Neal wasn’t sure what was worse, the ringing in his ears, the blinding light or the fact that his skin was on fire. It felt like it was on fire. Everything was loud and bright and—Kate is dead. Someone touched him and he growled unconsciously.
Neal flinched. Every was too loud.
“Neal?” Peter sounded normal. Quiet almost. “I know everything is too much right now, but the center is sending people. You’re going to be okay.”
Center? Neal kept his eyes squeezed shut. What is he talking about?
“Neal, kiddo, you’ve come online. What you’re feeling right now? The heightened senses? It’s okay. It’s normal.”
Peter’s heart was beating in Neal’s skull.
“You’re going to be okay.”
You’re going to be okay.
Neal wanted to scream.
At first, Neal thought he might be dead. Dead, and in a very, very, boring after life. Things started to click though, when he realized that the noncolor of the walls of what appeared to be a very expensive hospital room was a very specific noncolor. Manufactured and licensed for one company, and one company only.
He was in the Sandburg Center, and by the state of the other things in the room, soft, muted and dimly lit, he was in a Sentinel suite.
Which was when he remembered what had happened. They’d been about to run, free and clear. Government sanctioned even. Him and Kate. Finally. And then Peter was there. And then the plane exploded.
And his brain caught fire. His sense went into overdrive and…I came online. Something he’d never, ever, expected. Sure, he’d been tested when he was twelve, just like every other kid in the US, but knowing you have a latent gene and actually coming online were two separate things. And sure, he was in the sweet spot for the age range but…
Me? A Sentinel? Really? Sentinels were supposed to be…well, not him.
He looked up from his contemplation of the blanket. “Elizabeth, hey. Is Peter here?”
“Yeah, he’s outside. The center currently only has you approved for visits from bonded Guides, sorry.” She stepped up to the bed and smiled. It was pretty obvious the center had provided her clothes, and she wasn’t wearing jewelry, or any makeup. Her skin was slightly pink—freshly washed.
But still, he caught her scent. Sweet, gentle, with a slight hint of powder and…
He blinked. “Huh?”
“Sweetie, you were zoning a bit there.” Elizabeth shook her head. “What on?”
“You—you just smell really good.”
“Ah.” She smiled. “Yeah, that’ll do it. Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. I mean. I have to—I have to learn to control this, don’t I?” Neal smiled, somewhat bitterly he had to admit. “This is my life now.”
“Being a Sentinel is a good thing. Really. And I know at heart you are a good man, Neal. This could be destiny. Isn’t that what all of the pamphlets say?”
“What the shamans say,” Neal replied. “Thanks for coming. I was starting to feel a bit isolated.”
“I’ll keep coming back every day if you like.”
“I would. And tell Peter—” Neal bit his lip. “Tell him I don’t think I could’ve really left.” He looked down at his hands. “I don’t think I could’ve gotten on that plane.”
While Neal had spent most of his criminal career making what he did look ridiculously easy, it always came down to hours of research, work, study—work. No plan ever went off without a hitch and no skill was ever unearned. Still though, he was starting to feel like this whole Sentinel thing was nothing but a never-ending sea of lessons and he was drowning.
Particularly after he was pulled from his eighth zone of the day by Jordan, one of the Center’s guides and his ostensible babysitter. They weren’t a perfect match by any degree, but Jordan was one of those guides who had a knack as working pro tem, he got along with just about everyone. Anyone really, and that made him an invaluable person to have around the Center.
“It’s okay, Neal.” Jordan’s voice was always so soothing. “We’re still testing, once we’ve gotten all of your results back and now for certain where you stand on the charts, this will be easier.”
“Right.” Neal pushed his hair back from his face and sighed. “But what happens after that? After I’m all clear? I’m surprised the FBI isn’t clamoring for something.” Since the plane exploded, his deal with OPR had went up in smoke. It didn’t really make sense to him that he wasn’t in prison again.
“Special circumstances.” Jordan picked up another book of pictures. “Come on, let’s try that exercise again.”
Something strange is going on here. And it wasn’t just that he was a newly online Sentinel. He could hear Jordan’s heartbeat. It hadn’t been steady. Was Jordan lying? Or just concealing something? Neal’s gut said, hiding something.
God, I miss Peter.
Finally, three weeks into being isolated from the general public (though Neal wasn’t entirely sure he minded that entirely) Jordan and the Center’s head guide signed off on him receiving “approved guests”. No more than two at a time and for no longer than half an hour but…it was better than nothing. He was also supposed to be getting his test results today, which he was looking forward too and dreading in equal measure.
He wasn’t really at his best when Peter and Elizabeth arrived. He’d had a nightmare before waking up that morning, and while Jordan was as soothing a presence as possible, the guide couldn’t erase the moment Neal lost Kate. The moments Neal came online.
“Hey, Neal,” Peter said. Being a Sentinel himself, Peter had dressed in his most neutral suit for the occasion. Elizabeth wasn’t stuck in Center scrubs this time, but was still resolutely neutral.
“Peter, Elizabeth.” Neal managed a smile. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too, bud.” Peter made a face. “How are you doing?”
“Okay. I mean, I’m not zoning out on everything anymore, so that’s good.”
“Yeah. Though I was talking more about…emotionally.” Peter stood a bit awkwardly, clearly uncomfortable with this conversation.
“Kate’s dead.” Neal shrugged. “I think I’m still a bit in shock but Jordan, my pro tem, he’s very good at insulating me. I think I’ll feel it more when I’m not in here.”
Elizabeth nodded. “That’s probably true. The Center is like a whole different world. Especially when you’re new to it.”
Neal nodded. “Mozzie is coming later. Managed to get him on the list. Barely. Apparently, they have a thing about people who don’t carry ID.”
Peter snorted. “Like they could keep Mozzie out if he really wanted to get in.”
“I don’t know, security here is pretty tight. Might be tighter than super-max.” Neal’s eyes narrowed. “Speaking of prison. What’s the FBI got in store for me Peter? Everyone here keeps avoiding the question.” He looked Peter in the eye. “Or saying ‘special circumstances’ like that’s supposed to explain everything.”
Peter nodded, taking a deep breath and exhaling. “Your test results came back.”
“Neal, you know there are levels of guides and sentinels, right?”
“Yeah. Everybody knows that.”
“Then you know I’m what is referred to as an ‘alpha’ Sentinel. All five-senses, scoring over an eight on all charts.”
Neal nodded. “Yeah.”
Peter shook his head. “You tested out, Neal. High. Higher than me. That’s why you’ve been in isolation so long. That’s why you’ve got limited guests. A Sentinel as powerful as you…they don’t come along every day. The Center is scrambling, trying to find a match for a Guide. Before…”
“Before I zone permanently.” Neal swallowed, a chill roll down his spine.
“Yeah.” Peter sighed. “I can’t lose you, Neal. It was all I could do not go feral when that plane exploded because—you are a part of my pack.”
Neal froze, mouth opening. “Me?”
“Yeah, you.” He tapped him on the shoulder gently. “So when you get of here, you better believe you’ve got a place at the Bureau.”
When you get out. “I thought the DOJ would want me back in prison.”
Peter snorted. “I’d like to see them try to get past the Council’s legal team. They’ve already got people working overtime for you.”
Neal blinked. “For me? Why?”
“Neal, what part of ‘powerful Sentinel” are you not understanding?” Elizabeth asked. “There are maybe a dozen others with your power in the country. They won’t risk you going dormant, or slipping into a zone-coma.”
“You never committed any violent crimes, you served your sentence once—before that ill-advised escape attempt.” Peter shook his head. “What the Council wants…they usually get.”
“Oh.” Neal exhaled. “That’s…unexpected.”
“It’s a lot to take in, I know.” Elizabeth reached out squeezing his hand. “But you’re going to be all right, Neal. You might not think so right now, but I know you will.”
“Thanks, Elizabeth.” Neal managed to smile. “You lucked out, Peter. Elizabeth is an awesome Guide.”
“You’re going to get someone wonderful too,” Elizabeth said. “I’m sure of it.”
“I really hope your right.”
Though the unspoken fear gripped him. What if he couldn’t Bond? He still hadn’t really accepted that Kate was dead. Hadn’t accept that his whole life had upended.
What if it came down to the line and…he just couldn’t do it?
“I have to say, Neal, this abode might not be to the scale of June’s apartment, but at least it’s not prison.”
“And yet, I’m not allowed to leave.” Neal stared at the chess board with its gray and white pieces. “Your move, Moz.”
“I’m thinking.” Mozzie adjusted his glasses, looking up at his blue-eyed friend. “I still can’t quite believe where we are here. I mean, Neal Caffrey, a Sentinel? Never would have guessed that. I mean, there are conmen Guides, but Sentinels are kind of…hardwired, to be good. Military, police, you know.”
I wanted to be a cop once. Neal swallowed. If he hadn’t gone down the road to a life of international crime and intrigue, maybe he would have come online under less…stressful circumstances. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. He’d never know now. Maybe though, he wouldn’t have met Kate. Wouldn’t have had to watch her die.
Neal blinked, the pawn he’d been toying with was snapped in two. “Oh. Sorry Moz.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“Kate.” Neal swallowed. “I have nightmares about her. About the plane.” He shook his head. “My pro tem Guide, Jordan, he thinks I need therapy.” He pushed the broken pawn aside. “Peter and Elizabeth were here.”
“I passed Mr. and Mrs. Suit on the way in,” Mozzie replied.
“My testing came back, Moz.”
“Are the two things connected?”
“Peter broke the news.” Neal frowned. “Turns out I’m alpha-class, with prime potential.”
Mozzie blinked. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. Which means, that all the pro tem Guides in the world, aren’t going to be enough. I have to Bond, Moz. Or…”
“Or I could slip into a zone…and never come out.”
“And the Center is working to find someone for you? Right?”
“Of course.” Neal leaned back in his chair. “I’m sure they’ll do everything they can to find me someone before I my brain starts working against me.” He sighed. “Bonding is supposed to be this…experience. Like finding a soulmate.”
“And you just lost Kate.”
“I didn’t lose her, someone killed her. And I want them.” He couldn’t help the growl. “They killed her and I’m going to find them.”
“If I have to Bond to do it?” He looked up, meeting Mozzie’s concerned gaze. “Well, I guess that’s what I’ll do.”
Mozzie swallowed. This…this was not a good side of Neal.
And he had a feeling, that things were only going to get worse before they got better.