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Changing Direction

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“Some People Cross Your Path and Change Your Whole Direction.” – Unknown

 

Steve finished signing the last page and straightened the stack of paper before handing it to Sergeant Harriman, who had been waiting patiently for him to finish. Steve had never seen such a detailed non-disclosure agreement in his life, and he’d worked in covert operations for years. He was almost certain he’d just signed away his first-born child to the Air Force.

Whatever was under Cheyenne Mountain, the brass was serious about keeping it safe. He was quite curious and felt a rush of excitement. Maybe this new assignment would be more interesting than he’d first thought.

Sergeant Harriman looked over Steve’s paperwork. Finally, he nodded. “This all seems to be in order. If you’ll wait a few minutes, the general will be with you as soon as he can. He’s running a little behind today. Can I get you anything while you wait?”

Steve asked for a cup of coffee, which was brought to him in short order. Sergeant Harriman was clearly very efficient.

Steve leaned back in his chair to wait. He had arrived in Colorado Springs only two hours earlier. Three days ago he had been surprised and annoyed by orders to report to the mountain immediately for possible reassignment. He’d been on the trail of the Hesse brothers for three years, and he resented being pulled away so suddenly. Steve had kept his feelings to himself, of course. He knew better than to argue with orders.

On arrival, he’d been waved through security easily enough, but he’d been surprised to find himself in a complex deep below the mountain. He’d been escorted down several corridors which, if he was honest, all looked the same to him, and left in a conference room. He wasn’t worried. After years of living on ships, he was sure he’d learn to find his way around if he stayed.

Steve had never expected to be here. There were always whispers about what went on at this base, but most of them were too wild to be believed. No one even knew what the Letters SGC stood for. The waiting list for transfer to Cheyenne was long, and the background check was rumored to be the most extensive in the military.

So, here he was in this windowless conference room, waiting to find out what the Air Force wanted with him. It was possible they needed him for some sort of classified mission, but surely there were plenty of other qualified people who could handle that sort of thing. It was well-known that the SGC had the highest concentration of sentinels and guides in the armed forces. Steve prided himself that his record was excellent, but he was latent and had accepted that he would probably never come online.

Online sentinels were almost always given assignment priority over latents or mundanes. It was just the way it worked. Sentinels were made for combat. Despite all the dangerous situations he had been in, and all the guides he’d met, Steve had never awakened. Not that the Navy hadn’t done its best to bring him online. They’d thrown every unbonded, willing guide they could find at him in an effort to awaken his sentinel abilities.

Much to the Navy’s disappointment, it hadn’t worked, and Steve was mostly fine with that. He never particularly cared one way or the other if he came online. He was confident in himself and his abilities, although there was a small part of him that longed for a connection like the one his parents had shared as a bonded pair. He didn’t let himself think about it often though. There was no sense in wasting time wishing for something that he had no control over.

There was a commotion at the door, and a tall harried-looking man with glasses entered. He had an absent-minded air about him that reminded Steve of a few analysts he’d worked with in Navy Intelligence. He was carrying several books, papers, and various other things in a precarious hold. They looked like they were about to fall to the floor. Steve guessed he was a guide. Both latent and online guides had an aura about them, even with shields, that both sentinels and guides picked up on. It was almost like a sixth sense. There was really no way for a mundane to tell if someone was a sentinel, but most people found being around guides very uplifting and comforting even if they weren’t sure why.

Some of the papers fell to the floor, and the man cursed. Steve got up and walked over to him. “Can I help you?” he asked. The man looked up, startled, as if he hadn’t realized there was anyone else in the room.

He gave Steve a distracted smile. “Yes, thanks. I’m Dr. Daniel Jackson. You must be Lieutenant Commander McGarrett.” Dr. Jackson handed him a few of the books. Steve took them and laid them on the table while Dr. Jackson worked on rearranging his fallen papers. Just then, another man entered. He was tall, with silver hair, and he seemed to fill the room. Steve knew he was in the presence of an alpha sentinel, who also happened to be a two-star general. Steve immediately stood at attention and saluted, and then he waited to be acknowledged.

The doctor had finished arranging his things and was cueing up a video on the DVD player. He smiled warmly at the general. The general was watching him in return, his expression openly affectionate. “Are we ready, Daniel?”

Jackson nodded. “Yes, Jack, I’m ready to go.”

The general turned to look at Steve, his eyes assessing even as he smiled jovially. “At ease, Commander,” he said. Steve relaxed into parade rest. “I’m General O’Neill, with two l’s, and I run this madhouse. Have you met my guide?” General O’Neill motioned toward Dr. Jackson.

“Yes, sir. We introduced ourselves,” Steve said.

“He was very helpful and polite, Jack. So far I approve,” Jackson said. Steve noted with interest that the general relaxed slightly at Jackson’s words.

The general got coffee for Jackson and himself. He sniffed his guide’s and even took a small sip before handing it to him. Steve hid a smile seeing the familiar action. His mother had always done the same for his father when he was growing up.

“Let’s sit down. We have a lot to cover and not much time to do it in. I do have other things to do today, and there’s a hockey game on ESPN classic I want to catch later,” O'Neill said cheerfully.

Dr. Jackson sighed, and Steve could practically feel his exasperation. “You don’t actually need to be here for this part, Jack. I could give this speech in my sleep.” He smiled slightly at his Sentinel, so Steve knew he couldn’t be too annoyed.

Steve wondered if the general being present for this was really that unusual. If so, what made Steve special?

O’Neill grinned back, unrepentant. “I’m always happy to listen to your spiel, Daniel, you know that,” he said. “It usually takes a lot longer before I get that particular exasperated tone out of him. It’s good to know I’m not slipping. He loves having me here really. It keeps him on his toes,” the general added in an aside to Steve.

Steve was amused but nodded politely. “Yes, sir, I’m sure you can do whatever you set your mind to,” he said, making O’Neill smile even wider. He liked the man already. “Sassy. I think I’m going to like you, Commander,” O’Neill said, smirking slightly. “I wanted to be here to greet you personally, son. Your father is an old friend of mine. I was very sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. How is John doing these days?”

Steve was startled though he made sure to keep his face neutral. His father had never mentioned O’Neill at all. To be fair, his father didn’t discuss his time in the Army much. Steve had learned at a young age not to push. He hadn’t understood then, but now he figured that the memories were too painful for his father to discuss.

Steve’s heart clenched a little as it always did when he thought about his mother. “Thank you, sir. He’s doing as well as can be expected. He’s thinking about retirement soon.”

His father had never been the same after his mother’s death. It was as if the life had been drained from him. He’d become a shadow of his former self, and almost everyone had expected John to die soon after her;it happened with many sentinel and guide pairs. John had thrown himself into his work. He seemed mostly content now, even if he had never fully gotten over his sentinel’s death.

Steve had never fully understood why his father had felt the need to send them away. When Steve had asked, he would only say it was “for the best.” Their relationship had never been the same, even though John had managed to visit his kids once or twice a year. The decision had changed the course of Steve’s life. He’d gone to military school and excelled, which had led to the decision to go to Annapolis and apply for SEAL training. If he’d stayed in Hawaii, he might have picked a very different path in life. He really couldn’t imagine it.

O’Neill nodded, smiling widely. “I’m glad to hear it. I’m sorry I’ve never been able to get out to Hawaii to see him. Tell him I said hello.”

“I will, sir,” Steve promised.

O’Neill looked over at Dr. Jackson, who was standing by a large flat screen, and his carefree demeanor abruptly vanished. “You’re not going to believe what you’re about to hear, but I promise you it’s all true.”

 “Of course, sir. I’ll keep an open mind.”

O’Neill gazed at him intently for a moment and then nodded. “I think you will.” He gestured toward his guide. “Okay, Daniel, let’s do this. Try to be concise, please.”

Jackson glared at his Sentinel for a long moment, but O’Neill just raised his eyebrow and made a get on with it gesture. Jackson turned to Steve. “If you have any questions, Commander, please ask. I’m happy to answer. We want you to be as informed as possible.”

Steve nodded, and Jackson began explaining excitedly.

Two hours later, Steve realized he had been a little overconfident. He felt as if his whole world had been torn apart and then put back together,  except that the new configuration made no sense whatsoever. There was so much to take in—wormhole travel, megalomaniac parasites that took control of people, the lost city of Atlantis, and, worst of all, alien vampires who thought of humans as food. The idea had made him feel sick.

 It was only his training that kept him steady. He also understood why the general had asked Jackson to be concise. The explanation had been very detailed, to say the least, and Steve knew there had to be much more to learn. Steve found it genuinely fascinating, and his mind was spinning with questions.

Steve had been skeptical at first, but it had faded quickly. There was something about General O’Neill and Dr. Jackson that inspired belief. It also hadn’t hurt that O’Neill had been able to show him the Stargate sitting right below them in the gate room, and he'd actually gotten to watch a team step through. He’d immediately felt a little jealous, and he couldn’t wait to try it. He truly did think that tracking down the Hesse brothers was important, but this was one assignment he couldn’t turn down. There was nothing more important than protecting humanity.

Dr. Jackson was gazing at him sympathetically. He seemed to understand that Steve was reeling though he was doing his best to hide it.

Still, Steve wondered why he had been recruited so suddenly. What was the rush? He knew there were many capable men and women who could do well here; people were chomping at the bit to work inside Cheyenne Mountain.

O’Neill grinned at him. “Relax, you’re doing really well. I’ve seen all sorts of reactions in my time. You get high marks for not tossing your cookies. I hate the smell. It gets stuck in my nose for days. I’m sure you're wondering why your'e here. You came highly recommended, were top of your class at Annapolis, are highly decorated, and your commanding officer sings your praises.

"You also have one of the strongest expressions of the ATA gene we’ve ever come across. Strong gene carriers are as good as gold around here. I also think you’re an excellent match for the Stargate Program. You’re an excellent strategist and aren’t afraid to think outside the box. You remind me a lot of myself, actually.”

Jackson quirked his eyebrow. “He might not think that’s a compliment, Jack.”

Steve smiled at Jackson. “I absolutely do find it a compliment, Dr. Jackson,” he assured.

O’Neill preened. There was no other word for it. “See, Daniel. My reputation precedes me.”

Dr. Jackson sighed but made no response. Instead, he began gathering up his things in neat piles.

The general’s gaze turned serious. “I’m sending two SEAL Teams to Atlantis to offer support in the fight against the Wraith. I’d like you to lead them. This assignment comes with a promotion to Commander. I want to make it clear that this is strictly a volunteer assignment. You can return to your post or I can find something for you here in the mountain if you don’t want to go to Atlantis. I understand if you’d like some time to think about it. Do you have any questions, Lieutenant Commander?”

Steve wasn’t surprised this time;he’d been hoping O’Neill would say just this. He was thrilled at the opportunity. Steve knew he was meant to do this. He didn’t even need to think about it. The Wraith were a huge threat to humanity, and he had to do his part.

The promotion wasn’t entirely unexpected. He knew he was up for one. Still, he was excited to know he’d be receiving it. The only thing that gave him pause was the idea of being so far away from his dad and Mary. He hated to be away from his family but knowing he could return for a visit helped. If he could help keep Earth safe then he had to say yes. Steve knew his dad would understand. Mary was used to him being away for long periods of time, and she would accept his choice. Steve could admit the opportunity to fly cool spaceships didn’t hurt either. “I only have one, sir. When do I leave for Atlantis?”

Jackson frowned. “That was fast. Are you sure you don’t want to give it more consideration, Commander McGarrett?” he asked kindly.

Steve nodded. “The Wraith want to eat us, Doctor. I’d really like the chance to kick their asses. I’d like to get started on the mission reports right away.” Steve had a lot of catching up to do, and the sooner he got started, the sooner he’d understand exactly what the Atlantis mission needed from him and his teams. The doctor was already nodding. “You’ll fit in just fine around here. We’ve assigned you an office. Your security clearance came through this morning. I have a USB drive for you with all the pertinent files.”

Steve grinned widely. His fingers were already itching to get his hands on a computer. He couldn’t wait to get started and was already  anxious to get to Atlantis. The moment he’d seen the city on the flat screen it had called to him;it was where he belonged.

O’Neill nodded, looking satisfied. “Good, I love it when meetings go this well. Let’s hope the rest of my day is like this. I’m going to put the promotion paperwork through. It’ll take a few days. It was good to meet you, Commander. I’ll get someone to show you around. I have several dozen files for you to look through. You’ll be allowed to choose your team members and the support personnel you’ll be taking with you. I have a good feeling about you, son. I’m sure you won’t disappoint me.”

Steve stood up when the general did. “I’ll do my best, sir.”

They shook hands, and he was dismissed. The general stopped next to his guide and talked to him quietly for several seconds. Steve noticed that O’Neill was leaning in close, and one hand was buried under Jackson’s shirt. He was obviously grounding himself on his guide. Steve felt a moment of envy. Just because he was latent didn’t mean there wasn’t a part of him that wished for a guide. The bond was something truly special.

O’Neill finally stepped back, taking several of Daniel’s books. Then, with one last nod at Steve, the general left the room. He apparently had no problem leaving Steve alone with Dr. Jackson. Steve knew that being left alone with O’Neill’s guide so soon was actually a big compliment,  althoughhe was sure Dr. Jackson was perfectly capable of defending himself if it proved necessary.

“I’ve volunteered to be your tour guide. If you’ll follow me, Commander, I’ll show you to your office,” Dr. Jackson said.

Together they walked out of the conference room and out into the corridors. Steve’s first order of business was to familiarize himself with the base. He hated getting lost.

“Please, Dr. Jackson, call me Steve,” he said immediately. “I found your lecture really informative. I’m interested in learning more about Naquadria. One of my master’s degrees is in chemistry.”

Daniel smiled shyly. “Oh, well then, I’m Daniel, please. I’d be happy to send some reports your way, and I’m sure Sam Carter would be willing to talk to you. She’s the expert.”

Steve nodded. “I’d also like to know everything I can about the people in Pegasus. We work closely with several indigenous peoples, correct?”

Daniel nodded excitedly. “Yes, several. The Athosians are our closest allies. They have been forced by the Wraith cullings to be a mostly nomadic people, but they do try to settle down in one place when they can.”

The Athosians sounded fascinating to Steve. “I’d like to be prepared. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Plus, the opportunity to learn more about societies that have developed under the threat of the Wraith sounds amazing.”

Then he realized how that might sound and he winced. “I’m sorry if that sounded callous. I certainly didn’t mean it that way.”

Daniel shook his head. “No, I understood what you meant. I admire the fact that you want to take the time to learn to interact with our allies properly. Many don’t see that as a priority, unfortunately. Intolerance of other cultures has caused us problems in the past. Though, now, we have the weeding out process down to a science. You have an interest in sociology?”

Steve nodded. “It’s one of my passions. I’m in the process of getting another master’s in it now. It’s been slow going because of my deployments, but I’m getting there.”

Daniel excitedly said, “I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. I don’t get to discuss the alien cultures we’ve met often enough.” He pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“I’d enjoy that,” Steve said grinning widely.

Daniel looked pleased by his interest, which was exciting. Steve often got negative reactions when he tried to bring up interesting details that he thought were relevant. For some reason, his teammates usually didn’t agree. He looked forward to having intriguing discussions with Daniel in the future. Steve already knew he was going to like working here.

They got in the elevator and got out on floor nineteen. They walked down the long corridor and then made two turns before coming to an office.

Daniel gestured widely. “This will be yours for now. There’s a laptop already in there. You can bring your own, but we’ll need to adapt it to connect to our network. As you can imagine, our security is very tight.” Steve looked around. The office looked exactly how he had expected. It was a small cave-like room. Steve suspected one of the hardest parts of working underground would be the lack of fresh air and sunlight. He was used to spending his time outside and in wide open spaces.

He was about to say as much to Daniel when a medium-sized cat suddenly appeared next to Daniel and bumped his thigh with its head. Daniel looked delighted. “Isis, hey girl.” He reached down to pet her, and Isis leaned into Daniel’s touch, purring softly.

Steve raised his eyebrow at that. As far as he knew most spirit animals were male. Daniel turned to him. “Steve this is Isis, my spirit animal. She won’t hurt you.”

The cat’s coat was a solid tan, and she had long ears that had little tufts of fur at the tips. Steve thought they looked kind of like rabbit’s ears. Isis gazed at him intently. There was intelligence shining from her eyes. She came forward and nudged Steve gently, much as she had Daniel. “Hi, Isis,” he said, but he didn’t try to touch her

“It’s okay, you can touch her,” Daniel said. “She seems to like you. Isis likes to be petted by people she tolerates.”

Steve didn’t have to be asked twice. He petted the cat, noting that she felt quite solid to his touch and that her fur was soft. Steve felt another stab of envy. As a child, he’d loved petting his father’s spirit animal, and he’d always wanted one of his own.

“Aren‘t you beautiful?” Steve crooned. Isis nodded in response, there was no mistaking it. His parents'  animals had been the same way. Steve knew from experience that spirit guides were much more than animals, but their human-like characteristics never failed to fill him with wonder.

“Tolerates?” Steve asked Daniel curiously.

Daniel gazed down at his spirit animal affectionately. “She tends to get aggressive when people she doesn’t like come near either of us. She once took a bite out of a system lord’s hand when he tried to grab her. She’s a good girl.” Isis preened at the compliment, and Steve chuckled.

“What is she?” Steve asked. “I’ve never seen anything like her.” Female spirit animals were pretty rare. No one knew why but only about two percent of spirit animals were female, and they were most often cats.

“She’s a caracal. That’s a species of African wildcat.”

“She’s amazing,” Steve said. He sounded a little wistful to his own ears.

“Thanks, she’s a good judge of character too. Jack will be pleased to know she took to you so well. We have to go, though. I have a lot of translating to do. If you need anything, my extension is three-five-zero, call me anytime.”

After Daniel left, Steve sat down at his desk and got comfortable. He had a lot of work to do. He figured he should start with the Wraith, as  they were currently the biggest threat to Earth. Since he’d seen the first picture of Todd, a sense of urgency had been riding him hard. The thought of the Wraith made his skin crawl. Despite this, he’d been amused by the Wraith’s nickname. He was pretty sure he was going to like working for Colonel Sheppard; he appreciated the man’s sense of humor.

He opened up the first mission report and started reading. Steve looked up sometime later and was shocked to realize three hours had gone by. He’d been so absorbed that he hadn’t even noticed. His stomach rumbled, and Steve realized he was starving. He hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. He probably should have asked Daniel where the mess was located. Hopefully, Steve would find someone to ask. He stepped out into the hallway and made his way toward the elevator. When he got there, he found an airman waiting, so Steve took the opportunity to ask him where the mess was. The airman smiled brightly. “The cafeteria is on level twenty-two, sir. I’d be happy to show you.”

Steve accepted the offer of help gratefully and stepped into the elevator. Once inside,  he was hit by an amazing smell. He didn’t know what it was, but he wanted more of it. The person, if it was a person, had been in the elevator very recently. His sense of smell had always been better than average, but he’d never been able to pick out a distinct scent so easily. He needed to follow it, but how? The airman had pressed the button for the twenty-second floor, and the elevator was moving.

The wonderful smell was already beginning to fade. Steve wanted to growl in frustration. He couldn’t run all over the base like a crazy person chasing a smell. The general would have him thrown out of the building. If only he were an online Sentinel he’d be able to chase whatever, or whoever, he was looking for all over the base. I’ll just have to be patient and keep a look out, he promised himself. He didn’t like it, but what choice did he have? There was a voice inside him telling him to find the source immediately.

They got off the elevator, and Steve couldn’t help but take a deep breath. Much to his delight, the scent was stronger here. Whoever it belonged to had gotten off on this floor. Now that he’d gotten a stronger trace, Steve was sure it was a person. A person he had to meet. He didn’t even realize he’d left the airman behind as he left the elevator and began following the scent down the hall.

He could hear the airman calling him, but Steve ignored him. He felt as if he were in a trance. He had one goal, and, at the moment, it was all that mattered. He wasn’t sure what expression he was wearing, but most people walking the hallways were smart enough to give him a wide berth. He realized he’d reached the door of the cafeteria.

“Here we are,” the airman said. He was slightly out of breath from his efforts to keep up with Steve. “I guess you didn’t need my help after all.” Steve didn’t take the time to acknowledge him. He took a few deep breaths in quick succession.

The scent was very strong now;  it tantalized him, and he was sure he’d never smelled anything so wonderful. He was able to pick it out despite all the other strong smells in the room. The mess reeked of people and food. It was incredibly strong, and Steve felt sure the person was in the cafeteria at this very moment. He felt a surge of excitement as he entered the room and looked around.

Steve zeroed in on a man sitting with several other people at a table. It was definitely one of them. He moved closer. One of the men laughed joyfully, and Steve stopped, entranced by the sound. Mine ran through his head. A feeling of possessive satisfaction coursed through him, and he felt like he could happily drown in it. As if feeling Steve’s gaze on him, the man looked up. Steve found himself staring into the most beautiful green eyes he’d ever seen. He felt as if he were falling into them.

For Special Agent Tony DiNozzo the day had started just like any other. He’d finished the paperwork for a few cases of petty theft, and he’d interviewed three different officers for a case of sexual harassment involving several junior officers. The major in question had denied everything, but Tony’s gut said he was lying. The interviews had left him tense and furious, so when Ian had stopped by and asked him to lunch, he’d jumped at the chance for a distraction.

He’d been relieved to find some people he knew in the cafeteria, and, so far, Tony was enjoying himself. The Marines had a never-ending supply of interesting and often hilarious stories. He had just finished laughing at a pretty funny story about an off-world mission when the mood of the room suddenly shifted. The conversation in the room dropped abruptly and the tension increased. It immediately got his attention.

He felt a prickling sensation at the back of his neck. It made him sit still instinctively. Ian Wilkes, who was sitting beside him, was staring behind Tony at something or someone. Tony turned to see what was going on and found himself looking up at the most gorgeous man he had ever seen. Seriously, he epitomized the word “breathtaking.” He was staring directly at Tony as if in a trance. Ian touched Tony’s arm, and the man growled, actually growled, in Ian’s direction.

Showing excellent self-preservation skills, Ian dropped his hand, and the growling stopped. The man seemed to shake off his trance and began moving swiftly toward Tony. He never took his eyes off him, and Tony shivered under the intensity of his gaze. He felt a bit like prey being hunted, and he knew that he was about to be caught. It should have been scary. Instead, it felt exhilarating.

Tony stood up from the table, and when the man was within reach, Tony immediately touched him, running a hand up his arm. Tony found himself being pulled close to the stranger. He knew without having to be told this man was a sentinel. His Sentinel. He felt an intense longing overtake him. He wanted to touch his Sentinel everywhere;  he wanted to pull him close and never let go. Wow, someone really likes me, I am one lucky bastard, Tony thought to himself. “Where have you been?” Tony murmured in the man’s ear. “I’ve been waiting for so long.”

Tony wasn’t even sure where the words came from. Before he could hear the answer, he was distracted. He saw an animal out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t make it out, but he thought he got the impression of a long, powerful torso and a golden tail. Then, on his other side, another animal rushed by, moving too fast for Tony to see. There was a sudden flash of light and Tony closed his eyes in self-defense.

He felt a strange pop inside his mind, as if a wall had finally given way. Energy rushed over the two of them in a wave, and Tony instinctively grabbed the man standing in front of him for support. His sentinel pulled him closer in response, and a new awareness came rushing in.

The emotions of all the people around him were suddenly pressing in, and Tony heard himself whimper as pain exploded in his head. Beside him, he heard the other man gasp, sounding pained as well. Tony wanted to comfort him, but before he could, everything went dark.

&&

Jack entered the infirmary right behind the two gurneys carrying Steve McGarrett and Tony DiNozzo. They were taken directly into one of the isolation rooms, which were specifically for sentinels and guides in distress. Jack followed them inside, deciding it was best to keep a personal eye on the unfolding situation.

He stifled a sigh. This day was rapidly going to shit, and it had started so well, too. Jack was going to be here for the foreseeable future dealing with this. Damn it, he had been looking forward to a quiet night at home with Daniel. Through Daniel, he could feel the unease of the mundanes who worked in the mountain pressing down on him, and he was beginning to get a headache. Daniel was working with several other guides to keep everyone calm. Being present for an awakening was always a little disconcerting for people, though witnessing one was considered an honor by many. Jack wished Daniel could be here with him, though. His guide’s presence always made him feel better, more centered, especially when he was stressed.

This situation undoubtedly qualified as stressful. Despite the number of sentinels and guides that were assigned to the mountain, awakenings were very rare occurrences, two at once even more so. It wasn’t something they were prepared to deal with, though Jack would make sure they were better prepared in the future.

He’d had it on good authority that  DiNozzo and McGarrett would most likely never come online. The fact that they had come online together suggested great compatibility. Jack was willing to bet on it. Neither unbonded sentinels nor guides did well long-term, as Jack knew  from personal experience.

Jack waited impatiently as Doctor Fraiser examined the two men. He watched as she directed people with all the authority of a general. Her people knew their jobs, and they went about their work quickly and efficiently. Jack trained his senses on Steve and Tony. Their heartbeats were steady, and they were breathing normally. He could find no reason why they weren’t awake. Finally, the doctor walked over to him, looking concerned.

“Report, Doctor,” Jack barked more intensely than he’d intended. Daniel would not be pleased, but he would understand that Jack was on edge. He needed as much information as he could get. So far the situation was stressful but manageable. Jack wanted to keep it that way, but he couldn’t help feeling that the other shoe had still to drop.

Dr. Fraiser frowned at him slightly but did as ordered. “I’ve examined them carefully, General, and as far as I can tell they are  simply unconscious. They are in surprisingly little distress. Agent DiNozzo’s shields rose automatically to protect him, and they are surprisingly strong. They are breathing on their own and responding to stimulus. As far as I can tell, they are just sleeping. I can’t find any reason why they aren’t awake. We’re still running tests, but as they aren’t in distress, I suggest making them comfortable and waiting until they wake.”

Jack sighed. He’d been hoping for a little more information, but it seemed all they could do was wait for the moment. He could feel how powerful Steve was  from where he was standing. It was a bit of a surprise;  John and Doris had both been mid-level. Steve was definitely a prime.

Sergeant Harriman hurried  into the room. “General, reports are coming in that people felt the awakening hundreds of miles away. So far, the farthest report we have is over two-hundred miles away. I have the Alpha Prime of the United States, Jim Ellison, on the phone for you. He asked  to speak to you immediately, sir.”

Jack fought to keep his face neutral despite his racing thoughts. Holy shit, two hundred miles. Usually, only Shamans projected that far . Jack nodded and went into Janet’s office so he could have some privacy for this conversation.

“Jim,” he greeted the Alpha Prime. “We have quite the situation here. I was just about to call you to fill you in.” Jack knew Jim would appreciate the fact that he’d gotten right to the point. Jim Ellison wasn’t one to beat around the bush.

“Hello, Jack,” Ellison said gruffly. “I bet you were. I take it you just had a pair come online?  My guide and I felt the joint awakening as it happened. It was extremely powerful. What can you tell me?”

“We had a pair bring each other online at first sight according to witnesses. The sentinel is Lieutenant Commander Steve McGarrett, and the guide is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo Jr. They are currently unconscious, which is a concern, though they aren’t in any distress. I can tell you that McGarrett at least is extremely powerful. I can’t get a good read on DiNozzo at the moment as his shields are already strong, but that suggests he is quite powerful as well. ”

Ellison was quiet for a moment, and Jack could hear Blair asking several questions. Jack smiled. Blair was one of his favorite people, and he could picture him easily. He had no doubt Blair would be on the phone with Daniel soon enough.

Jim came back on the line. “As you can probably hear, my guide is very excited by this turn of events. This is such a rare event, and, given their apparent power, it is possible that they are Ascendant, though I personally find it unlikely. Blair would like to see them ASAP to get a read on them. We’ll be coming to the mountain as soon as the plane is ready.”

Jack held back a gasp as he jolted in surprise. Ascendants were incredibly rare and extremely powerful. They were so rare, in fact, that the possibility hadn’t even occurred to Jack, and it took his breath away. In hindsight, perhaps it should have. Blair was the most powerful shaman in over a hundred years, and his connection to other guides ran deep.

Jack knew this could be a serious problem. Christ, he was going to have to take extra precautions to keep Tony and Steve safe until they knew for sure.

“Understood. We’ll be waiting for you when you arrive. Hopefully, we’ll have more information for you by then.”

“Good. I suggest keeping the pair under guard for their own safety,” Ellison added. Jack had no doubt it was an order.

“I was already planning on it, Jim,” Jack assured him.

Jim sighed. “Good. Christ, Jack, I really hope Blair is wrong. I don’t like the implications of Ascendants coming online. It would only mean trouble was on the horizon.” He suddenly sounded tired.

Jack hung up and heaved a heavy sigh. Jack could only agree with the Alpha Prime.

&&

Tony woke slowly. He felt safe, comfortable, and warm. He could hear the sound of waves crashing on the shore;it was extremely soothing. Even better were the fingers that were gently massaging his scalp. He should probably be concerned by all this, but he couldn’t work up the energy. He felt amazing. He let his eyes open slowly and found himself lying on a blanket with his head in someone’s lap. He looked up and met a familiar pair of blue eyes. The Sentinel was watching him intently, and Tony could feel his curiosity. It was a weird sensation.

“Hi,” the Sentinel said a little shyly. “My name is Steve McGarrett. What’s yours?” Steve’s voice was deep and sensual. Tony could listen to it all day.

Tony wasn’t surprised by his reaction; compatible sentinels were often very alluring for their guides, but it was stronger than he’d expected. “I’m Anthony DiNozzo, but everyone calls me Tony.”

“Tony,” Steve said slowly as if savoring his name. “It’s an honor to meet you. I admit, I never expected to come online, let alone be blessed with the possibility of a compatible guide.” Steve hesitantly ran his finger down Tony’s cheek, and Tony instinctively leaned into the touch.

His reaction was understandable, but, again, the level of intensity threw him. Normally Tony did not like touching strangers, and he knew that with time the strength of the pull would subside somewhat if they didn’t encourage it, and disappear entirely if they bonded with other people.

Tony sat up. He wanted to be able to talk face to face. He was a little reluctant to stop touching Steve, but he chided himself for being silly. They might be compatible but they’d only just met. He took a good look at Steve, and he couldn’t help but be pleased; the man was so gorgeous. It really wasn’t fair. “I feel the same way,” Tony told Steve. “I never thought I’d come online either or that I’d feel this connected to my sentinel. I have to admit, feeling this close to you so quickly is more than a little weird for me.”

Tony felt hyper aware of Steve. He wanted to immerse himself in Steve, and they weren’t even bonded yet. He had read about it but he truly never realized how intense the connection between sentinel and guide truly was. Hearing about it and experiencing it were two very different things.

Steve actually flushed a bit it, and it was adorable. He was pleased. Tony could feel it. It was strange to be able to feel emotions that weren’t his own, but he didn’t mind it at the moment. He liked that he could read Steve so effortlessly. It certainly made thing easier. There was a part of him that knew he should be freaking out more, but he just wasn’t.

Steve smiled at him. “I feel the same way. I was drawn to you just by your scent. I’d accepted I was going to remain latent my entire life. I was okay with it, but I can’t deny there was a part of me that was disappointed.”

Tony nodded. He completely understood because he’d had a similar experience. What kid didn’t dream of coming online, of being a sentinel or a guide and helping to protect humanity? Sentinels and guides were heroes.

As he’d grown older, Tony had realized that the reality was far more complicated than he’d been capable of understanding as a child. Sentinels and guides had good and bad qualities like everyone. Still, mundanes tended to romanticize sentinels and guides, and especially the bond. They assumed the bond meant instant happiness and love. Tony knew better, but he had to admit the attraction he felt to Steve was surprisingly strong for a first meeting.

"I’m definitely not disappointed right now.” At Tony’s words, Steve chuckled, his amusement rippling pleasantly over Tony. “What are the odds that we’d find each other like that? I know just stumbling across a compatible match is rare.”

Steve shrugged. He seemed to be taking in stride. “I’m not sure. I’ve only ever seen it happen in movies. It almost never happens in reality. Most pairs find each other after they’re online. They don’t even bother to run genetic matches for latents. I’m very grateful to have found you, and hey, it’s a great story to tell our kids if we have any.”

Kids. It was a startling and really strange thought. Where had that come from? Tony wondered. Their eyes met, and they both burst out laughing at the absurdity of it. Their joint amusement washed over Tony, and it was a heady feeling. Tony grinned. “That came out of nowhere,” he commented lightly.

Steve was still laughing a little, and he nodded. “I don’t really know where that thought came from, to be honest. I think my brain short circuited a little. This whole situation is odd, I’ll just blame it on that.”

Tony had needed that laugh, so he really didn’t mind. They smiled at each other, much more relaxed now that the ice had been broken. Tony shifted position, getting more comfortable.

“You know, I can feel some of your emotions, but not all of them. Maybe just what you’re primarily feeling. It’s incredible, but pretty strange too. I read about this of course, but the experience is something else entirely. All this is a little overwhelming.”

Steve felt relieved. “I’m glad I’m not the only one. Everything has happened so fast. It’s a lot to process. My senses are okay right now, but I think that’s because we’re on the spirit plane.”

Tony nodded. “I’m the first person in my family to be latent, let alone come online, since my great-grandfather. My family was really surprised by my status.”

“Really? I can’t imagine that. I come from a long line of sentinels and guides. We’ve had at least one person come online in every generation.” Pride came through loud and clear.

“That’s so cool. I can see why you’re so proud of your lineage.” Tony grinned. Steve was watching him intently, and it made Tony shiver. He found he really liked being the center of this man’s attention. He could feel that Steve wanted to ask him something. “What is it?” Tony asked.

Steve smiled, and Tony’s heart sped up in response. “I won’t be able to hide anything from you, will I?”

Tony just shrugged. They both knew that Tony should be able to block Steve out if that’s what he wanted. Even the bond could be blocked if they desired privacy, assuming they ever got that far.

Steve opened his mouth to speak, but gasped suddenly, and Tony felt a mix of shock and fear coming from him.

Tony looked him over, alarmed, but Steve looked fine. “What’s wrong?”

Steve frowned and Tony felt his unease. “I can feel your curiosity and your uncertainty. How is that possible? I’ve never heard of a sentinel with empathic ability outside of a bond before.”

Concerned, Tony watched Steve. Steve shouldn’t be able to feel Tony’s emotions until they were bonded. A sentinel with an empathic sense was almost unheard of. It spoke to how powerful Steve was, and it  was a little disconcerting. Tony wondered if he would have a similar power level.

Steve leaned forward and hugged Tony. It felt amazing;  Steve was a great hugger. Tony relaxed into it instinctively. “I can feel your concern,” Steve murmured. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure our abilities out. I won’t let anything happen to you. Bonded or not, my first instinct is to protect you.”

Tony laughed. “That’s good to know, but it isn’t that, really. I can protect myself just fine. I’m worried about your empathic abilities and wondering what abilities I might have. It’s a rare ability, and it’s going to be a lot to get used to.” The truth was their lives would never be the same. Tony was confident he would adjust, and SEALS were known for their adaptability, but he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Steve nodded. “I’m certain the SGC will help us both adjust.”

Tony could only agree. “O’Neill and the others are excellent people to have in your corner. Working for them is  the best decision I've ever made, for a lot of reasons. Though the best thing by far is that it’s led me to you,” Tony added. He hoped it wasn’t too mushy, but he couldn’t help how he felt.

Steve smiled brightly, and Tony could feel his happiness. “I feel the same way, I promise.” Steve cupped Tony’s face, and Tony felt  their desire rising up as one. He felt the sudden urge to kiss Steve, but he figured it was way too early for that. They had literally just met. As a rule, Tony did not go around kissing strangers, no matter how good-looking he found them. I’m acting like a teenager, Tony thought, a little dismayed.

Needing a distraction, Tony looked around at their odd surroundings. The beach was beautiful, and it reminded Tony of Hawaii. Tony definitely approved, but, more than that, it felt welcoming and safe somehow.

As if reading his mind, Steve gestured toward the ocean. “This place is beautiful, isn’t it? It reminds me of the beach near the house where I grew up. I half expect my parents to come walking down from the direction of our house.”

At the mention of his parents, Steve felt sadness. Tony decided now was not the time to ask. It could wait until Steve was ready to tell him, or, once the bond was complete, Steve would be able to share any memories he wished with Tony.

The sun was beginning to set. It was quite romantic, really, even though it was a bit wasted on them at the moment. “This is wonderful. I love the beach. It’s so peaceful here that, despite our situation, I feel surprisingly calm.” Maybe that was the point, Tony mused. He knew the spirit plane often had a positive effect on both sentinels and guides.

“No, I understand completely. I feel the same way. I should be freaking out, but I’m not. If I’m being completely honest, hearing your heartbeat helps too.”

Tony shrugged. “Being close to you is good for me too. I reserve the right to have a freak out at a later date though.”

Tony felt a wave of amusement coming from Steve as he laughed. It was very pleasant. “Good idea. We can take turns,” he promised.

“Deal,” Tony agreed. “So, any idea how we got here? Nothing I read or any of the classes I took mentioned arriving at the spirit plane right after coming online.”

Steve frowned, looking uncertain. “It’s mostly shamans who visit the spirit plane. To answer your question, I’m not sure. I woke up here with you still unconscious beside me. I could see you were breathing and hear your heartbeat was strong and steady. Otherwise, I might have panicked. I just knew I needed to wait for you to wake up. That you were all right. I’m not sure where the knowledge came from. Maybe it’s just some sort of instinct.”

That made sense to Tony. Sentinels and guides weren’t born knowing how to use their powers, but much of the knowledge could be gleaned instinctively.

“I suppose we should figure out a way out of here.” Steve didn’t sound like he was in a particular hurry and Tony had to agree. He was happy and more at peace than he could ever remember.

Tony found he liked Steve so far;  he seemed kind and honest, two qualities Tony appreciated. He wanted to get to know the other man better, and he gave into the impulse and asked the first question that came to mind. “So why were you in the SGC today?”

Steve tensed up. “I’m being sorted for a mission. I didn’t even think to ask what you do.”

“Atlantis?” Tony asked hopefully. He’d requested a transfer there as soon as he’d learned about it, and he  was scheduled to leave for Atlantis soon. Still, the thought of leaving Steve was surprisingly unpleasant, and he’d much prefer if  both of themwent to Atlantis.

Steve nodded, looking relieved. “I just accepted a post on Atlantis. Does this mean you’re going too?”

Tony grinned. “I’m an AFOSI agent. I used to be NCIS. I’ve worked in the mountain for a year now, but I’m officially being sorted to Atlantis in two months.”

Steve relaxed visibly. “That’s good, me too. I’m a SEAL. I’ll be in charge of the new teams there,” he said excitedly. His whole face lit up, and Tony was charmed by the sight.

Relieved, Tony grinned. As a Sentinel and a SEAL, it made perfect sense he’d want to defend their people. Their goals meshed perfectly. That had to be a good sign. Tony nodded. “Don’t worry, we’re on the same page. I’m very drawn to the city. Always have been.”

“It calls to you,” Steve agreed. Tony wouldn’t have described it quite in that way, but he nodded. He felt the same way. He was relieved they were in agreement though. It would give them the time they needed to get to know one another without disrupting either of their plans. It almost seemed like fate was on their side, or it would if Tony believed in fate.

Tony heard a roar and opened his eyes to find a lioness standing over him. He cried out, startled, but the female lion simply leaned down and licked his face.

“Hey there, are you my spirit guide? Aren’t you gorgeous? I’ll have to give you an appropriate name.” The lioness preened a bit, swishing her tail back and forth. She nudged Tony again, as if impatient to get on with things. “Okay, okay,” Tony said, amused.

Beside him, Steve chuckled. “She’s beautiful, Tony.” The lioness moved around Tony to nudge Steve. He reached up hesitantly, but she allowed herself to be petted without complaint.

Tony was trying to think of a name for his spirit guide. “You are the queen of the animal kingdom. How about Regina?” The lioness roared and swiped at Tony, although she missed. She looked utterly unimpressed. Tony grinned. “Not good enough, huh? What’s better than a queen?”

Suddenly, he had a thought, and he grinned. “How about Empress?” The lioness actually seemed to consider it before she nodded regally and loped away down the beach.

“I guess her eminence approves,” Tony commented to Steve. They shared an amused look.

Steve frowned. “I wonder where my–” before he could finish the thought, the lioness was coming back; beside her was a beautiful male lion. He was huge and truly majestic. The lion came over and nudged Steve and then Tony, purring happily. The sound was quite loud, and it vibrated through Tony when he stroked the lion’s flank. The lion nudged Steve again hard, albeit playfully. Steve laughed and buried his hands in the lion’s fur. Tony smiled, watching them.

They had matching spirit guides, which Tony knew was very rare. He and Steve just seemed to get weirder, Tony thought, amused. Still, as he took in the scene, it just felt right.

“What are you going to call him?” Tony asked curiously.

“I’m not sure,” Steve said musingly. “I want to think about it for a while. It needs to be perfect. Once I get to know him then I’ll know the right name.”

The lion abruptly moved away from Steve and toward Empress. He got close to her, and the two animals lay down together, their bodies entwined. Tony watched them, smiling. It really was sweet. He knew the lions’ closeness was another good indication of their compatibility, and he was pleased to see it.

He closed his eyes, relaxing as he listened to the ocean. He was just beginning to drift off when he felt a strange tug. He sat up, bringing Steve with him. Steve was watching his face, full of unease.

Then out of nowhere, Tony heard Daniel’s voice in his mind, sounding very far away. Tony jerked in surprise. “Tony, it’s time to wake up. You need to come back.”

“Did you hear that?” he asked Steve.

Steve shook his head. “What is it?” he asked, concerned.

“I heard Daniel calling us.” He felt another tug. “He wants us to return to the physical world. He’s pulling me back somehow.” Tony remembered the pain from his awakening, all those emotions pressing down on him, and he shuddered slightly.

“Why is Daniel calling us? Do you think something is wrong on the base? I don’t like that our bodies might be defenseless right now. I think we have to go back. I have to protect you,” Steve said urgently.

Tony nodded, knowing Steve was right. He didn’t like that they were unconscious either, but he felt so at home here. “I really don’t want to go back,” he admitted.

Steve sighed. “Neither do I, but I think we have to. I think we need to find out what’s going on. We can’t stay here forever, and I think we both know that.”

Tony sighed in frustration and ran a hand over his face. There was something about the spirit plane that was alluring. He had never felt better than he did right now. A big part of him didn’t want it to end. Steve was right, but that didn’t mean Tony was happy about it.

“Don’t worry,” Steve said quietly. “I know we can come back here again.” Tony felt his confidence, and it was reassuring.

Tony grinned playfully. “Did you read my mind?” he teased.

Steve grinned in return and shrugged. “Not your thoughts exactly, but I can tell what you’re feeling really easily now. It’s like exercising a muscle I didn’t know I had. The more I use it, the easier it gets.” He sounded pleased rather than upset. Interesting. For Tony, it just happened. He didn’t have to think about it to receive his empathic impressions, at least from Steve. Though if that moment in the cafeteria was any indication, it came easily from others as well.

Tony stifled a sigh. He was not looking forward to waking up. However, he wasn’t one to shy away from a challenge, and he knew he’d be able to deal with the pain until he learned to control his shields.

“Tony, it’s time to come back. We have a lot to talk about,” Daniel spoke again. This time much more loudly, causing him to jump a little. Tony winced. The tug was undeniable. He supposed now was as good a time as any. Plus, he knew from experience how persistent Daniel could be.

The beach around them had started to fade, growing much more insubstantial. Daniel’s voice began pulling Tony away from the spirit plane and back toward the physical world. Somehow, he was towing Steve along for the ride.

Tony took one last look around. “I’m glad to have met you” he murmured. Then Tony let go and allowed himself be pulled back. The spirit plane faded, and Tony opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Steve gazing back at him, and Tony smiled tenderly.

Tony looked around. They were alone in one of the isolation rooms on the base.

“Where is everyone? I kind of assumed there would be medical personnel hovering over us.”

“I’m not sure. I woke up just a second ago, and we were alone. I can hear people outside, though it’s faint.”

Tony grinned. He knew these rooms were shielded. Steve was strong, and he couldn’t help but think it was cool, though it also worried him a bit. What if the council decided they couldn’t leave the planet? The council didn’t have the power to stop them outright, but they could make things difficult, especially for Steve.

A quiet knock on the door pulled Tony back to the present.

Steve tensed and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. Tony quickly followed suit. Neither one of them wanted to meet whoever it was lying down. Tony also knew Steve wanted to be in a better position to defend them if needed, something he wholly agreed with. Steve cocked his head, listening, then he relaxed. “It’s General O’Neill and Daniel,” he said.

Jack and Daniel entered a moment later. “Hey, Jack,” Tony said pleasantly. He was glad to see people he trusted. Jack was an excellent boss and a good friend. He took care of his people.

It occurred to him that he was a part of Jack’s pride now. Prides were like families, and members took care of one another. He trusted Jack and Daniel more than he trusted most people. Still, being an online guide was going to take some getting used to. It was good to know he’d have support from Jack and Daniel.

 “Tony, Steve, you gave us a scare today. How are you feeling?” Jack greeted them. His tone was pleasant, but his usual grin was missing. Tony found it a little disconcerting, though it could be because they had probably disrupted his entire day.

“We’re fine,” Steve responded. “I feel great actually. Much better than I expected.”

“You caused quite a commotion around here. I thought I told you not to be a pain in the ass. Not only did everyone in the mountain feel the moment you came online, but it was felt for miles around. We’re still getting reports, but at last count, your awakening was felt at least eighty miles away by mundanes. Sentinels and guides as far as three-hundred miles away have reported feeling something strange at the same moment. When you decide to do something, you don’t go small, do you?”

Tony felt uneasy. He’d never heard of an awakening being felt so far away, especially by mundanes, except in the cases of shamans, of course. However, there was no way Tony could be a shaman, right?

He grinned at Jack, putting on his best smile. “You know me, Jack. Go big or go home,”

Steve took Tony’s hand in his and squeezed it comfortingly. Tony knew Steve could feel Tony’s uneasiness and confusion, but he didn’t say anything to contradict him. He was letting Tony take the lead here, which Tony appreciated.

“What does this mean, Jack?”

Jack shrugged. “I’m not sure, son, but I can tell you with certainty that Steve is more powerful than I am. He is a prime at the very least. You’re welcome in my pride for now, but eventually, you’ll want to form your own.”

Tony was shocked. He and Steve traded a look. Tony could feel Steve’s surprise and confusion too. Steve was more powerful than Jack. That was something he’d never even considered. Tony didn’t feel ready to lead a pride. He knew a lot about what it meant to be a guide in theory, but he had no practical experience.

“Are you sure, sir?” Steve asked.

Jack nodded. “Call me Jack. You’ll need training, but, eventually, you will be very strong. I have a feeling we’ll be getting to know each other very well.”

Daniel touched his sentinel’s arm. “They’re overwhelmed, Jack. They need more time to get their bearings. All this can wait until later.”

“On the spirit plane, I heard your voice calling me. How did I do that?” Tony asked Daniel

Daniel turned to Tony with a gentle and understanding smile. “I wasn’t sure you’d hear me. You were out for over an hour, and we were getting worried. I tried to scan you, but I couldn’t penetrate your shield. I was able to connect with you psionically though, just for a few seconds at a time.”

Tony’s head was spinning. He had so many questions. He said as much to Daniel.

Daniel nodded. “I’d imagine so. I’m here to answer any question you might have, Tony. I know this is confusing, but I promise you aren’t alone. I do need to tell you the Alpha Primes of the United States are on their way here, and Prime Guide Sandburg asks that you remain in isolation until they arrive. It’s on his orders that I called you back from the spirit plane.”

Tony was alarmed and bewildered. What on Earth would Blair Sandburg want with him? Wherever Blair went, Jim Ellison was sure to follow. He desperately wanted to be alone with Steve. He needed time to think and sort through his feelings. He didn’t even think about trying to leave the isolation room. Neither he nor Steve were ready to face the outside world.

Jack and Daniel were watching them  carefully. Tony suddenly wondered if they were hiding information from them. It was an uncomfortable thought, but he couldn’t shake it. He did trust his friends, but he wouldn’t put it past Jack to keep something from him if he thought it was for the best. Daniel might not like it, but he’d follow Jack’s lead. Perhaps they knew more about Steve and Tony than they were letting on. If so, he had a right to know about it.

What Tony did next he wouldn’t really be able to explain or defend. He acted on instinct, without conscious thought. He opened the door in his shield. It opened easily, much to his relief. He reached out with his mind and prodded Daniel’s mind with his own. He immediately came up against Daniel’s shield and prodded it gently.

Tony waited for Daniel to respond, fight back, but Daniel seemed unaware of his intrusion. He pushed against it a little more, and he got a strange mix of fear and awe coming from Daniel. He wondered why Daniel was thinking about legendary sentinels and guides. It was a little odd. A feeling of foreboding fell over Tony, but he did his best to ignore it.

Tony looked more closely at Daniel’s shield. It was strong and flexible and tied to a robust bond with Jack. Yet he knew instinctively he could force his way through it if he really wanted to. He should not be able to do this to an alpha guide. The idea scared him, and he backed off. He didn’t want to harm Daniel. He never would want to harm anyone.

Tony was beginning to understand he and Steve were by no means average. There was something about their awakening that was different. They were certainly more powerful than Tony had ever expected,  and that must be why Sandburg and Ellison were coming. Tony knew he needed help understanding all this, and he was sure Steve did too. For now, they would wait. If he didn’t like what the Alpha Primes had to say, then he and Steve could start figuring things out.

Tony looked at Jack, doing his best to look unconcerned, though he knew Jack wouldn’t be fooled. He wasn’t prepared to talk about this with anyone yet. “I can’t imagine what the Alpha Primes of the United States would want with us, but we’re willing to wait for them.”

Steve agreed calmly as well. Tony stole a glance at him, but his face was unreadable. He wished he could tell what Steve was feeling, but he didn’t want to lower his shield again so soon.

Jack nodded. “Good. Steve, do you have any questions?”

Steve shook his head. “Not at the moment. We  need to rest, and we’re  starving. I never did get lunch. All this can wait until after we’ve recuperated.”

Daniel smiled sympathetically. “Awakenings use up a lot of energy. I’ll have someone bring you something to eat. Do you have any allergies I should be aware of?”

Steve shook his head. “No, I can eat pretty much anything.”

Daniel looked pleased. “Call if you need us. Someone will be right outside at all times.”

Someone was guarding their door? That was good to know. The question was, were they protecting Tony and Steve from something or protecting everyone else from them? Tony wished he could be sure it was the former.

Daniel and Jack left. Tony looked at Steve. “You were quiet.” It came out sounding more like a question than a statement.

Steve shrugged. “You had things well in hand. Besides, they’re more comfortable with you. Daniel’s heart was beating very quickly. It was making my ears hurt. I thought I could learn more by observing. They were  weirdly on edge but excited too. I could feel their emotions despite their shields,” he said, sounding a little awed by it. “I’ve always known what sentinels and guides can do, but experiencing it for myself is completely different. I feel like there’s a lot more going on here than anyone is saying.”

Tony could only agree. Tony was confused, but he knew he needed to wait for more information before making any decisions. “There’s definitely something going on. I was able to touch Daniel’s shields and breach them slightly, and neither of them noticed. I don’t think I should have been able to do that.”

Tony tried to ignore his nervousness. He’d always assumed being online would be exciting, and it was, to a degree. He’d never thought of guide abilities as being frightening before, but they were more intense than he’d expected.

Steve tugged him close, until they were lying with their sides pressed together. He hugged Tony gently, offering simple comfort. Tony returned it gratefully, and it felt right. This time Tony decided to simply accept it. Steve was someone really special. He couldn’t wait to get to know him better. If nothing else, he knew they could be good friends.

He must have said it out loud because Steve smiled softly, his eyes warm, and Tony’s stomach flipped. He felt a jolt of arousal rush up his spine. It was pleasant, but not urgent. Tony really didn’t mind. It wasn’t like being attracted to Steve was a hardship.

Just then, Steve winced a little, rubbing his ear.

“How are your senses?” Tony asked, a little worried. For Steve’s sake, he wished the noise generators were more effective.

Steve shrugged. “They’re okay. My hearing has been spiking, and it’s painful. I never realized how noisy people could be just going about their day. It’s better when I touch you, though.”

Tony had expected as much, since being near a guide always helped sentinels keep their senses balanced. He looked at Steve, feeling a little nervous despite the fact he was pretty sure Steve would agree. “We have a few hours until Alpha Ellison and Alpha Sandburg arrive, and we can start getting answers to our questions. We may as well keep ourselves entertained while we wait,” Tony suggested.

Steve smiled softly. “I’d like that. Just sitting here is going to be hard as it is. I wish we could get some fresh air or go for a walk.”

Tony wholeheartedly agreed. He was glad to have some time with Steve, but sitting still for several hours was going to drive him stir crazy. He looked around the room for something to occupy them. The room was mostly empty. Tony found it a little disappointing, but he supposed comfort wasn’t the first priority in an emergency. These rooms weren’t meant to be occupied long term. He and Steve had just gotten lucky.

Since there was nothing to entertain them, Tony would have to do something about it. He opened the door and asked the airman guarding it for a deck of cards and his laptop. After a few minutes, they were brought in, accompanied by an admonishment from Dr. Fraiser that they were supposed to be resting. It made Tony smile. Dr. Fraiser knew him too well.

Tony turned back to Steve. “Do you want to watch a movie? Or we could play cards.”

Steve nodded. “I want to talk, so let’s play cards,” he said with a beautiful smile that lit up his face. Tony lost his train of thought for a second at the sight of it. “Fair warning, I’m really good. Sometimes there’s a lot of down time on missions. So what kind of movies do you like?” he asked curiously.

Tony grinned. “That’s actually a dangerous question. I’m somewhat of a movie buff. I have a large selection to choose from, and there are even more on the server. Do you have a preference?”

Steve shrugged. “I haven’t had time to watch a movie in months. I’ve been on an important mission, but I can’t really talk about it.”

Tony just nodded in understanding. He’d have to see if he could get Steve to watch a couple of movies with him soon. The thought was very pleasant.

Tony dealt the first round of cards. He thought Steve was in for a surprise.

A few hours later, Tony was laughing so hard his sides were aching as Steve finished telling him a story about the time he and his sister had a prank war that culminated in Mary adding dye to the shower and turning Steve’s body bright green right before prom.

Steve huffed. “It wasn’t that funny. That crap she used wouldn’t come out for a month,” he said with a frown, but Tony could feel his amusement.

Tony grinned as his laughter subsided. “It was, actually. Your sister sounds great.”

Steve smiled affectionately. “She’s pretty great for a little sister. She marches to the beat of her own drummer that’s for sure. I think the two of you would get along, as scary as that thought is.”

Tony smiled. “I’m sure I’d like her.” They had fallen easily into conversation, and Tony now knew several things about Steve. It turned out that Steve had never seen Casablanca, which Tony was planning to rectify someday soon. He also cheated shamelessly at cards, which had Tony reciprocating in kind. It had led to a couple of really entertaining games. Tony had enjoyed it quite a bit as Steve was excellent company, and it had been good for them to get their minds off of everything that had happened.

The truth was, the more time they spent together, the more he liked Steve. He was sure the other man had some annoying qualities, but he suspected the good far outweighed the bad. He was looking forward to getting to know him better. They’d have plenty of time together on Atlantis, or so Tony hoped. He found himself cautiously optimistic that a relationship between them could work out.

Steve looked a little nervous. “Can I ask you something? I don’t mean to pry, but I’m curious how you came to work for the SGC?”

Tony sighed. This was his least favorite topic, so he was a little surprised to find that he didn’t mind talking about it with Steve. He already trusted him more than he should, maybe. It was a little disconcerting, but it felt good too. “I used to work for the Major Case Squad at NCIS in D.C.. We had a Mossad liaison working with us for over three years. Her name was Ziva David.”

Steve's eyes widened. “David, as in the head of Mossad?” Steve asked incredulously.

“The very same. We discovered she had been spying for Mossad the entire time she worked for us. She was sharing confidential information with at least one other Mossad agent, probably her father too. Though I never found proof of that.”

“Jesus,” Steve said. “That’s almost too incredible to believe. It was a pretty ballsy thing for Mossad to do.”

Tony chuckled mirthlessly. “Yeah, I was pretty shaken up when I realized. I wanted so badly to be wrong. She was my teammate and my friend. I kept hoping she’d tell me it was all a mistake.”

Steve rubbed Tony’s back comfortingly. “It must have been awful,” he said sympathetically.

Tony sighed. “It was, but I knew I had to turn her in. I wasn’t sure I could trust my boss, so I went to the head of the agency. Only to find he believed me but had decided to sweep it all under the rug.”

Steve's mouth fell open, and he stared at Tony.

Tony grinned. “Exactly my reaction. Director Vance was in Eli David’s pocket. It turned out the Secretary of the Navy was in on it too. The inspector general and I had to go all the way to the Secretary of Defense to find someone who would listen to my story.”

Now Steve looked furious. “I hope all those people got fired,” he bit out.

Tony shrugged. “Vance did lose his job, but that’s it. They wanted to keep it quiet. They did deport Ziva and banned her from ever entering the U.S. again. After that, I couldn’t stay at NCIS anymore. I quit. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. A week later Jack called me and offered me a job.”

Steve squeezed Tony’s hand comfortingly. Tony knew he could feel the anger and hurt Tony still carried with him about the situation. He’d worked hard to move on, and leaving had been the only choice that felt right, but the pain had never completely faded away. He suspected it never would. He was grateful Steve chose not to comment on it. There would be plenty of time to talk about their pasts later.

“I’m sorry that happened to you, but I think I owe O’Neill a gift for putting you in my path, however inadvertently.”

Amused by the thought, Tony laughed softly, and this time it was genuine. He could well imagine that O’Neill wouldn’t much appreciate the gesture.

Steve smiled softly at him, and Tony’s heart sped up in response. The attraction between them was strong, that was for sure. “What is it?” Steve asked.

“Jack is known as somewhat of a matchmaker on base. A large percentage of the sentinels and guides he employs bond within a year of beginning to work in the mountain. Don’t mention it. He’ll put you on KP duty.”

Steve’s smile grew mischievous. Tony had no doubt Jack would hear about this at some point, once Steve grew more comfortable with him.

“Can I ask you something? Why didn’t the sentinels and guides at NCIS pick up on the fact Ziva David was a traitor?”

Tony sighed heavily. “It was a combination of things. Gibbs, my boss, doesn’t work well with other sentinels, so they keep their distance. NCIS also employs mostly low-level sentinels and guides. They don’t have the ability to detect when someone’s lying. Especially someone with Mossad training. Ziva managed to keep herself under the radar.”

Steve shook his head. “The whole situation is fucked up.”

Tony snorted in amusement. “That’s an understatement.”

They lapsed into silence, but it was comfortable. Tony was just thinking about trying for a nap when there was a knock on the door. Steve listened for a moment.

“It’s Daniel,” he said. When Tony nodded his assent, Steve called out for Daniel to enter.

Daniel smiled. “They sent me down to get you. Blair and Jim have arrived and want to see you right away if you feel up to it.”

Tony exchanged a look with Steve. They were  feeling nervous, but Tony nodded. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be,” he said. With any luck, they’d have their answers shortly. Tony only hoped they could deal with what they found out. He found he was glad not to be facing the coming conversation alone.

&&

They were led down several hallways to General O’Neill’s office, and by the time they arrived, Steve had a strained expression on his face despite his proximity to Tony. Tony knew he must be struggling now that they were in the crowded hallways.

Concerned, Tony touched his arm. “Are you all right?” he asked very quietly, so as not to be overheard.

Steve sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Yes, everything is just a little loud right now. It’s giving me a headache.”

Tony frowned. “Did you try dialing down your senses?”

Steve shrugged. “I did. It worked, but only for a few minutes,” he admitted reluctantly.

They entered the room to find two men waiting for them, along with Jack O'Neil. Tony immediately recognized the names of the Sentinel and Guide Prime of the United States. He was a little awed. He never imagined an occasion where he’d get to meet them.

Beside him, Steve visibly relaxed, and Tony realized the room was soundproof. He was glad Steve would be comfortable during the meeting. Tony found he missed being aware of Steve’s emotions more than he would have thought. He knew he was handling his awakening unusually well, and he was more comfortable with his gifts than he would have thought possible.

Usually, there was a period of adjustment for  sentinels and guides, but Tony felt fine physically. His mental and emotional well-being were another matter. Still, he thought he was doing pretty good considering the circumstances.

“Come in,” Jack invited. “I volunteered my office for your conversation. I thought it might be more comfortable for you. The room is soundproof, and there are also white noise generators if you need them.”

Jack gestured toward the other two men in the room. “Allow me to introduce the Alpha Primes of the United States, Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison.” There were handshakes all around. Tony took a good look at the two men. They were  in their late forties and good looking. Jim Ellison looked stern and a bit foreboding, but Tony could see laugh lines around his eyes, and he looked at his guide with a great deal of affection. Blair Sandburg had extremely kind eyes and a cheerful disposition. He fidgeted a bit, as if he was suppressing a lot of energy. Being a shaman, his power was strong, and Tony could feel it running over his skin, causing him to shiver in reaction. It was rather startling. No one else seemed bothered by it, or perhaps they were simply hiding their reactions.

“It’s an honor to meet you ,” Steve said formally, bringing Tony’s attention back to the present.

“For me as well,” Tony agreed quickly, and it really was. He’d never imagined he’d be in the presence of these two men, and it still felt a little surreal.

Jim nodded in acknowledgment, and Sandburg smiled brightly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you ,” Blair said cheerfully. “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us. I know it’s been a long and trying day for both of you.”

Tony smiled despite his worry, charmed by Blair Sandburg’s demeanor. The truth was that even if they hadn’t been looking for information, neither Tony nor Steve would ever refuse to meet the Primes, yet Sandburg made it seem like they were doing him a favor. Tony wouldn’t be surprised if he believed it too. He’d heard really good things about Sandburg, and so far it seemed they were true.

Tony smiled. “Dr. Sandburg, I think I speak for both of us when I say that if you can help us understand more about what is going on, we’re the ones who will be grateful.”

Steve nodded. “We realize that there are several things about our awakening that have been unusual,” he added

“Call me Blair, please. If you’ll sit down, we have a lot to talk about.”Tony and Steve requested that their first names be used as well as they all sat in a circle in front of the desk that had been pushed back against the wall to make room. Tony had no doubt that was deliberate. It put them all on equal footing and served to make them more comfortable. The general quietly took a position by the door. Tony appreciated his support.

Blair smiled at them , and despite his nervousness about what he was about to hear, Tony found it put him at ease. “I heard how both of you  came online this morning, and I was very intrigued. As you  probably know, it is a very rare occurrence. I have some suspicions about why it might have happened to you, but first I’d like to hear what happened  from your perspectives.”

Tony indicated that Steve should start as he’d been the one to start looking for Tony. Between the two of them, they filled in Blair as quickly as they could, though they had to stop to answer several questions along the way. Tony had already decided to leave out the part about being able to feel past Daniel’s shields. Tony wasn’t ready to share that particular talent with anyone.

When Tony explained about their matching spirit animals, Blair got very excited, and he and Jim Ellison shared a telling look.

“You say yours is a female?” Blair asked looking interested. “That’s very rare. The first female spirit animals only began manifesting about thirty years ago.”

“Is there some reason that’s important?” Tony asked, genuinely curious.

Blair shrugged. “So far, all the female spirit animals have belonged to guides,all of whom were more powerful than average. I just find it intriguing, that’s all. It also might tell us what to expect from you in the future.” He was watching Tony carefully. “You’re sure you haven't noticed anything odd about your abilities so far?”

Tony shook his head. “Other than what I assume is a usual amount of empathy and passing out only to wake up on the spirit plane, no, nothing.” He assured Blair again. He felt a little bad for lying, but he needed more time to sort things out. He was pretty certain that Blair couldn’t tell he was lying, though he might suspect. Right now, he was doing Tony the courtesy of staying out of his mind, as far as Tony could tell anyway. Tony was more worried about Ellison. Sentinels were known for being able to pick out lies easily. However, if either man was suspicious, they kept it to themselves.

Ellison spoke calmly. “For the purpose of this discussion, the fact that you each have a lion for a spirit animal is actually more important.”

Blair nodded, and his gaze was sympathetic as he watched them. Again the feeling of foreboding ran up Tony’s spine, and he knew he wasn’t going to like what he heard next.

“Yes, that’s true. Though I do find the fact Steve apparently manipulated the spirit plane so easily very interesting, it isn’t definitive proof of my theory. However, your spirit animals are. This isn’t common knowledge, but lion spirit animals are incredibly rare. In fact, there are only four known instances in the last five hundred years. Only Ascendants are known to have lion spirit guides.”

Tony could only stare in shock. Of course, he’d heard of Ascendants. They were the stuff of legend. Ascendants were known to arrive in times of great need. They were powerful leaders, and they often showed unique abilities. Tony wasn’t sure, but he thought the last pair had awakened during the Second World War. He and Steve were Ascendants. He was surprised, but perhaps that had been short sighted. Tony wasn’t sure how he felt about it, but he couldn’t deny that it made sense.

Steve had grabbed his hand and was holding it hard enough to hurt. Tony winced, and Steve let go with an apologetic look. Tony put his hand on Steve’s arm, hoping the contact would comfort them both. Steve recovered his voice first. It shook slightly as he spoke. “Are you saying that we are Ascendants? How is that possible? There’s never been any indication that I was special in any way. If we are so powerful, wouldn’t we have come online a long time ago?”

Blair shook his head. “Ascendants almost always come online at the same time, although not usually in the same room,” he added wryly. “No one really knows why Ascendants come online when they do, other than it seems to coincide with a time of great danger for the tribe.”

“Clearly you have  awakened because you are needed for some reason. Given that aliens want to  destroy us, not to mention the fact that we are literally killing our planet, it could be argued that humanity has never faced more danger than it does now.”

Tony’s heart was hammering, and he fought down the bile that rose in his throat. This couldn’t be happening. Just a few hours ago, Tony had been secure and mostly content, and he’d known where his life was going. Tony was good at adapting, but this was too much too fast. He felt like he could barely keep up with what was happening, and he hated feeling so out of control.

Part of him wanted to believe Blair was crazy. He wanted to deny what Blair was saying. He was not cut out to be some sort of hero. Being an online guide had seemed daunting enough, but being an Ascendant seemed impossible. Still, he couldn’t deny the fact that his spirit animal was a lion, and he knew he was unusually powerful.

He looked over at Steve and noticed the Sentinel was extremely pale. He hadn’t said anything yet. It occurred to Tony that if what Blair said was true then he and Steve really were meant to bond. The connection he felt to Steve from the moment they saw each other made sense now.

It was a relief in a way to know it was real, but, at the same time, Tony wasn’t sure how he felt about it. He was cautious by nature when it came to relationships, and he didn’t like the idea of making decisions based on some mythical connection, no matter how good it felt to be close to Steve.

Blair sighed heavily, breaking the tense silence. “I know this is hard to hear, but I do think all the evidence points to the two of you being an Ascendant pair. I understand that this news must be overwhelming for you.”

Steve was already nodding. “I knew something was going on given Jack and Daniel’s reaction and the sensitivity of my senses, but I certainly didn’t expect this. I grew up on stories of Ascendants and always admired them. I never imagined being one, though,” Steve said quietly. “If I’m so powerful, why am I having so much trouble with my hearing? Tony has good control of his shields.”

“Being an Ascendant doesn’t mean you won’t need practice learning to control your senses. The fact that it’s only your hearing giving you trouble is pretty amazing. Also your empathic shield is already quite impressive, as is Tony’s. Most new sentinels and guides can’t shield nearly as well on their own. I would also suggest that a stable bonding would help you  get a handle on your gifts. Not that it needs to be done immediately, but it’s something to keep in mind.”

Steve spoke quietly. “Is this why we’ve been guarded ever since we came online? I wondered if it was for our sake or for yours.” He was watching Blair intently.

Blair smiled. “Truthfully, it was a little of both at first. We didn’t know how well you’d do when you woke. The amount of time you  were unconscious was rather odd, but also because Ascendants are legendary. We’re concerned about what might be coming in the near future. There are a few possibilities, including the Wraith, but there’s no way to know for sure why you might be needed.”

Tony was concerned about that as well. The idea that something terrible might be coming their way was extremely unpleasant. Still, Tony would do what he could to help. He knew he needed to start figuring out his abilities as soon as possible. Whatever was going to happen, he wanted to be ready for it.

Blair looked at them   intently, “It’s important we keep your status quiet for now. We aren’t sure how the general public would react to the news of Ascendants. We don’t want to cause a panic, and we want to respect your privacy, as well.”

Tony wasn’t surprised, and he did appreciate the decision to protect their privacy. Blair hadn’t said as much, but Tony suspected that their safety was also an important consideration. Sentinels and guides were unique to Earth. Not only would shadowy organizations like The Trust present a real danger, but Tony knew the Lucian Alliance would like nothing better than to get their hands on a bonded pair.

In truth it didn’t worry Tony too much. He had worked in law enforcement for a long time, and he was used to being in dangerous situations.  He didn’t like the thought of either of them being in danger, but he was confident that they could take care of themselves.

As if reading his mind, Jim spoke up. “You should be safe enough for the moment, but I don’t think I need to tell you to be careful.”

Tony and Steve traded a look. “Don’t worry, we will be,” Tony promised quietly. “We can take care of ourselves.” Tony didn’t need his empathy to know that Steve agreed with him.

Jack spoke up for the first time since the conversation had begun. “Blair, I think we should give them  some time to process the news. You can talk to them again after they’ve had some rest.”

Tony was grateful for the intervention. He needed some time to process what he’d just learned. If he was honest with himself, he was unsure how he felt about being an Ascendant. The idea of destiny forcing his hand was irritating. He believed people made their own choices. Tony had devoted his life to justice and helping people in need by solving crimes, but he didn’t know the first thing about saving the world from some unknown danger. Frankly, Tony didn’t think he was qualified, but then he supposed no one ever really was. Although a part of him did want to walk away, Tony knew himself well enough to know he couldn’t actually do it.

Blair nodded. “That’s a good idea. Tony, you seem to be doing okay, but we’d like you to stay with Steve until his senses stabilize. ”When Tony nodded his acceptance, Blair continued “You should  return to the isolation room for now. You’ll be more comfortable there. We can talk later. Jim and I are staying for a few days at least, and we would like to do some training with  you to help you get your gifts under control. We’ll be available to answer any questions then,” Blair said kindly.

Steve stood, and Tony followed suit. They  thanked Blair and Jim and left as calmly as they could, but, for his part, Tony couldn’t get out of the room fast enough. He had a lot to think about, but he knew Steve would help him sort it out. It felt good to know he wasn’t alone.

&&

Once they were out in the hallway, Steve took a deep breath and barked out a laugh. “Holy shit,” he said with feeling, and Tony couldn’t help but laugh.

“No kidding,” he agreed wryly. “If I didn’t know better I’d think this was some kind of awful practical joke.”

Steve rubbed at his head. Tony winced in sympathy. He took Steve’s hand and laced their fingers together.

“Thanks,” Steve said. “That helps.” Tony was glad to hear it. He knew he shouldn’t have let go of Steve in the first place. Tony simply wasn’t used to working with sentinels.

Every guide, even latent ones, was  shown how to help  Sentinels having trouble with their senses. Tony himself had done it a few times while working for the police. City police departments were perpetually understaffed when it came to guides. “Here, let me help you even more. Listen to my voice; now imagine dials in your head. When you find the one labeled sound, turn it down until you're comfortable. Imagine my voice getting softer.”

Steve grinned and said teasingly, “But I like listening to your voice. It doesn’t hurt as much as the other noises around us.”

Tony felt himself flush a little. He hoped it wasn’t too noticeable. “Pay attention to what you're doing,” he admonished, but he couldn’t hide his smile.

Steve closed his eyes and concentrated. A moment later, he smiled. “It worked,” he told Tony, looking equal parts pleased and relieved.

Tony felt a rush of relief. “Good. Hopefully, it’ll hold until we get you back to the isolation room. That is if you don’t mind me coming back there with you. I’ll understand if you want to be alone,” Tony added.

Steve shook his head. “I’d like the company. Our whole world has been turned upside down. I’d really like the chance to discuss it with you. We  have decisions to make in the very near future.”

Tony nodded, and they allowed themselves to be led by their guards back to the isolation room. Tony was pleased to see a small sofa and a table with a couple of chairs had been added in one corner. He was a little worried too. Clearly, they thought Steve would be here for some time yet.

Steve gestured toward the new lounge area. “Let’s sit down.” Tony took a chair, leaned back in it, and stretched out his legs. Steve sat down on the sofa.

“What do you think?” Tony asked curiously.

Steve sighed. “I wish I didn’t believe we are Ascendants. I want to be able to say that Blair is crazy to think it, but I can’t deny that there is something different about us. Even now, if I concentrate, I can hear Blair and Jim talking in Jack’s office, and someone just dropped several plates in the cafeteria. I know that isn’t normal given that this room is soundproofed.”

Tony was impressed. “You can hear that much? That’s so cool.”

Steve chuckled. “It is, but right now it’s mostly a pain,” he admitted.

“What about your other senses?” Tony asked.

“The food they brought us tasted kind of strange, but, for the moment, my sight seems to be normal. I’m relieved. I can’t imagine how excruciating it would be to have all my senses going haywire at once. Despite what Blair said, I think it must be my proximity to you that’s keeping me on an even keel.”

“That does make sense,” Tony agreed. It was a well-known fact that the presence of a guide, especially a compatible guide, could help a sentinel keep control. “Though I wouldn’t discount how powerful you are either.”

Steve nodded, but he was frowning. “I don’t know what to think about being Ascendant yet. I’m still pretty shocked,” Steve said roughly. “It does feel like a big joke in a way. I’ve always felt the desire to protect people, and it has only grown stronger since I came online. I accept that fate may have something difficult in store for me. All I can do is try to face it as best I can.”

Tony nodded. He admired Steve’s conviction, and he did agree. If something terrible was coming, he wanted to help fight it no matter the consequences.

Tony ran his hand over his hair. “I won’t deny I’m overwhelmed by all this. It’s a lot to take in. Part of me wants to run away, but I know I can’t turn my back either. Being close to you makes me feel better too. I keep telling myself I need to give us  time to adjust, but that doesn’t change how I feel. I like what I’ve learned about you so far, and I’d like to know more. Maybe we can learn about our new gifts together, support each other.”

Suddenly Tony wanted to get closer to his Sentinel. He was reasonably sure Steve was going to be his someday anyway. He felt very drawn to Steve and saw no reason to deny himself right now. He rose and moved over to the sofa, sitting next to Steve, and leaning close so that their sides were touching. Steve turned his head and buried his nose in Tony’s neck and took deep breaths. He leaned back slightly so he could look into Tony’s eyes. “Guide,” he said softly.

The word seemed to resonate within Tony. “Sentinel,” Tony responded without thought. It felt right to acknowledge it, even though he wasn’t ready to bond quite yet.

Steve leaned forward slowly and kissed Tony softly. Steve’s lips were warm and soft, and Tony allowed himself to sink into the kiss. It was slow and sweet, but passionate too. Tony couldn’t wait for more. Steve moaned softly and bit gently at Tony’s lip. Tony opened his mouth, and their tongues entwined. Pleasure coursed through Tony. He never wanted it to stop. If simple kisses were this mind-blowing, then the sex might actually kill him. It would be totally worth it, he decided. Tony never wanted to stop touching Steve, kissing Steve.

When he had to come up for air, Tony pulled away slightly, and they smiled at one another like idiots. They rearranged themselves on the sofa, snuggling close to each other.

“You taste amazing,” Steve murmured. At some point, his hands had slipped under Tony’s shirt, and he was caressing Tony’s skin in slow circles. “You feel amazing and smell amazing. I could listen to your voice all day. I just can’t get enough of you.”

Tony grinned. “The feeling is mutual, believe me. I think we should talk about what happens next. It’s obvious everyone expects us to bond no matter what Blair says about it being our choice. If we bonded, you’d find it easier to control your senses, and my shield would be easier to maintain,” Tony pointed out cautiously. He didn’t want Steve to suffer.

He also knew that a bonded guide’s shield was much stronger than an unbonded guide. Blair had said some people would want to control them bonded or not. Tony was betting they would  be safer on Atlantis.

Steve nodded. “That’s true, and the Sentinel inside me wants to bond with you right away. However, we’ve had a big shock today, everything has changed. I agree that neither of us is really ready for bonding yet. I can feel your reluctance, and I completely understand it. I share it to a certain extent, though I hope we can keep getting to know each other. We can take things slowly. I’d love to take you out on a date sometime soon.”

Tony grinned. “I’d love that. We can take turns deciding what we’re doing. I want you to know part of me does want to bond with you right now. There’s a part of me that never wants to let you go, but we can’t just jump into this. Our awakening has been anything but ordinary, that much is obvious. Slow sounds perfect. There’s no rush.”

If Tony was honest, he never wanted to leave Steve’s side. It felt so peaceful, so right. Steve pulled him closer, and they held each other for a long time. All they could do now was wait for Sandburg and Ellison to get their answers. Once they had more information, they would decide what to do together.

Tony had never had someone he could depend on. He was beginning to think he would come to depend on Steve. It was a strange but wonderful feeling. Bonded or not, as long as they had each other they could face whatever life had in store for them.