The Journey Home – Chapters 4-6

Title: The Journey Home – Chapters 4-6
Author: Jilly James
Beta: naelany & IcefallsTears
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Chapter Four

After Gibbs hung up, Tony stared at his phone for a long time, unsure how to proceed. Gibbs had mostly been quiet, letting Tony explain the situation. He’d asked a question or two, but otherwise hadn’t interrupted Tony’s recitation of events. At least not until Tony started to babble about why he hadn’t told Gibbs. He wasn’t sure why he got so lost in that explanation, because the answer was pretty obvious. Gibbs had been on a tear lately, and Tony had been blamed for everything. And Tony just hadn’t been up to being blamed for his partners’ breach of protocol.

But that hadn’t happened, and Gibbs had tried to ease the way for Tony to get out of town without having to talk to anyone else. Tony already had voicemails from everyone except Ziva. He hadn’t decided who he was going to call yet, if anyone at all.

“You okay?” Blair asked from his perch on Tony’s sofa.

“Yeah. It was good.” He took a breath, letting the whole thing go. “He suggested that I just send all the details for my reports in email and he’ll take care of the paperwork. That way I don’t have to go to the office.”

“Good idea. So!” He hopped off the couch. “Which first? Reports, or packing?”

“Uh, reports, I guess. I’ve already got it on my mind.”

“Perfect. You dictate, I’ll type,” Blair said as he made a beeline for Tony’s computer.

“You don’t have to do that. I can manage.”

Blair looked back at him with one brow raised. “Seriously, man? With one arm?” He waved the idea away. “I do all Jim’s reports, so I’m an old pro.” Sitting at the computer, he wiggled his fingers. “Get over here and let’s get this knocked out.”

Tony couldn’t help but smile at Blair’s energy and enthusiasm. He pulled up a chair and they got to work. They sped through the case report first. Tony had shot one of the suspects, which required additional paperwork, so he had to dredge up from memory all the different sections on the forms in order to give Gibbs enough info to fill out the actual reports.

The harder one was his written account of the events of the prior week with the Military At Home case. He referenced his original case report for additional details. After Blair had clicked send on the email messages, he got up and left Tony staring at the computer screen, feeling like a part of his life was over. Because even though he’d said he’d wait to make any decisions until he wasn’t an emotional mess, he knew he couldn’t be in the field with Tim and Ziva again. And it broke his heart a little.

Suddenly, a hand appeared in front of his face with a little white pill cupped in the palm. Tony glared at Blair, who seemed unfazed. “I don’t need it.”

“Right. Sell it to someone who can’t feel that you’re in pain. Take the pill, Tony.”

Tony glared a little as he accepted the pill and a glass of water. After swallowing it, because he really was in pain, he asked, “Seriously, are you always this bossy?”

Blair’s lips quirked in a grin. “Oh yeah. But don’t tell Jim I admitted it.”

Shaking his head in exasperation, Tony could only offer a faint smile. “You up to typing a couple more things? I’d like to get the details down for the statement for the S&G Center, so maybe we can minimize how long we have to be there. And, if you’re up to it, type a couple short emails?”

“Definitely. And good idea on the statement. I can email it to Jim and they can have the official paperwork just ready for you to sign.” Blair settled back at the computer and they got to work.

He knew Blair was upset as he relayed the details of his interactions with Harris and the Center representatives. At one point, the alpha guide got so mad he had to step away for a minute, saying he needed to ‘get his Zen on.’ Blair also had a tendency to mutter under his breath about the bad Karma Harris had brought on himself.

Surprisingly to Tony, the statement for the Center took longer than the other reports combined. Though, if Tony had written it on his own, it would have been shorter. Blair asked a lot of questions to get the level of detail he seemed to want, and he documented things Tony wouldn’t have thought to mention, likes the types of emotions, the frequency, etcetera.

Tony had planned to email Vance about his leave – especially since Gibbs was busy bonding to Tony’s best friend – but Blair indicated that he’d already taken care of it while they were still at the hospital. Vance was fully aware that Tony was taking medical leave of unknown duration due to the empathic damage he’d suffered. Not to mention the gunshot wound received in the line of duty. He thought to question it further, but finally decided to let Blair deal with Vance.

The last thing he asked Blair to do was send an email to the rest of the team—McGee, Ziva, Abby, Jimmy and Ducky—letting them know that he was going to be in Cascade for some time and, while they were welcome to email if they chose, he’d prefer no one call until he indicated.

As soon as he clicked send, Blair was on his feet, rocking heel to toe in a way that made him look kinda bouncy. “Now, where’s your suitcase?”

“Coat closet. I’ll grab it.” When Blair looked like he was going to protest, Tony gave him a look. “I have one good arm. I can manage to wrangle a suitcase.”

While Tony was poking around in the closet, Blair called out, “Hey, Tony? Uh, has anyone mentioned that you have a lot of movies? This isn’t normal, man.”

Tony actually felt some real threads of amusement for the first time in a long time and found himself chuckling. “Never heard that,” he commented as he returned to the living room.

Blair blinked at the suitcase. “Why do you have one teeny suitcase out?”

“This is what I usually travel with.”

“Do you have anything bigger?”

“Of course I do, but-“

Blair held up a hand, cutting Tony off. In short order, Blair had Tony’s two large suitcases rolling along with him plus a garment bag.

“That seems excessive,” Tony commented, following the leader to his bedroom.

“Pish. We don’t know how long you’re staying, so you might as well have enough clothes for unpredictable weather.”

Tony wasn’t sure he agreed. While the extra stuff would be nice, he wasn’t at all sure where he was going to land and he’d have to haul all this stuff around with him in the near term. He’d have to edit as they went, because he didn’t feel at all up to the task of arguing with a very determined Blair.

Once Blair had everything situated to his liking, he disappeared into Tony’s walk-in closet. “Holy mother of fashion, that’s a lot of clothes!” Blair’s curly head popped around the doorjamb. “Man, you have issues.”

“Yeah, yeah. Back in the closet with you,” Tony said, waving him away.

From the depths of the closet, Blair’s voice was somewhat muffled. “There’s not a lick of flannel in here. I’m not sure you can survive the Pacific Northwest without it!”

Tony just rolled his eyes.

~*~

After Jim dropped Blair and Tony at the latter’s apartment, he headed straight to the nearest burger joint for takeout. What Blair didn’t know about, Blair couldn’t nag him about. Although, Blair always seemed to know. Still, it was practically a ritual of theirs… Jim would try to get away with it, and Blair would catch him at it. It was practically foreplay by now.

From the lunch stop, he had a good half hour drive to the Center, plenty of time to think over the events of the last day. He’d been looking forward to camping this weekend. He and Blair didn’t get enough time away, and that trip had been sorely needed. Then Blair had picked up a message from Martin and everything had happened really quickly. The trip being cancelled was certainly an annoyance, but everything that came after that really pissed Jim off.

He didn’t like the stink of what was going on here. The irregularities Blair had found within minutes of checking the Center’s records had been a huge red flag. For instance, DiNozzo’s appointments with a case manager and the guide coordinator were in the log, including his arrival time, but not one scrap of paperwork existed about those appointments. They’d just blown it off. That alone was enough to get Blair’s dander up and get Blair on a plane. But then Blair had noticed that there was not one complaint about a sentinel or guide in DC that had been resolved with anything other than a dismissal in over two years.

That kind of record just didn’t exist. Jim liked to think that sentinels and guides were a notch above a lot of behavior seen in the rest of the population, but not a single bad act in two years by any sentinel or guide on staff, or registered in the territory of the Center? That just didn’t happen. It couldn’t be real. And that was enough to get Jim to readily agree to the trip.

Jim would like to think that Tony would have been enough to get him here. Unfortunately, the reality that Blair didn’t always like, was that they couldn’t deal with every problem that crossed their desks. They certainly couldn’t deal with every mundane who thought they were manipulated by a guide, or handled aggressively by a sentinel. Those kind of complaints were a dime a dozen. And though every single one had to be investigated, they didn’t need to be investigated by Blair.

However, what they found once they got here was intolerable. And he knew it was the tip of the iceberg. Even though they arrived a little after five in the morning, they expected a certain amount of activity at the Center. Not so. The place was practically dead except for the chaos surrounding the Harris fiasco. Gibbs had been there, along with an FBI agent and the attorney Blair had called in, all of them arguing with the guide coordinator, who had apparently been apprised of the situation in the middle of the night and was hollering for DiNozzo to be arrested.

Fortunately, depending up on how you looked at it, the Center directors were actually out of town. The assistant director hadn’t answered the phone, which left the guide coordinator to handle the problem. As a result, it had been easy for Jim and Blair to exert their authority and take over. While Gibbs had been rounding up his people for Blair to talk to, Jim had asked the FBI agent, Fornell, to track down Harris and bring him in.

Eventually they had all the players in place, and Blair did his first empathic scan of a probationary agent named Ziva David. And Blair really didn’t like what he found. It went downhill from there. Jim nearly winced at the memory of the headache he’d had from all the shouting as the reality of the situation came to light. He’d been pretty sure David would have happily gutted Harris if she could have gotten him alone.

Blair had pulled Jim aside and said that getting to DiNozzo was a priority, because fighting off empathic assault by a mundane was pretty unheard of, and Blair was sure he’d have some damage.

Between the goth, the ex-Mossad chick and the computer nerd, the chaos had been pretty epic. Notably, Gibbs had said little. In retrospect, Jim thought it likely that Gibbs’ senses were acting up and he was stretched thin after his encounter with Martin. Also, he had no doubt the sentinel was shouldering a fairly hefty amount of guilt that this had happened on his watch at the hands of his guide, whether interim or not.

During the ensuing melee, Blair had slipped away to call in Scott and Kyle to take over in DC. They were close enough to get there quickly, and still be able to make it home easily if they had an emergency in their territory. Plus, Jim and Blair trusted the pair implicitly.

Finally, Jim had called a halt to the proceedings by virtue of yelling louder than anyone else. Vance had gotten the NCIS people under control and had taken the lead on getting them back to their agency, where he promised to get everyone’s statements together and have them faxed as soon as Jim asked for them. Surprisingly, Gibbs stayed behind. The goth in particular seemed unhappy about that, but Gibbs had shaken off her concern, telling her he had things to take care of.

Harris was placed in custody at the Center. Every S&G Center had a couple lockdown rooms for situations where they needed to detain someone for the police, or someone was a danger to themselves or others. Jim had issued dire threats to the sentinels on guard duty that if Harris were released to anyone other than the FBI without Jim’s say-so, they’d be lucky if they were only fired.

Since the assaults were on members of a federal agency, the FBI ultimately had jurisdiction and would pick Harris up at some point. Though there were issues to work out, like the possibility of Harris manipulating the emotions of any mundane taking custody of him. The FBI had plenty of sentinel/guide pairs, but not on duty in the holding cells. It was a thorny situation they had yet to work out, so for the moment, Harris would stay in custody at the Center.

Since Blair still had the most critical empathic scan to do, they had left shortly after. They left instructions with Gibbs to get his statement ready as soon as possible, and informed those necessary that Kyle and Scott would be coming in soon to take over.

At the hospital, Blair and Martin had moved to the far corner of the room to discuss the events of the morning. During that discussion Martin had asked a couple pointed questions about a situation at NCIS, and was it caused by what Harris had done. They were still talking when DiNozzo began to stir.

Everything Jim had heard after Blair completed his scan had just ratcheted up his already fraying temper. Repeatedly his guide had to send calm his direction to keep him from punching something. What was really odd was every time that happened, DiNozzo would glance at him. Jim knew his poker face was good, so he wasn’t getting visual cues off Jim. He’d have to discuss it with Blair when they could get a few minutes alone.

Rationally, he knew it wasn’t the Center’s fault that someone had dosed DiNozzo with GS-155 when he was a kid, but Jim was happy to take out his anger over that situation on anyone at the Center who looked at him funny.

Once he arrived at the Center, he stopped by the reception desk to get a bead on Kyle or Scott. He was keenly aware that silence had descended as soon as he was spotted. It was gratifying to some degree, but he’d rather that this was a smoothly running Center that didn’t descend into dread at his appearance.

The receptionist was a waste of oxygen. She had to go ASAP. Fortunately, Scott found him right away, the two alpha sentinels keenly aware of being in the same building. Neither said a word until they were in a conference room the pair from New York had appropriated as their command center, where Kyle was hunched over a tablet of paper with pages full of notes.

As soon as he saw Jim, Kyle leaned back in his chair with a tired sigh, tossing his pen negligently onto the table. “What the hell did you get us into here, Jim?”

“No idea, but I know it’s not gonna be good. Fill me in.”

Scott moved around the table to sit next to Kyle, in front of a second stack of notes and folders. “To start with, I’ve called in eight sentinels I trust from New York. I’m sure there are plenty of good sentinels here, but until we’re further along, I don’t know who we can count on. They’ll be arriving over the next few hours.”

Jim nodded. He had no issue with that.

Kyle spoke up next. “We don’t have a lot so far, but the picture that’s taking shape seems pretty clear cut.” Leaning forward he consulted some notes. “The DC Center covers a territory larger in land area than the New York Center, but a comparable number of sentinels and guides to service. They have a slightly smaller facility, by less than ten percent, and have an equivalent budget.” He looked up at Jim. “But they operate with a quarter the staff.”

Blinking a few times, Jim wrapped his head around that for a moment. “So, embezzlement?”

“I can’t think of any other explanation.”

Lacing his fingers behind his head, Jim considered things for a sec. “How are they providing services with such a reduced staff?”

“I’m not sure that they are.” He held up a hand as Jim started to ask a question. “Give me a minute to explain. Three area hospitals have small S&G units for emergencies. They’re practically always at capacity, particularly the unit at Bethesda. There’s an impression, from what I’ve been able to glean from a few casual discussions, that the Center here is always at capacity and there’s a waiting list for everything.

“So the community has rallied around their overtaxed Center. Some alpha guides, on their own time and dime, offer meditation classes for new guides. Same with a few of the alpha sentinels. The sentinels and guides in DC are doing the care and feeding that the Center is here for. I’m not saying the Center does nothing, but the confirmed records I’ve found maybe account for about twenty percent of the capacity of this place.”

Jim rubbed his hands over his face. “Jesus.” He huffed out a breath, thinking through all the issues. “What did you mean by confirmed records.”

“There are computer records that would indicate they’re working at 110 percent of capacity, but they don’t have the staff, and paper records only line up about twenty times out of a hundred. I’ve been checking the official registry against some of the names in the computer, and these sentinels and guides don’t exist. And, by the way, we need to talk to the tech guys about closing that loophole. We need to be validating services rendered against an official name in the registry.”

“So what the hell are these people doing then?”

Scott pulled his tablet forward. “From what I can tell, only the minimum they have to in order to keep their doors open. Basically interim guides, because not providing guide placements would be highly suspicious, and civilian issues, like complaints such as the ones DiNozzo tried to file. Ninety percent of the sentinels or guides in distress in the last two years went to a local hospital because this place was supposedly full.”

This was going to wind up being a sucking cesspool, Jim could tell already. “In your opinion, what are the odds this could be happening without someone in the leadership in this territory knowing?”

The pair exchanged a look before Kyle answered. “Almost zero. Someone has to be signing off on budget proposals besides the Center directors. We haven’t been able to find those records yet. But assuming leadership was buying into the budget, they should be clamoring for more money for a Center operating one hundred percent of the time over capacity. But not one word has been said about the Center being overextended. The only reason I can think of for that is that they didn’t want to draw attention.”

Contemplatively, Jim nodded. “Council always audits when a budget increase is requested.” He thought things through for a second. “All right. I’m here with you two until I hear from Blair, so let’s get you guys set up to be able to run this. After we have the framework set, your first priority is to identify someone who can step in as interim director. Even if you have to pull someone else in from New York.

“Also, I know we have nerd guides, let’s get some here from wherever to start validating the computer records. No point in trawling through this stuff by hand when they can do it with a couple keystrokes. I’m going to get in touch with the Council, and let them know what’s going on. We may need more support than we can borrow from neighboring regions.”

“How long will you two be in DC?” Kyle queried.

“Not long. We’ll leave tonight or early tomorrow.”

“Who’s going to report the situation with DiNozzo and the GS-155 to the Council?” Scott asked, looking angry.

“I’ll do it as soon as Blair finishes typing up his findings from the scan. For the moment, I’d like to keep the information about him possibly coming online to our group. No point in raising the idea that the drug can be overcome until we see it happen.” He pulled out his cell. “I’ll start with calls and we’ll see where we go from there. Any resistance you find, plow through it. If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll take care of it.”

Scott held up a hand. “One thing you could do is get in touch with the FBI Assistant Director and the Chief at DC Metro. Let them know we have command here. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to arrest us all for trespassing. We’ve had some odd pushback from LEOs and even judges calling to ask why we’re here and asking about any pending assault charges for DiNozzo.”

Jim scowled, but nodded his assent. This situation just got worse and worse.

They worked for a few hours, each of them leaving at various points to run down information or meet with someone who’d come in to be interviewed about the Center. While they were working, a strong alpha pair came online. Everyone in the building could feel it. And the only pair in a bonding suite at the Center was Gibbs and Fitzgerald. Judging by the feel, the DC area might have a new Prime, if Gibbs were willing to take up the mantle.

He could see the light of speculation in Kyle’s eyes, but Jim would bet his camping gear that they wouldn’t be able to get Gibbs to take on the role of Center Director. Martin? Maybe. Gibbs? No.

Eventually, he got an email on his phone from Blair with the information to go in Tony’s statement.

Jim,
Here’s the info I got from Tony. I think it’s better that he either sign a faxed copy, or we take him to the Center in Cascade to sign in person. If you read some of the details here, you’ll understand why I want to avoid having him anywhere near that place. Though he would probably argue that he’s fine.
We just have to pack and we’ll be ready. Let me know soon if you want to leave tonight, or I’ll find something in the morning.
Love,
Blair

“Blair and Tony aren’t coming down.”

“Really? Why?” Kyle asked, looking up.

“I just forwarded the statement to you. I guess there’s something in there that will explain.” Jim read from his phone, skimming through several areas, while Kyle and Scott hovered around the laptop.

Jim got the gist of the issue fairly quickly. From Kyle’s outraged exclamation, he’d figured it out, too.

“Do you think Harris knew what this would do?” Scott asked gruffly.

“I don’t know,” Jim muttered, thinking. “But I’m going to proceed as if he did. Contact the FBI and let them know that they’ll need to hold on filing charges until we’ve completed our investigation, which could take several weeks. We’ll keep custody of Harris. I’ll call the head of the Sentinel Council. If Harris really was trying to murder DiNozzo, the situation is much more complicated.”

Kyle abruptly got to his feet and headed out of the room. “Need some air.”

Jim exchanged a look with Scott. After a beat, Scott went after his guide. Jim’s phone rang just as he was thinking of calling Blair. Oddly enough, it was the head of the Council with information that made Jim’s decision about when to leave a little easier. In return for that help, Jim dumped his suspicions about Harris’ actions in Tom’s lap. He was generous that way.

~*~

Blair prowled around Tony’s living room. Poking at things, reading the titles of books, and generally trying to find something to keep his mind occupied with something other than Tony. After the packing, Tony had agreed to take another pain pill and rest for a bit. Blair was relieved, because he needed some time to get his head together.

Sighing, he flopped on the couch. He knew he needed to tell Tony about his suspicions that Harris was attempting to drive him to suicide, but he wasn’t sure Tony could handle more knocks right now. Despite outward appearances of strength and relative calm, and Tony’s inwardly emotionless landscape, he empathically struck Blair as fragile, which he suspected he shouldn’t mention to Tony either.

The Sentinel Council would likely consider this special circumstances and keep Harris under guard by sentinels who would not be at risk of emotional tampering until they had the full list of charges. The investigators would go back through prior sentinels he’d been assigned, looking for any irregularities, trying to determine if anything like this had happened before.

Blair sighed and fisted his hands in his hair. He needed to meditate, get himself centered again. Abruptly, he decided to do just that. He sat on the floor, keeping his empathic awareness of Tony open. He did several rounds of triangle breathing, and then settled into meditation.

After some time, he was distantly aware of the ringing of his cell. Jim’s ringtone to be specific. He answered quickly. “Hi.”

Hey,” Jim replied, sounding worn down.

“Everything okay?”

As they can be, Chief.” He sighed. “Tom called. He’s pretty pissed about the situation here. They decided to send a special investigator to look into the Center and lead the investigation portion, providing anything Kyle and Scott need to run the Center in the near-term. Along with, he’s sending a security team, which are mostly ex-military, so things will be tense in this Center for a while. Then, after I told him our suspicions about Harris, he assigned another special investigator just for that. So, whoever it is will want to talk to Tony eventually. Probably sooner rather than later.”

Blair blew out a breath. “Damn. I’d hoped to give him a few weeks before springing anything else on him.”

I know.” Jim hesitated for a second. “You know if they find Harris was trying to kill DiNozzo, that they’ll probably ask you to handle Harris.”

“I can’t think about that yet, because I don’t know how I’ll respond. Just tell me when we can head home. I need to make arrangements for stuff at home, plus flights.”

Let’s get out of here as soon as possible.”

“And I love you just a little bit more for saying that.”

Jim chuckled, and Blair considered it a win to make his sentinel laugh at all in this situation.

“By the way, Tony offered up his apartment and his car to Kyle and Scott if they want. It’s a nice place, reasonable distance, and they won’t suffer from lack of movie options,” he said dryly. “Because he was a latent guide working with a high-order sentinel, he kept the place sentinel-friendly from a scent and products perspective. I’ll email them the phone number for the Super, who has their names and instructions to give them keys.”

I’ll run it by them. They’ll probably take him up on it. I heard Scott grousing about supposed sentinel-safe hotels. By the way, Martin and Gibbs bonded a little bit ago. Definitely an alpha pair.”

“Oh. That’s excellent news. Oh, hey! Maybe after their nesting period, we can talk them into taking over the Center, even if it’s just in an interim capacity.”

Jim snorted in a way that fully conveyed his opinion on the matter. It couldn’t be Martin that Jim thought wouldn’t do it, so that left Gibbs. Blair had not spent much time trying to get a read on Gibbs this morning, but Jim could usually assess sentinels quickly, so he’d probably know in this particular case.

They talked for another minute, then Blair called one of the airlines that had special arrangements for sentinels. The agent was accommodating because of Jim and Blair’s position, and sympathetic to a wounded federal agent. So he paid for three full-priced coach tickets, and she upgraded them all to first class. Sweet. Tony’s arm would appreciate not being jammed into coach.

He was still a little vexed that Tony had talked him down to the largest suitcase and the garment bag. Admittedly, Tony didn’t need more than that, but Blair couldn’t stop himself from doing everything in his power to make the situation easier for the person most grievously harmed.

He texted the travel info to Jim, who needed to pick them up within an hour or so considering the traffic this time of day. Figuring he’d need to wake Tony soon, Blair quickly set about making some phone calls to Cascade to set some things in motion for tomorrow and the weekend.

It was hard to believe it had been less than a day since he’d gotten Martin’s message. He had a feeling the next few weeks were going to be difficult, but he felt oddly optimistic. Something good was going to come out of this quagmire of a situation, he could feel it.

– – – –

Chapter Five

Faint sounds and the throbbing in his arm drew Tony back to consciousness. The next thing he registered was the bed was too firm and too short. He blinked his eyes open to assess the unfamiliar room.

Oh. Right.

He was in Cascade in Jim and Blair’s guest room. Which really was more like the cupboard under the stairs. And if he were a little more together, he’d headslap himself for making a Harry Potter reference, even in the privacy of his own mind.

The flight had been sorta tolerable. Blair had stubbornly held out a pain pill as soon as they boarded the flight. Tony had done a good job of avoiding the demanding little guide as long as possible. Blair could apparently out-stubborn Tony, so he took another pill, which pulled him to a sleep shortly after takeoff.

Oddly enough, he had the odd impression of some odd squabble about hamburgers as he went to sleep. Tony had been too tired to try to absorb what had Blair’s curls in a knot, but he thought he might not tell Blair if he decided to indulge in the future. Maybe Blair was more of a tacos guy?

Despite the time change in their favor, it was past eleven before they’d entered the loft. Tony hadn’t really thought through where he’d be staying, but Blair had said he’d made arrangements, but for that night, Tony’d be staying in their guest room. He had been too tired to probe for more information, though he’d been adamant about taking a shower since the twenty-four hour period to keep his stitches dry was up.

The clock by the bed indicated a little after nine. Tony had to mentally flail a bit to remember what day it was. Only Friday. Felt like a week had passed since his IM chat with Martin on Wednesday night.

Slowly, he shifted to sit at the edge of the bed. He should put his sling on, but he really just wanted to go to the bathroom first. Since he had on sweats and an old t-shirt, he figured he was adequately dressed to venture out of the bedroom.

As soon as he stepped out of the room, Blair called out from the kitchen, “Good morning. I was just about to wake you. We’re going to have… wait, what are you doing without your sling?” Brandishing a spatula Tony’s direction, Blair gestured back to the room. “Get that thing on.”

Laughter drew his attention to a man he didn’t know seated at the dining table. Tony rolled his eyes, but he wasn’t awake enough to argue with a spatula-wielding shaman. He’d save that for tomorrow. He retreated to his room to get his sling and grabbed his toiletry kit, too.

As soon as he was back in the living room, Blair started to say something, but Tony held up a hand. “Uh-uh. I’m not human until my teeth are brushed and the bed head has been tamed. Give me ten before you expect me to turn into something fit for company.”

The blond at the table snickered into his coffee, but avoided Tony’s gaze, as he contemplated the newspaper. Tony had a hunch he was trying to give Tony some privacy.

Blair made a get going gesture toward the bathroom. It was closer to fifteen minutes before Tony emerged. Things just took longer one handed. He’d finally taken the sling off for a few minutes to make things quicker.

Back out in the main room, Jim was now in the kitchen with Blair. He nodded to Tony, who took a seat at the table. The new guy looked up, and Tony extended his hand. “Tony DiNozzo.”

“Evan Moore,” he replied with a firm handshake and a teasing smile. Evan was probably around thirty, maybe a bit more, about six feet tall, blond hair and insanely blue eyes. And way too good looking by far. “I live downstairs. What’s up with the arm?”

“Trigger happy perp. Just a few stitches,” Tony replied with a shrug.

“Blair mentioned you’re a fed.” He took a sip of coffee. “You a Buckeyes fan, or just fond of their sweats?”

“Well, I’m definitely a fan, but I’m also a former Buckeye.”

“With your build, I’d guess football?” Evan commented, looking Tony over.

With a grin, Tony replied, “And basketball.”

“Really?” Evan replied. “We all,” he gestured to encompass Jim and Blair, “play, so when you get those stitches out, we’ll have to see what you’re made of.”

“I’ll warn you that I’m obnoxiously competitive.”

“Just a friendly game, eh? Friendly being optional?”

“Is there any other way to play?”

“This group is cutthroat about our pickup games, so you’ll fit right in. Besides, I guess we’re going to be getting to know each other pretty well the next few weeks,” Evan commented with a flirtatious grin.

Tony cocked his head to the side, curious what Evan meant, but before he could ask, Blair hollered, “Okay, you two… flirt as much as you want, but no sex!”

Choking, Tony couldn’t decide how to reply.

“Jesus, Blair!” Evan griped.

“I’m serious… Until Tony has more emotional range than that of a comatose llama, no emotional decisions. Including sex. Maybe especially sex.”

Tony dropped his head in his hand and groaned. “Is there no end to your bossy?”

“No,” Evan and Jim replied in stereo.

Blair groused under his breath while Jim chuckled. Evan tapped Tony’s arm to get his attention, and softly said, “Hey, I’m a serious flirt, especially with someone as hot as you, but I would never do anything while you were emotionally vulnerable.”

Tony closed his eyes and wanted to sink under the table, but settled for an oblique nod. He was saved from replying further by Jim and Blair arriving at the table with the food, effectively distracting Tony, who decided he was starving. He really didn’t want to have any more of the no sex conversation.

Once everyone was served and had started eating, Blair gestured toward Evan. “Tony, Evan is going to be your conservator, and you’ll be staying with him.”

“What? I… I don’t want to intrude. I mean, I figured I’d be in a hotel or…” he trailed off. Considering what Blair had said about the risks of him coming online, Tony should have been able to come to the logical conclusion that he’d be staying with someone. “I guess I hadn’t thought this through completely. It’s just so weird to think I need a conservator.”

Blair flashed him a sympathetic look. “I know this is weird for you, but you’re not going to be able to spend much time alone until you come online. I know we talked about it in the hospital, but it probably hasn’t really sunk in yet.” At Evan’s confused look, Blair added, “Evan has some of the info, but I still need to fill in the details.”

Idle chitchat reigned while they finished eating. Jim seemed to have something on his mind, but was still engaged.

Near the end of the meal, Blair offered, “In a few minutes, the other two guides who will be helping with your healing will be here. We’ll talk for a bit, then head next door and work out the details of our first healing session. I’d like to put off much more discussion on the topic until Alex and Morgan arrive.”

Tony nodded feeling disconcerted at the looming session of healing. “Next door?” he queried, wondering what that meant contextually.

“Jim owns the building. All the tenants are guides and sentinels, but the rest of this floor is a meeting area for our Pride.”

Confused, Tony asked, “I didn’t think there was a formal Pride structure anymore.”

“Not as a governing hierarchy, but it’s in our nature to form Prides, and every sentinel and guide will be inclined to seek one out. One of the characteristics of an alpha guide/sentinel pair is the urge to form a Pride of their own. There are three alpha pairs in Cascade, so three Prides.”

After considering for a few seconds, Tony glanced at Evan. “So, I guess you’re part of Jim and Blair’s Pride?”

Evan nodded. “Yep. I’m also a full-time conservator for the Center here in Cascade. Until I find my sentinel, this is what I do, so don’t feel like you’re putting me out or anything, okay?”

“How do you do a job 24/7 and still have a life?”

“Depends upon how long the assignment is. There’s a combination of things; from breaks in between gigs, to support from the Center when I need to be away from my conservatee.”

Blair pushed his plate away, and leaned on the table. “Evan handles both guide and sentinel conservatorships. Sentinels are usually very short in duration and it’s difficult to spell the conservator because Sentinels don’t adjust quickly to a change like that, so it’s definitely full time.

“But guide assignments tend to be of a longer duration, and it’s easy for another guide to take over, so it’s not uncommon for Evan to get help from the Center when he needs a night off, or whatever. Most of his life he’ll handle with you in tow. So, if he needs to go grocery shopping, you’ll go with. Don’t worry, it’ll all work out. He’s a pro at this.”

With that, Blair pushed back from the table. “I need to get a couple things ready. Tony, wear comfortable clothes, but I’d like Alex to check your arm when he gets here, so bear that in mind.”

Tony had questions, lots of questions. Like who the hell was Alex? But he decided to just go with it for now. Blair seemed perfectly willing to provide information, so Tony was pretty sure he’d get any questions answered at some point. He slipped back to his room and changed into jeans, a t-shirt and a long-sleeve Henley he could easily pull off later.

He didn’t really want to make small talk at the moment. Figuring he’d be relocating to Evan’s place, he spent some time tidying up the room and got his suitcase closed and ready to go. There was a muffled knock, clearly the front door, about the time he was finished making up the futon. He really hoped Evan’s place had a normal size bed!

“Tony?” Blair called through the door.

“Coming.” He quelled his uncertainty and headed back to the living room.

There were two new men standing in the living room with Blair. One was about six foot with fairly short dark hair and pale eyes. He struck Tony as being very restrained and self-contained, close to Tony’s age. The second man was maybe a couple inches shorter, had hair about Tony’s color that stuck straight up, and struck him as a complete bad ass. His bearing screamed ex-military. Navy or Marines probably. Seemed likely he was the oldest of the guides, except for Blair, but Tony couldn’t be sure.

Blair gestured to the taller, more severe-looking man. “Tony, this is Morgan Davis. He’s an alpha guide, our resident British expat, and runs the S&G Center here in Cascade. And this,” he turned to the bad-ass with the gravity-defying hair, “is Alex Joyce. High-order guide, former medic in the Navy, works part time at the Center as an empathic healer and, along with his sentinel, trains the newly online guides and sentinels. He’s part of Morgan’s Pride.”

Tony shook hands with both. “Tony DiNozzo. Pleasure.” He noticed that Morgan was looking at him oddly, and he lifted a brow… partly in inquiry but also a bit of a challenge as well.

“You’re very flat,” Morgan said abruptly. “I mean emotionally, of course. You say, ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you,’ but you don’t actually feel pleasure. You really didn’t feel anything. There’s maybe a touch of dread, but it doesn’t seem directed at us.”

“Morgan,” Blair groaned.

No privacy to be found in a sentinel/guide household, Tony mused. But he wasn’t offended. In fact, he was almost amused. “As a purely intellectual exercise, I find nothing objectionable about meeting you,” Tony retorted.

Morgan’s lips quirked a little and Evan snorted.

Blair held up his hands. “Before this completely devolves, instead of talking here, we’re going to head next door and go over some stuff, so Jim can make some calls. Alex, Tony was shot in the arm night before last. After we’re done, would you check his arm, make sure everything looks good?”

Alex nodded tersely, and Blair ushered everyone out the door, grabbing a file resting on an end table as he passed. Tony just focused on keeping his discomfort from showing.

‘Next door’ turned out to be a much larger space than Blair and Jim’s loft, with lots of couches and chairs, a big kitchen, two bathrooms and what he thought might be two bedrooms. The carpet was a pale neutral that was insanely plush with what felt like memory foam under it. He followed everyone else’s example and slipped off his shoes.

Once everyone was seated, Blair began drumming his fingers on the folder in his lap. “Tony, Alex and Morgan are going to working with me on your healing. Morgan will probably plan the schedule, because his work at the Center has the most time constraints. Evan is your conservator, and this is an opportunity to train him, so he’ll be monitoring all the healing sessions, okay?”

Tony nodded shortly, not sure if he should have questions or not.

“I haven’t filled them in on the situation yet, just that you are in need of advanced healing, so I need to do that first. Then Alex and Morgan are going to want to do their own scans. We individually need to have a feel for the issues so we can figure out how to proceed. In addition to filling them in, I’m going to have everyone review the statement you wrote, so they understand things from your perspective. I’ll try not to talk about you like you’re not here.”

Blair started from the beginning with Martin calling and the trip to DC. He went through the events chronologically from Blair’s point of view, which was something Tony hadn’t heard yet, so he was fairly interested. He then moved on to meeting with Tony at the hospital.

At one point, Morgan held up a hand to stop the flow of information and focused on Tony. “You felt and suppressed the emotional adjustments?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have awareness of them increasing in intensity over time?”

“Yes.” Tony gestured to the folder in Blair’s hands. “I mention in the statement that he was getting more vicious in his attacks, for lack of a better word.”

“No, I think that’s the perfect word. What I’m wondering is if you were able to detect all the intrusions, or just as they became more intense.”

“I don’t know. I don’t recall any… well, I don’t know,” Tony floundered. He’d been a little off before he noticed the odd emotions, but his team had been acting weird and treating him like shit, so he attributed his mood change to that. But there was really no way to be sure.

Blair interjected. “It’s kind of academic at this point.”

Morgan cocked his head to the side. “Hn. True. Please proceed.”

“In the course of the scan, I noticed Tony had damage consistent with GS-155. He reported having experienced a month-long illness when he was sixteen.”

Morgan had no visible response other than a slight tightening around his mouth. Alex looked furious and sort of growled a little. Evan looked horrified, which shifted to confused.

“Wait, Blair, why does Tony need a conservator if he’s been given the suppression drug?” Evan asked.

“Because, he’s coming online.”

Everyone started talking. Lots of questions at once, though Morgan seemed disbelieving. Tony just let it happen. He kind of didn’t want to get into it, which was odd since it was about him.

Finally, Blair near hollered, “Let’s just do the scan, and you can see for yourself. Then we make a plan.” He looked to Tony. “It will be less time consuming if we all scan at the same time. Just like in the hospital, it’s easier if we’re in physical contact. So, it might be best if you’re lying down.”

Reluctantly, Tony nodded, then wound up following Blair upstairs, noting that Blair grabbed a few pillows on the way.

“This is our meditation area. It would probably be a little more comfortable for you to be on a sofa, but awkward for the three of us to work on you.”

“It’s fine. Just point me where you want me. Besides, this is the squishiest carpet ever.”

A few minutes later, Tony was lying on the floor, sling off, arm resting on one pillow, head on another. Blair sat at his head, Morgan to his right, and Alex on the left by his bad arm. Evan sat slightly back and next to Blair. Each of the bonded guides touched whatever was closest, his forearms and head.

Blair added one last instruction. “Tony, I know you said last time that it was hard not to fight the scan.” He was aware of Morgan looking sharply at Blair. “It’s easiest if you just close your eyes and relax as much as possible. If you start to get tense or anything, I might cue Evan to walk you through some breathing exercises. Okay?”

“Got it. I’ll try to behave, though this seems so odd.”

Blair tapped the center of his forehead. “Stop that. It’s not misbehaving. Your mind has been violated repeatedly and it makes sense that you’d resist it happening again, no matter how well intentioned.”

“Okay, okay. Sheesh.” Everyone seemed to be waiting for something, like some indication from Tony. Oh. He closed his eyes and tried to relax.

A moment later, he felt the three mental touches. Each had a different feel and he tensed at first before forcing himself to let go again. He recognized Blair, and the other two touches were pretty distinct. He was pretty sure he could tell which was Morgan and which Alex.

Oddly, despite there being three people rooting around in his head, he was able to stand it easier than the first time with Blair. Maybe he was less stressed, or maybe knowing what the hell had happened lessened his uncertainty making him feel more secure. Whatever the reason, he only had to force himself to relax once or twice. He wasn’t sure how much time passed, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, before he felt the mental touch gradually withdraw.

He blinked his eyes open. Alex and Morgan were both kind of stony faced, but Blair looked normal.

“Nice job, Tony. It was easier this time?” Blair asked.

Swinging to a seated position, Tony accepted the sling back from Blair. “Yeah. There’s probably a lot of reasons why. Each of you feels really different, so it sort of helped to be able to keep track of you individually. I don’t have any idea why that made a difference though.”

Blair froze for a second, then smiled. “That’s great. Probably less stress than yesterday as well. Tell me how each of us felt to you?”

Fiddling with the adjustments on his sling, Tony absently responded. “Well, your touch is gentle and warm, like really warm. Like the tropics or something. The one I thought was probably Morgan felt blunt. Not painful or intrusive, but just deliberate and determined.” He finally looked up to find Blair’s expression to be neutral, but his eyes were intent on Tony. “Uh, and the one I thought was Alex was like warm water. His was the one that could almost go unnoticed.”

“That’s interesting. We don’t get to hear the contrasts of our empathic touch, because so few people ever go through anything that requires three healers at once.” Blair smoothly got to his feet. “Morgan Alex and I need to strategize on a treatment plan, and work out a schedule. Maybe Evan could show you where you’ll be staying, get your stuff situated, and we can reconvene in a little bit?”

Tony wasn’t an idiot. He knew they wanted to talk without him there, and though part of him wanted to hear whatever needed to be said, another part recognized that they needed to be able to talk openly to make a plan. If he were investigating a crime, he wouldn’t discuss the investigation in front of the victim. He nearly flinched at the thought that he compared himself to a victim. Ack!

Shaking it off, he just nodded and let Evan corral him next door to get his stuff.

~*~

Silence reigned for about five seconds after Tony closed the door before Morgan huffed out, “He should not have been able to detect us at all. And if he did, he certainly shouldn’t be able to tell us apart!”

Alex hopped to his feet. “Seriously, Morgan? That’s what you’re fixated on? He’s been shredded and it matters whether or not he can pick you out of an empathic lineup?”

“I’m not fixated on it, Alexander. It’s part of the whole picture. He’s an empathic mess, he’s going to come online before we can fix him, and considering that he can detect and differentiate empathic touch when he’s mundane, I have no doubt he’s going to be another Blair. Would you want someone with Blair’s power to come online empathically compromised? I’m not being an arse, I’m just looking at the entirety of the problem.”

Blair wanted to step in, but he knew from long experience, these two sometimes needed to work it out.

Jaw working furiously, Alex started to pace, but surprisingly, didn’t say anything.

Eventually, Morgan sighed and asked, “Did you inform the Council that Tony is coming online?”

Alex whipped around and glared at Morgan, but Blair held up a placating hand. “No. Despite what he feels like, we don’t know that he’s going to come online. On the one hand, I don’t want to get people’s hopes up that this drug might be able to be overcome. But, more importantly, Tony trusts us to heal him. At least to some degree.

“If the Council found out, they wouldn’t be able to stop from sending their own healers. You both know I can’t guarantee what their intentions might be, or how Tony would react to them. The Council has always behaved honorably as far as I can see, but I intuitively feel we’re on tenuous ground here with Tony. And if he decides to tell us all to fuck off, it could be detrimental.”

Morgan considered for several seconds before nodding. “So we stick to the story that he’s in Cascade for empathic healing. It doesn’t explain why he needs a conservator, but we can just feign obtusity if anyone should ask.”

Blair nodded. “It’s unlikely anyone is going to ask since I’ve been training Evan, and it wouldn’t be weird for me to have him tagging along. And if anyone does ask, obfuscation is our friend. Tony just needs a place to stay.”

Alex snorted. “It’s your friend. I’m a lousy liar.”

Morgan nodded his agreement.

Blair ignored them both. “Okay, so you both agree he’s close to coming online?”

“Very close,” Morgan agreed. “If it were anyone else, I’d say a few days at most, but with the drug to overcome? Could be ten to fifteen days. You’ve scanned him twice. Any change since yesterday?”

“Yeah. A little. I’d guess two weeks, but if it happened today while he’s downstairs, I wouldn’t be shocked.” Blair looked to Alex.

“My gut’s saying sooner. Maybe a week. I can’t back that up with anything, though.”

Blair took the feeling to heart, because even though Alex was not an Alpha, where Morgan and Blair were, he was the best empathic healer Blair had ever worked with. “How do you think we should proceed, Alex?”

Alex stopped his pacing, and stared at Blair, obviously lost in thought. “Normally with that kind of damage, I’d say healing once a day for an hour, let the changes settle while the patient is sleeping. In this case, I’m thinking twice a day if he can handle it.”

Morgan nodded thoughtfully. “On the weekend, we can do it twice a day here. But weekdays, I’d recommend the Center sometime mid-morning. He should be tired after and can return to Evan’s and have a rest. Then we can meet here in the evenings. With only once a day visits to the Center, we shouldn’t arouse much suspicion.”

“Okay,” Blair agreed. “Alex, you decide on the approach we’re going to use, and Morgan can set the schedule. We work everything around this, right?”

Alex sighed. “We have to. Because if he came online now, I’m not sure he’d be able to construct a primary shield. Even with help.”

“Damn,” Blair whispered. “I was afraid of that, but shields are so instinctive, I hoped I was wrong.”

“I don’t want to scare him, Blair,” Alex said, sitting again, “because emotional distress will hinder healing, but he could need a conservator for years.”

“We will not be mentioning that. No worst case scenarios.” Blair flinched, remembering that there was already a worst-case scenario he did have to deal with. “There’s something else. And he has to know.”

Alex glared. “There’s more? What the hell is going on in DC?”

Blair just threw up his hands and shook his head. The corruption at the DC Center was a mystery. Grabbing the folder he’d brought up, he pulled out a couple copies of Tony’s statement. “This is Tony’s account of what went on.”

The two other guides began to quickly scan the printed pages. They got the point at around the same time, because they both dropped the pages and stared at Blair.

Morgan found his voice first. “I’ll tell him.”

Blinking in astonishment, Blair only managed an unintelligible, “Huh?”

“I think he needs this news with as little emotional overtone as possible. In this case, with his disposition, it’s one of the rare moments when my clinical approach could work for us.”

“You think I’d get emotional?” Blair asked, raising a brow.

“No, I think you’d try to be kind.”

Blair snorted in amusement, then looked at Alex. “You agree?”

“That you’re kind? Sure.” Finally, Alex managed a faint smile. “Do I think this might come better from Morgan? Maybe. Tony’s in such an emotionless place right now, direct and without sympathy might be the best approach.”

“All right. I’ll yield to the popular vote. You should probably tell him in the next week.” Not that Blair was unhappy about giving up the duty of having to tell Tony this was a case of attempted murder. “So you both fully agree that this was a deliberate attempt to drive Tony to suicide?”

“The pattern is so clear,” Alex responded hotly. “It can’t be a coincidence.”

Morgan just nodded.

“Okay, let’s get our plan together. We going to start healing today, or just work out the details?”

Alex replied, “Let’s do the first healing tonight and then try again in the morning to see if the healings so close together are even going to work. I’d say we could try earlier in the day today, but I need to cool off for a bit first. I can’t do a healing when I’m this angry.”

They agreed to go ahead and split up, then come together mid-afternoon to work on the plan. Alex left to stop by Evan’s apartment on the way out to check on Tony’s arm.

Blair watched Morgan for a few seconds. “What’s going on in that big brain of yours?”

“History and statistics, I’m afraid.”

“Because you’re pretty sure Tony’s going to be strong enough to be a shaman?”

Morgan looked lost in thought. “Yes. That elusive plus on the level ten guide that makes someone strong enough to carry the burden of shamanism.”

“If Tony is, we’ll get him trained. We’ll make sure we don’t let him down again.”

“First, you did nothing to warrant feeling any guilt, Blair. And second, historically, we’ve never recorded a case of a ten-plus guide coming online before their sentinel. The sentinel has always been online first. And last I checked, we didn’t have any Jims online waiting for a budding shaman.” Morgan rubbed his forehead a bit, a rare display of frustration for the normally composed man.

“He could be out there, and have just been marked at a level ten. It could be as simple as a sloppy intake, Morgan. With what’s gone on the last two days, my faith in the competence of the Centers has taken a knock. And we just can’t know. All we can do is work with what’s in front of us.”

“Well, my friend, it’s cliché, and trite, which you know I abhor, but we’ll hope for the best, and plan for the worst.”

In principle, Blair could agree, but he wondered what Morgan’s notion of the worst was.

~*~

Alex forced himself to calm down before he knocked on Evan’s door. He was just so fucking pissed. He’d rarely worked on someone so empathically damaged. That the situation was made worse due to the actions of sentinels and guides made him livid enough to want to kill someone. He was going to go drag his sentinel to the gym and spar until he couldn’t move. Then have lots of mind-blowing sex. Fighting and fucking always relaxed him. His sentinel, Vincent, always teased that Alex had a sentinel’s disposition.

Maybe he’d be mellow enough to actually conduct a healing by the time he got back.

Evan answered, looking perplexed. “Do we need to come back up?”

“No. We’re going to break for a bit and come back together this afternoon, then try our first healing this evening. Can I come in and check on Tony?” Inside, he found Tony on the couch.

“My arm is fine. You don’t really need to look at it.”

Alex raised a brow. “Do you want to tell Blair that I didn’t look at your arm?”

Tony scowled, but worked his way out of the sling. Alex could tell the man was in pain and struggling a bit, but he didn’t offer to help. He knew he wouldn’t want help he didn’t request.

“Where are your supplies?” he asked.

“Since I knew you’d be down, I left them out on the bed.”

Alex washed up and grabbed the bandages from Evan’s guest room. He found Tony now out of his sling and Henley, in just a short sleeve t-shirt. He unwrapped the wound and looked it over critically. “You lost a good chunk of biceps and brachialis, which is going to hurt, so don’t be stoic. Take your pain pills.” He could feel the glare, but didn’t care. He could sense that Tony was in enough pain that he clearly didn’t take his pills recently. “Also, you popped a stitch. I’ll bring my kit and put it back in for you tonight.” While re-bandaging the arm, he added, “Don’t use your arm, and stay in the sling.”

Tony offered awkward thanks, which Alex could understand. They barely knew each other but Alex was busy telling him what to do. But these were the weird circumstances they found themselves in, and they’d all figure out how to make the best of it.

– – – –

Chapter Six

Late Friday evening, Blair returned to the loft to find everything dim, with just a single light coming from the bedroom. “I’ll be up in a minute, Jim. Go ahead and dial down,” he said lowly, knowing Jim would be tracking him.

He quickly got ready for bed, then headed up to spend some time with his sentinel.

Jim was leaning against the headboard, reading. As soon as Blair approached the bed, he tossed the book aside and pulled back the covers. They quickly settled into a comfortable position with Blair resting his head on Jim’s shoulder. “How’d it go?” Jim asked softly.

Blair sighed. “Not bad. I’ve certainly had healing sessions that were easier, but we managed to get through it. Tony really could feel what we were doing, so the constant struggle to not fight us wore him out. We’ll have to see how he’s doing in the morning.”

He felt Jim’s lips press against his head. “None of this is your fault, Blair.”

“No, but it is my responsibility now,” he replied with conviction.

“Got it, Chief.” A strong hand kept up gentle stroking through his hair. “Go to sleep, Guide.”

The next morning Blair woke much more energized than he expected. That was a quirk of empathic healing; sometimes it left the healer invigorated, and other times it left them drained. Blair must have slept pretty soundly because Jim was already up and dressed, though he was reclining on the bed watching Blair.

“Must be dreadfully dull for you,” Blair commented wryly as he stretched the kinks out.

“Best sight in the world,” Jim murmured.

Blair smiled. His sentinel rarely got mushy, but Blair always treasured it when he did. He twisted a bit to rest his head on Jim’s muscular thigh, and he was immediately rewarded with fingers carding through his sleep-mussed hair. He thought there were probably things they needed to discuss and plans to make, but for now, he was content to just enjoy the presence of his sentinel.

~*~

Morgan left his house mid-morning on Saturday to head to Blair’s to try the next round of healing for Tony DiNozzo. While he’d been tired the night before, he woke painfully early, feeling entirely energized. It was quite vexing since he rather enjoyed a weekend lie-in from time to time. His sentinel had been rather annoyed as well. Last he’d seen of Marcus, he’d been pitching a shoe Morgan’s direction for trying to drag him out of bed.

It was very atypical for Morgan to involve himself in empathic healing, and certainly not one of this duration. He wasn’t blind to his failings. He knew he wasn’t a compassionate man, and though he had a gift called empathy, he wasn’t particularly empathetic. He was too blunt for most people, and disinclined to put up with idiocy in any form. His sentinel carried the burden for being the personable one in their pairing.

Which was why Morgan handled the down and dirty aspects of running the Center, while his sentinel handled the matters that required a more deft touch. Or really, anything to do with the general public.

When they’d first come to the US after meeting Blair in London, it was a fairly easy decision to work for the Center, and ultimately run it, thereby focusing his efforts toward his community rather than the more traditional sentinel/guide route of some form of civic or public service. Because, at his core, Morgan didn’t actually care for the public. He cared about his sentinel first, his Pride second, and the rest of the sentinel/guide community third.

So he found it quite odd, that a near stranger was slotting himself into second place in Morgan’s priority list. Before meeting Tony, Morgan had been willing to aid with the healing because Blair asked. But it was different now. Morgan knew what they might be ushering into the world. There were too few shamans, and caring for one with so much potential for their people felt like a sacred trust.

And Morgan hated even having a thought like that. It was the kind of metaphysical nonsense people in Blair’s Pride were prone to. This situation had all the earmarks of things he didn’t like—prolonged healings, leaving home on Saturday mornings, and let’s not forget the idiocy. Because there was no doubt in his mind that Anthony DiNozzo was an idiot. Yes, if the man had a lick of sense, he’d have put a bullet in Harris weeks ago.

~*~

Alex left the coffee shop in a better mood than he felt like he ought to be in. Considering how angry and hostile he’d been yesterday—he and Vincent had the bruises to prove it—it was demented that he felt so energized and content today.

When Blair had called to ask for Alex and Morgan to meet him about doing some urgent empathic healing, he hadn’t any idea what they were getting into. And he was more than a little surprised that Morgan had agreed to participate at all. Morgan wasn’t known for being the calming presence that patients needed. There was some reason Morgan was being so agreeable, but damned if Alex could figure out what it was.

Also, the healing approach Alex had chosen was the most likely to frustrate Morgan, but he’d gone along without any signs of complaint. Normally, three healers would each take separate areas and work, but considering how easily Tony could distinguish between the three of them, Alex had been concerned Tony would be unable to keep from trying to track them.

So, Alex swept in on an area first, worked quickly but incompletely. Then Morgan would follow and do a little more, and then Blair would come last. He thought this order of empathic touch would be the least traumatic. But it was harder for the healers because they had to constantly keep track of each other. That’s why it hadn’t been a surprise that they’d all been so tired after only an hour of healing. The surprise was in how good he felt today.

His phone chimed with a text from Morgan. –Going over early to talk to Tony. May take extra time. Consider delaying your arrival by a half hour.—

Well, at least Morgan was getting the bad news out of the way. Part of him wanted to demand that Morgan wait until after their morning healing session, but it was likely they’d all be tired after, and that didn’t seem like a good time for bad news.

Since he had some extra time, he decided to pick up breakfast and take it to Vincent. Maybe they could fit in some fucking, too.

~*~

Evan contemplated his new roommate across the breakfast table. Part of his job as a conservator was to keep emotional tabs on his charge. But with Tony, there wasn’t much to keep tabs on. Even when Tony smiled, there wasn’t much emotion behind it. It was a little disconcerting.

He nearly cringed at the memory of what that Harris guy had been trying to do with his emotional adjustments. While Alex had taken care of Tony’s popped stitch last night, Blair had pulled Evan aside to review the information that he’d missed. He was glad Morgan was going to be telling Tony at some point, because Evan wasn’t a fan of the idea of that being kept secret.

The evening prior had been interesting from a learning perspective. He’d sat in on healing sessions before, but it was usually only one healer, though he’d been present for a case where there had been two. But three powerful guides was definitely new for him, and they were trying an approach they hadn’t done before. From Evan’s perspective, it was like empathically viewing a dance. An exhausting dance, but it was still riveting. Likely something most guides would never have the opportunity to view or practice.

Tony met his eyes. “Whatever it is, just ask.”

“I just want to know how you’re doing.” He’d almost asked how Tony was feeling, but that seemed a little insensitive.

Tony shrugged. “Fine. Not really all that different.”

“Tired, or anything weird? And I probably shouldn’t even be asking because Alex is going to grill you like a piece of fish.”

Smirking, Tony just shook his head. “Actually, I feel pretty good. And when I say feel, I mean physically. I don’t notice much difference in the other, uh, stuff.”

Evan nodded, not really sure what to say to that. After that, silence seemed to drag on.

“I’m not one for awkward silences,” Tony commented. “So we might as well get to know one another a little, since we’re going to be living together and planning to flirt outrageously.”

“All right.” Evan smiled and sat back in his chair. “You first,” he teased.

“Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Junior. It’s a mouthful, I know. I’m thirty-seven, I was born in Long Island, only child. My best friend growing up was Martin, and I consider him my brother. He bonded with my boss the day before yesterday, so that’s made of weird.

“I went to military academy when I was ten, attended Ohio State to play basketball and football until my leg was broken senior year playing Michigan.” He shook his head. “Damn Wolverines. I went to the police academy right after college, worked six years as a cop before moving to NCIS, where I’ve been for almost a decade. Fun facts; the Wolverine who broke my leg’s name is Brad Pitt, no relation, and he went on to become a doctor specializing in infectious diseases. He wound up being my doctor after I picked up a naughty letter at work. Your turn.”

“Your doctor’s name was really Brad Pitt? That’s strange. What kind of naughty letter?” Curious, Evan leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and gesturing for Tony to hurry up with the answer.

“It was from an angry woman who sent a antibiotic-resistant strain of the plague to our office. Fun times.”

Evan made himself not react too strongly, though it was hard. He’d never met anyone who’d had the plague. “You have a strange notion of fun,” he retorted unable to mask his dismay.

Tony gestured to Evan. “Come on… don’t be stingy. Spill the beans.”

Evan rolled his eyes. “Evan I’ll-never-admit-to-my-middle-name Moore. I’m thirty-two. I was born here in Cascade. My parents are both gone, but I have a sister in Seattle who works in biotech, and an older brother who is a captain in the army. I was always interested in sentinels and guides, so majored in sentinel and guide studies here at Rainier with a minor in computer science. Which I know seems like an odd mix.

“After I finished my masters, I went to work for a software company as a developer, which I did for about six years. When I came online about eighteen months ago, I took a leave of absence to do some guide training and never went back. Wound up working at the Center as a conservator. Will probably continue to do so until I find my sentinel.”

“And that’s something you’re actively doing?” Tony queried, head cocked to the side.

“Oh, yeah. Definitely.” Evan thought about the empty place inside and absently rubbed at his chest. “I want that more than anything.” He shook off the melancholy and focused on Tony again. “Now that we’ve got the bios out of the way, tell me the fun stuff… what do you like to do? I flirt better with good material.”

The conversation moved easily after that, and Evan reminded himself that it wasn’t his job to fix Tony. That was up to Alex, Morgan and Blair. Evan just had to look after him in case he had trouble with emotions, or if he came online. And beyond that, he liked Tony, and figured Tony could be a good friend. Plus the flirting was a fun bonus.

They chatted about random stuff while cleaning up from breakfast, Tony being surprisingly good at cleaning one handed. That made Evan wonder how often he’d had an arm out of commission. They were seated on the sofa, arguing the merits of original movies versus the modern remake when there was a knock at the door.

It was a little early for the other guides to be there, so he was surprised to find Morgan on the other side of the door. “Good morning, Morgan. Come on in.”

“Actually, I need to have a private chat with Tony. I thought we’d head upstairs for a bit.”

Evan forced himself to not react. There was only one thing he could think of that Morgan needed to talk to Tony about, and he futilely wished Tony didn’t have to go through this right now.

Tony looked perplexed by the request but followed after Morgan willingly enough. Evan closed the door and decided to update his conservator’s log while he had some free time. He was required to keep note of any fluctuations in Tony’s mood or mental state. He didn’t have much to report yet, because Tony didn’t really have fluctuations.

~*~

Tony followed Morgan upstairs, sipping on the really nice coffee the alpha guide had brought for him, unsure why they were meeting alone.

Inside the Pride meeting space, Morgan paused to flip a couple switches by the door. He didn’t explicitly recall Blair doing that the first time they came over here, but he did remember it from last night. “What’s with the switches?”

Morgan headed into the living room while answering. “They’re for the white noise generators. This room was soundproofed when Jim had it remodeled, but soundproofing is barely a bump in the road to a high-order sentinel. So, most places have some kind of sound generator. Since this was remodeled with sentinels in mind, they’re built into the walls and ceilings. This is probably the most secure meeting place in the city outside of some of the shielded rooms at the Center.”

“Oh. And we need that kind of privacy?” Tony asked, sitting on the couch, adjusting the cushions to prop his arm up a little to take some of the pressure off his shoulder and neck from wearing the damned sling.

“We do need privacy, but even if we didn’t, not turning them on is like asking sentinels in the building to keep an ear on you.” Morgan pulled a folded sheet of paper from his jacket pocket, then tossed the jacket over the arm of the sofa.

Tony blinked a few times. “Why would anyone want a sentinel to keep an ear out?”

“Distressed guides, and they’re almost always unbonded, come here to re-center themselves and meditate. There are certain times of the day when a senior guide in the Pride will be here for drop-ins who need help. We do that at the Center full time, but Blair’s Pride offers it a couple hours a day during the week as well. The third Pride in the area offers something similar. Leaving the sound generator off is either an oversight, or a cue to a sentinel that the room needs monitoring. Which the room certainly does if the guide is in distress and is in here alone.”

“Okay. That’s all rather… complicated.”

“I take it you haven’t spent much time around sentinels and guides. As strong as your latent gene was, you should have had more of a sense of community, though I can see why that didn’t happen in DC.”

“Other than Gibbs and his interim guides, the only guide I’ve really spent serious time around is my friend Martin. And I think he didn’t talk much about his experiences as a guide because he was worried about how I felt about not having come online.” Tony settled himself more comfortably on the couch and took another sip of coffee.

“Hmm. Well, I’d recommend you and Evan spend some time every day discussing sentinel and guide matters so you have a better understanding of how things work in our community.”

“All right. So, why did you need to talk to me?”

Morgan unfolded the paper and handed it to Tony. It was a page from his statement about his experiences with Harris. Several things were circled in red. Though Harris had sent him lots of different emotions, three were most common and tended to come in a pattern. It was those three emotions that were circled.

He glanced up at Morgan, confused as to what Morgan was trying to tell him.

“Those of us who even know enough to realize what that is, call it the suicide triad. If you force someone to feel extremes of depression, anger, and fear repeatedly, they can reliably be driven to commit suicide. I realize you describe the emotions as sadness and hostility in your report, but it’s the same thing. Nick Harris was trying to kill you.”

Tony choked and nearly fumbled his coffee. Morgan deftly took the cup from him and placed it on the table while Tony was left to simply gape at the alpha guide. “Are you sure?” he finally managed to ask.

“Yes. I haven’t met Harris, and I have no desire to, but I’d imagine he’s quite unhinged.”

“Why…” Tony scrambled to get his brain in order. “Why didn’t Blair say something?”

“I think it’s three-fold. He wanted to get another guide’s opinion of your report, in the hopes that he was wrong. Second, I think he likely thought you were too fragile for the news at the time.”

“I am not fragile,” Tony interjected.

“As you say,” Morgan murmured noncommittally. “And finally, if the Council agrees that Harris was attempting to kill you, they’ll likely ask Blair to carry out the punishment.”

Now Tony was even more confused. “I don’t follow. I thought they were going to attempt to prosecute Harris. Why would Blair have anything to do with his punishment?”

“The Council would never let an attempted murder charge be brought. In fact, the courts wouldn’t allow it either. And let me explain before you ask anything. When sentinels go completely round the twist, they go dormant. Think of it as nature’s way of protecting everyone else. It doesn’t happen instantly, but eventually, their gifts fade. The same cannot be said of guides. They never lose their gifts, no matter how damaged they are,” Morgan said baldly.

“There are specific circumstances where the Council steps in and will pass judgment on a guide who has committed certain illegal and/or unethical acts. These are cases where we will not get a satisfactory result from a court of law, or cannot even bring it before a court of law, and other people need to be protected.

“In these special, and very rare cases, a shaman has to shut off the guide’s empathic gifts. A guide will still be a guide, but with no access to his gifts and no ability to ever form a bond. It’s a life sentence that’s painful for the guide. It’s also horrible for the shaman, who all dread any time the Council passes this kind of sentence.”

Tony wasn’t sure how he would normally feel about something like this. Intellectually, he had questions, but he just didn’t feel much. It made him appreciate Morgan’s dry, matter-of-fact delivery. “Why is this the best option for handling those type of circumstances?”

Morgan nodded, as if he’d expected the question. “First, guides like Harris are dangerous. In prison, anyone around them is at risk of the kind of empathic assault you and your co-workers experienced. It’s irresponsible for the Council to allow a guide that damaged to use his gifts.

“Second, the government, any government, doesn’t want suicide by guide cases in the public eye. Imagine the fallout. Every time someone committed suicide, families would be looking for the nearest guide to blame. It would get ugly and strain relations between guides and the general civilian population, resulting in a strain on the sentinels. Policing damaged guides in this way is part of our responsibility.”

“Jesus,” Tony muttered, rubbing his hand over his face. Now that Morgan mentioned the repercussions, he could all too easily see what a cluster fuck a situation like this could be if it got out. “So what’s next then?”

“The Council’s investigation will take priority over any investigation on the part of the FBI. They’re waiting for our findings, though we won’t ever mention the attempted murder issue. If the Council decides to block Harris’ guide gifts, the prosecutor will likely consider that adequate punishment, even if they don’t know the reason why. And, provided he pleads guilty to the assaults, he will be given probation. If he decides to fight the assault charge… well, he’ll still get his wings clipped, and the courts may choose to impose jail time if he’s convicted.”

Tony was quiet for a long time, trying to process the information. He wanted to ask why Harris hated him so badly, but Morgan would have no way of knowing. Besides information, he wasn’t sure what he needed. Normally, he’d be debating about going to a bar or figuring out some kind of distraction for himself, but he didn’t really feel much about the news. Intellectually, he thought it was appalling, but thought he should be having some sort of emotional reaction.

“What are you thinking, Tony?” Morgan prompted.

“I’m not sure how to react. Plus I’m trying to come up with a movie reference for this situation, and I can’t seem to come up with anything. If you knew me better, you’d know what a calamity that was.”

“A reaction isn’t required. You don’t have to do or say anything. And you are free to have your reaction any time you desire. Be it now, in five minutes, or a month from now. I am uncertain why you are in need of a movie reference, but I’ll consider that a personal problem, which I refuse to engage in.” Morgan got to his feet and impatiently gestured for Tony to follow.

“And where are we going now?”

“We are going out for coffee.”

“We just had coffee,” Tony protested.

“I’m sure you are capable of consuming two cups of coffee. But I will actually be having tea. You may have whatever you wish.”

They grabbed Tony’s jacket from Evan’s place, saying a quick hello to Alex, then walked to a coffee shop about three blocks away. They didn’t talk much, Morgan seemed content to let Tony just be. And Tony finally thought that was just right.

~*~

Early Monday morning, obnoxiously early, Martin woke to find Jethro already awake and watching him sleep. He detected nothing but contentment from his sentinel, so he shook off any worry and stretched languidly. “Why are you watching me sleep, Jethro?”

His sentinel shifted position, pulling Martin closer, and nuzzling the area behind his ear. “Because I like looking at you,” was whispered against his skin.

Martin flushed a little in pleasure, letting himself be maneuvered to whatever position his bonded wanted him in. “Can I ask you a question?”

“You know you can ask me anything,” Jethro murmured.

“Why, and you don’t have to answer, but why did you never come to the high-order meet’n’greets the Center hosts?” That had been hard for Martin to bring up. It was painful for him that Jethro was out there all this time, and Martin had been left to just ache for him.

After a pause, Jethro replied, “I did the first few years after I came online, even though I didn’t really want to bond because it was so soon after I lost Shannon. After a while, I honestly didn’t think there was a guide for me. I’ve never been happy with having the string of interim guides, but using my senses helps me do my job better, so I was willing to put up with it.” He cupped Martin’s face. “If I’d had any idea you were waiting, I’d have been there.”

Martin smiled, feeling the knot of tension melt away. He pulled his sentinel into a lazy kiss. For long minutes, they continued to kiss and touch and just be close.

He was surprised at how quickly things had settled between them. Once they’d touched the first time, the actual bonding was like a runaway train… completely unstoppable. Unfortunately, they’d had to leave sooner than was comfortable because the emotional tone of the Center had been really hard for Martin to deal with. Once he’d explained the situation, Jethro had called to have the path cleared so they could leave. It was risky for a sentinel so newly bonded to leave the bonding suite, because they didn’t tolerate others around their new guide, but the alternative was untenable.

They both had appreciably relaxed when they arrived at Jethro’s home. Jethro because he was in a familiar and comfortable environment, and Martin because he wasn’t trying to deal with an empathic cesspool at a time when he needed to be empathically open.

The following three days together had been good. Really good. Not that they didn’t have a couple arguments, because they did, but Martin was always in favor of talking things out and Jethro had been more willing to talk than he’d expected.

When he’d prompted his sentinel about why he was so open, Jethro had replied, “You’re all the incentive I need to figure out how to talk.”

Which had made Martin feel all mushy and he’d promptly forgotten what he was going to say.

In between rounds of epically good sex, they’d talked; about childhoods and growing up, their jobs, and about Jethro losing his family. During the latter discussion, Martin got as much empathically from his mate as he did verbally, but he was encouraged by the fact that Jethro had opened up to him so early.

Martin had always been aware of the lack of his sentinel, where Jethro had refused to acknowledge that he needed a guide for anything other than a way to ground his senses. So while Martin relished in having that missing piece filled, it was tempered somewhat by the grief and guilt Jethro felt at having to acknowledge how much he’d needed Martin, because that felt like a betrayal of Shannon. Martin didn’t try to talk Jethro out of his feelings, he just offered whatever support his sentinel needed. And even though it had only been going on four days, the edges of those painful old wounds felt a little less jagged.

He’d been prepared for Tony to be a sore spot between them, but it hadn’t wound up that way. Jethro felt enough guilt about the situation with Tony, that Martin didn’t feel the need to add to it. Surprisingly, Jethro wanted to talk about it, and sought Martin’s advice on how to repair the situation with Tony.

One thing Martin had refused to offer advice on was how to handle the situation at NCIS. That was up to Jethro. His only boundary was that he not have to take orders from them, and beyond that, Jethro had to decide the right course of action.

Normally, they’d keep nesting for another week, and they planned to, but they were going to risk going out this morning for a couple hours to deal with the situation at NCIS. Martin had suggested he stay here at the house, but Jethro had ultimately decided he’d rather have his guide with him.

Still, to accommodate the sentinel’s protectiveness of his new guide, they’d arranged to meet Vance at seven. Vance knew Jethro had met his guide on Thursday, but knew nothing beyond that.

Considering the time, they needed to be up, and Jethro didn’t seem to be inclined to let go of him. “You know, we don’t have to go in.”

Jethro sighed and kissed the side of his neck. “Yeah, we do.”

Despite procrastinating in the shower, it was still ten minutes to seven when they arrived at Jethro’s desk. Martin looked around curiously while Jethro pulled out the folder Ducky had left. Tony certainly hadn’t been kidding about the orange! How did someone learn to work inside a pumpkin?

He easily spotted Tony’s desk. The personal touches were a dead giveaway. He sat down and ran his fingers over several items he recognized, like the Mighty Mouse stapler.

“Everything okay?”

He looked up at his sentinel. “Yeah. Tony’s been to my office in New York, but I’ve never seen his. I’ll have to pack it up for him.”

“He might be back,” Jethro offered a little tentatively.

“That’s not what I meant.” Though Martin truly doubted that Tony would be back. “Someone’s going to be filling in, and I’m sure Tony would rather his personal stuff was put away.”

“We can take it to the house whenever you want.”

Martin smiled. “Did Ducky leave the print out for you?” They’d had a bitch of a time filling out the report they’d needed. Jethro had no cable or internet service, so they’d tethered Martin’s laptop to his phone so Jethro could fill out the form. They’d then sent it and the report he needed to Ducky to print and leave for him. A horribly complex solution to a simple issue, and one that they were fixing this week, dammit. Jethro was getting broadband whether he liked it or not. To be fair, Jethro hadn’t resisted, seemingly happy to let Martin do whatever he wanted.

“Yep. Leon’s already here, so let’s head on up.” Jethro kept a hand on Martin as they headed upstairs, never letting his guide get out of touching distance.

Vance was just like Tony described him, and Martin forced himself to not let Tony’s issues with the director cloud his judgment or working relationship. Fortunately, Vance had enough experience with sentinels to not offer to shake a bonded guide’s hand, and Martin wasn’t inclined to offer so soon after his bonding. Jethro was too tetchy for someone else to touch him yet.

“I know your father,” Vance commented, leaning back in his chair, pulling out a toothpick. “I’m sure he’ll enjoy having you here in DC.”

Martin would laugh over the toothpick if his father hadn’t just been mentioned. Jethro already knew all about his issues with his dad, so just gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “Yes, well, I haven’t told him I’m leaving the Bureau yet, so I’d ask that you not say anything until I’ve had a chance to talk to him.”

Vance nodded agreeably. “I assume we’re not just here to talk about your bonding. Congratulations, by the way. I take it you are planning to join NCIS?”

He exchanged a look with Jethro. “We’re still discussing things, but if everything works out, then yes.”

The director gave him a shrewd look. “But that’s not why you’re here.”

Jethro leaned forward. “Martin’s here because we’re newly bonded, and I’m not prepared to have him away from me, Leon. He’s uninvolved in the situation I came to discuss with you, but he’s aware of it.” With that, Jethro passed over the folder with two reports inside.

Vance took a quick glance, then looked back at Jethro. “DiNozzo’s report from the Military at Home case? Why?”

“I circled a section at the end of the report for you to read, and there’s a formal incident report following.” Jethro sounded normal, but Martin could feel his guilt and anger.

Vance braced his elbows on his desk and started to read. Even if Martin couldn’t read the visual cues, he definitely felt when Vance got to the problem area. But the director said nothing, just kept reading. After a couple minutes, his toothpick snapped.

“I’m a bit surprised you brought this to me.” The director considered for a couple seconds. “How much of this can be explained by what that Harris guy did?”

Jethro didn’t even glance at Martin, because they’d discussed this and Martin wasn’t objective. Jethro had to offer whatever opinion he’d come up with on his own. “It’s a factor in the events that led to a serious breach of regulations, but it’s not an excuse. I’m not prepared to set the precedent that being annoyed with someone is a justifiable reason to leave your partner without backup.”

Vance nodded, looking thoughtful. “What do you want to do, Gibbs? David’s at the end of her probationary period, an offense like this usually results in not passing probation.”

“My recommendation is formal reprimands for both, with David’s probation to be extended a year. McGee gets three months probation and not eligible for promotion for two years. Also they both take the course on new agent policies, procedures and regulations.”

Eyebrows raised, Vance asked, “And that’s it?”

“No. While I’m gone the next week, you figure out something unpleasant for them to do. And then I’ll get my hands on them when I get back. Also, being newly bonded, I’m not going anywhere without my guide, and I’m not letting him in a confrontational situation during our nesting period. So, I’m dumping this on you, Leon.”

Vance scowled. “You sure know how to brighten up a Monday, Gibbs.” He drummed his fingers on his desk. “All right. I can agree to everything, but you have to decide what to do about an interim SFA while DiNozzo’s on medical leave.”

Jethro cocked his head to the side, and then smiled. “You know, Leon, you pick. This is your chance to put someone of your choosing on my team.”

“You’ll give them a fair chance?” Vance hedged.

“Fair shot.”

Vance leaned back and smiled. “All right then. How long do you think DiNozzo is going to be gone?”

Martin felt Jethro’s reaction, but didn’t see any change in expression. “Not sure yet.” He glanced to Martin, clearly asking if he wanted to chime in.

Carefully choosing his words, Martin replied, “Probably at least a couple months. You’ll get a report in the next week or two, but as I’m sure Blair mentioned, Harris did quite a lot of damage. I’m not at liberty to reveal anything else. If you have any questions, you can direct them to Dr. Sandburg. I believe he gave you his contact info?”

The director’s expression was stony, and he offered a nod. Martin could tell he wanted more info, but he’d have to settle for whatever Blair decided to disclose.

They said their goodbyes, then took the back elevator down in case David or McGee came in early. They slipped out of NCIS without any incidents.

Martin could feel the worry coming from his sentinel and knew it was about him. “I’m impressed, Jethro,” he said once they were on the road.

Jethro just nodded his head, otherwise not visibly reacting, but Martin could feel the relief.

“Out of curiosity, why did you take it to Vance? It certainly wasn’t something I asked for, and from things Tony’s said, you’d never take a team issue to the Director.”

Jethro considered the question for a bit before replying. “Previously, I’d have said this couldn’t happen on my team, no matter the provocation. So, I’m not sure how I would have handled it. Without the mitigating factor, I’d have just fired them, I think. I still thought about it. But with everything Harris did… I felt I had to make some allowances. But Tony deserves for this not to be swept under the rug, so it had to be an official response.”

Martin closed his hand around his sentinel’s and gave it a squeeze. He felt any lingering tension over Tony fade away. Everything was going to be okay.

– – – –

Chapters 1-3  |  Main Story Page | Chapters 7-9

23 Comments:

  1. Happiness is waking up to find a new chapter in this story.

  2. Loving the story and I really like your page here. Hope to see more amazing stuff from you in the future!

  3. oh, Tony *hugs*

    One of these days, I’ll get to enjoy watching Alex knock a few heads together 😉

  4. I adore this story so much. And thank you for posting it and for all your hard work.

  5. I love how you’re being so fair here. I still believe Tim ans Ziva should have been fired for switching off the radio, but I love it that you’re more reasonable. This particular episode still rankles, and it annoys that the creators never addressed the infraction later. At least in your universe there were other influences in play, even if that is no excuse.

  6. I want to gush on and on about how much I love this, but that will just keep me from reading so LOVE LOVE LOVE, and BYE off to next chapter! 😀

  7. Oh baby, I know you don’t want to think of yourself that way, but mind rape is NOT a victimless crime! **Gives him gentle hugs** I almost said shoots him hugs, but that unintentional slip is not needed. Thanks, brain.

  8. HURRAY!!! Actually taking them to task for that steaming load of horse pucky! I’m loving the story you’ve created here.

  9. What line did you steal from Emergence? This bugs me every time I read this chapter because I can’t recognize it even tough I have read Emergence numerous times.

    • It’s a line Abby said in Emergence in Blair says here. “Holy mother of fashion, that’s a lot of clothes!”

      😀

  10. Lol. Thanks Jilly

  11. I especially love the bit where Blair discovers first Tony’s movies and then the clothes. Even without ever having seen a Sentinel episode I grin at the flannel comment!

  12. OMG, I’m stopping mid-chapter to cackle and comment on Alpha Guide Morgan. I could not have enjoyed a character depiction more if it was tailor made for my pleasure. Just perfect. Thank-You!!!!

  13. I love this story and keep coming back for rereads, but I do question the repetitive use of “odd” in this sentence: “Oddly enough, he had the odd impression of some odd squabble about hamburgers as he went to sleep.”

    • Clearly it’s something that slipped by me and my betas. This story has been published for more than a year. I assume your purpose in pointing it out was simply to upset me with your pedantic nitpicking. Congratulations, you got me upset. I actually contemplated investing 3-4 hours into fixing all my publication sources and re-doing my eBook over ONE FUCKING SENTENCE. Was that your goal? To get me to waste a bunch of writing time on a single sentence out of 126k? Are you that much of a fucking asshole? Do me a favor, and don’t read my fic. The idea of such a colossal twat waffle reading my work makes me want to go on sabbatical.

      • Honestly, I didn’t mean to be rude, or to make you upset. I was merely curious over the word choice, and had grammar on my brain after working on a thesis for several hours. (For what it’s worth, reading well-written works (that aren’t academic works) helps me to decompress.) If you’d rather lose a reader for one comment, that’s your prerogative, and I will respect your wishes, but please don’t give up writing/go on sabbatical. You’ve very talented and it would be a shame for everyone else to lose out on your writing. (And I would like to add that “twat waffle” is my one of favorite curses ever!)

      • Additionally, I just read your concrit policy. When I made the comment, I was unaware that it would be a trigger for you. Coupled with the critical headspace I was in, I realize that it was an error on my part, and I do want to apologize for any mental stress I may have caused. My mother has OCD, and I have seen how bad she can get. So, again, apologies.

        • The problem is that grammar nitpicks are not constructive criticism. People’s inability to know the difference is why I stopped allowing it. The kind of stuff people nitpick when they write me about commas or apostrophes or whatever are things that would be caught in a line edit. This is fanfiction. It’s free. There is no line edit.

          In any case, thanks for the apology.

  14. **Sends Jilly LOTS of hugs and GOOD VIBES** Please ignore the anon asshat. Personally, I think their avatar sums up about how many fucks you should give about what they have to say. It looks like a big ol zero and that about covers it. I’m fairly certain they posted anon because even they didn’t want to own that ridiculous stool water they were offering up vaguely disguised as a comment.

    Dear Anon, from one reader to another. Please, kindly to be shutting the fuck up now. You love the story, and yet you decide to pick nits over the use of the word odd one too many times for your liking? Know what I find odd, that someone who claims to love the work didn’t think how bloody annoying their comment would be to the author. ACK. Seriously, what the ever loving fuck? Shit likes this makes people stop writing and sharing because they wonder why the fuck they should bother. The idea of saying something nice before offering the complaint is just bullshit. Say something nice and leave it at that. Jilly has not ever asked for volunteer betas or constructive criticism, as such, your offering is not accepted.

    Cyn, who apologizes to Jilly if this is out of line, but damn it all. Some people need a verbal thrashing.

    • Well… normally I send comment wars to the bin, but you really conveyed the crux of the issue. *hugs* Thanks for the support.

  15. Well, one good thing did come of this, I read the story again. 😀 And then I went to read some more Jilly fic. So much win.

    Anon, thank you for apologizing. Jilly is one of my favorite writers and I will selfishly guard her good feels as best I can. Good luck with your thesis. I know than can make the most stable people wibbly wobbly.

    • It is a really great story. Sentinel-fusion is my kryptonite, and Jilly’s works are some of the best that I’ve found. (I’m also quite fond of Jilly’s Emergence. Good stuff.) As for apologizing: I had to, and I will apologize to you, also. I wouldn’t want to cause anyone to lose out on excellent writing, or start a comment war or other negative shenanigans.

      I just happened to start with this chapter at the beginning of a sanity break. Obviously, I hadn’t regained enough, as this was legitimately the first time in about a dozen rereads that I’d even noticed the phrasing! Wibbly wobbly, indeed. (The sad thing is it’s not even *my* thesis. It’s my cousin’s, but she knows I get horribly anal about grammar, so…)

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