Emergence – Chapters 5-8

Title: Emergence – Chapters 5-8
Author: Jilly James
Betas: Elsa Kallan and Naelany
Emergence Main Page

– – – –

Chapter Five

Hotch quickly assessed the lab they were being led into, finding a female Beta and a human in the main room. Through two sets of glass doors, he could see Rick Connelly, who gave him a tense nod.

Moving further into the room, he allowed Dr. Mallard in, followed by Spencer and then Rossi. Once the lab was locked again, Dr. Mallard performed quick introductions, though for the moment, Hotch was keeping Spence behind him.

“What’s the situation?” he asked tersely.

Ms. Sciuto looked like she wanted to say something, but Agent Yates gestured for her to remain quiet. Dr. Mallard was the one to reply, “Emerging Omega.”

He heard a quiet, “Knew it,” from Spence. That was the picture he’d come up with, too. Not much else required this level of caution.

Dr. Mallard seemed inclined to continue, but Hotch held up a hand. “I take it he’s back there?”

“Yes, we felt it prudent to–”

Hotch held up his hand again. “I’m going to assess the situation. We can discuss it further in a few minutes.” His Alpha instincts said ensure the Omega was safe, then talk. He gestured for Dave and Spence to wait with the others, while he went over the main lab and middle lab/office before signaling for the lock to be released on the glass door into ballistics.

Inside, he briefly nodded to Connelly, who gave a terse nod in return, but his eyes were drawn to the still figure lying supine on a foldout futon. Surprised to realize he recognized the man, he gave a startled, “DiNozzo?” He couldn’t stop a huff of exasperation. “Do you know how hard it will be to protect someone who gets in that much trouble?”

Connelly was surprised into a laugh. “Yes, sir.” The Beta was looking a little frayed around the edges.

“Good job with containment, Connelly. Get me up to speed, and start with why he’s unconscious.”

The retelling didn’t take as long as Hotch had thought, but there were a few more complications than he was expecting. DiNozzo’s reaction to the infusion was a problem they really didn’t need. Made worse by the fact that he’d need more than the once-daily treatment for a few days, so they couldn’t just dose him before bed. How had he managed to keep working and pretending everything was fine for three weeks? The last week had to be constant misery.

The story accounted for why he was smelling Dr. Mallard and Agent Connelly on DiNozzo, as well as Ms. Sciuto. He understood it, but his dragon really didn’t like smelling anyone on his new charge.

Turning to the glass door, he found Spence watching him from the main lab. Though Spencer had removed his coat, he still had his messenger bag across his body, his hands tucked in his pockets, and giving off his usual slightly awkward air. Hotch gestured for only Spence and Dave to join him.

After the door was closed and locked again, introductions were made, though Rossi had met Connelly before. The poor Beta looked like he was going to have a stroke when Spence offered his hand, but still managed a quick handshake.

Spencer’s attention turned to the man on the bed and he cocked his head a little in contemplation. “He doesn’t really fit the stereotype for an Omega. Hmm.” He turned his attention briefly to Connelly. “You personally verify his status?”

“No!” Connelly quickly disavowed. “Ducky told me, and I wouldn’t presume…” he trailed off when he realized he’d lost Reid’s attention.

Glancing at Hotch speculatively, Spence asked, “Is it making you agitated to not verify?”

“Yes,” he answered immediately. Normally an Alpha Prime had to verify an Omega’s status, and it was bugging him to not check. Since their mating, Spence had always had remarkable insight into what Hotch was feeling, so it was no surprise that he’d detect the agitation.

Spencer pulled off his messenger bag and dropped it on the floor near the door, then sat on the futon. With an economy of motion, he removed the blanket and began unbuttoning DiNozzo’s shirt.

Rossi barked out a startled laugh at Spence’s solution to the problem.

“What?” Spencer asked rhetorically. “Hotch isn’t going to settle until this is done, and none of you are going to be comfortable manhandling him. It’s the only logical solution.” In short order, Spence had the shirt off and DiNozzo rolled onto his side, facing away from them.

The pre-scales were plainly visible to the dragons’ acute eyesight. Hotch had hoped the estimate was wrong, but the near-full set of spine pre-scales indicated he had a week at most before emergence; probably less. That was not a lot of time to arrange a gathering. He tried to rub the tension out of his forehead.

Spence got the new Omega on his back and covered him back up.

“No shirt?” Rossi asked from where he leaned casually against the wall.

Matter-of-factly, Reid retorted, “It’s much easier to remove a shirt from an unconscious body than to put one on, and I know I’d appreciate being handled as little as possible. I’m sure it’ll be disconcerting to wake without a shirt, but probably worse to wake with a shirt put on badly. In any case, I’ll be here with him when he wakes up, and he’ll be fine. When I was emerging, I only felt really settled around another Omega.”

A sudden sound had Hotchner cocking his head, listening as someone tried to gain access to the lab. “You all stay here.” Dave nodded, moving to block as much of the view through the door as possible as Aaron left for the main lab.

He could clearly hear the voice of a man pleading with Ms. Sciuto to open the door.

She was pressed close to the door, hollering, “I can’t open up right now, Timmy. If I get any hits, I’ll call.”

“Abby! Open the door. What’s going on? I want to talk to you.”

Hotch tapped her shoulder, then gestured for her to move away. He opened the door, but stood in the entry, blocking the view of the lab. “Can I help you, Agent?”

A relatively tall, young-appearing man took a surprised step back. “Ah… the lab isn’t usually kept locked. I wanted to be sure everything was okay?”

Blandly, he replied, “Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner, FBI. Ms. Sciuto is graciously assisting me with a classified matter. And you are?”

“Um, Special Agent Timothy McGee, sir,” the young man nervously responded.

“Did you have evidence Ms. Sciuto needs to sign for?”

“No, uh, no, sir.” He seemed to be steeling his resolve, squaring his shoulders before adding, “I’d like to see your credentials, please. We’ve had some security issues in Abby’s lab in the past, and I feel I’d be remiss in my duty to not verify your identity.”

His opinion of the agent went up a bit, and he retrieved his badge from his jacket.

“I’m fine, Timmy!” Ms. Sciuto called cheerily from over Hotchner’s shoulder.

Once the agent was gone, and the lab secured, he arranged for Agent Yates to escort Ms. Sciuto to the ladies’ room. As soon as they returned, Dr. Mallard left to pick up a late lunch for everyone. The NCIS team had never had lunch, and the BAU team’s had been interrupted.

Ms. Sciuto was somewhat exuberant and seemed to have no end of questions about dragons. He declined several questions in a row before issuing a blanket statement that she needed to hold her questions for Gibbs. For which he was severely pouted at.

Certain they were at a stalemate, he was about to return to the ballistics lab, when some chime went off on Sciuto’s computer. She frowned at the screen, her fingers flying over the keyboard in a way that reminded him very much of Garcia. “Someone’s hacking the surveillance feed for the lab. I’m stopping it. Hold on…”

Agent Yates looked to him. “Sir?”

“Hold fast, Agent. I’m sure David heard.” He cocked his head in a listening pose and heard the faint reply from Rossi that he heard and they were on alert.

“Stopped. Let me backtrack…” Sciuto mumbled at the computer for several seconds. “Dammit, Timmy.” She looked to Hotch. “I won’t reveal anything, but let me call him and see what’s going on.” He gave an abrupt nod and she picked up the phone. “McGee! What the hell are you doing hacking my lab?”

Hotch could clearly hear the other side of the conversation.

I wanted to be sure you were safe, Abby! You wouldn’t be yelling at me if you had been in trouble and I saved you!”

“Well, I’m not in trouble. I’m fine. I’m helping tall, dark and handsome with a case that you don’t need to know anything about. Don’t you have some of your own work to do? A missing suspect or something?”

Oh. Great. Tony told you, too.” McGee sounded aggravated.

Sciuto’s brows snapped together. “Told me what?”

Ah… nothing, really.”

“Timmy… you’d better–” At Hotch’s gesture for her to stop, she clenched her jaw before continuing. “I can’t get into this now, but you can bet your little butt we’re finishing this later. Now stay out of my lab this afternoon!” She slammed the phone down.

“Thank you, Ms. Sciuto. That was well caught and well handled.” With that, he returned to the ballistics lab before she could question him again.

Spence was still seated next to DiNozzo on the futon, reading intently, while Dave was reviewing the situation with Connelly.

Rossi turned to Hotch. “How do you want to handle this, Aaron?”

“I want to bring in two more Betas I trust, one of them Morgan. I’ll have to talk to Strauss; she won’t like it, but it’s really out of her hands. Once we get somewhere secure, we can have Garcia get us set up to work the profiles remotely. She’ll have to get another team to take any major cases for the next week or so.

“We need to work out an evac plan in case things go south. With two more Betas, we should be able to move if we have to, but I’d prefer to stay put until Gibbs arrives. And while we’re waiting, we can rough out security for the gathering. Come up with some preliminary plans to review with Gibbs.”

Rossi looked thoughtful. “It’s your show, Aaron. Gibbs is ahead of you in the hierarchy, but he’s unmated.”

“I know. And I’ll be in charge of the protection detail for DiNozzo, I won’t bend on that. But I want Gibbs involved. Also I’m not interested in telling Gibbs to stay out of it.”

Somewhat cautiously, Connelly interjected, “I know there are protocols for this situation, but I think you’re going to need Gibbs to some degree to wrangle Tony. For the brief period of time I talked to Tony, it was clear he wasn’t happy about this. And he has a reputation for being as stubborn as Gibbs, he just smiles at you while he’s doing it.”

Rossi grunted with amusement. “This is gonna be fun.”

Reid looked pensive. Which was the look he got when he was untangling some huge problem in his head. It was always best to let him discuss it in his own time.

“Good to know.” He instructed Connelly to have Yates make arrangements for someone to pick Gibbs up at the airport, and Ms. Sciuto to monitor his arrival time.

Once Connelly was out in the outer lab, he moved closer to Spencer and rested a hand on his shoulder, leaning down to kiss his temple. “You okay?” he whispered in Spence’s ear.

Spence met his eyes and smiled, and for him, it was a fairly exuberant smile. “Of course. It will be interesting to have another Omega to talk to. And statistically, he’s pretty outside the norm. I have several questions for him. I really want to review the last several months with him to see if we can pinpoint what might trigger Omega emergence.” He frowned a little. “Maybe he’ll choose a local Alpha and he’ll share his experiences as his gifts develop.” With a slight look of consternation, he turned his attention back to his book, absently patting Hotch’s hand.

Hotch knew it had been hard for Spence since his emergence. He felt very close to Blair, but almost never saw him. And two over-protective Alphas had unintentionally left him relatively isolated. On the surface, he sounded like he just wanted more information about Omegas to add to his study, but Hotch had a suspicion he wanted someone he could relate to. Hotch thought it would be good for several people if DiNozzo chose a local Alpha.

Reluctantly, he turned his attention to Rossi, who was looking at Spencer concerned. They conferred for several minutes, then he made all the necessary calls to bring in two more Betas. Both were unmated, but highly regarded in the Wing, and would be able to help with perimeter security and keep an eye on Sciuto. They would also be invaluable if a sudden move had to be made.

Dr. Mallard arrived with lunch while Hotch was on the phone with Strauss. Dave and Spence joined the others in the outer lab to eat, while Connelly resumed guard duty in ballistics. Relative peace was maintained for the next hour, with people shuffling locations to spell one another.

Morgan and Agent Michael Kwan arrived separately, about ten minutes apart and added to the general crowded feeling of the lab. Dr. Mallard had settled in a chair in the middle lab, quietly reading. Kwan, who was computer savvy, occupied Ms. Sciuto, much to everyone’s relief.

The first time DiNozzo’s name was mentioned, Morgan made a choking sound. Hotch was leaning against Abby’s lab table, filling Morgan in.

“Tony’s an Omega? I would not have expected that. Huh.”

“You know Tony?” Abby suddenly bounced in place next to Morgan.

“Yeah. We both play ball at the Y sometimes. I don’t know him all that well, but we team up occasionally to help coach some of the teenagers after the pick-up games are done.”

Abby frowned at him. “You haven’t been using your super stealthy dragon skills against Tony, have you?”

Morgan laughed and tweaked one of her pigtails. “Abby, Tony was in the starting lineup by his sophomore year at Ohio State. He runs rings around me most of the time, and I have my super stealthy dragon skills.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good.” She looked oddly thoughtful, abruptly turning back to her computer, giving at least some of her attention to what Agent Kwan was doing to her system.

Morgan looked to Hotch, who could only offer a one-shouldered shrug. He had no idea what was going through her mind. Even when she was talking directly to him, he wasn’t sure what was going on up there. He wasn’t afraid to admit that she completely mystified him.

After that, other than a couple people trying to come into the lab, and being diverted handily by Abby – whose eccentricities were well known, and working for them – the afternoon passed calmly. The only real alarm Hotch had was the enormous caffeinated beverages Dr. Mallard procured for Sciuto. Twice. He really didn’t think she needed any caffeine, much less that quantity.

By then Gibbs’ flight was due to land, which was arriving ten minutes early, and an agent had already been dispatched with instructions to be waiting at the curb. Ideally, Hotch would have sent Gibbs’ Beta to pick him up, but he didn’t want to short their defensive capabilities if they had to make a move. Because getting out of NCIS with an unconscious agent was not a simple maneuver.

While Abby was still verifying that the plane had landed, Hotch’s cell rang, showing Gibbs on the caller ID. “Hello, Gibbs.”

Where are you?”

“NCIS.” They couldn’t say much on the phone, so he got right to the important info. “Agent Marks will meet you curbside.”

There was a pause. “Thanks, Hotch.” Then the line clicked as Gibbs hung up.

Considering traffic, it should have been at least an hour before Gibbs arrived, but thirty-five minutes later, Hotch’s cell rang again. “Hotch,” he answered quickly.

I’m pulling in.” Hotch heard tires squealing. “Where are you?”

“Forensics.”

“I’ll be there in five.”

~*~

As soon as Gibbs heard where they were, he diverted from the parking area. The fastest way to Abby’s lab was through the evidence garage. It wasn’t protocol to enter the building that way, but no one was going to say anything to him about it.

After gaining entry to the garage, he tossed the keys to the green-faced agent who had been hanging on in silence for the last thirty-five minutes.

A quick retina scan got him access to the elevator, and a couple minutes later he was outside Abby’s lab. All he’d been focused on since Rick had called was getting back. And now he had to remind himself that he couldn’t just take over. Until Ellison arrived, Hotch had more authority that he did, and that sat poorly with Gibbs. Not just because he was accustomed to being in charge, but because this was about Tony. And Tony belonged to Gibbs. He dreaded this because he didn’t want that to change, dammit.

Taking a deep breath, he rapped on the door.

“Who is it?” Abby called.

“Gibbs.”

He heard an excited squeal, then the door was open and Abby was in his arms. He dropped his bag reflexively and hugged her. “Isn’t this awesome, Gibbs?”

Not wanting her to say anything else, he ordered, “Inside, Abbs.”

“Right, right.” She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him in after her.

Cassie Yates was the first person he could see immediately inside. “Sorry, she got past me.” He nodded to her, then she retrieved his things from the floor and locked the door.

Abby was babbling a mile a minute at him about Tony. Hotch was near the door to Abby’s office, with his arms crossed, waiting. He recognized Derek Morgan and Michael Kwan. Ducky was sitting at Abby’s computer and offered a nod of greeting. He assumed Reid, Rossi, and Connelly were here somewhere, too. Presumably with DiNozzo. Something seemed very off about all this. Gibbs gut began to churn.

“Abby. Abby! ABBS!” He finally got her attention. “It’s good to see you, too. I need to talk to Hotch and find out what the situation is. We’ll talk later.”

“But, Gibbs, I can fill you in. I’ve been here the whole time. Well, not the whole time. Tony was with Ducky for a while.”

He gave her a hard look. “There’s a major issue in my Wing, and you want to be the one to brief me?” She knew better than that.

“Maybe not,” she hedged. She gave him a pleading look. “I just missed you is all.”

He stared her down for several moments. He loved Abby, but she had a manipulative streak, and he knew where not to give ground or she’d run right over him. Eventually he let up and gave her a kiss to the temple. “We’ll talk soon.”

Hotch gestured to the middle lab, then preceded him. Once the doors were closed, giving the illusion of privacy, he had enough of a view into ballistics to see Tony asleep on Abby’s futon.

“Something wrong with DiNozzo?”

“Not exactly. I’ll start with why he’s asleep, and then fill you in on the whole afternoon.” Hotch straightened his shoulders a bit. “DiNozzo had the rare reaction to the heather tea Ducky gave him. Passed out in the hallway as they were making their way from autopsy.”

Gibbs nearly laughed. That was so very DiNozzo. The only thing that robbed the situation of humor was how much harder it would be to protect him if he was sleeping. Although, knowing Tony, maybe that would make it easier?

“How long has he been out?”

“Over four hours.”

“Hell.” He rubbed his hand over his head.

“I assume Ellison is on the way?”

“Yeah. If he was able to get a flight within two hours of my call, he should be here by 2100 hours. Go ahead and give me a full sit rep.”

It took about half an hour to get current on everything that had happened. Including a couple junior agents who had fucked up a case. As soon as Gibbs got things sorted here, he was knocking some heads together.

After a moment, Gibbs said, “I’d like to see him.”

Hotch sighed. “Gibbs…” He trailed off, as if not sure what to say.

“I’m not going to touch him, and I won’t stay. But I’ve worked with Tony for nine years, and I need to see him.”

After a beat, Hotch nodded and walked into ballistics. Before he could follow, his Beta slipped out. They shared a quick handshake. “Ya did good, Rick.”

“Thanks, Gibbs.” He offered a half smile, then walked to the main lab.

Gibbs could finally clearly see Tony, and he couldn’t make himself look at anything else. He was aware of Rossi and Reid, but his brain didn’t engage for several seconds. Tony looked like hell. He could have head-smacked himself. He shouldn’t have let Tony’s stubborn refusal to seek help persist for so long. Though Tony had clearly gotten much worse in the three days Gibbs had been in Florida.

Someone cleared his throat, and he turned his attention to Rossi. “Dave.” He offered his hand.

“Nice to see you again, Gibbs.”

Seated on the futon, Reid waved at him, smiling faintly. “Hey, Gibbs.”

“Reid.” He wasn’t as close to Spencer as he was to Blair, but Spencer still had that calming effect that was alluring. “He going to be okay?” He jerked his chin towards Tony.

“Yes. Ducky has the medical specifics, but I feel certain that he’s going to be fine. His body is just overtaxed. The unconsciousness is difficult logistically, but it might not be a bad thing for him to get the extra rest after his ridiculous display of stoicism.”

Gibbs huffed a little in amusement. Most people would not think of Tony as stoic. He could milk a paper cut for half an hour. But if something were actually wrong, like a concussion or a gunshot wound or the plague, yeah, DiNozzo was as stoic as they came. Gibbs had frequently wondered why Tony was so worried about exposing any real vulnerability, but the distance he’d had to maintain between them prevented him from ever asking.

He turned his attention back to Hotch. “Have you already come up with an exit strategy?”

“We have an evac plan, and everyone’s briefed on it, but I wanted your input on the rest.”

“I have an idea, but it’ll likely piss people off, and we couldn’t execute until Ellison agrees.”

“Sounds like my kind of plan,” Rossi murmured.

They settled down to review all the proposed ideas.

~*~

Tony was having the strangest dream. A flying dream. He’d heard of people having flying dreams, but it had never happened to him. It was pretty awesome riding the warm wind currents, soaring through the late summer sky. He felt like he had two minds. There was Tony, but there was something else. Something more. Something aware.

He was flying over a forest, thick with trees just beginning to change with fall colors. He was headed for an expansive clearing, the gathering ground of the Drakes. It was his turn to pick a mate.

As he cleared the tallest of the trees, a riot of color dotted the ground below. The brightly colored Betas were of no interest to him, he only focused on the deep colors that marked an Alpha. When the Drakes became aware of him, an expectant hush fell. He circled several times until his instincts led him to a cluster of Alphas near the tree line.

They kept a respectful distance and moved themselves into a wide circle around him, so he wouldn’t have to squeeze between them. He began moving around the circle, looking at the Alpha Drakes, smelling a few. He admired the dark scales. Deep greens, dark blues, earthy browns. Even a few deep, deep reds. But he was most drawn to the black Drakes. Repeatedly, he drew close and sniffed the black ones. But none were quite right.

There was movement at the far side of the circle and a large black Alpha joined the others, and he knew immediately that one was his. He nearly flew across the circle and faced the large Drake. The Alpha immediately met his gaze. He sniffed deeply and his instincts settled. This was definitely his mate. Now that the mate had been identified, the urge to be claimed by his mate was rising within him. He butted his head against the large Alpha in invitation, the first touch sending a glorious wave of heat along his scales.

– – – –

Chapter Six

Gibbs waited for the elevator to ascend to the bullpen. They’d come to an agreement on a recommendation for Ellison when he arrived. Jim might choose to go a more conventional route, but the timeline they were working with made that difficult to execute.

Since they didn’t want to move Tony until Jim and Blair arrived, he’d thought about bringing Leon Vance in the loop. But even though he and Leon were working together better lately, it was still possible Vance would try to spin this in some political way, despite that fact that he had no authority in dragon matters.

Abby was an issue Gibbs had yet to deal with. He needed to extract her from the situation, and soon. She’d been a great help today, but she was a distraction in a situation where they couldn’t really afford it.

The elevator chimed and he stepped into the bullpen, narrowing his hearing to try to pick up McGee or David’s voices. He paused out of visual range to listen in.

“Maybe you shouldn’t leave yet, Ziva.” McGee sounded anxious.

“It’s been a long day, McGee. If Tony can take the afternoon off to nurse his cold, I can leave after a full day of work!”

“That’s not fair, Ziva. Tony’s been fighting something for a couple weeks. He looked like hell this morning, but you never gave an inch. And Tony didn’t lose a suspect. We did.”

“She wasn’t a suspect at the time.”

“She was a suspect in Tony’s mind, and apparently he was right. But it doesn’t matter, he told us to pick her up, and we tipped her off instead. We defied an order, Ziva.”

“It was an order from Tony,” Ziva retorted as if that explained everything.

There was a protracted silence and Gibbs had to force himself to stay still and listen. He wasn’t blind to the troubled dynamics on the team since Ziva was rescued, but he preferred to let his team sort these things out themselves. Apparently things were clearly worse than he thought if they were being this insubordinate to Tony. He should have stepped in sooner.

On the other hand, Tony had clearly been letting it go, and he’d have to deal with that, too. He never intended for Tony to think he had to put up with that kind of shit and be silent about it.

Eventually, McGee responded. “Tony is the SFA, he’s lead when Gibbs is gone.”

Ziva made a dismissive noise. “Tony is only Gibbs’ senior agent because he is pathetically fully human.”

“Is that so, Ziva?” Gibbs asked as he stepped around the corner and stopped near McGee’s desk.

McGee jumped to his feet, exclaiming a nervous, “Boss!”

Ziva was standing by her desk, coat already on. She paled briefly when Gibbs appeared, but then clenched her jaw and raised her chin, saying nothing.

In lowered tones, Gibbs asked, “You think I’d give someone a senior position on my team based on their blood status?”

For a few seconds, she said nothing, then replied defensively, “Other than he has been on your team longer, there is no obvious reason. He is a barely competent investigator.”

Gibbs cocked his head to the side, and without inflection asked, “So barely competent that just from reading your interview notes and looking at a credit card statement he identified a suspect you had missed?”

Seeming to realize she was on dangerous ground, she simply crossed her arms over her chest and refused to say anything.

He stared at her hard for several moments. “You will sit and remain at your desk until I tell you to leave.” He then pinned McGee with a glare. “You. Conference room. Now!”

Once they were in the elevator, he waited for it to start moving, then slammed on the emergency stop. He glared at McGee for several seconds. Gibbs knew how to drag this out, get McGee to dig his own grave and then bury him in it, but he was too impatient for that today, so he’d get right to it. “Want to tell me why you went along with her idiocy? Why you let a probationary agent lead you around by the nose?”

McGee stared at his shoes for several seconds, and Gibbs delivered a sharp head-slap.

“Ow!” Rubbing the back of his head, McGee finally met Gibbs eyes. “She hasn’t been herself since Somalia, Boss. I wanted to be… supportive,” he offered somewhat tentatively.

“So your idea of support is to not bother with your duties as an agent, but instead act like you were in high school and ‘take sides’?”

Looking abashed, McGee replied, “It won’t happen again, Gibbs.”

“You’re damn right it won’t happen again!” Gibbs clenched his jaw he was so angry. “Another lead had to step in and take over the case. And he knows exactly what happened.” Taking a breath to calm himself, he added, “I talked to Agent Weaver, you did good tracking down the girlfriend. His team is on point to bring her in. You will work under his direction, doing whatever he tells you, until this case is solved or goes cold.”

McGee nodded, then hesitantly asked, “What about today?”

“You mean, what am I going to do about it?” At a nod, he replied, “I’m going to wait and talk to Tony first. But there will be repercussions, McGee.” He flipped the emergency stop switch to get the elevator moving again. As the door opened, he said, “You will call Weaver and find out what he wants, when he wants it, and if you can ever go home.” He held the elevator open. “Send David.”

Once Ziva was on the elevator and the emergency stop engaged, Gibbs settled for simply glaring at her.

It took a couple minutes for her to break. She threw up her hands with a huff. “What? I used my best judgment as an agent and I was wrong. Agents make mistakes, Gibbs!”

“Really? Insubordination was an example of your best judgment in that situation?”

“I find it difficult to tell when to take Tony seriously.”

“Do NOT even think of it, Ziva. You will not use Tony’s attempts to lighten up a difficult and stressful environment to justify yourself. It’s my job to keep Tony in line, not yours.” Or it least, it had been. Gibbs fought back a stab of grief at possibly losing Tony. “And Tony has been covering for me as lead for nearly eight of his nine years here, and I’ve checked and I know that he cleans it up and steps up when I’m gone. So your bullshit excuse isn’t cutting it, Agent David. You want to stop with the crap and tell me what this is really about?”

For a minute, it seemed they were in a standoff before Ziva finally grated out, “I cannot forgive him for killing Michael.”

Gibbs flipped the emergency stop. “Then find a new team.” He was done.

“No! Gibbs…” She stopped the elevator again. “Please. You don’t understand… what he did–”

He cut her off. “Let’s talk about what you did to cause that situation. You withheld information. You sent confidential NCIS data to Mossad without authorization. You lied to me. And then instead of coming clean about Rivkin, you again tried to hide the situation and have him extracted. That’s your part, Ziva. If you had done what you should have, it would never have happened.”

She stared at him, pale and shaking.

“But instead of accepting your failure, you blame it on Tony, who was keeping an eye on the situation at my instruction, and nearly got himself killed when he tried to be your friend first. He tried to warn you rather than get backup and bring you in for questioning. For which he gets your blame, interrogation by Mossad, and then you give me an ultimatum, asking me to throw him off my team.

“And despite all that, when you were in trouble, Tony insisted we find you. Tony came up with the plan to get revenge for your supposed death, and Tony volunteered to put himself in harm’s way to avenge you. So for being so damned loyal he gets your disdain and insubordination?”

Ziva stared at him, eyes wide. But he could see that she was building her defenses back up as she opened her mouth for a reply.

But he didn’t want to hear it. She’d had her chance to say something with meaning, and had wasted his time with every word out of her mouth. “No! You go home. That’s where you wanted to be. Don’t come back unless Agent Weaver calls for your help on the case, or if I give you permission to rejoin the team.”

Her eyes teared up. “Gibbs, please. You have to listen to me. I will straighten things out with, Tony… I will make it better. But you cannot remove me from the team! Please!”

“What did you think was going to happen, Probationary Agent David? Did you even stop to consider that you’re on probation? Regardless of how much field experience you have, your position is tenuous, and if you screw up, instead of disciplinary action, you could lose your job.” He couldn’t stand the sight of her crying, but he wasn’t going to give in either. “I don’t know what my final decision is going to be, Ziva. When Tony is well, I’ll ask him what he wants. But you should be aware that if he wants you off the team, you’re gone.”

She wiped at her tears, and whispered, “Tony would not ask that.”

Annoyed, he flipped the elevator switch. “You’re right… Tony has always been more forgiving than you.” Ziva looked like he’d struck her, but it was the truth. As the doors opened, he added, “Do not call anyone at NCIS until I decide what to do with you. And I’m serious about that. Not even Abby.” He gave her a hard glare, then went to Tony’s desk to get his agent’s car keys. Tony kept a bag in the car, and when he woke up, he would probably want to change.

“Gibbs?” Ziva questioned hesitantly. “Is Tony okay?”

His head snapped up, and she took a step back at the expression on his face. “Go home, Ziva.”

He grabbed the keys, then headed for the stairs.

~*~

Tony felt like his entire body was weighted down. He struggled to get his eyes open, and the bright fluorescent light was like a poker through his brain. Squeezing his eyes shut, he groaned and managed to move his body a little. What the hell happened to him?

“Tony?” He didn’t recognize the voice, but it was oddly soothing. “You’re okay, you’re in a safe place. Ducky gave you an infusion that you had an unusual reaction to.”

He tried to remember, it felt like he was pulling his thoughts up through mud. Then it all flooded back. Being sick, and seeing Ducky, and… god, he was turning into a dragon! “Drugged me?” he croaked out

“No, Tony. It was just a reaction. Ducky said you have bad reactions to other things as well. You just need to wake up now. You’ve been asleep for nearly six hours. Can you try to open your eyes again? We’ve turned the light down.”

Slitting his eyes open, the first thing he saw was a younger man with short’ish brown hair. He appeared tall and angular, but had a nice face. And something about him was very comforting to Tony. “Who are you?” He tried moving again and got a little more response from his muscles.

“My name is Spencer Reid.”

Tony realized he was lying in the ballistics lab and there were two other men in the room. The lights were a little too low to get a good look at them, though he thought one might be Aaron Hotchner. He really wanted to have a freak out, but he couldn’t get his body to cooperate enough for that.

“BAU?” Tony asked with marginal attention, mostly focused on getting his body to cooperate.

The young man looked a little surprised. “Yes. How did you know?”

“Read some of your papers. The two guys with you look like FBI… can’t see well, but think that’s Hotchner over your left shoulder.” As he was starting to get movement back, he realized the blanket on him was rubbing on his bare chest. “Where’s my shirt?”

“Hanging on the back of a chair. We removed it to check your pre-scales, but otherwise, you’ve been left alone, I promise you.”

What could have gone wrong with his pre-scales? It felt so weird to even think that. “Why are you here?”

Reid arched a brow in query. “Me in particular, or the three of us?”

“You. I figure if that’s Hotchner he’s here because he’s the DC Alpha.” Tony didn’t pay much attention to anything dragon-related on the news, but Hotchner’s close tie to Gibbs put him higher on Tony’s interest list. He managed to get his arms working a bit and pulled one out from the covers, rubbing at his temple.

“I’m an Omega, like you. Alpha Hotchner is my mate. The other man is David Rossi, he’s also an Alpha, and my second mate.”

Tony blinked a few times. “Is that typical? Two mates?” He figured he should be panicking more about this whole situation, but he was already kind of powerless and he didn’t need a girly freak-out in front of three dragons. Besides, the Omega just made him feel kinda calm.

“No, it’s quite rare.”

“Spencer likes to make things complicated,” Rossi commented from his position near the door. “Nice to meet you, Agent DiNozzo.”

“Ugh… just call me Tony.”

He felt Reid’s hand on his arm. “Do you want to try to sit up? I can help you.”

Tony did want to sit up, he felt too vulnerable lying there, but Reid looked like a stiff wind would blow him over. He had to remind himself that appearances were deceiving, because all dragons were stronger than a human. “Yeah. Up would be good.”

He felt the blanket slip away, then cool hands helped him sit up on the bed. He felt a little woozy and braced his head on his hands.

“Don’t try to stand yet, please. Just get your bearings.” Those stern tones had to belong to Alpha Hotchner.

“Yeah… no problem. No unnecessary moving. But could I have my shirt back?” The shirt was in front of him, and his eyes followed the shirt to a hand and then up to David Rossi. “Thanks.” His poor Armani had seen better days.

He struggled to get coordinated enough to get the shirt on, but was failing miserably when Reid began helping him, saying nothing. “Thanks,” he murmured. “So what happens now? Because I’d really like to go home, get a shower and some more Advil.”

The three dragons exchanged glances, before Hotch replied, “The situation is rather complicated. Abby has led me to believe that you don’t know much about dragons in general, and emergence in particular.” At Tony’s nod, he continued. “To be blunt, there’s a lot of concern for your safety. Going to your home, while possible, may be difficult. At present there are nine dragons here, expanding shortly to eleven.”

Tony gaped in astonishment. What the hell had been going on?

“Can your apartment accommodate?” Hotch asked in a dry tone.

He scowled at the stern-faced Alpha. “You already know the answer to that question. How about I just absolve you all of your responsibility and we all go our separate ways? I’ll get through this emerging thing and figure it out after I don’t feel so awful all the time.”

Reid sat next to him on the futon and laid a hand on his arm. “That’s not really an option, Tony.”

“Why not? What if I just want to go back about my life and forget about this?”

“Well, to counter your points, Advil isn’t going to help you, as you well know. You need the tea to–”

“I am not taking that again. You can just forget that right now!”

Reid’s expression was patient but unyielding. “The reason you feel so awful is that a dragon produces enzymes that a human body does not. You won’t start making those enzymes until you emerge. But you are already part dragon. The symptoms will get worse the more dragon you become, until you complete your first transformation. The tea would normally be taken once a day, and you can take it at bedtime. But because you went so long without it – and not getting help for so long was really stupid, by the way – you’ll need a few extra doses, so you’ll be asleep quite a bit for the next couple days.”

Before Tony could protest and argue the point further, Reid held up his hand in a stop motion and continued. “Forget the tea for now. We can talk about it more when we get settled somewhere. Consider this, Betas emerge at a rate that is consistently inconsistent.”

Tony blinked at the bizarre statement that seemed to be apropos of nothing.

Reid continued as if there were nothing odd about what he’d said. “There tend to be more in times of stress or war, and more in densely populated areas. Despite the variables, the average is approximately 1,000 worldwide per year. Alphas emerge at a more consistent rate of approximately forty per year, and that is not impacted by war or population density. Again, worldwide.”

Fewer Alphas than Tony expected.

“Less than one Omega emerges per year. Worldwide,” Spencer concluded.

Tony blinked a few times. That was damn few Omegas. He knew they were uncommon, but still… “Okay, so they’re rare. I’m still not seeing the need for such high-level protection.”

Looking to Hotchner, Reid asked, “If someone abducted me and threatened to harm me, what would you do to keep me safe?”

Hotchner’s face looked carved from stone. “Anything.”

“Would you rob a bank?”

“Yes.”

With an apologetic expression, he softly asked, “Would you kill someone?”

“Yes,” both Alphas responded emphatically.

Tony was stunned for a moment, then shook it off. They were mated to Reid. A lot of people would go to extreme lengths for someone they loved.

“I know you’re thinking that it’s because they’re my mate,” Reid said with precision insight.

Rossi moved more into his line of sight, a serious expression on his face. “It’s not any different with you, Tony. If someone took you, most dragons would do anything to keep you from harm. So imagine someone using you to force Gibbs to commit crimes, or let suspects slide.”

Tony felt the blood drain out of his face.

Rossi hunkered down in front of Tony, but carefully didn’t touch him. “I know that was a harsh message, but you are rare and precious to the dragon community. I get that you’re independent and used to doing things on your own, but we need you to let us protect you through this process, Tony.”

And suddenly, Tony had so many questions, he didn’t even know where to start. But mostly he just wanted it all to go away. He wanted his life back the way it used to be. He started to ask what happened after he emerged, but Rossi held up a hand asking for his silence.

“We know you’re going to have lots of questions, and the best people to answer them are the other Omegas. Spencer here, and Blair Sandburg, who is on his way. Let’s deal with the immediate issues and we’ll try to give the three of you as much privacy as we can after we get the security settled. Then you can ask as many questions as you like.”

Reluctantly, Tony nodded. They hadn’t really explained why him being rare meant dragons would respond so aggressively in his defense, but he’d get to that later. He had one pressing question and one pressing need. “Is Gibbs coming back?”

Reid answered, “He’s here. He came back immediately. He was down here earlier, then went to go deal with a problem, and said he’d get your bag out of your car. But, Tony, you need to be aware that you won’t be able to spend a lot of time with Gibbs.”

What the hell? “I don’t understand… he’s my boss, I’ve known him for nearly a decade. Why can’t I see him if I want to?”

After several pensive seconds, Reid finally replied, “He’s unmated, and it would be inappropriate for him to be allowed more time alone with you than any other unmated Alpha.”

That made the kind of sense that really didn’t. Tony wanted to scream with frustration. It was like talking in circles, but in two different languages while not looking at one another. It made no sense!

But for the moment, he had another issue to deal with. “Look, I am totally lost in this craziness, but I will try to be cooperative about security. For the moment,” he added at the looks of relief on their faces. “I’m not just agreeing blindly. I need to understand better, because I am so freaking confused.” He took a deep breath to try to calm down. “But right now, I need the bathroom and then something to eat. I haven’t eaten since last night and I’m feeling it right now.”

Hotchner looked uncomfortable, but it was Rossi who asked, with a grimace, “I don’t suppose you’d be comfortable staying in here and using a bottle?”

Tony glared. “No, I would not! Two of you can go with me, but I am going, and I’m going now. But so help me, if nine of you try to go to the bathroom with me, my cooperative days are done!”

It took several minutes to get to the bathroom, which was only about twenty feet from Abby’s lab. But Abby tried to hug him and Ducky tried to introduce him to people, and he had to resort to snapping at everyone to get out of the lab. All the dragons seemed set to follow, but Rossi managed to keep everyone in the lab with only he and Hotchner as guards.

After thoroughly checking out the empty bathroom, which had no windows, they obligingly waited in the hall after telling Tony he had two whole minutes or they were coming in.

Once he’d relieved his bladder, he washed up and splashed water on his face. God he looked a wreck. He was pale, dark circles under his eyes, hair every which direction, his clothes looked like he’d kept them wadded in a ball and slept on them before putting them on. Tony readily admitted he was somewhat vain, and looking like hell was, to him, in some ways, worse than actually feeling like hell.

Fuck it.

His life was a runaway train already, he’d just have to suck it up and deal. Just like he always did. Still, he tried to get his hair in some semblance of order.

Rossi came in and Tony was about to gripe about the quick two minutes, but realized his bag was in the Alpha’s hands. “Gibbs just turned up with your stuff. We can give you five minutes to change. Figured you’d rather do it here than in the lab.”

“Thanks,” Tony managed to get out, and accepted the bag. Once he was alone, he assessed the limited clothes in his go-bag. Jeans or sweats. His vanity said jeans, everything else said sweats. He decided to go with comfort for once, and pulled on black sweats, a long-sleeved t-shirt and his sneakers. He shoved his wrinkled shirt and trousers into the duffle.

It was stupid, but it felt like walking out of this bathroom and returning to the lab was giving up on his old life, and accepting this dragon craziness. Everything was happening too fast, and he felt so out of control. He just wanted to sneak away and wait for it to pass. But he knew it wouldn’t pass. He was, against all odds, a dragon. And his life would never be the same. Though he was determined to find some way of doing this on his own terms.

Tony took a few deep breaths, squared his shoulders and went to meet his fate.

– – – –

Chapter Seven

Gibbs left Tony’s bag with Rossi, then returned to the lab. “Abbs. With me.”

She saluted sharply, then raced after him, catching up at the elevator. “Where we going, Gibbs?”

“Coffee. Then get dinner for everyone.”

“Awesome. I think everyone is definitely getting hungry. I’m not sure I want to be in a confined space with a bunch of hungry dragons.” She grinned cheekily at him.

Once in the parking garage, they climbed into Gibbs’ truck, which he’d left at the office before his trip. As they drove, Abby chattered away. Any time she got close to mentioning anything about the day, he stopped her, then let her continue on with something else. As they drove, he took careful note of the traffic around the Navy Yard. There were a few vehicles he found suspicious, and he made a mental note to discuss it with Hotch as soon as they returned.

They pulled up in front of a Chinese take-out place. Abby grinned at him knowingly. “You picked Chinese because there’s a coffee shop next door.”

“You got it.” In reality, Gibbs preferred the coffee shop by the Yard, but this was Tony’s favorite Chinese place. Rather than get out, he turned sideways on the seat to face Abby. “Let’s talk for a minute.”

She gestured towards the restaurant. “Food won’t get cold?”

“It’s a big order… won’t be ready for ten.” He contemplated her for several seconds, and decided to be blunt. “You won’t be able to stay with us through the whole thing, Abbs. As soon as we leave your lab, I need you out of it.”

Instantly, her eyes teared up. “But, Gibbs. This is the most exciting thing ever! And I’ve been helpful, and I won’t get in the way.”

“You may not mean to be, but you will be.” He held up a hand to halt her reply. “Hear me out, Abby. There are things that need to happen, things that need to be said that you cannot be there for. Everyone is watching what they say because you’re around. There’s a lot you can know, but we can’t afford to have to change rooms every time someone needs to say something private. We have a short timeline, and your presence complicates things.”

“But why is it so short? I don’t understand this, Gibbs!”

“This is why, Abby. You want everything explained. But we are not going to explain everything to you.”

Her mascara was beginning to run. “But I want to spend time with Tony. I want to help him. You don’t know some things about him, Gibbs… this is going to scare him and he’ll need help!”

Gibbs sighed and rubbed his brow. She wasn’t wrong. Tony would need help, but he knew she was going to be more of a hindrance than a help. This was why he had always refused to discuss dragon matters with her. Even though there were things he trusted her to know, if she knew a little, she’d never stop. He handed her a handkerchief so she could wipe her eyes.

“I’m going to explain this one thing, Abby, and then that’s it. I’m not answering any more of your questions, and as soon as we can move Tony, you won’t be going with us.” He hesitated a moment, then pressed on. “When an Omega emerges, they are compelled to find a mate.”

Abby gasped. “Tony is going to freak!”

“You interrupt me, we’re done, got it?” At her fervent nod, he continued. “He’ll be the one to choose his mate, so don’t worry about that. We don’t know why Omegas emerge, or how they choose, but the Council has given in to the demands of the Alphas that all those interested be allowed to meet the Omega prior to emergence. Call it Alpha superstition, but an Omega has never chosen an Alpha they didn’t meet ahead of time.

“There’s a gathering that happens for at least two weeks prior to emergence, where the unmated Alphas who wish to participate come to meet the Omega. We likely only have a week with Tony, which is almost no time. Already he’s going to spend a lot of the next couple days sleeping. And the other Omegas will need to spend a lot of time with him to get him ready for his emergence. Can you see that everyone is going to be busy? Tiptoeing around you, and dealing with your questions, is a distraction we can’t afford.”

She was crying again.

He reached out and cupped her cheek. “Abby, I don’t fault your curiosity, we just don’t have time for it. Tony doesn’t have time for it. If he knows you’re upset about not getting to see him, he’ll push to see you, because that’s Tony. And we’ll eventually give in. But think about what the consequences to him will be before you force him to make that choice. Let him have this time without any more pressure than he’s already going to have to bear.”

Abby looked like her heart was broken. Gibbs sympathized with her upset and frustration; Tony was her friend, he was becoming the thing she was most curious about in the world, she wanted to be there for him, but the best thing she could do was gracefully back out of the situation. Gibbs opened his arms. “Come here.”

She flung herself across the seat and grabbed on to him. “After it’s all done with, I’ll get to see him then, right?”

“Of course he’s going to want to see you, Abbs. Just be patient.” He couldn’t bring himself to tell her that Tony might be leaving. He would have to go wherever his Alpha went.

“You know he’s gonna pick you,” Abby whispered.

“We’ll see.” He wasn’t prepared to think about that now, so he just held her for a couple more minutes, then helped her clean her face.

Just as he was about to get out of the car, his cell rang. The display read ‘Ellison.’ It was too soon for Jim to be here, so he must have not left yet. Damn.

“Gibbs,” he answered.

It’s Jim. We’re here. Where am I meeting you?”

“That was fast.” Really fast. “I’m at NCIS HQ.”

Private plane. We’ll see you in 45.” The line went dead. Gibbs was a man who had always appreciated Jim’s brevity.

With a new sense of urgency, they picked up the food, drinks, and lots of caffeine, then headed back to the Yard.

~*~

Tony was a little upset to find that Gibbs and Abby were gone. His limbs continued to feel a little leaden, and he generally still felt poorly. He was tired and headachy and he wanted people he was comfortable with. He thought he covered his upset pretty well, but then Rossi quietly mentioned they were just picking up dinner. He gave an acknowledging nod and moved on to something he felt less vulnerable about.

For Tony, when in doubt, be social. And he had lots of dragons to say hi to. The only person he didn’t know was Michael Kwan, an FBI agent who was tall and well-built, and had the most startling magenta colored scales running down the side of his neck. Tony briefly wondered what kind of scale colors were typical of Omegas. He prayed he wouldn’t wind up with pink scales.

Tony extended his hand in greeting, but the Agent just stared at him, vaguely appalled. What the hell was that about?

Ducky coughed a little then said, “Anthony, it’s considered bad manners to touch an unmated Omega unless an emergency.”

“You have got to be kidding me?!” This was so fucked up. Thoughts of being sociable flew right out of his head. “Why the hell not?”

“There’s a belief amongst many that physical contact may influence an Omega’s decision about who to choose for a mate.”

Choose a mate? Tony had a flash of his dream about going to the gathering ground of the Drakes. How could he have had a dream about something he knew nothing about? “That comment brings up about a thousand questions, but I just can’t take any more today!” He took a steadying breath. “Tell me this, has a Beta ever been chosen as a, uh, mate?”

With a frown, Ducky shook his head.

“Then there’s no problem here.” He stuck his hand out again. “Nice to meet you, Agent Kwan.”

Reid huffed out a startled laugh.

Kwan looked wide-eyed to Hotchner, then back to Tony. Insistently, Tony kept his hand out and raised a brow in challenge. With reluctance, the Beta quickly shook Tony’s hand. “Likewise, Agent DiNozzo. Please call me Mike.”

“And let’s set that as a rule. Everyone has to call me Tony.” He turned to Morgan, and once again offered his hand. “Nice to see you again, Derek. If you tell me we never get to shoot hoops again, I may have to put the hurt on an Alpha or two.”

Eyes crinkled in amusement, Derek more readily shook Tony’s hand. “Wouldn’t want to deprive you of the opportunity to kick my butt again, Tony.”

Tony grinned, then turned to Cassie and repeated the gesture. Then offered his hand to Gibbs’ Beta. “Rick, thanks for everything you did today.”

The ridiculously oversized – in Tony’s estimation – Beta shook Tony’s hand with a quirk of his lip. “No problem at all, Tony.”

Tony winked at Ducky. “I’d shake your hand, too, Duck, but it seems like that would be taking my rebellion to an absurd degree since I’ve known you so long.”

Ducky chuckled. “No problem at all, dear boy. I did assure you a temper tantrum at your leisure.”

“That you did. But if you think that was me cashing in on my temper tantrum, you really underestimate me.”

Reid and Rossi both laughed. Hotchner continued to look stern, and gestured to the back lab, as if offering to let Tony return to ballistics.

“No thanks,” Tony replied to the unspoken request with an even tone. “I think I’ll stay here, and then eat dinner with everyone else. Though we seriously need to get more chairs in here. If I sit on the floor, I doubt I’ll be getting back up again.”

Ducky responded before anyone else. “How are you feeling, Anthony?”

“Better than earlier,” Tony hedged not wanting to get into it.

Hotchner frowned at him a little. “We need to know what symptoms you’re actually having. If you’d like to discuss it with Dr. Mallard privately, we can adjourn to the back lab.”

“Wouldn’t you be able to hear anyway?”

“Yes. And we can’t promise you actual privacy, as much as we might like to. Our instincts are too on alert to dial them back. The illusion of privacy is the best I can give you right now.”

Tony considered his options. If Ducky got him alone, he’d pester the truth out of him, and everyone would hear anyway. And between Hotchner and Ducky, he wasn’t getting out of the truth. After a moment, he decided it was better to give in now and have some appearance of control, rather than practically have it forced out of him.

“I’m tired, my arms and legs feel like lead, my head hurts, my neck itches. Oh, and I’m hungry! So let’s get chairs so we can eat, like the minute Gibbs gets back. The conference room upstairs has plenty of chairs and we can all stop leaning.”

The Alphas exchanged a look, but Tony ignored it. He wasn’t going back to ballistics to hang out in near-isolation.

Eventually, Hotch relented. “Ducky, can you show Yates and Morgan to the conference room?”

Within ten minutes, they had chairs in the first two sections of the lab, making everything feel more crowded. Hotchner made sure they kept the walkway clear. Tony was chatting rather aimlessly with Derek, but he noticed Reid kept glancing his way. Even with the chairs, Reid had stayed leaning against the lab refrigerator.

Tony broke off his conversation with Derek and wheeled himself over next to the lanky young man. “You okay?”

Reid looked perplexed. “I think that question should be addressed to you.”

“Ah. Well, I’m fine. A little weirded out, but I’m trying not to think about it much.”

“Omegas tend to have gifts,” he said, seemingly apropos of nothing.

Tony blinked at that. “Okaaay.” Reid seemed to have a habit of throwing out weird conversational left turns.

“The most common gift is empathy. About 90 percent have some degree of it. My empathy is particularly strong.” Reid’s affect was really flat, and Tony wondered what that was about.

“I assume you don’t mean empathy in the way humans think of it… ability to relate to people. I’m guessing you mean actually feeling what they’re feeling?”

“Yes.”

Tony internally cringed. He really didn’t need someone feeling what was going on with him. Well, he’d just have to roll with the punches. “That must kinda suck.”

Reid looked at him with an expression of surprise. “Sometimes. Well, a lot of the time. For me it was a difficult adjustment. Emotions didn’t have a lot of place in my life before I emerged. Sometimes I don’t know how to interpret what I’m feeling from others, some of the emotions are very foreign. It seems like most Omegas handle the empathy better than I do.”

Tony considered that for a bit, drumming his fingers on his thigh. “Does it get overwhelming?”

“It can, yes. Blair is excellent at teaching control. I’m now able to shut it out as much as possible.”

“Hmm. But not now?” Tony guessed that was where this was headed.

Another flicker of surprise passed over Reid’s face. “No. Like Hotch and Rossi, my instincts are heightened. I need to pay attention to the emotional tone in the room.”

“And what’s bothering you?”

“You. Your emotions and your demeanor are nearly polarized. I’m… concerned, but I don’t know how to act to make the situation better.”

“Ah.” Tony had a feeling it was something like that. “I’m really not accustomed to people knowing what I’m actually feeling.” He knew that wasn’t an answer, but he didn’t really want to get into what he was feeling. Rubbing at his forehead, he carefully chose his next words. “What would help you?”

“If there’s anything I can do, I’d like to help you.”

“Oh.” Tony blinked a few times. He wasn’t used to people wanting to help him. Abby and Ducky were rare in that they tried to see beyond the front Tony put up. Most people just bought his act. It was so weird having this conversation in a room full of dragons pretending like they weren’t listening to every word. “I guess you’re already helping. I mean, I may be imagining it, but when I’m around you, I feel more… I guess ‘settled’ would be the right word. Less like I’m in a train about to crash. You can probably tell that, though.”

Spencer’s lips quirked faintly. “I can tell that you feel a little less troubled. I know you don’t want any more data right now, but that’s what I’m good at.”

Tony suddenly got it. Spencer wasn’t sure how to talk to him. Tony was the master of talking without saying anything, which Spencer didn’t seem comfortable with. “We could talk about anything else, really. I told you I’ve read several of your papers, so there’s that. Oh! You could tell me a feeling, and I could try to guess who in the room feels that way.”

From across the room, Rossi barked out a laugh.

“For instance, if you’d said ‘amused’ I could have guessed Rossi.”

Spencer looked like he wasn’t sure whether to take Tony seriously or not.

“I guess it violates some Omega empathy code to tell me what people are feeling?”

Looking bemused, Spence seemed like he didn’t know what to say.

“Okay, so that’s out. Let’s see. I read that paper on differentiating stranger murders. I was curious about something you wrote about a killer’s typical style of interpersonal transaction. Although, I insist you sit down for this, because I’m not getting up and I’m getting a crick in my neck.”

And with that, Reid was off. Tony actually was interested, so he wasn’t being too self-sacrificing. Although he wasn’t sure he was even capable of absorbing the amount of information the profiler was throwing at him. And he did feel better just listening to Reid and being near him. Just another odd cherry on his weirdo sundae.

It was only a few minutes before there was a brisk knock on the lab door. Suddenly Rossi, Morgan and Connelly were standing in front of him and Spencer. Then Hotchner cautiously opened the door, admitting Abby and Gibbs, laden with food and drink.

Gibbs glanced his way and gave him a nod, which Tony found reassuring. He figured he better not press his luck and get too close to Gibbs. The Alphas would probably stroke out if he actually touched Gibbs. But he gave Abby a big hug.

She seemed subdued, but her hug was fierce. She’d probably had a long day.

“I owe you a dozen Caf-Pows,” he murmured near her ear. Over her shoulder, he noticed Gibbs close to Hotchner, talking in low tones. Hotchner’s face could be carved from granite.

“You bet you do, buster!” She pulled back and smiled at him, but it seemed a little forced. He wanted to ask her about it, but this wasn’t the time or place or company. Besides, the Alphas were looking twitchy at them touching.

He was half tempted to have his promised temper tantrum, but decided he was too hungry. He settled for making grabby hands at the bags of food. “What’d you get me?”

“We got a little bit of everything.” She dug around in the bag, looking for something specific. “But for you, we specially got the salt and pepper squid.” She handed him a container and a pair of chopsticks.

Grinning, Tony grabbed the white carton. “You, my little goth goddess, get two dozen Caf-Pows.” He glanced at Gibbs and smiled his thanks.

Gibbs just nodded, then focused back on his coffee and whispered conversation with Hotchner. Tony so wanted to know what that was about, but had a hunch they weren’t going to tell him.

He took a bite of the squid and felt his appetite start to wane. Damn. He hadn’t eaten all day. Forcing himself to keep going, he admitted that he was starting to feel really wretched again. Not wanting anyone to be suspicious, he ate with forced enthusiasm.

As soon as the noise settled from the rustling of bags and cartons, and the minor squabbles over choice dishes, Gibbs said, “Ellison landed at 1930. He should be here in about fifteen minutes.”

Everyone stilled.

“Thought we wouldn’t see them for another couple hours at least,” Connelly replied.

“Private plane,” Gibbs replied blandly.

Tony blinked at his squid a few times. Guess the show was about to really get started. “Good job getting extra, Gibbs. We’ll save some for them. But I’m not sharing my squid,” Tony threw out into the quiet room, trying to divert everyone’s attention to something trivial.

Gibbs lips tightened in the way Tony knew meant he was amused but refusing to show it. “DiNozzo…” He trailed off with a shake of his head.

Yeah, he’d have probably gotten a head smack for that comment. If Gibbs weren’t on the other side of the room, and if they were allowed to actually touch, and if Tony’s head wasn’t about to go nuclear.

Tony heaved a sigh and ate another bite. He was less than ten bites into dinner and his appetite was completely gone. He poked his chopsticks into his food desultorily, not paying attention to anyone else, wrapped up in his own thoughts.

So occupied in his own mind, he didn’t notice Spencer moving closer until their knees bumped. “You okay?”

Tony scoffed. “Of course.”

“Remember who you’re talking to,” Spencer reminded in a mild tone as he used a fork for his orange peel chicken.

“It’s just getting too real,” Tony whispered, hoping the noise of dinner gave them some actual privacy.

“No one is going to think less of you if you need to retreat, Tony. You can have some time alone. Or at least, as alone as we can get you.”

Tony poked his squid a few more times. “I’ll be fine.”

Gibbs cell ringing made Tony tense and saved his squid from any more pokes. A few seconds later, Gibbs was gone from the lab again.

Tony tried to get control of his emotions, which were trying to take him on a path to a panic attack. A hand settled on his shoulder, and he immediately knew by the way his upset calmed that it was Spencer. “Thanks,” he whispered.

~*~

In the NCIS lobby, Blair bounced heel-to-toe waiting anxiously for Jethro to arrive. He was almost 100 percent sure they were here for an Omega emergence, which was exciting in and of itself. But he’d also be able to spend time with Spencer. They talked frequently, but visits were too rare in Blair’s opinion. It was also nice to get to see Jethro again.

They could have signed themselves into NCIS, but Jim didn’t want their credentials run. Better to fly under the radar for the time being, and have Jethro sign them in as guests.

The plane ride had been deadly dull. They basically worked en route. It would have been much better to strategize about the situation, but even though they’d swept the plane for bugs, Jim wasn’t prepared to talk about it openly. Conversations in supposedly bug-free, soundproof rooms had been overheard in the past. They really needed to find out how so much information was intercepted. It was their top priority these days, but they hadn’t made much headway on it.

For a while, they were using a complicated code system unique to every Alpha, but the information still got intercepted. It made Blair want to pull his hair out. It wasn’t even all information, but it was enough and from a completely unrelated set of events and circumstances, that it was impossible to find any common thread.

The security guard was eyeing the four of them with a healthy degree of caution. Jim was big, imposing, and the midnight-blue Alpha Mark at his temples made him an easy spot as a dragon. Henri and Rafe’s Beta’s scales were most visible from the side, but the bright colors made them pretty easy to spot as well – Henri’s a bright blue, and Rafe’s a vivid emerald green. Blair privately thought of Betas as the peacocks of the dragon world. Seeing a bunch of Betas in their dragon form was like a crayon box exploded.

Although he tended to think the bright colors were somewhat preferable to what Omegas had to put up with. Blair was careful to keep his scales covered most of the time, so the guard had pegged only three of them as dragons. Unlike Alphas and Betas, an Omega could hide all their scales with ease.

Henri and Rafe were pacing around a bit, and Blair was still bouncing. Every one of them was tired of being cooped up. Only Jim was managing to stay still. Of course he was staying still. Jim had the whole macho, Alpha, biggest-badass-on-the-playground image to maintain.

A few seconds later, the door to the stairwell opened and Jethro appeared. Blair couldn’t stop his smile. Jethro was looking a little stressed, and Blair could feel the stress, but it was so nice to see him again.

Before anyone could say anything, Blair was giving him a hug. “I’m so glad to see you, Jethro.” It was normally taboo for an unmated Alpha to touch any Omega, but Blair had never been particularly good about that rule. Especially with Alphas he felt comfortable with.

Gibbs chuckled and gave him a gentle squeeze. “It’s good to see you, too, Blair.”

Blair preferred to be really hugged, but Alphas were always so damned careful. He’d reminded Jethro several times that he was, in fact, also a dragon! And didn’t break that easily. But there was no changing some dragons.

Jethro pulled away and offered his hand to Jim. “Thanks for coming, Jim.” Then he quirked a brow at the two unexpected guests.

“Gibbs,” Jim replied evenly. “This is Henri Brown and Brian Rafe. They’re with the Cascade PD, on loan to me for as long as needed.

Gibbs shook their hands in turn, then went to finish signing them in. They all kept fairly quiet as they headed down a flight of stairs, cut across the building and down another flight. Blair wanted to ask questions, but even though it was late, there were still a lot of agents in the building. As they were nearing a door labeled ‘Forensics,’ Blair suddenly staggered with the awareness of someone in that very room.

Jim caught him by the arm, then pulled him close, making sure he was steady. “Blair? What happened?”

“Christ, someone in that room is feeling really terrible.” Blair was immensely grateful that he didn’t actually physically feel the sensations of what that person was going through, but just the awareness of it made him want to cringe. One of his gifts was the ability to tell what dragons were going through at a biological level. Usually it was a great help, but he’d rather not have that flood through him any time soon. Ack!

Gibbs’ jaw clenched. “I swear I’m going to head-slap him.” He rapped on the door.

They were admitted by Aaron Hotchner to a very crowded lab. It seemed like there were already a dozen people in the room. But Blair’s attention zeroed right in on someone who was blocked from view by no less than four dragons. That kind of hyper vigilance only happened with an emerging Omega.

Blair let himself be shuffled further into the room, but held up a hand for silence when people seemed inclined to talk. He walked up to the dragons guarding his target and waved them out of the way.

He was surprised on several fronts. The person he’d picked up on in the hall was the emerging Omega. Blair had never gotten such a clean connection from someone prior to their emergence. His gift was usually only effective on emerged dragons, not someone in the process.

The man was undeniably attractive, had the prettiest green eyes and short light brown hair, and was built a lot like a Beta. He looked like he was on his last leg. Blair wanted to give him a hug, and assure him that Blair would figure out the problem and help, but the guy was looking up at him with an expression of near panic. Someone was gently rubbing the guy’s shoulder and he was belatedly aware that it was Spence.

Suddenly, Blair realized what the problem was and turned his glare on the rest of the room. “Why the hell isn’t he getting his tea?”

“Oh no!” The guy got to his feet. “I am not taking that again!”

Blair whirled around. “What?”

“I am not going to pass out for another six hours. I’ll take a pass on the unconsciousness and the weird dreams,” the emerging Omega said, hands up as if to ward them away.

Blair started to ask questions, but then there were too many people talking at once. Someone was trying to explain about an idiosyncratic reaction, someone else was asking about dreams, yet another person was trying to persuade the man he needed the tea.

Jim’s whistle pierced the room and made all the Alphas wince at the sharp sound. “Hey! One at a time. Let’s start with the basics. I guess we’re here for a new Omega.” He looked to the man standing by Spencer. “You, I take it?” At the man’s nod, Jim asked, “Name?”

“Anthony DiNozzo… Tony, please.” The guy was looking really rattled. Spence kept a hand on his shoulder.

Blair was curious about the spark of recognition in Jim’s eyes, but couldn’t ask about it now. He also noticed that Gibbs was watching Tony with barely disguised concern. So Gibbs knew Tony before all this? Since they were at NCIS, the guy was probably an agent.

“I’m Jim Ellison, the Alpha Prime for North America and member of the Dragon Council. This is my Omega, Blair Sandburg, also a member of the Council. We’ll be responsible for seeing you through your emergence. You’ve been briefed on the security concerns?” At Tony’s hesitant nod, Jim continued. “How long have you been emerging?”

“I’m not entirely sure. I’ve been feeling off for a few weeks. I told Ducky everything about it.”

Blair really hoped that wasn’t true. They didn’t have time to get a gathering together if he was that far along. And why were they just hearing about it now if this had been going on for weeks?

“If I may?” Ducky stepped forward.

Jim actually managed a small smile. “Ducky… good to see you. Feel free.”

“Anthony came to see me this afternoon about persistent symptoms. After an examination, I discovered his pre-scales. He was unaware at that point that he was emerging. He has no latent or dormant dragon blood, so it was quite a surprise.

“His pre-scales are formed to the base of his neck, which would put him at least three weeks along. And that is consistent with Anthony’s account of his symptomology. I administered his first dose of tea, and shortly thereafter he passed out, a rare but not unheard of reaction. He was unconscious for nearly six hours. His vulnerable state is why I believe Alpha Hotchner decided to remain at NCIS for so long.”

Blair blinked repeatedly, trying to get his whirling thoughts in some sort of order. He could tell Jim was a little overloaded, too. No dragon blood at all? And so far along! Jesus.

Unexpectedly, Henri blurted out, “You went three weeks without the tea? Dude, you are my new hero!”

Jim frowned at Henri, but Tony managed a small smile, so Blair considered it a win.

To Ducky, Blair asked, “Could you prepare an infusion for Tony? We can give it to him right away.”

“Certainly, Blair.”

“I don’t want it!” Tony insisted.

“Chief, we should sort next steps first. Things are much more complicated with someone unconscious.”

Blair ground his teeth, and glared at his Alpha. “No! I’m not letting a dragon feel that awful when it can be prevented. Especially not for the sake of convenience!”

Jim held up in hands in a gesture of surrender. Yeah, he knew what side his bread was buttered on.

“Hey!” Tony yelled. “Does anyone care that I don’t want to take it?”

Blair was about to reply, when Gibbs’ shouted, “DiNozzo!” cut through the air.

“Boss?” Oddly enough, Tony seemed calmer for Gibbs yelling at him.

“You will drink the tea.”

“But, Gibbs!” And everyone was treated to a stare down between the two. Finally Tony gave an exasperated huff and threw up his hands. “Whatever. I’ll drink the damn tea. But not until I get to talk to you.”

Gibbs’ expression closed off. “Tony, that’s not my call.”

“No, it’s my call. Fully grown man here. Or dragon. Or half dragon. Whatever. The point is that I’m done with the ‘unmated Omega’ answer to everything. I want to talk to you!”

Gibbs looked to Jim, who was steadily watching Tony.

“Ducky?” Jim asked, still looking at Tony, who was glaring at Gibbs. “How long does it take for the tea to render him unconscious?”

“It was five or six minutes, I believe.”

“Okay, Tony, you’ve got five minutes. You drink the tea and you can talk to Gibbs until you’re asleep.”

Tony glared at Jim. And it was a good effort. Most people didn’t glare at Jim. Well, except Blair, and Blair was starting to like Tony a lot.

“Take it or leave it, Sport. And I will be in the room.”

Blair flicked a quick glance at Jim. He didn’t usually nickname people he’d just met. Jim must know Tony from somewhere.

Tony looked like he was going to grind his teeth to dust. “Fine,” he bit out.

Blair approached Tony. “Sorry, man. I know this is rough. But we can’t in good conscience let you be sick.”

Shrugging, Tony looked a little defeated. “I need to make arrangements with my keepers to go to the restroom before my forced nap.” He gave Spence a half smile, then walked over to Rossi.

Once Tony, Rossi and Hotchner were out of the lab, Blair gave Spence a hug, who returned it somewhat awkwardly. Blair was on a mission to get Spencer used to being hugged, but he’d have to see him more often for that plan to work, dammit!

“How are you?” Blair asked.

“It’s been a long day, but I’m fine.”

Blair looked closely, trying to gauge the truthfulness. “My empathy isn’t as sensitive as yours, but I can feel how conflicted and upset he is. Are you okay with all that coming at you?”

Spencer gave a one-shouldered shrug. “It’s fine. He’s not like most people I’ve met. And he really doesn’t seem to want this. Mostly it’s confusing. Maybe when things are calmer, we can talk more?”

Nodding, Blair replied, “Of course.”

Then Tony was back, and while Ducky finished preparing the tea, he was introduced to Rafe and Henri. Jim frowned when Tony insisted on shaking their hands.

Yep, Blair really was starting to like Tony.

The human woman, who’d been introduced as Abby Sciuto, was hugging Tony and telling him she would probably be back at work tomorrow, but she wanted updates and would see Tony soon. Blair could sense real sadness from her, but had no idea what that was about. She seemed to be putting a convincing front on her emotions, because Tony didn’t seem to detect anything. Though his powers of observation might be somewhat stunted by three weeks of feeling like crap. Blair was still somewhat boggled by that.

A couple minutes later, Ducky announced the tea was ready. He handed it to Blair, who followed Jim and Tony to the third section of the lab, which was apparently for ballistics. When Gibbs didn’t immediately follow, Tony chose to glare at Jim.

Blair nearly laughed out loud. The exasperated look Jim shot him told him that Jim was aware of his amusement. Jim brusquely gestured for Gibbs to join them.

Gibbs slid the door shut, but stayed near it.

“Jesus, Gibbs. You don’t have to stay by the door. I promise not to touch you, okay?” There was a hint of hurt in Tony’s voice.

“Tony, I don’t want to make this any harder on you.”

“Then don’t! Just act like normal!”

“So, you want me to head-slap you?” Gibbs asked, expression bland.

Blair wasn’t sure what that meant, but it made Tony laugh. “No, my headache thanks you for your restraint.”

Jim raised his hand, forestalling further conversation. “Take the tea, Tony.”

Sighing, Tony sat on the futon and slipped off his shoes, then accepted the cup of tea from Blair. He stared at it morosely for several seconds before drinking it as quickly as he could manage considering the temperature.

“What did you want to talk to me about, Tony?” Gibbs prompted.

Looking flustered, Tony picked at the seam of his sweats. “I feel like I have a thousand questions for you, but I’m suddenly drawing a blank.”

“Just say what’s on your mind.”

Tony chewed his lip. “What’s going on with my case?”

Blair was pretty sure that wasn’t what was on Tony’s mind. This was a good thing for Blair and Jim, though. They could honestly say, if asked, that Tony and Gibbs’ time was case-related.

Gibbs brows shot up in surprise, but he smoothly replied, “Weaver’s team, with McGee’s help, think they’ve located the girlfriend in New York. They left earlier to try to pick her up. Still no sign of the Captain.”

Nodding, Tony continued to pick at his pants.

“You did good work, Tony. When things are settled, and you’re feeling well, we need to decide on disciplinary action for McGee and David.”

Tony’s head shot up. “I don’t think it’s neces–”

“It is,” Gibbs interjected. “I want you to have input, but some disciplinary action will be taken, DiNozzo.”

“Okay, Gibbs,” Tony replied, looking unhappy.

“What did you really want to talk to me about, Tony? We don’t have much time.”

Blair could actually feel Tony gathering his nerve.

“Am I off the team?”

Gibbs blinked in surprise. “That’s what’s bothering you?”

“Yes! Are you kicking me off the team?”

“No, Tony,” Gibbs replied with very little inflection.

Blair was nearly floored by the flood of emotion, relief being the strongest, and he suddenly realized Tony did a really good job of keeping most of his emotions under wraps.

“You’re not? But your rules…” Tony trailed off and Blair could feel how the emotions suddenly blunted, as if they were smothered, and he noticed Tony’s eyes were starting to glaze. He was about to succumb to the effect of the tea.

“Forget the rules, Tony. We’ve worked together for nine years. I’m not going to make you leave the team.”

Tony smiled, but it was shaky at best. “Thanks, Gibbs.”

Jim reached out in time to keep Tony from pitching forward off the bed. “We probably should have made him lie down,” he said caustically.

Blair helped him get Tony situated on the futon and under the blanket.

Jim turned to Gibbs. “You shouldn’t have lied to him, Gibbs. There’s no way you can promise that.”

“I didn’t lie. I’m not going to kick Tony off the team. I can’t stop him from leaving, if that’s what has to happen, but he’ll always have a place on my team if he wants it.”

– – – –

Chapter Eight

Blair watched as Gibbs left for the main lab. He could tell Jethro was torn up about something, likely the worry that Tony wouldn’t pick him. And it was pretty obvious to Blair that Jethro wanted Tony.

“Chief?”

He glanced up at Jim, and smiled. “Hey, big guy.” Wrapping his arms around Jim’s waist, he relaxed against his Alpha, taking comfort in the arms holding him close. “I think we’ve got a crazy week coming up.”

Jim snorted. “And something tells me Tony isn’t going to be sweet and docile.”

Blair grinned. “You mean like me?”

“Yeah, that’s you. And obedient, too.”

Chuckling, Blair rubbed his nose against the hollow of Jim’s throat. “So, what’s next? Make an official report and start setting up the gathering?”

“I think we first need to figure out where we’re going to put Tony, then work security detail and sleeping arrangements.”

Pulling back, Blair frowned. “We’re not going to West Virginia?” The Dragon Center for the mid-east coast was there. Except in rare circumstances, all emergences were held at a Center.

“Maybe. I’m not sure yet. I’d like to talk to Gibbs and Hotch first. I don’t know if you saw the suspicious number of vans near entrances to the Navy Yard, but I think the secret is already out. I’m worried about moving, but don’t see another option right now. With our numbers, I’m sure we can defend ourselves, especially out in the open, but I’d rather not even put us in that situation. Shifted dragons fighting it out in the streets of Washington DC? Yeah, I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

“Oh, man, that’s just… someone is building up some seriously bad karma. I guess we should join the others. You okay with leaving him here alone?”

“For a few minutes. We’ll rotate people in after we have a quick discussion with the entire group. Before we go out there, can you check to be sure of the emergence timeline?”

Blair hated to do that, but, then again, if Tony was as far along as they thought, he’d only have to look at the back of his neck. He moved away from Jim, then carefully rolled Tony on his side, pulling down the back of his t-shirt. “Oh yeah, Jim. A week at the most.” He settled Tony onto his back.

Jim scrubbed his hands over his face. “You know, no one is going to believe us that no one knew about him for three weeks.”

True. They would get holy hell for supposedly delaying the notification. Oh well. He grabbed Jim’s hand and pulled him to join the others. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Once they were with everyone else, Jim took control of things and discussed the suspicious vehicles parked at each of the four gates. He asked for suggestions for extraction.

“What if we don’t?” Gibbs asked. “What if we stay at the Navy Yard?”

Jim made a ‘go on’ gesture.

“We have military barracks at partial capacity. Consolidate and take over one. There’s also a Naval supply building due to be converted into office space next year; it’s basically a warehouse, and can be used for his first transformation – we’d have a week to prep. There are also many buildings near the barracks for the Alpha meetings. Just need authorization from SecNav.”

“And we’d gain the security of the Yard, with Marines to help with policing the Alphas,” Jim supplied, then paused to consider for a couple minutes. “It’s pretty ideal except for the backlash of accusations of favoritism to you.”

Blair felt this was perfect, and they could manage the problems. But he kept quiet and let Jim work through the issues in his own mind.

“Let’s make the call,” Jim finally said.

Gibbs nodded and left the lab to call the Secretary of the Navy. While he was gone, the rest of the team worked out the remaining logistics, assuming they were given the okay. Cassie began her shift sitting with Tony.

After about twenty minutes, Gibbs returned, sporting a small frown. “SecNav’s onboard. I was surprised by his enthusiasm. He wanted free rein to publicize the hell out of it, get positive PR for the Navy. I didn’t give him DiNozzo’s name yet, just told him it was an agent.” Gibbs expression said exactly how he felt about that. “I got him to agree to work with the Dragon Council PR team, and he has to get everything approved through them first.”

Jim considered for a second. “If we’re in his shop, I don’t mind if he handles the press, as long as every statement is authorized by the Council press liaison.” He took a deep breath. “My turn. I’m going to call the head of the Council to get the okay on our plan, and arrange for the announcement to be made. Alphas will start arriving anytime tomorrow. The Council operations team will sort out logistics, and some additional security, I imagine.”

“SecNav also said he’s going to deploy an additional squad of Marines to Yard security to help handle the flow of traffic in and out. We’ll need to restrict the visiting Alphas to one gate for entry so the Marines can focus their effort. They’ll get turned away from any other gate, unless they have DOD authorization to enter.”

“All right, let me make this call, and if Jeremy approves, you can give the green light to SecNav.” Instead of leaving like Gibbs, Jim and Blair moved into the middle lab with the doors shut on either side.

Blair held out his hand, wiggling his fingers in demand for Jim’s cell. “He won’t yell at me, so give over.”

Jim scowled a little, but handed the phone to Blair, who scrolled for Jeremy Turner’s private cell. It was nearly 3:00 AM in London, so Blair expected Grumpy.

The phone answered on the fifth ring. “Something had best be burning, Ellison!”

“Hi Jeremy,” Blair said cheerily into the phone. “It’s Blair, I’m here with Jim. We have an urgent issue to run by you.”

Good morning, Blair. Do pardon my bellowing. How may I be of assistance?” Jeremy was always very properly British with Blair.

“I am really sorry to disturb you so early, but we have an Omega emerging here in DC under unusual and problematic circumstances. We need to take some immediate action, and need your approval to proceed.”

A new Omega is a joyous thing… how ‘unusual and problematic’ are the circumstances?” Jeremy sounded all business now.

Blair knew how to talk rings around someone, but with Jeremy it was best to lay it out straight. He spent the next twenty minutes explaining the situation, the difficulties they were facing, and the offer from the Secretary of the Navy.

There was a heavy silence. “My, that is a sticky situation. I am reluctant to accept the Secretary’s offer, purely at a level of instinct. Main security out of our control troubles me greatly. But logically, I find it to be a viable plan.” After another pause, Jeremy relented. “Please accept the offer. I will immediately have the operations team en route to handle the details of the gathering. Everything will be under your and Jim’s charge, however I would like daily updates. More if necessary.

“Certainly, Jeremy. There are going to be a flood of complaints about the close tie between this location and Gibbs, who has nine-years with this man.”

Anyone whinging is invited to call my office.”

Blair laughed. “I’ll be sure to send ‘em your way.”

Not my private line, Blair! And certainly not at three o’clock in the morning.”

“No, sir. I’ll be sure you’ve had your morning tea first.”

Another hour later and all the arrangements had been made, they were simply waiting on the Marines to finish preparing the barracks. Gibbs was out of the lab overseeing the preparations and sorting out transport. He was also supposed to be getting Metro PD to check into the suspicious vehicles around.

Individually, everyone had left to retrieve their go-bags from their cars, with Rossi going for his whole group. All the bags and gear they’d need had already been sent on ahead. Now everyone was waiting, but not exactly patiently. The long hours of confinement, longer for some than others, was starting to wear.

Abby was keeping herself occupied on her computer and Blair was pretty sure fingers weren’t meant to move that fast. She was still hyped up on caffeine. How anyone could consume that much caffeine and not explode, was a mystery. She had sat with Tony for a little while, but seemed to get bored.

Blair had been making the rounds of the room, trying to keep everyone on an even keel. Ducky seemed to be quite fatigued, but was insistent that he’d see this through with them.

He talked with Spencer for a good long while, and was a little concerned about his lack of ability to dial down his empathy today. Instinct was one thing, but he should have been able to turn it off if need be. He’d have to work on that later. He and Jim might need to stay an extra day or two to help Spencer after everything was over with.

Rafe, Morgan, Henri and Jim were discussing sports, which reminded Blair of something Jim had said. “Hey, Jim, did you know Tony prior to today?”

Jim turned toward Blair and grinned. “Wondered if you caught that. I haven’t ever met him, but I knew of him.”

Perplexed, Blair just quirked a brow in question.

“He was a Buckeye, early 90’s. For his height, great basketball player. Even better quarterback. I was in the Rangers, we watched college ball all the time. Lot of diehard Ohio State fans in my unit.” He took a swallow of some lukewarm coffee. “I remember watching a game with my unit, OSU vs. Michigan. Everyone thought DiNozzo’d go pro, until he broke his leg fourth quarter. But it was an incredible game. Still have it on tape.”

Abby had gotten interested and had moved to stand near Jim. “I didn’t realize he was that good,” she murmured, half to herself.

“Oh yeah. He was a truly great athlete.” Jim looked back to Blair. “I didn’t make the connection at first, but it dawned on me when I heard his name. Interesting to see where people turn up in life.”

He noticed Abby return to her computer and start typing furiously, he sensed some unease or mild distress from her, so he moved to stand by her. She was looking up Tony’s college sports information. “Whatcha doin’?”

She gave him a smile that was more sad than happy. “I just want to see about Tony’s sports career.” Fiddling with the dog collar around her neck, she muttered, “The team has kind of always bugged Tony about his college degree and stuff. Until today, it never really occurred to me that he was actually really good at it. Like, maybe even awesome at it. I think he doesn’t talk about it with us because he knows we’d tease him.” She glanced down. “I’m just feeling like I haven’t been the best friend.”

“Abby, I think you’re a great friend to Tony. I doubt he spends a lot of time thinking about, or talking about, your college days.”

“No, but he knows I’m awesome at what I went to school for. I never knew that about him.”

“Does it change anything? Do you see him differently?”

“Well, no. I still love him like a brother.” She paused for a second. “A really hot one,” she added with a saucy grin.

Blair laughed. “I think what’s going on is that you’re tired, and over-caffeinated.” When she looked like she was going to protest, he held up a finger. “Uh-uh. You’re worried about Tony, and your mind is latching on to random things and making mountains out of ant hills. You just need to take a breath and let the stress go. Quit worrying about things that aren’t even problems.”

She took a few deep breaths. “I’m just gonna miss him the next week.”

“Ah. Yes, he’s going to be really busy when he’s awake.” Blair thought for a minute. “How ‘bout this… you get back to your normal life, reclaim your lab, caffeinate yourself into the ceiling.” Abby giggled. “We’ll get Tony all current on his tea so he feels better, and let the chaos pass a bit, and then you come stay a night in the barracks. Sort of like a dragon slumber party.”

Abby bounced a little, then gave him a big hug, her dog collar poking his neck a little uncomfortably. “You’re the best!”

It was near midnight before Gibbs showed up, letting them know transport was waiting and they’d evac through autopsy. “The barracks has twenty beds in the main room, so we’re set there, and two private rooms. How do we want to work that?”

Blair immediately chimed in. “I think we should all sleep in the main room. Let the Omegas have one room for private discussions and changing clothes and stuff – because you guys would all have heart failure if we so much as changed our shirts publicly. And the other room for whatever you guys need. I realize there’s more of you, but–”

“Makes sense, Blair. It’s a good idea,” Jim interjected as they finished getting ready to go. Ducky had suggested they move Tony in the ME van, but Jim wanted them more mobile, so Jim was personally going to carry Tony out to a Hummer for a short drive across the Navy Yard.

Everyone said goodbye to Abby. She seemed sad, but put on a happy face. She had mentioned staying in the lab overnight since it was so late, but Gibbs had vetoed that idea. He arranged for a Marine to take her home, and then bring her back tomorrow.

Jim went for Tony, lifting him easily. Blair was surprised at just how gone Tony was on that tea. There was absolutely no reaction from him at being moved.

Gibbs took point as they moved to autopsy, with Jim in the middle, and Hotch and Rossi bringing up the rear. The Betas were staggered at intervals in between. Eventually, the fourteen of them emerged from the back door to autopsy. They had to get past the ME van and some security doors, where guards were waiting to make sure no one unauthorized was able to get in while they were leaving.

Five military Hummers were waiting for them, each with a Marine driver. Gibbs said it was only a quarter mile across the Yard, but they weren’t walking while carrying an unconscious man in the middle of the night. Blair wondered where he’d found five Hummers at this hour.

Hotch, Jim and Tony were in the middle vehicle, while the other eleven of them spread out to the other four. It was barely a blip of time before they were piling out again.

The barracks were clean and utilitarian. Jim put Tony at the far end from the door, in the bunk closest to the private rooms and communal shower. Blair took the bed beside, Spence the one across. The two of them worked together to get Tony under the covers, while everyone else managed the gear and guard schedules. There would be Marines posted outside at all times, but at least two dragons would be on watch as well.

Gibbs, of course, wouldn’t be staying in the barracks, but he offered to take the first watch with Brown. Then he’d be back at NCIS.

Ducky was going to stay the first night only. Then he’d be returning to work, and would stop in periodically unless he was needed. He and Blair were going to get Tony up at 3:00 AM for the bathroom and more tea. So if Blair were lucky, he could get a couple hours of sleep before he had to get up.

He pulled off his flannel over-shirt, leaving him in a cream Henley and jeans. Shoes kicked off and he was ready to crash. Jim was busy, working out logistics, but he caught Blair’s eye and flashed him quick smile and a whispered, “Goodnight.”

Blair flopped back on his bed. This was by far the craziest emergence he’d ever dealt with. And pretty much the craziest situation in a long time. The last thing he remembered before sleep claimed him was a muttered, “Goodnight,” from Spence.

~*~

Tony was having another odd dream. He was in a grassy field, surrounded by trees, waiting. He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, he just knew he had to wait. He was in his human form, and was more aware of himself as Tony than he had been in the last dream.

He felt the presence of the dragons before he could see them. They emerged from the trees, three pale, shimmering creatures. Unlike the large, powerful bodies of the Drakes, these dragons’ bodies were longer and more sinuous, with more delicate wings. And while Drake scales were matte and seemed to absorb light, these dragons shone brightly in the sunlight. The one in front, the one he knew to be Elder, shone a rare pale gold, the two behind, a light shimmery peach.

The Elder shifted, taking a human form, and Tony wasn’t sure if it was male or female. It was wearing a long tan robe, belted at the waist and had long brown hair. The two peach dragons settled down, large heads resting near the Elder.

“Hello, Tony.”

“Hi.” Tony wasn’t sure about the protocol for talking to a dream dragon. “So, why am I here?”

“There are many reasons. First, you have questions. But also, we have so much to tell you. Most importantly, we have a charge for you.”

Tony frowned a bit at the turn of phrase. “What kind of charge?”

“We need you to ensure our kind return to the world, choose their Drakes and bond, activating the full measure of our legacy.”

“Whoa…” Tony nearly took a step back. “That’s a lot of charge. Maybe we could back up a little, because I don’t think I’m the right guy for that.”

The Elder smiled at him. “You will do well, I assure you.”

“I don’t understand, why me?”

“You know of our gifts?”

“You mean the gifts Omegas have, like empathy?”

“In part. Each type of dragon had tendencies towards different gifts. Drakes tended towards physical gifts, such as strength or enhanced senses. There were a few more uncommon gifts amongst them. While Wyverns had gifts more of the heart and soul, and sometimes the mind. That’s a bit of a simplification, but it captures the essence of what you need to know for now.”

“So Omegas are Wyverns?”

“Yes. The names of our species were long lost to time, we three are all that remember. When a Wyvern chooses a Drake and bonds, our gifts are stabilized and activated in their fullest measure. One rare gift, my gift, was the ability to see across time. I saw the destruction of our race at the hands of humans. We cannot breed at the rate they did, and would eventually be terribly outnumbered. We could have fought, and killed many humans, but I knew they would triumph in the end.

“I could also see that taking human form permanently, shedding our dragon features, and merging with them would eventually save us. The Wyverns were the least physically strong of the dragons, and we would have fallen first. After warning the others, we were the first to take human form and hide. The Zmaj and Bakunawa and many others were hunted to extinction, refusing to blend with the humans who were destroying them. The Drakes fought longest and hardest, angry at the loss of the Wyverns, their mates, but they too were dying. Finally heeding my warning, those remaining took human form in an attempt to preserve the species.”

“If all the Wyverns hid, but only a few of the Drakes, why are the proportions so out of whack now? Omegas, uh, Wyverns are what’s rare now.”

“Remember that I said the Drakes’ gifts were usually physical? The strength of a Drake is carried in their blood. Small amounts of Drake blood carries incredible power. They also spread themselves widely across the world. Each individual Drake moving far away from the others. They spread their blood far and wide, and in time, it grew strong again. It was important that Drakes return to the world first. Wyverns will not emerge if there’s not first a Drake.”

Tony had several questions about Drakes and Wyverns and their interrelationship, but he felt it was a minor point that he could come back to later. “I’ve been tested for dragon blood repeatedly, and it’s always negative. Why am I becoming a dragon?”

“You’ve been tested for Drake blood. You are Wyvern. And the Wyvern blood is strong in you Tony. Strong enough for me to reach you from the spirit plane. The Wyverns split and retreated to two parts of Europe, the areas you now know as Italy and England. You are the child of both groups.”

This felt so real, that Tony had to ask about it. “How is it you are talking to me? I keep thinking I’m dreaming, but this is so realistic. Usually my dreams wind up with a giant marshmallow, or a psychotic coat hanger, or something.”

“You’re not really dreaming. I never took human form when my race went into hiding. Instead I gave up my life and cast my soul onto the spirit plane to wait for you, a child of the two lines with the heart and the strength to bring us back. My two companions, also strong in their gifts, gave up their lives to accompany me.”

“I still don’t understand, why me? Wouldn’t Blair be a better choice?”

“Blair’s spiritual gifts are going to be without parallel when he’s finished developing. But he doesn’t have enough Wyvern blood for me to reach him in this ether between spirit and the tangible. Also, Blair needs to bond with his Drake. With the full expression of his gift, he could easily reach me on the spirit plane. I will rejoice in finally meeting him, and aiding him on his journey, for he too has a role to play.”

“I thought he was bonded. Isn’t Jim his Drake?”

“They’re mated. That’s a physical joining, an agreement to be with one another and live as companions. Bonding is sharing blood and fire and life. When they bond, the Alpha’s gifts will be fully accessible.”

“What about the Wyvern?”

“It’s a circle. The Wyvern grounds the Alpha Drake, allowing them to fully manifest their gifts, the stronger the Alpha, the more a Wyvern’s abilities will develop.”

“What about Spencer? Is it important that he bond?”

“Yes! It’s important for all Wyverns. Spencer’s gift is a burden to him because he’s not connected closely enough with his Alphas’ strength to control it.”

“I’m going to have to choose an Alpha, aren’t I?”

“You already have.” The Elder smiled knowingly

“I did?” Tony thought he would have remembered that.

The Elder cocked its head. “You know you have. You picked your Alpha long ago. The day you met him, in fact.”

“Gibbs,” Tony breathed, then shook his head. “But, no. No. I don’t think he wants me.”

The Elder’s face showed mild amusement. “Of course he does.”

“He’s never shown any sign of that.”

“I should hope not.”

Tony frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Betas can manage in a human relationship, if they desire. An Alpha cannot. The human body is too fragile for an Alpha dragon to unreservedly mate. The best an Alpha could offer a human would be a few casual interludes where the Alpha has to remain in tight control to keep from causing harm. Imagine if your Alpha had given in to his base desires and bedded you, but could not reasonably have a relationship with you. What would that be like?”

Flinching, Tony replied, “Yeah, that would hurt.”

“It would have driven you away from him. He knew that and acted in your best interests.”

“Are you sure?” Tony asked hesitantly. “Isn’t telling me this kinda like cheating?”

“That’s a ridiculous human notion, Tony. I left my soul in the spirit plane rather than joining my people so I could communicate with a Wyvern thousands of years in the future about how to protect our race. I think telling you that Jethro Gibbs cares for you is relatively trivial in comparison.”

Unable to stop himself, Tony laughed. “I guess I’m thinking like the plot to a movie. It’s okay to know things that are for the greater good, but no personal gain allowed.”

“A great task is being given you. If it aids you to know that your Alpha desires you, then I have no compunction in telling you.”

Tony felt himself blushing and looked down for a moment. “So when we bond, Gibbs will manifest a strong gift?”

“Gibbs already has strong gifts. When you mate, they will strengthen, and after you bond, they’ll be without compare.”

“What gifts does Gibbs have? I mean, yeah he hears scary good. Actually all his senses are excellent. I can’t think of anything else that I’ve seen.”

“There’s nothing else unique about Gibbs?”

“Well, the famous Gibbs gut, but… whoa! Are you saying his gut is his gift?”

The Elder smiled. “Can you imagine that gift a hundred times more powerful? We called it simply the gift of knowing. And he will know a great many things. When the gift strengthens in him, you’ll have to help him continue to trust it, because it can be extremely daunting to know.”

“And me?”

“I want you to discover some aspects of your gifts on your own. I think knowing too soon will hinder you. I ask that you trust my judgment in this matter, some things are best left to discover with time. I assure you that you will have gifts that aid you in your task.”

“And what is my task exactly? We started there, but I kinda lost the thread. Something about bringing the Wyverns back?” Tony asked skeptically.

“You have minor tasks that need to be accomplished soon. And then the duty I would ask you and Gibbs to take up. First, after you bond with your Alpha, is to ensure Blair and Jim complete their bonding.”

“I don’t even know how to do that. So how can I tell them?”

“You’ll know how when it’s time, then you’ll tell Blair. Afterward, Blair needs to come to the spirit plane, and I will help him seek out the corrupt ones.”

“Who?” Tony asked bemusedly.

“Blair daily searches for how information slips past them, and puts the Wyverns in such danger. The answer is a Drake and Wyvern, who stumbled into a partial bond, who are using their gifts to seek out unmated Wyverns. The Alpha has utterly corrupted himself and must be stopped. The Wyvern may be beyond redemption as well.”

“Why only unmated Wyverns?”

“It’s twofold. If a Wyvern emerges and fails to find a mate, they will resume their human form and be unable to shift again until a suitable Drake is present. They will gain some level of their gifts simply by emerging, and without the ability to shift to defend themselves, they will be relatively helpless and forced to comply with their captor’s wishes.

“If their gift is useful to their captor, they could be compelled to use it for their captor’s gain. Also, and more likely, they can be used to coerce Drakes into corrupt acts. The smell of the blood or pain of an emerged Wyvern would be torture to a Drake. These corrupted dragons must be stopped, so you can begin to take up the charge I have set for you.

“As I said, I need you and your Alpha to ensure the rise of the Wyverns. Bring them fully back to the world. Be their Guardian and see that our race survives,” the Elder intoned seriously.

Now better understanding what the Elder was talking about, Tony’s eyes widened. “Uh… How am I supposed to do that exactly?”

The Elder stepped forward and cupped his face. “I cannot walk the path for you, Tony. You’ll have what you need. But you have to learn to trust in yourself. To trust in the good that is you. And you have to let your Drake love you, as you already love him.”

Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to blink away tears. “I’ll try.” The Elder moved away and Tony sensed their meeting was coming to an end. “Um, I can’t help but ask… Do you have a name?”

“Dragon names don’t work well with your language. My name would be closely translated to ‘Precious,’ but I’d prefer that you not call me that.”

“Sure thing.” Tony grinned. “Precious.”

The two peach dragons snorted in amusement and the Elder frowned at them. “Do not encourage him!” Elder looked at Tony again. “I must go, Tony. We will meet again. Let Blair guide you in the ways of the spirit and come find me.”

“One last question. What color scales am I going to have?” Tony asked quickly.

“There are some things you need to find out for yourself.” The Elder shifted back to dragon form and turned back to the trees.

Tony called out, “Just tell me they’re not going to be pink!”

– – – –

Prologue & Chapters 1-4  |  Emergence Page  |  Chapters 9-12

One Comment:

  1. Sort of feels like ‘Gibbs to the rescue’ *grin*…. Do love Tony ‘s dream….

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