue Wyvern had chosen Colonel Mitchell, who was dark blue. So a pair here that mirrored Jim and Blair. Another sentinel Drake with a spirit walker.

Another oddity was that all six had either seven or nine bands, well, eight and ten if you counted their throat bands. Blair had mentioned to him previously that the average was four, so the new Wyverns were all blowing the curve. He’d have to remember to discuss it with Daniel and Blair to see if they had any theories.

It was nearly one before they were back at Jack and Daniel’s, and Tony was glad they hadn’t had to stay in the cabin. While it was private, it was much colder than Tony liked. Everyone’s stamina had held up really well because of the weird energy that the bonding put off.

Daniel laid a hand on Tony’s arm before they could disappear into their room. “That was insane tonight, but completely incredible. Thanks.”

“This is definitely one of the better parts of my new job,” Tony replied with a grin.

Jack suddenly snapped his fingers. “Forgot to tell you… one of the base nurses and a tech is going to be here at 0700 to get you Lojack’d.”

“What if we’d still been at the inn?”

“Then they’d have come there. It’s a perk of the stars… one I actually like.”

Tony chuckled as Jethro hauled him off to bed. Within half an hour he was pressed up against his mate, sleep tugging at him.

He was woken suddenly by Jethro getting up and pulling on pants.

“What’s going on?” Tony asked groggily, looking at the clock. It was only 0400.

“That secure phone thing is ringing.”

That got Tony moving, and he quickly pulled on his jeans. Only someone in DC would be calling, and it must be urgent at this hour.

Jack and Daniel were both ahead of them a bit. Jack answered the phone by saying, “It never pays to wake a General at this hour.” He listened for a moment, and Tony thought he could faintly hear Abby, then replied, “Yeah, he’s here. Of course he’s here. Where else would he be at 0400? Hold on, I’ll put it on speaker.” Jack stared down at the equipment. “Danny, put this on speaker.” Looking at Tony, he said, “It’s for you,” as he plopped on the couch.

As soon as the speaker engaged, Abby said, “Tony?” She sounded tense.

“Hey, Abbs. LJ and Daniel are here, too. What’s wrong?”

Penny and I – and only I get to call her that so don’t even think about it – we were letting some searches run last night, and I got up to check them this morning, and it’s bad news, and I felt you needed to know right away, and I wasn’t thinking too much about the time difference, and it could probably wait a couple hours, but not much more, and–”

“Abbs!” Jethro barked. “Focus. Just tell us what you found.”

He could hear her take a few deep breaths. “Hey, Gibbs. It’s just… Tony, we’re trying to get a picture of everyone Sewell has been in touch with. I mean not everyone he talks to is going to be bad, but it helps us narrow some things down and–”

“Abby,” Gibbs warned again with a note of a growl.

Sorry, Gibbs, sorry. I, um, I…

There was a rustling sound, then Jim’s voice came over the line. “It’s Jim. I think Abby needs a breather. Listen, Tony, I’ll be direct… Your father has been in fairly frequent contact with Sewell over the last six days. I wish I could tell you it could be innocent, but so far we haven’t seen any indication of a connection between them prior to when your emergence hit the news.

Tony felt like he’d been sucker punched.

Jim continued. “I’m sending the plane back so it’s there when you’re ready to return.”

Jethro was shaking his head, though Jim couldn’t see it. “I don’t think so Jim. I think we should catch military transport if at all possible. We’ll call you later in the morning and let you know when we’ll be back. If there’s nothing else, we’re going to sign off for now. Tell Abby calling was the right thing.”

Before anyone could say anything, Jethro pulled Tony to his feet and led him back to the bedroom. Tony tried to think, but all he could manage to do was pace and try not to explode. Jethro let him, saying nothing, though Tony could tell he wanted to intervene.

He didn’t know how to react, and the more he struggled, the more the storm inside built. Finally, Tony couldn’t take the emotional chaos inside and held his wrists out to Jethro. “Please.”

Jethro reached and covered the wrist scales with his hands. The calm was such a blessed relief, Tony’s knees almost buckled. Jethro got him back into bed, and Tony rolled on his side, facing his Alpha, holding out his wrists. “Please don’t let go. I can’t…” he trailed off not sure how to say everything he couldn’t deal with. It was just too much.

Warm hands closed around his wrists again, keeping Tony’s hands pressed between their bodies. “Go to sleep, Tony. I got you.”

– – – –

Chapter Twenty-four

Gibbs settled himself a little more comfortably in his seat, pretending to read. In reality, he was worrying about his mate. Tony had been quiet and compliant all day.

After sleeping poorly, unless Gibbs was holding his wrists, Tony hadn’t fussed about the pain of getting that tracker placed in his right thigh. He had quietly said goodbye to Jack and Daniel, then said nothing about having to take military transport back to DC, and Tony hated priority rides.

Worse, Tony felt like almost nothing. Like he was shrouded in a blanket of apathy. And Gibbs didn’t like that at all.

There hadn’t been an opportunity to really talk; first the tracker, then a hasty departure to catch a C-130 headed for Andrews. They had nearly four hours in the air, but it was noisy and there was no privacy. He was determined to get his mate alone as soon as possible. Periodically, Gibbs felt some emotion rise up in Tony, but it was locked down so fast, he couldn’t get a name for it. He just knew that it was really negative.

Beside him, Tony shifted, selecting a new track on his pod thingy. Gibbs could easily hear the music, but didn’t know anything about the singer, just that it was moody and sad. He reached out and laid his hand over Tony’s. His mate was still for several seconds before turning his hand over and threading his fingers with Gibbs’.

He squeezed Tony’s hand. Whatever it took, they’d get through this.

They landed at Andrews an hour later at 1600 local time. Rossi and Larabee were waiting with a large black SUV, the back windows nearly black. After they’d loaded the bags, Larabee took the passenger seat, Rossi driving, and he and Tony climbed in back. He wanted to pull Tony close, but his mate was sitting stiffly, staring out the window.

Instead of starting the car, Rossi turned in his seat, contemplating Tony for several seconds. When Tony finally looked around and noticed everyone looking at him, Rossi said, “You know, I never wanted kids… wasn’t in my plan. But if I’d had one, I’d have wanted one like you. Your father is a fucking idiot, seems like he was before you were ever in the picture. So don’t take this crap on yourself, kiddo.” With that, he turned and started the car.

Gibbs felt a crack in Tony’s emotional blackout. There was an intense sense of grief, betrayal and worthlessness. But the last seemed to be dying as quickly as it was unleashed and Gibbs was insanely grateful to Rossi for knowing what to say. Finally Tony seemed to settle into a sense of sadness and longing.

Tony didn’t resist when Gibbs wrapped an arm around him and pulled him closer. He even relaxed into his mate. Progress.

As they were pulling into the drive at Rossi’s house, Chris remarked, “Jeremy and Richard, Jim and Blair checked into a hotel about ten minutes from here, but everyone is here most of the day. It’s a full house right now.”

Gibbs nodded, but Tony didn’t react, though he could feel a sense of dread from Tony. Practically as soon as the car stopped, Abby was running out of the house – a little awkwardly in her platform boots – and practically jumped on Tony the minute he was out of the car. Gibbs knew this wasn’t what Tony needed, so he carefully pried Abby off, then gave her his own hug.

Inside it was a little bit of madness; greetings, requests to sync up, and information coming at them at a dizzying rate. After a chaotic couple minutes, Gibbs yelled for everyone’s attention. “I need to talk to Tony, so everything will need to wait a bit.”

“You’re in the same room as before,” Rossi said from near the kitchen. “We put some sound generators in each room and, when they’re on, everyone’s trying to not hear around them.”

Blair piped up. “We did some checks and found the one called ‘brown noise’ is actually harder to hear around, but more soothing to the Alpha’s senses. But use the one that is best for you.”

Gibbs nodded his thanks, herding Tony toward the stairs with their bags.

In their room, Tony busied himself with situating the bags and fiddling with the sound machine. “Is that better than white noise?” he asked with far too much interest in static considering the situation.

Not giving a damn about background noise, Gibbs pulled Tony around to face him. “What do you need, Tony?”

He could feel resistance in Tony before he almost visibly deflated. “I don’t know. I think… I think I need to finally read those damn emails, so I at least know.”

Gibbs would rather Tony not, but he knew once Tony got something in his head, there was very little chance of talking him out of it.

A few minutes later, Tony was reading his email, saying, “First email was my original worst case scenario… he goes on and on about how great this will be for us and he’d love for me to come to New York and meet his business partners. From the timestamp, it was written shortly after the news hit.”

There was a pause while Tony continued to read. “Then there are three more where he’s just getting increasingly more pushy about seeing me. In the last one he said he was coming to DC. That was sent this morning. I forwarded them all to Abby, but I don’t see anything particularly useful in them. Though, knowing Abby, she’s already hacked my father’s email and has read these.” He sighed and shut his laptop, setting it aside. He sat staring at the wall unmoving.

Deciding it was time to try something different, Gibbs said, “Get undressed,” then went about closing the blinds and turning off the lights.

Tony stared at him. “LJ, I’m not sure–”

Gibbs wondered if the name was a deliberate distancing or just a slip. “We won’t be having sex unless you’re in the mood, but I want you to get comfortable, and I doubt you can do that in jeans and a turtleneck.” It took a little bit of persuading, but finally Tony was undressed and in bed. Gibbs climbed in with him, and maneuvered Tony on his side, facing away. He wrapped himself around Tony, arm coming around his waist.

After long minutes of silence, Tony hesitantly said, “What are we doing?”

“Lying here.”

By inches, Tony started to relax and, after a long time, tentatively said, “I don’t think he ever wanted me. I’m pretty sure he married my mother because she came with money and connection, and I was an expected byproduct.”

Gibbs remained quiet, trying not to shatter the illusion of privacy for Tony. This was how he used to get Shannon to talk when she was upset. The near-dark, facing away, just being held.

“He’d pull me out of my box and show me off for company, and then forget about me. Until my mom died. Then he suddenly had to deal with me. He sent me to boarding school right after her funeral. I rarely saw him after that unless he needed to have a display child for some business reason.”

Tony hesitated for a long time, before continuing. “I stayed at boarding school year round, but the summer I was twelve, he came and got me and took me to Hawaii. I found out later he was meeting a business associate who had a thirteen year old. We had a suite, so I was in my own room, and one day I woke up and he was gone. He went home, forgetting I was there. It was days before the hotel bill caught his attention and he realized his mistake. He had the concierge get me on a plane back to school.”

Gibbs really wanted to kill Tony’s father. Knowing Tony could feel Gibbs’ emotions if he were paying attention, he focused on keeping his feelings under lock and key.

Suddenly, Tony turned, lying facing Gibbs. “I was always in a box in his life labeled, possibly useful. When I got the first email, I had a feeling I was suddenly useful again, and I just couldn’t bear that. I would rather him say ‘You’ve disgraced the family, and I’ll never speak to you again.’ But to even think that he might be… what? Trading me to someone completely corrupt? That’s… I’m afraid that being a commodity is worse than being a show pony.”

He stroked the side of Tony’s face, aching for his mate. “You know it was never about you.”

Tony tried to look away, but Gibbs wouldn’t let him.

“No, Tony. It was never about you. Your father was worthless long before you were born. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was you or some other kid, he was not a parent, and that is not your failure.”

Tony rested his forehead against Gibbs’, and was silent for a long time. “When Precious first came to talk to me, I asked It how I could possibly do this thing that fate has lined up for me.”

At Tony’s hesitation, Gibbs prompted, “And what did he say?”

“That I had to trust myself and let you love me. That’s easier and harder than I thought. On both fronts. I feel you in every part of me, and I know you love me. And that’s so far outside my realm of experience, I want to shut it down sometimes. But it doesn’t mean–”

Gibbs placed a finger over Tony’s lips. “Shh. I know what you mean, Tony. Sometimes it’s not easy to let people love you. I will always be here. Even if you’re hiding from me inside, I’ll still be here.”

Tony nodded, then pressed his lips chastely to Gibbs’. “That’s as much emo as I can take for one day. Seriously.”

Rolling his eyes, Gibbs just pulled Tony closer.

~*~

When Tony and Jethro finally appeared on the stairs, Blair nearly sprang up off the sofa, but Jim kept a restraining hand on his thigh. He desperately wanted to talk to his friend, find out what had happened on his trip, but mostly wanted to make sure he was okay. But he knew Tony needed space… they all knew it. Blair couldn’t begin to imagine being in Tony’s shoes.

Everyone had left the loveseat again for Jethro and Tony, but as soon as they sat, Abby squeezed in on the other side of Tony, resting her head on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her and kissed her temple. “Hey, Abbs. Missed you.”

“Missed you, too, Tony.” She and Blair had talked earlier in the day about trying to take it easy on Tony for a bit, that he might not feel up to talking about his feelings.

“So,” Tony began, “fill us in… how are things progressing?”

Abby bounced a bit in her seat. “Can I ask a question first? A little one?”

Tony smiled gently at her. “Sure. What one thing is burning a hole in your brain?”

“How did it go with the General’s Alphas? We’ve all been on pins and needles to know if you’ve midwifed anymore baby Wyverns!”

Scowling, Tony pulled at one of her pigtails. “Okay, no more midwife or mom or mommy or anything maternal, got it?”

Abby nodded emphatically. “Got it. You’re anti-girl,” she said with an amused quirk to her lips.

“No… just not a girl.” Tony sighed. “Okay, yes, they all had Wyvern bonds and somehow Daniel managed the logistics to get them all emerged last night.”

Blair’s brain wasn’t working. All? How was that even possible? But he couldn’t form a coherent sentence.

“What?” Richard blurted out. “Didn’t General O’Neill say there were six Alphas?”

Tony nodded.

Blair finally found his voice. “So in forty-eight hours you sired eight Wyverns. That’s more than have emerged in the last ten years! I… whoa, I don’t even know what to… but Jack had six in one place, but you only met three total at the meetings last week?”

Tony raised hand to stop any more questions. “I talked about that with Daniel, because one of the Alphas was at my meetings, and I didn’t detect it. We think that it’s two things. First, I was unmated and Wyvern gifts are a little staticy without a mate. And second, perhaps the three bonds I felt were of greater duration or stronger for some reason. There’s really no way to prove any of that. But my thought was that perhaps a large number of Alphas have Wyverns already.

“So after we clear up the giant mess in front of us, we could visit the various Dragon Centers and have a sort of regional gathering for Alphas in that territory, so I can meet as many as possible. We’ll have to figure out how to keep certain things confidential, but I think it’s important to get the Alphas who already have bonds mated before they do something crazy like mate with a Beta, or the Wyvern marries a human.”

Tony paused briefly before adding, “And something else to think about, all eight of the Wyverns who emerged on this trip have either seven or nine bands, so they kind of blow the averages.”

Everyone started throwing out ideas, but Jethro whistled and got everyone’s attention. “Let’s figure that out later. Can you guys get us up to speed on how the planning is going? Especially the spirit walking?”

Blair’s brain was spinning on the news about the bands and the sheer number of Wyverns, but he pulled it together and decided to start with the spirit walking first. “A few things on the spirit front. We’re able to get there, but can’t seem to maintain the connection. Though we haven’t been able to take Richard along for the ride yet. Interestingly, Vin has an easier time getting there than I do. Richard posited that it might be because of the bond Vin has with you. So he suggested we do the Wyvern bonding if you’re amenable?”

Tony nodded, but was focused on Richard. “Do you think you’re having trouble too because of a lack of bond with me?”

Richard shrugged. “I’m uncertain. I do not feel like I have been of much use to Blair. I don’t seem to have much insight into this spirit walking business.”

Tony’s brows lifted, then he frowned a bit. “Tell me exactly how you’ve been helping so far.”

Blair and Richard outlined the meditation exercises they’d been using, and their attempts to get Richard to the spirit plane so he could guide them.

Though he looked thoughtful, Tony didn’t say anything until Jethro nudged him and said, “I know how you feel when you’re figuring something out. You need to say it.”

Tony turned to Jethro. “I don’t know that it’s right… I don’t have any expertise in this area.”

“Is that your gut or your brain?” Jethro asked dryly

With a huff of laughter, Tony replied, “You already know the answer to that.” He looked back at the room. “Richard, did you know how to meditate before this?”

“Yes.”

“Blair, did you?”

Blair nodded. “For sure. Old hand at it. What are you thinking, Tony?”

Tony looked at Richard. “I think you’re taking your gift a little too literally and not just letting it happen.”

Richard frowned and seemed to be trying to unravel the comment. “I don’t follow.”

“Well, your gift said ’meditate’ and since you know how to meditate, you thought to teach that. But I think you need to go back to your gift and say ‘now what?’ I’m not explaining it well. If I said to you, ‘what’s next?’ what is your first thought?”

“Go outside.” Richard looked incredibly frustrated. “But that doesn’t make sense. How is that teaching?”

“That’s what I think you’re taking too literally. It’s more like a guide, not a teacher. What I’m picking up from you is that you’re interpreting your instincts into something instructable, and ignoring them when they don’t make rational sense. So, let’s go outside.”

Tony got up and grabbed his coat, leaving whomever to follow.

Blair was the first to trail after Tony, quickly followed by everyone.

Once they were outside, Tony turned to Richard. “Okay, we’re outside. Your gift was leading you toward meditation, so clear the mind and then go outside. Now what?”

Cocking his head to the side as if listening to something internal, Richard finally said, “We need to shift. But I can’t explain why. How is that teaching?”

Guide! And you are guiding,” Tony insisted.

Suddenly, Blair smacked his forehead. He couldn’t believe this hadn’t occurred to him. Everyone turned to him. “This makes sense. Once we know how to clear the mind and feel for the spirit plane, the next step is getting there. But our gifts exist because we’re dragons, so it follows that they’re stronger in our shifted form.”

“Oh good heavens,” Richard said. “So as beginners, it makes sense to shift first. Blair, I am so sorry. I’ve been getting weird impulses, but since I couldn’t explain, I thought it was nonsense.”

“We’re all learning, Richard,” Blair said wrapping an arm around his friend and giving him a quick, reassuring squeeze. “So after, we shift, I assume we meditate?”

“We need to be touching, I believe,” Richard replied.

“Makes sense. Who?” Blair asked, filing away the information even his brain was spinning with theories.

“I do believe it should be you, Vin and myself.”

Blair could tell he was leaving something out.

“And?” Tony prompted. Apparently Tony could tell, too.

Richard sighed. “Well, I had this odd notion that it would help if we had a peach Wyvern, but I just don’t know why that would be, so what good does it do to say something no one is capable of interpreting?”

Blair had to admit, he was stumped by that one.

“No one?” Tony asked with a faint smile. “Three of the Wyverns who emerged last night are peach. I might not have known before yesterday about that gift, but I do now.”

“Wow, Tony… like nearly half of all Wyverns are peach. What gift is that?” Blair queried in excitement.

“Well, they’re some of the strongest with standard empathy, meaning not the kind Spencer has, but they can amplify the abilities of other Wyverns. They were often bonded sort of like an acolyte to dragons like Blair or Daniel or Precious to help magnify their gifts.”

Blair bounced a little. “Which is why Precious has two peach dragons with him. They were bonded to him in his life. Wow. Oh, yeah, I can see how that would help.”

“But, we’re in luck,” Tony said, “Because I can stand in for a peach Wyvern. So let’s get with the shifting and see if we can get Richard to the spirit plane.”

The Alphas were all hanging around protectively, refusing to go back inside. Tony asked that Spence shift first and take care of the bond, in case Tony was tired after the spirit walk for some reason.

Even though it was still fairly early, only about six-thirty, it was dark out, but the house and yard lights glinted madly off the lavender and white scales. Blair thought the two together were insanely pretty. He found watching the Wyvern bond to be really touching. Tony and Spencer stared at each other for the longest time, and Blair could almost feel something in the air, then Spence pressed his head against Tony’s and they stayed like that for a couple minutes.

When Spence shifted back, he seemed relaxed and was smiling slightly.

“You okay?” Hotch asked, wrapping his arms around his mate, with Rossi moving up close, too.

“Yes. That was very… interesting. I need to think on it.” Instead of staying with them, the trio went inside.

Blair nudged Richard to go next, and the process was repeated, but didn’t seem to take quite as long. Instead of shifting back, Richard just moved to the side. Vin was already bonded to Tony, so Blair shifted and met Tony’s eyes.

Suddenly this awareness moved through him of safety and peace. This was the Guardian. He couldn’t quite wrap his brain around what that meant, but he knew it was important. He could have stayed in that feeling for an age, but his instincts urged him forward and he pressed his face to the Guardian’s. It was home and love and protection. Not like what he got from Jim, but what he imagined it would be like from a parent.

He wondered how many who had a bond with Tony felt that way. How many had kept that to themselves to keep from making Tony uncomfortable?

He pulled away reluctantly and settled into position with one foreleg touching Tony. Richard and Vin moved close. Rossi had a big yard but it was a little crowded with four shifted Wyverns in it. He was touching Tony and Richard, then Vin on the other side of Richard and finally Tony on the other side of Vin. Their touching forelegs made a rounded square.

They all closed their eyes and Blair cleared his mind. He knew immediately this would work. His connection to the spirit plane felt so much more profound than before. He focused on pulling himself into the other plane, taking Richard and Tony along, hoping Vin was doing the same thing.

He felt a shift in the air and opened his eyes. Everything was blue. They’d all made it. Unsure what to do next, he looked to Richard, who seemed to hesitate before shifting back to his human form.

They all followed suit. Blair worried for a second, but the connection felt stable for the moment.

Richard suddenly said, “We need to meditate again. We need to build an awareness of this plane to stay here for long. Immerse yourself in it. I think the reason you went back so quickly is because on a subconscious level, this feels peculiar.”

Things progressed rapidly. Now that Richard wasn’t ignoring his gift, he seemed to always know the next step. Sometimes Blair was right there with him on what to do next, so he knew the whole spirit plane thing was starting to gel for him. Their next task was to try to seek out the captive Wyvern, and then try to make contact.

Tony refused to go with them. “I’m going to stay here and try to find Precious. I have some questions, and I think you guys are set to find the Wyvern. If my connection here starts to fizzle, I’ll meet you back in the tangible.”

Blair wanted to argue, they might need Tony. But then he realized that Tony could start to become a crutch and that really wasn’t fair. They left him behind and Blair tried Richard’s suggestions for finding their quarry.

~*~

Somehow Tony knew if he called on Precious with intent and authority that Precious would come. “Elder,” he called, “your Guardian requests your presence and your counsel.”

Almost immediately, he felt a shift in the air, then Precious was standing right in front of him, without its acolytes. It smiled warmly. “Well done, Guardian. What would you ask of me?”

“What don’t I know? About us, about the Wyverns?”

Precious cocked its head to the side. “There is much for you to learn, what are you referring to?”

Eyes narrowing, Tony considered the elder dragon for a moment. “There’s something major that is almost shrouded from me. Usually when I think on something related to our nature for long enough, the answers come. I don’t always trust myself, but it’s there. This won’t come. And I don’t like being kept in the dark.”

Precious smiled sadly. “Ask your question, Tony.”

“What are we? Everything comes back to the Wyverns. Alphas are Alpha because of the Wyverns, which means the skills and gifts they have came from us. My intuition says that the other dragon species that could shift to human form, could only do so because of us… because we taught them. Why were we so different?”

“How can you be sure that there weren’t other gifted species that died out, simply lost to time?”

“My instinct says no. I’ve been spinning on this puzzle for days. But Daniel was the clincher. His gift, while useful, that’s not all there is to it. There’s something major to his gift, but I can’t seem to see it. It’s always just out of reach.”

“And if tell you that you’ll know in time? It’s only been days, Tony.”

Tony shook his head. “No. I feel like I’m being guided down a path, but I refuse to walk it any further if I don’t know what I’m being guided to! Trust me enough to know and still make the right choice.”

“Very well. Let’s sit.” Once they were sitting cross-legged, facing each other, Precious continued, “You are correct in your assumption that the Wyverns are the source. We were very enamored of all the dragon species, but the Drakes called out to us. There were two possible pools of beings from which we could have selected mates, and we chose the Drakes. But they had to agree to take on traits that would allow us to bond our lives together.

“So from the Drakes, we pulled forth the Alpha. We gave them what we needed to stabilize our own gifts, to anchor them and make them stronger. And in them we found worthy mates to live out a mortal life, before passing to the next phase of existence.

“We taught the Drakes how to shift forms immediately, but you’re also correct that when man became the dominant species and began to hunt us, we did teach the other dragon species how to shift. Dragons are all highly intelligent, sentient creatures. Many refused to shift, choosing to die rather than become what they had come to hate.”

Precious stopped for a moment, seemingly lost in Its memories. Eventually, It continued. “The Drakes seemed intent to go the same path. We could have saved ourselves in another way, but we hoped by taking human form, we would encourage our Drakes to follow. And they eventually did, but the separation was painful.”

“What other option did you have?” Tony asked carefully, feeling how painful those decisions had been for the Wyverns.

“Well, the other option would have given us no hope for returning to our mates. We could have returned to where we came from.”

Tony frowned. “I’m not following. Where were you from?”

“We’re not originally from here.”

“I didn’t think you were. Who is from the spirit plane?”

Precious smiled. “Poorly phrased. We’re not originally from Earth.”

Tony blinked a few times. “I’m sorry, what?”

“We were from a place that you would call Yveria. We were Yverians. On Earth, we called ourselves Wyverns, to hold on to what we had been, but to also shield it somewhat from those who might try to trace where we’re from.”

But Tony was stuck on the ‘not from Earth’ bit. “You’re an alien?”

“Well, not me personally, but going back a long time, yes, our ancestors were what you’d likely call aliens.”

Tony was really stuck on this point. He really couldn’t get his head together. That wasn’t what he was expecting. At all.

“Tony, the others aren’t ready for this yet. Well, except for Daniel and Jack.”

Tony blinked and his mind started to race. “Holy shit! Is that what they’re doing buried in that mountain? Something to do with aliens?”

“Yes. And I would firmly recommend that you keep that a secret. But when you’re ready, you, Blair, and your mates should meet with Daniel and Jack and tell them what you’ve learned.”

Tony frowned. “I haven’t really learned anything except the alien bit.”

“The rest will come to you in the next few weeks. Once I told you where we were from, the one block we had on you was lifted. Please trust me and tell no one until you’re ready to go with Blair to talk to Daniel.”

“Why the three of us?”

“Blair is your spiritual leader, he chose the title Shaman, you are the Guardian, and Daniel is the Master of the Gate, which, once you find out what Daniel does, you will find terribly ironic.”

Tony filed that away to think about later. “Why are those three positions important?”

“You are the ruling triad,” Precious stated simply as if it were obvious.

Tony held up his hands, as if he could ward it away. “Whoa… so didn’t sign up for that! I am not ruler material. And we don’t live in that kind of world anymore.”

“What do you think you’ve been doing? In mere days you’ve begun to fix what’s gone wrong for our people. Blair instinctively knows what he needs to do, but retreats frequently to be polite. Daniel struggles with his human values and a sense of what he thinks of as fair. He’ll need to get past that. Wyverns are powerful, and it’s not a matter of fairness that mundane humans are not. We’re a different species.

You are what could be called the lynchpin in the Triad.” Tony started to reply, but Precious held up a hand. “It’s too much too soon, Tony. Let it come to you. Come see me again when you have more questions and aren’t quite so overwhelmed. Fix this problem with the corrupt Alpha, spend some time with your mate. All of this will still be there. I will still be here when you’re ready.”

Tony closed his eyes. “I won’t be able to hide this from Jethro. He’s too in tune with me… he’ll know something is on my mind all the time, because I sure as hell am not going to be able to stop thinking about this.”

“I’m not requesting that you to hide it from your mate. Even though you, Blair, and Daniel are the Wyvern rulers, your mates are there with you, ruling with you. They will have to lead all dragons.”

“I can’t hide it from Jethro, but he won’t believe me either. Jethro is more grounded than anyone I’ve ever met,” Tony said, feeling frustrated.

“Show him what we talked about.”

And that made no sense. “And how do I do that?”

“I know you could figure this out if you put your mind to it, but I’ll help you. Rest your fingers on his Alpha Mark, have him enclose your Wyvern Mark, and both of you intend to share your mind. The intent is key.”

“And which mark is the Wyvern Mark?”

Precious looked exasperated. “The ones all Wyverns have. The ones that are used in bonding, the ones that are used during mating, the ones an Alpha uses to calm an upset Wyvern.”

Tony blinked and stared at his wrist scales. “Oh.” His brain immediately went off on a tangent. “How are they used in mating?”

Precious frowned. “Your mate hasn’t held you down by the wrist at all?”

“Oh!” Tony felt himself blushing. “Yeah, that he does. A lot.”

“Of course he does,” Precious said with no small amount of exasperation.

“Okay, I get that this is perfectly obvious to you, but it’s not obvious to me,” Tony retorted, caught somewhere between amusement and annoyance. “Why do we even have those marks and what is it that’s actually happening when the Alpha uses them?

“That’s a slightly different tale. The Drakes when we first encountered them were intelligent and powerful and they had a stability, a resonance with nature, that we craved. There were so many good things, but they were also very arrogant. They were the dominant dragon species, in fact the dominant species on Earth at the time. And despite what we offered them, they wanted to be certain they would continue to be dominant. Which we agreed to… they would lead, we would follow. They would dominate, we would submit.”

“I kind of get that in my relationship with Jethro, but it doesn’t feel negative like it kind of sounds,” Tony mused out loud as he considered Precious’ words.

Precious smirked. “This is a case of be careful what you wish for. They received the power they demanded, but all they wanted to do with it was love and protect us. That’s the effect of the mating and the bond. A bonded Alpha never becomes corrupt. It can only happen to one that is unbonded, and only a tiny few at that. That abomination you’re hunting was corrupt before he ever captured and tried to bond with that poor Wyvern. Even if the Wyvern had been willing, the corrupt nature of the Alpha would not have allowed a full bond. And a spirit guide cannot merge with one who is corrupted.”

Tony nodded, mostly thinking about how the Drakes reacted to having power over the Wyverns. “So they had this notion of getting power over a powerful race and then they didn’t want to do anything with it?” Tony snickered a little.

“Yes, and we taught the Alphas to shift forms very early on, long before the danger from humans, but we agreed that each would wear a mark of their status in their alternate form. And there’s power in those marks.”

“Will all of this be downloading into my brain, too, or will I need to come back and ask you.”

“It will all come to you eventually. It may take several weeks, but should the situation become urgent, please come speak to me.”

“Okay. No, wait. You just said you taught the Drakes how to shift before there was danger. Does that mean we used to live in harmony with humans before they started hunting us?”

“No, we modeled our form on another race called the Alterans. It’s a long story… one that you will understand eventually, but now would just be clutter you don’t need. Suffice it to say, they were very difficult and caused a lot of problems. It’s quite complicated.”

“Uh… so let me try to gather back up the threads of this conversation. The marks on our wrists are the Wyvern mark and we all have them and our Alphas have some instinctive knowledge of them. What are the rest of the bands?”

“Just what you think they are… they represent how powerful a Wyvern is in their gifts. The visible display of our power was part of our agreement with the Drakes.”

“Okay. Got it. Back to the threads. Because I’m getting totally saturated. Um… So we touch each other’s marks and intend to share thoughts, and I’ll be able to show him all of this?”

“Yes. In fact, if you want to say something private to your Alpha, just touch his marks and send it to him. It takes practice to get it right.”

“Okay… I think I’ve got it. No… that implies that I have some level of comprehension and I don’t. This is so confusing,” Tony muttered rubbing his temples.

“Would you rather not know?”

Tony thought about it for a long time. “No. I felt like I was being led around by the nose, and I didn’t like it. I could see the outlines of something major but felt like it was being withheld. I don’t feel like that so much anymore.”

“I have one other thing I would like to tell you. It has to do with how we come into being.”

Tony was hesitant to take on anymore knowledge tonight, but Precious wanted to say it. He’d absorb what he could.

“It has to do with how Wyverns reproduce. It’s a lengthy topic and we should probably mostly save for when your Triad is together, because how it used to be done won’t work for you anymore. But we reproduce both physically and spiritually. We had physical children, and when we reached spiritual maturity, there was a process of birthing what you call your spirit guide.”

“Oh dear God, not the birth thing.”

“Tony, stop and listen. I realize this challenges your notion of masculinity, but I know you feel parental toward the eight Wyverns you’ve called forth. And that’s more midwife than mother. Physical reproduction is complicated by the fact that you’re male, and you’ll have to get a female involved. But that’s a topic for another day. The spiritual birth is what I need you to understand. And by ‘birth’, I don’t mean expelling something from your body, so stop getting upset.”

Tony took a few deep breaths and let go of his panic.

“All of the dragon spirits that have been called forth to merge with you and others exist because an ancestor called them into being, they created a new spiritual life that waits to be summoned. The number of spirit dragons is finite, so you will have to deal with this topic eventually if you want to give that spirit guide to future generations. This is something that is expected of every dragon that is fully mature in their gifts and connection to the spiritual plane.”

“Okay,” Tony hedged. “If we don’t have to deal with it yet why do I need to know?”

“My gift is the rarest, and only appears in times of great change for our species. Because of the way it works, I was never able to have offspring, either physical or spiritual, until right before my sacrifice which left me here. I put off the sacrifice long enough to have a physical child and birth a spirit guide for the future.”

Tony filed the facts away, not sure where it was going.

“My physical line led into your mother’s family. The Paddingtons are all my direct descendants. You are my many times removed grandson, and because you are the first Wyvern emerged in our line, I consider you more my son than grandson.”

Tony was wide-eyed, he felt like his heart was in his throat.

“Also, the dragon I birthed on the spirit plane was white, fated to be the next Guardian. You, Tony. In both the physical and the spiritual, you are my child.”

Precious paused, watching Tony carefully for several moments as Tony wrestled fiercely with his emotions. “I didn’t intend to tell you this for a long time, I didn’t want it to influence you, but I’ve been watching, and I know what’s happened with the human who sired you.

“I feel as if I’ve been with you your entire life. I’ve seen you grow and become an amazing man. But also emerge into the Wyvern our people need to lead them forward. I needed to tell you that, in any way that matters, I am your parent. And I am so proud of you,” Precious said gently.

His eyes slammed shut and he pressed the heels of his hands against his forehead, refusing to let his emotions get loose. He had to stay in control. He had to.

Then he felt arms come around him and he lost his tenuous hold on his emotions.

– – – –

Chapters 17-20  |  Emergence Page  |  Chapter 25-28

26 Comments:

  1. Since you have added stargate into the mix you could have it so that there are artificial Wombs in Atlantis so that the Drake/Wyvern pairs could have children without having to involve surrogates. Good Job

  2. Poor Tony feeling guilty for something he has no control over….

  3. No time or interest to have a freak out when his Alpha is exploring all the band’s….. *G*

  4. Two Wyverns in just hours…. nothing is ever boring with Tony around. *G*

  5. I love Jack O’Neill and I’ve always loved the chemistry and dynamic between him and Daniel Jackson. And poor Tony – it’s just one thing after another. Thank god he is so strong and resilient and that he has someone who believes in him and will be there for him in any way he needs in Jethro.

  6. Poor, poor Tony… sometimes it’s just too much…. Good thing he has Jethro….

  7. Whoa! Lots of new info from Tony in here. This is my first time reading this series, and I am enjoying it very much.

  8. Damn Senior! I have to say that while I love Robert Wagner, I think that because he is such a beloved actor that when they cast him that they turned around and made DiNozzo, Sr. too damned nice. Yeah, he had and has his faults in the show’s canon, but they’ve ‘mellowed’ out some of his faults and his relationship with his son. I find myself annoyed with the show and how they’ve retconned the past relationship between father and son. Thank god, Tony in your story has Gibbs.

    • This is EXACTLY what I was about to write!
      I do think RW was a good casting choice as Tony’s dad on the grounds that they look like they could be related (and do I remember MW playing a young RW in that movie about Natalie Wood? Must go check) but all the writing direction after that has been, as you said, too kind to him. Ironically, I understand most actors relish playing nasty characters, so Mr Wagner might not have minded Senior remaining truer to the early canon.

      • I’ve tried several times to write Senior in a more supportive role, but it never works. I just gave up and decided to stick with my head canon of him being an asshat. My early series impressions of him were so negative, it was impossible to counteract with the actual character they introduced.

        And I agree that Robert Wagner probably wouldn’t have minded playing the dick father.

  9. Gotta love Precious and its support and love of Tony.

  10. Jethro doesn’t ‘process’…. riiiiiiight. You just keep telling yourself that Jethro…. Whatever helps you get through the day…. LOL

  11. Poor Tony – everything about Sewell and his betas just go against all he’s there to do… Though I do love that Tony found a way to heal the wounded dragons…

  12. Poor Jim – and Tony thought Jethro had issues with all the info from Precious.

  13. Poor Tony… the hits just keep coming.

  14. The sat nav thing has the ring of a personal experience! Over here the problem is that “roads” on sat nav maps are often extremely narrow irl, only good for accessing the houses there, or ancient tracks no longer passable except on foot. Our nav once tried to send us down a track marked “unsuitable for motors” & areas like Cornwall have a real issue with huge lorries getting stuck on narrow roads the sat nav has taken them to.

    • Oh yes! It was totally personal experience. Although in my case, the nav tried to put me in the pacific ocean. I was unamused at the time. I’m wincing at the nav issues you describe. I’d be very vexed if my nav sent me down a road smaller than my semi-truck!

  15. I second what Pfyre wrote. You have really caught both Jack and Daniel brilliantly, IMO. Especially Jack’s “asides”, the often hilarious side comments StarGate episodes were littered with.

  16. I have read this super tale several times and I just realized or maybe just missed it, did Uncle Jeffery tell or give Tony the history of the dragons as his family knew it? He gave him the scroll and trusts but I don’t think the history. Thanks for this. I love this story and all the characters in it.

    • Sorry… I forgot to reply to this. Yeah, I didn’t explicitly call it out, but when Tony took the trusts, he also took ownership of all documentation and what not. So, he has everything, or rather, has access to it. It just hasn’t been high on his priority list.

  17. i have read this numerous times, but i think that this chapter is one of my favs.

  18. This is the zillionth time I have read this and i am just now able to process everything, I think. I wonder if Jim even allows that word space in his vocabulary? I ask that with all love for the character. I am so proud of Tony – he keeps getting knocked off his “world construct” and just keeps on motoring along while helping everyone else out with their reality whiplash.

    Thank you, again, Jilly for this richly plotted book and the deeply nuanced characters. I know I will return to it many more times.

  19. First of all, this story is wonderful. I have re-read it like 3 times. I love it. I just have a few questions about the universe, that I never saw really answered. So if all Omegas are male and most of the Alphas are also male, and Precious says you have to involve a female, does the female have to be a beta Drake? A mundane? To what level of involvement it’s expected of the female, just like a regular stranger surgate or more co-parenting surgate? Also, before surgates were a thing, how did Wyverns/Drake pairs reproduce? Artificial insimination is a modern thing, so is that also a reason why Wyverns are to return now in addition to Tony being of two lines? Also, has other Wyverns/Drake pairs even done children through surgate in the past? None of the pairs in the story seem to have children except Alpha/Beta or Beta/Beta pairs. I wondered, since if no Wyverns are having kids then eventually the race will die out in a few generations, even if they activate all existing Wyverns. Unlike you, I have no imagination and can’t come up with the answers that fit your wonderful writing style and have as much depth as everything else you write. I apologise for asking so many questions, I just love the universe that you created and would love to get more, even if it’s little tidbits. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with the world.

    • The method of reproduction Precious was referring to would be in vitro with a surrogate—doesn’t matter if it’s a beta drake or a human. It’s not normal surrogacy, however. And that won’t be covered until a future story.

      No involvement is expected from the surrogate. She’d be a surrogate only. They’d use an anonymous donor egg.

      Wyvern/Drake pairs did not reproduce at all after they took human form to hide. In their original dragon forms, the Wyverns bore live young, which is why they had no method of reproducing once they chose the male gender for wyverns.

      Wyverns returning is more a mystical/magical thing than a biological one. Tony’s line is why he’s the Guardian, it has nothing to do with reproduction. It’s explained in the story that they had specific biological triggers that would bring forth recessive Wyvern traits, but Tony has the ability to see that happen in larger numbers. I’m not going to explain it because that’s part of a future book. The return of the Guardian and the triad was the important first step.

      Biological breeding has nothing to do with how Wyvern/Drake genetics have been passed down in the past, so the fact that none of the pairs have children isn’t particularly germane. Emergence is the method of reproduction they have thus far. The build their wings/familes through emerged dragons not through children. A dragon comes about when it comes about for reasons they did not understand in the past. What Precious is talking about is breeding dragons again rather than Emergence being the sole method by which dragons come into being.

      Hope that helps.

      • OMG! Thank you so much for answering! I am so excited right now about a future story which covers this. Your answers totally make sense and I knew you had more in-depth answers than anything I could have come up with. I love your stories and truly admire how through out everything is. Thank you again, I know you have been busy with rough trade, so I appreciate the time you took to reply.

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