Title: Weapon of Mass Distraction
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Trope: Sentinel LBD
Content Rating: R
Word count: ~13.5k
Warnings: Off-screen violence, spoilers for NCIS s5 E18-19, Ziva is a horrible person, Canon Character Death
Summary: In response to a threat to the leader of his personal Tribe, Tony DiNozzo comes online.
Beta'd by MyRedTurtle - Thankyou so much for your hard work, any mistakes left over are my own
Banner by Fan_Arts Series
Ziva huffs and closes her book with a snap.
Tony should be here by now. He should be down at the pool harassing her. He should be trying to cajole her into getting the 'full California experience'. But he isn't.
Two hours ago, after making sure he safely completed his shower, she escaped their suite. She'd had to, else she knew she'd be drawn to him. More so than usual. All post-shower hot, wet, and naked? No online Sentinels could resist such a powerful guide in such a circumstance.
Especially not an unbonded one that she's partially imprinted on and just plain wants.
Tony's latent status doesn't even enter into the equation. They both -she and Gibbs, both- use Tony's existence to help them stay balanced and they both want him in every way. The only thing Tony's latent status really does is keep him from bonding properly. It keeps him from ending their pursuit of him by picking one of them or sending them away permanently.
Regardless. Tony should have ambushed by now.
He had to dress and prepare himself to go out, which she knew would take him no more than 42 minutes even if he got caught up in the music he would play while he dressed. Then he had to check in with Gibbs and McGee -basically half an hour of him babbling at Gibbs while her fellow sentinel settles his mind with his aural imprint on Tony.
An estimated 72 minutes. Eighty, max, if Tony actually reached McGee first.
She double checks her watch. It's been 121 minutes.
She sniffs, filtering out pool and people smells to find the unique combination that is Tony. She can smell where they passed this area to enter the hotel after leaving Jenny. Nothing more recent. Nothing getting stronger as it would if he were approaching. Nothing indicating he'd snuck out past her.
She glares up toward their suite.
Tony took one of the bedrooms on the wall for the view and the sunrise. It's what she had wanted him to do for security reasons so she'd made sure to complain about his 'privilege' so he'd gloat and not look too closely at the arrangement that put him farthest from the suite's only entrace. Now it worked out even better for her because she could use the window to check on him immediately.
Tony's laying in his bed. Dressed save for his watch and shoes. He's.. not asleep. She pushes her hearing out on the established tether of sight. His heart rate is fast. Distressed.
"No. Jenny. Jenny, don't-!"
She's running when her phone starts ringing.
"Yeah?" She answers without looking. Her book, her towel, her manners, all forgotten by the pool.
"What's wrong?" Gibbs growls over the line. "With him?"
She huffs. How could he know? He's on the other side of the continent. "I don't know. I'm two floors down and closing."
Gibbs growls again. "I'm coming. Do not touch him. The alpha will come." He hangs up.
She slams the little phone closed but keeps it in hand.
When she bursts through the stairwell, there are already two male sentinels on the level, sniffing their way along to her suite. She rushes past them, not bothering to slow in the least. They silently fall in on either side of her.
When they reach the suite, she shoves her phone at one of them so that she can get the keycard out of her top without giving up her service weapon.
They follow her into the suite. That she allows, but when they try to follow her into Tony's room, she bars the entrance with both arms.
The males walk into her arms and bounce back. It takes them a few moments of silent struggle but they both manage to yield to her. At their nods, she enters Tony's room alone.
She can smell his sweat. And the almost foreign smell of his fear.
She holds out a hand, several inches above the skin of his forehead, and she can feel his fever. It's dangerously high. She moves to disrobe him, to get his temperature down but the male sentinels at the door growls at her.
Ziva stops to glare at them.
"We will not allow you to force him." The one she gave her phone to says, low and promising of violence.
"His temperature is dangerous. If I don't help him, he will die."
"A guide comes." The other one informs her.
A younger male that looks and smells a lot like Male Two walks into the suite moments after that announcement.
"Hey, Don. Hey, Ian." The curly-haired little man waves as he passes between the two.
"Hello, Growly Girl," He nods to her. "If you could join them by the door? That'd be great."
Reluctantly, she leaves her duty partner quite literally in the hands of some unknown guide.
"Oh, man. He's a mess. Has anyone called the Center?"
"Yes." All three sentinels growl in answer.
Curly shoots them a bemused look before turning back to Tony. He holds his hands over Tony like he's trying to warm them over the fire and Ziva feels the man's guide aura fill the room. She wobbles and grabs Don/Male Two to keep her feet. When she opens her eyes Ian/Phone Guy is leaning against the door frame, looking like she feels.
"Charlie's level 9." Don says, gloatingly. "Potential alpha guide." The statement seems aimed at Ian.
She exchanges looks with the other sentinel. He shrugs, she nods, and they both use the wall to push themselves back onto their own two feet.
Charlie has Tony nude with a dry towel across his hips and wet towels on his forehead and other pulse points.
"I need to update NCIS," Is what she tells them. Update Gibbs is what she means.
"I'll update the Center." Don volunteers.
"I'll stand guard."
Several sentinel and guides -in pairs, singles and groups- slide in and out of her suite. Most of them don't stay close for long. None of them interfere with either Charlie Eppes or Tony so she's content to let them.
Eventually a pair wearing SnG credentials pinned to their shirts all but march in.
The older one, the sentinel, stops with Ziva and her companions while his quite frankly gorgeous younger guide moseys right into Tony's room. She watches him watch the younger Eppes where he's kneeling near Tony's head, whispering shielding instructions.
"We've received calls all the way from DC about this guy." The new sentinel tells them, jerking his chin toward Tony as if there was any doubt who he could be referencing. "Including both mated sentinel pairs in Colorado."
Ian and Don straighten. "I thought mated sentinels couldn't feel guides online."
"They don't." He frowns at them all. "Not unless both mates are highly compatible with the guide. The last time a mated pair felt a guide online was when Sandburg came online and that pair was in same city as him, not a thousand miles away.
"Needless to say, the Center is getting ready to receive all of his matches. It's looking like a who's who of the United States' unbonded sentinels."
"So this guy is powerful? Is what you're saying." Ian asserts.
"Oh, yeah. Sandburg and Ellison are on a plane here as we speak."
Sentinel Don whistles.
"Any idea what brought him online?"
All three Californian Sentinels look at Ziva.
"We are here on assignment." She tells them. "Protective duty for Jennifer Shepard, Director of NCIS. We flew into town for the funeral of a retired agent. She dismissed us after the funeral."
"And you let her?" Don Eppes asks, incredulous.
Ziva raises her chin, not backing down. "She is dying of cancer. I assumed she wanted to say good bye to something or someone alone. I did not see the harm in respecting her wishes."
"He was calling for Jenny when we came in here." Ian puts in sharply.
This time she nods once, acknowledging the hit. "Obviously, I was wrong. I have already contacted NCIS in that regard. Callen-Hana from the Office of Special Projects are looking for her. It is an NCIS issue and we are taking care of it."
"Not if it drove a guide of his power online and in distress, it's not." The alpha counters. "That make it Center business."
G Callen watches as his sentinel parks them in front of the now all-but abandoned church and scoots the driver's seat back.
He provides Sam with the Director's scent sample. Which is really just a fancy name for an unlaundered sweater in a plastic bag that Sentinel David provided them. The scent sample for targeting and his left wrist for grounding and G settles in to review the case file while Sam gets himself on Target.
"Special Agent William Decker. Retired from NCIS eight months ago. Died five days ago. Director Shepard specifically requested his death be investigated but the ME told the FBI that he died of natural causes. Deputy Director Vance accepted the FBI's report and closed the case."
"Ballsy." Sam puts in, his voice still distant in the way that tells G his sentinel is still getting his senses together.
"Stupid. The Director made a specific request and he brushed it off. If something happens to her because of this, there goes his shot at the Director's chair."
"You think she was right to be worried? That Decker was murdered?"
"I think something dangerous is going on to force a guide to come online like DiNozzo is right now. And I can think of three ways to make murder look like natural causes."
"Not including bribing the ME." Sam's voice is sharper now, he's back with him. "It's her agency, why didn't she push Vance? Do you think she came out here to investigate herself?"
G shakes his head. "If she was planning to investigate, why not take DiNozzo with her? You've seen his statistics. He's one of the best investigators in the agency. You don't leave a guy like him on the bench if it's important or complicated. Something else is going on here. Some game we aren't seeing."
"Then let's go check it out." Sam opens his door and they both climb out.
G watches him walk across the parking lot. "Parked here. Guide drove. The sentinel wasn't with them." Sam weaves between cars that are no longer there, following the scent trail into the church. "Sentinel maintained line of sight and the perimeter but kept her distance."
Sam moves to the third row bench on the left side. "Guide. Target." He identifies their spots. "He plays the good little supporting male. She's inappropriately invested in him.
"They pay their respects." Sam walks the path from the seat, up one side of the stage. Across, pausing in front the invisible coffin. Then down the other side and back to the seats. "They exit the main doors. The Sentinel joins Guide and Target. Target separates. For an interview, I can smell the camera, coffee, and male boredom. Target then goes to the Guest Book." Sam gestures to the table where a woman is currently placing a large, old guest book. No doubt the church's regular one.
"Something there spikes her interest. In a bad way. I smell hope, fear, and rage.
"She returns to Sentinel and Guide. She takes the Guide's keys and leaves them."
"She saw something in the guest book?" Callen questions. "So we need the guest book."
"It could have been something at the guest book. Something she saw or heard?"
"What she saw or heard isn't documented. The guest book is."
"Right," Sam Hana agrees with a nod.
G checks his watch. "The family should have it by now? Let's go pay them a visit."
Face walks out of Tony's room and right up to the four waiting sentinels.
"He's stable enough to move, now." He tells them without preamble. "I want two more guides on hand before we do it, though. And you'll have to clear the way out. Everyone you can get out of here, you should. Blair will be here in half an hour, that's how long you have to make it happen."
Hannibal just nods, his eyes flicking to Ian. The younger sentinel in turn nods and moves to the door, giving orders with the quiet confidence and easy dominance that sends other sentinels scrambling to do his bidding, dialing his phone as he goes.
"DiNozzo is still concerned for Shepard." Face tells those that remain. "I think he Saw her death. Settling him into training and his gifts will be impossible if such a vision comes to pass. Assuming he doesn't die with her. What are we doing about this?"
"I have an APB out on her." Don tells them. "GPS has her rental at one of the local beaches. Two members of my team are headed there to check on her. SWAT is on stand-by, just in case."
Sentinel Eppes's phone beeps and he checks it. Face can feel the dread and fury begin to seep out of the sentinel's.
"We have a body."
At Sam's insistence they checked with the church office -"There's no reason to make this trip twice, G."- to make sure the guest book wasn't there.
Proving Callen right. Again. So they made their way to the victim's home where the secretary assured them it had been delivered.
This time G drives because asking a sentinel with an active sensory lock to drive is just asking for a wreck.
And it's a good thing he does, too, because the moment they round the corner to the house Sam has his window down, sniffing. "Target was here."
The drive is empty. The house is empty but it has obviously been searched.
They stand together in the living room with G gripping his sentinel's wrist to ground him as Hana takes in the house. "A female, young, not Target was here when they arrived."
"The file says Special Agent Decker had a girlfriend, Sasha Gordon, 22."
Sam nods, tilting his head this way and that before moving. "Target came. Men have been in and out but I think Target found Sasha in the closet. Surprise. Fear. Anger. Tears. Target got her out."
Sam reaches to the floor and picks up a thick blue book and even Callen can see that the back isn't sitting properly. Something had been shoved hard into the binding, making it sit funny. Sam opens it an after a moment holds it where G can see it.
On the inside of the back cover is some ink transfer J-squiggle Sh-squiggle.
Sam runs the tips of his fingers along the inside of the cover and then the page before. "Something metallic was here. A key, maybe."
Something tickles the edges of G's mind and he pulls his phone. "Erik. Did William Decker have a storage unit? Or did he own any property?"
Ziva stands over the body of a 22 year old blonde woman.
She didn't know the victim well. They'd met just hours ago and spoke for maybe 20 minutes. She's seemed like a beautiful woman, inside and out, but she is not the Director and Ziva is most relieved.
"The body is Sasha Gordon." She informs the FBI and LEOs moving around the scene, specifically she informs Don Eppes who is in the middle of making himself clear to the LEOs. "William Decker's girlfriend."
She shifts her focus to the LEO still trying to argue with Eppes as she snaps on a pair of gloves. "You can't tell me you think that short fall broke her neck this badly. Look at how she landed, she was dead before she went over." She squats and gently explores the victim's neck with her fingers. "And I suppose the sand beat her face this badly with a single hit? No, she was beaten. By someone. Her neck was broken then she was tossed. This was no accident."
The LEO opens his mouth to object but Eppes sends him skittering away with a gesture and a look.
Eppes moves to squat next to her. "You think the Director did this?"
"No." Ziva shakes her head. Eppes flicks questioning eyebrows at her. "If it was a gunshot, sure. Jenny's a shooter. Maybe a knife, if things were desperate. But a beating like this? Up close and personal. Physical intimidation? Likely interrogation? No. Not this. It's not Jenny's style."
"I can smell Director Shepard on her." He argues.
"Not enough for this kind of a beating." She counters. "They were together with in the last several hours, certainly since the funeral.
"A man did this. I know you can smell his arousal. His blood, he cut himself. He smells like airplane, rolling papers, and a gun oil I haven't smelled since Moscow."
"Okay, so what's the Director's car doing here?"
She shakes her head. "I can't accept that Jenny is dead yet. Perhaps the person that stole it has Jenny and dumped the car and Sasha here, or Jenny could have leant it to Sasha and her killer doesn't know that the car is not hers." The first two scenarios that occur to her. "Any luck getting her location from her phone?"
"No, it's still off." Eppes stands. "Alright, so we need to process the car while my guys handle this. See if we get any clues."
Ziva stands and follows her fellow sentinel, hoping they aren't already too late.
G and Sam pull up outside a broken down Diner standing that the corner of sand and nowhere. It looks more like a movie set than something real. It's just waiting to shoot the scene where something really bad happens and there is nothing the Good Guy can do about it. In like a Vampire movie, maybe Angels, something supernatural with too much fake rain.
"Target's here." Sam announces. "I smell gunpowder. Recently discharged. There was a fire fight."
G rolls his eyes. The broken windows and the buckshot pattern on the door kind of give that away.
Together the bonded pair pull their side arms and make their way cautiously into the building. Sam breeches the door first, zeroing in on the Target. G follows more slowly, checking bodies, noting damage and watching his sentinel's ass even though he knows they are all dead.
No heartbeat is dead but the hyper focus of a hunting sentinel has killed more than one pair and G refuses to add to the statistics.
They find Jenny Shepard, sitting on the floor, propped up against a corner booth. Two, no three shots. Her face is serene and her eyes are not blinking. Her body is still warm.
Blair and Face are just finished settling their newest guide-brother when he goes terribly still. They both freeze for just a heartbeat, shocked and afraid, before their sentinels are bodily moving them away from Tony DiNozzo.
Doctors swarm the bed. There's shouting and zapping and injections.
Tony comes back to them briefly but his mind is shuttered. He's still lost in that terrible dark place in his head.
The doctors move back from the bed, nodding to each other and relieved. They are just starting to relax when Tony flat lines again and there's more shouting and more zapping.
The second time he comes back to them, the doctors stay tense until they are all hit with an overwhelming wave of emotion.
Failure. Loss. Shame. Pain.
By the time Blair manages to regain himself enough to grab Tony's hand and throw every shield he can on him, there isn't a dry eye in the room. Half the room's occupants are on their knees. Including both sentinels.
"She's dead, then," Sentinel Hannibal Smith concludes as he struggles to stand.
Blair finds himself nodding. "But he survived it. That's the first big hurdle.
"I want him monitored by a bonded sentinel for the next 48 hours. No one under level 9 because the guide is going to have to buffer Guide DiNozzo completely their entire shift."
Jim touches his shoulder and, at his nod, slides his arm around Blair's shoulders. "We'll take first watch. One hour watches. At least six hours between watches."
Hannibal nods, his right fist going over his heart in salute to the alpha pair. "We will arrange it."
Gibbs stares down at the body of the last woman he'd allowed himself to love, speechless.
Ducky moves from his place at his side and kneels next to Jen. He starts documenting the body, starts doing his job while one of Vance's minions form San Diego snaps pictures.
Gibbs had brought Ducky along for Tony, just in case the Center needed someone familiar with his medical history to stabilize the new guide. By the time they had landed, though, Blair and the Center's doctors had already reached out to Dr. Brad Pitt directly and been fully briefed on Tony's needs.
Good thing, too, since now they need Ducky for something more in his actual job description. Dammit.
G and Sam are off to one side, giving Vance the run through of that his senses tell Sam happened. They'll still collect the evidence and verify his take on it but-
Gibbs rolls his eyes when Vance asks the bonded pair about the four .45 bullets with no gun or shooter to go with them. The answer is obvious. You don't need to be a sentinel to figure it out.
"Someone walked out of here. Alive." He growls and moves into Hana's space. "And I want to know why you missed him."
The younger sentinel flushes and looks away but stands his ground. "I was locked on target." He admits. "I heard the heartbeat before we entered but once we found her I couldn't break my lock until the unsub's engine starting on the opposite side of the building did it for me.
"I got a partial plate on a silver Mercury Grand Marquis. Male in the driver's seat. Gray hair. Tan. Smoker."
Vance frowns, tilting his head to the side in thought.
Gibbs nods to Hana and turns away before he gives anything away to Vance. Because he knows exactly who was in this building with Jen. He knows who walked away without a scratch, who was holding the .45. Gibbs can smell the man and his impatience competing with all the other scents in the diner. And he knows exactly what Mike Frank's next move will be.
"The next time you Hunt, you take another pair with you. This is exactly why that rule exists." He glares at the younger men over his shoulder briefly. "G, get him out of here. Take care of your sentinel."
Gibbs walks casually as he can into the diner his nose tells him contains Mike Franks. Cafe Mike. He does not roll his eyes at the name. Instead he does walk right up to the lunch counter, circles 'round away from the windows, and sits down.
It takes him less than a minute to connect with his former boss's heartbeat but he stays where he is rather than tracking the man down any further. Better to let Mike verify his own safety than set him to running again.
Mike slides up beside him at the counter. Coffee appears, orders are placed, and they are left alone because the waitress isn't fucking stupid.
"She called me in Mexico." Mike starts. "Said she needed help from someone outside the agency."
Gibbs frowns. Another one of her ops.
"One of yours." Mike corrects. "Europe."
Well, that's terribly unspecific.
"According to Jenny, Decker's cover was blown. They found him. Made it look like a heart attack."
"There was a guy at Decker's funeral. Viggo Drantyev. Came looking for a man. Oshimaida."
"Paris, nine years ago. Oshimaida was the code we used if our cover was compromised. Only three people knew that word; Jenny, me, Decker."
"Decker resurrected it. When they found him, instead of giving you up, he sent you a warning. Bought you guys some time."
"She knew what she was getting into. Her last stand was to protect you."
Don Eppes sweeps into his team bull pen, Sentinel David at his side.
His team is working on the Sasha Gordon murder. The Center brow beat NCIS into giving them the Jennifer Shepard murder since they're undoubtedly connected. Then of course the Center turns around and demands he take a bonded pair temporarily on his team to work the case.
It's fine, he doesn't like it but it's fine.
"What have we got?"
"Three of the shooters had lists of priors here in the LA area and cash in their pockets," Sinclair leads. "Looks like local hires. The fourth shooter used a burn alias -Viggo Drantyev- to fly from Moscow to LA."
"Alright. Check LAX's security footage. There was a fifth shooter. Could be he brought someone with him.
"What about the car?"
"Western Rental rented out two Grand Marquis in the last 48 hours with the partial plate we received from Sentinel Hana." Terry answers, she clicks something and a drivers liscense photo pops on to the screen. "Only one silver. It was rented to a Joe Hill out of New Mexico. No listing at the DMV."
"Another burn alias." Sentinel David's heart rate does a funny little shimmy and Don frowns at her. "How is he connected to this? He's a little old for a professional hitter."
"No. He's no professional hitter. He's a retired NCIS Agent. My boss's former team lead and mentor, Michael Franks."
Two hours later, phone calls are being made to old co-workers, friends, and family of both Franks and Shepard. They are trying to find links between the two. Other than the few years they worked at the same federal agency and that they both had the same duty partner at different times.
They have all bus stations, train stations, and airports in the state alerted that Mike Franks is a suspect in the shooting of a federal agent.
There's an APB out on the rental car.
The team has at least fourteen theories on not just what Frank's actual participation in the shooting was but what his motivation could be. Jealousy. Anger. Revenge. Sexism. Then there is the dissenting voice from Sentinel David that maybe he was there as the Director's back up and a pretty sound theory on why she would call him.
"Phone logs indicate Shepard called Franks in Mexico yesterday. After which he immediately got on a plane to LAX." Sinclair tells the team with a frown.
He'd been adamant about his theory of jealousy and revenge. The implication that Shepard reached out to Franks, presumably for help, can't sit too well for him but he's too good of a cop to disregard evidence just because he doesn't like it.
That is, of course, when Gibbs strolls onto their work area with their primary suspect in tow.
At his glance, Sinclair moves to escort Franks into one of the interview rooms. Franks doesn't comply with Sinclair's unspoken request to walk this way until Gibbs evaluates the FBI agent and nods.
Don frowns at the three of them and Gibbs turns his way to initiate the conversation that needs to happen.
"Smelled him at the diner." Gibbs admits once they are alone in the break room. "Knew he would run from official pursuit so I went for him myself."
Don gives him the look that deserves. He can smell that it's not the whole truth. But. 'Run from a sentinel, die tired,' has been an unofficial motto of sentinels no matter their service for longer than Don's been alive so maybe a little reassurance from someone you know isn't an out of line requirement for coming in, in this case.
"What do you know?"
"It's related to an old op. You'll have to call SevNav for clearance."
"You need to call SecNav," Don shoots back. "We already have clearance for anything at NCIS that could have been related."
Gibbs shakes his head. "You need to call SecNav. This isn't NCIS classified. It's NIS."
Don lets Gibbs precede him into the interview room where they stashed Franks.
While he'd been waiting for SecNav to get back to him he'd read up on the two. Gibbs and Franks. Rude, hard-headed bastards. Considered by many above them to be loose cannons with attitude problems but that are tolerated because they are damn good.
Gibbs is more law and order than Franks but that's the nature of sentinels. Gibbs is the only one in the history of his career to get Franks anything close to reliable.
So having Gibbs sit in on the interview is pretty much the entire plan.
He sets down his folder and sits. Gibbs moves to prop up the wall on his left, as they discussed.
Franks for his part frowns at Gibbs, huffs, and turns the frown on Don. "Jenny called me. Needed back up. Off the record and outside of the agency."
"Paris, '99. Jenny worked an op with two agents. Decker was one of them. She said she'd heard a man use their blown word at Decker's funereal."
"Who was the man?"
"Some hired gun, Viggo Drantyev."
"He died in the diner." Don says leadingly. Franks doesn't take the opening. "Why'd you go to the diner? Why that diner?"
"Jenny knew Decker was blown. Looked into his death. His girlfriend gave us a message. Message took us to the diner."
"An address and a key."
"Sasha knew about the message?"
Franks grunts and nods.
So that's why Sasha was killed. And how they found Sheppard. But not why. "What was the op?"
Franks's jaw shoots to one side and he considerers Don closely before answering. "Elimination. Two agents. Two targets. Handler, De-"
"Don." Sinclair calls his name from the bull pen. Don knows that tone, he stands. Gibbs stands with him. "We have something."
All three of them immediately leave the interview room for the conference room his team regularly use to break down crimes.
"Got the footage from LAX." Sinclair tells them. He hits a button on the remote and the one of the tv's in the room pops to life.
"Viggo Drantyev," He identifies as he hits more buttons. They watch the big, boxy foreign hitter walking through the terminal, passing the baggage claim, out of the airport and into a cab. Pace fast, unhesitating. Just him and his carry on. David pauses the feed and looks at them.
"Pros usually travel light." Gibbs mumbles.
"Right," David nods. "But here's where it gets weird."
He hits play and they watch a blonde woman exit the airport less than a minute after Drantyev and climb right into Drantyev's cab. "Professionals do not share cabs."
"No, they don't. Can we zoom in?" Don tilts his head, he could feel something click in his head. "NCIS sent us the content of Shepard's phone. There are pictures of a black SUV."
"Got it." Terry starts clicking around with her own remote on the projection screen. The two pictures get on the screens at just about the same time. Gibbs's heartbeat stutters. Terry's eyebrows shoot up. "Those could be the same woman."
"Yeah," Don agrees. "Where's that one taken?" He gestures at the SUV shot.
"Outside Decker's funeral." Ziva tells them. "I recognize the foliage."
"Who is she?" Don asks the room.
"Facial recognition is running." Dave tells him
He asks Gibbs directly."Who is she?"
"Yours was?" Seriously, can this guy not just lay out his cards?
"She was the handler for Zukov. He was a KGB hit man who started selling his services to the highest bidder after the Cold War ended."
"How do we get her?"
Gibbs just shakes his head.
"She is heavily involved with the hit." Ziva says. "She's here, with her hireling. They have a way to contact each other. Use it to draw her out.
"Does she expect a male or female target for Drantyev?"
"Male." Gibbs answers gruffly.
"So we have one of our male agents take Drantyev's next contact and lure her out by pretending to be the target." Ziva shrugs delicately. "Arrest her, case closed."
"So we just need to figure out how they make contact. Sinclair, work with David and figure it out. Lake, grab the bonded pair and figure out where we can stage the trap. Gibbs, the message is yours. Make it work."
Gibbs stands alone in the middle of a warehouse.
He's wearing a vest.
There's a sentinel-sniper, Ian Edgerton, up in the rafters. There is a bonded pair monitoring the inside of the warehouse, one on the outside monitoring the approaches, and the entire place is surrounded by cops. At a building removed and for now only on three sides but they'll close in once the target is inside the killzone.
She drives up and parks on the opposite side of a large dumpster from the back door. He listens to her creep in. She's cautious and furious and the conflict between the two emotions is making her stupid.
"Hello, Natasha." He says as he turns around. "Or do you prefer Svetlana?" She's furious. Enraged and heartbroken and holding a little six shooter as tightly as she can in a shaking hand. He tilts his head to the side, going for coldly curious. "Not business, this is personal."
"It was you who killed Anatoli?"
He shrugs. "What was he to you?"
"Everything." Her entire heart is in the word.
Well, even assassins find love eventually. Or fixated fans. It happens. "Why now?"
"Because it took me until now to find you."
"The night he died, a woman came to kill you. What happened?"
"She couldn't do it."
Oh, Jenny. He turns to face her full on, arms held away from his sides. "Can you?"
She cocks the weapon. Adjusts her aim.
A shot rings out.
She shouts and collapses forward.
Gibbs looks up to the rafters. There. The sentinel-sniper is already breaking down his weapon, cold and meticulous. Gibbs nods, the sniper nods back.
Just another day at the office.
Before he even opens his eyes, Tony is physically aware that he is not alone.
It doesn't worry him, not being alone. It's kind of weird, but they aren't crowding him or threatening him. Just three guys hanging out to the right of his bed, having a quiet conversation.
Why, he doesn't know.
The conversation doesn't apply to him. The men are talking about empathic levels and buffers and mental shielding. Yeah, definitely doesn't nothing to do with him, so why have it in his room?
They come to some sort of consensus and the first two dismiss the third. One of the remaining two check his pulse impossibly quick. Strange. He can feel the heart monitor on the first finger of his left hand, so why check his pulse?
The unknowns are starting to make the situation threatening.
Tony opens his eyes to take a good look at the two men seated between him and the door.
Both men have long curly brown hair but it's neither the same shade nor the same length. Both have blue eyes but, again, not the same shade nor the same shape.
The one closer to the head of the bed has the longer hair. It's a grayer sort of brown and gathered in a severe looking tail at the base of his skull, leaving a poofy curl-filled tail trailing down between his shoulders. His eyes are a crystalline blue like Gibbs' but less secretive. No, not less secretive, just more emotionally available.
The other is younger might actually be younger than Tony. His hair is more the brown that is the sun-bleached and probably highlighted form of something darker and it leaves the man with layers of colors. His hair isn't as long as his buddy's but it's still long enough to frame his face in thick waves while managing to be in no way feminine. Combine the hair with the perpetual wicked grin and dark blue eyes sparkling with humor and the guy looks just this side of feral.
Tony knows a mask when he sees one.
"Hello." The first male smiles when he notices Tony watching them. "I'm Alpha Prime Guide Blair Sandburg."
Tony blinks, recognizing the man now that he's introduced himself. What the hell is the Alpha of North America- nope. No. Tony is not going there. Nope.
"Dr. Sandburg." After a beat Tony adds, "I didn't think you were this kind of a doctor?"
Sandburg laughs and flaps a hand at him. "Call me Blair. This is Alpha Prime Guide Templeton Peck."
"Call me Face." The younger guide shoots Tony a disarming grin that he hopes is more effective when he's the one throwing it around.
Something in Tony relaxes anyway because Face is one of his own kind. The mask, the smile, and that nickname? Big fucking clue. Face? As in the face-man for his unit? The guy you send in to bullshit and distract the natives or send under to get intel without anyone realizing it? Yeah, just like Tony.
"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo." He tells them. "Call me Tony."
"Tony," Blair gives him a single, strangely-cute nod. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Assuming 'not being in the hospital' is not the right answer, Tony thinks. "Protection detail. Me and Ziva for Director Shepard. A funeral in LA.
"Director Shepard dismissed us after the funeral. I didn't like it. We went back to the hotel. We had to keep busy or I knew we would end up tailing her.
"I took a shower but then I just couldn't cool down. I kept going, thinking it would pass. Then, nothing."
"Better than I expected," Sandburg confesses. "You came online in response to a threat against Director Shepard. Your distress alerted sentinels as far away as Colorado to the issue and many sentinels in the city got busy either helping you or looking for her."
"Unfortunately," Face takes up the tale smoothly. "She was no longer in the city. She had voluntarily driven to an abandoned diner in the Mojave and there she died."
No. No way. "Died?"
Face nods. "A fire fight. She took out four assailants before succumbing to her wounds."
God dammit. He and Ziva should have been there. Four versus three would have been nothing, especially when the three includes a Sentinel defending the leader of her tribe. But instead- "Alone? She died alone?"
"No. She had back up. A retired agent was with her. You might know him? Mike Franks?"
Tony rolls his eyes hard. The Fount of Bad Decisions himself does not count as suitable back up, Tony doesn't care how much Gibbs trusts him. Just, no. He can't stand the guy. Hates the influence he has over Gibbs with a passion best not articulated. When they play together it always leads to something horrible for Tony. "Wait. You said I onlined? I don't have any sentinel DNA. I've been tested."
Blair touches his hand with a gentle frown on his face. "You didn't online as a sentinel. You onlined as a guide."
Blair exchanges a look with Face as Tony blinks. Slowly. Several times.
The man's face is pleasantly blank but his mind is a riot of emotions powerful enough for Blair to pick up even through the shield Face has on the guy.
Denial. Wonder. Fear. Curiosity. Frustration. A sharp spike of resentment. More curiosity. The leading edge of acceptance and so much more curiosity it's almost overwhelming.
"I thought guides were really, really rare?" Tony eventually asks.
"We are." Face answers. "There are upwards of 15 online sentinels for every online guide."
"Wow." Tony chokes. "I know the Guide Pandemic took a lot of you guys out but I thought it was less than 10 to one, not more than 15 to one."
Most mundanes do. It wouldn't serve their community to let the mundanes know how close guides -and therefore sentinels- came to extinction.
"Us, Tony." Face corrects. "No 'you guys'. A lot of us died in the Guide Pandemic. You're one of us. I know you can feel it. Deep in your mind."
Tony nods, focusing on Face. "That's why it feels like you're touching me? I can see you aren't. You aren't even really in range but I feel like you're touching me."
Face copies Tony's nod. "I'm shielding you so in a way I am touching you it's just not physical.
"We thought once you were awake you'd be most comfortable with me shielding you until you got your own up." Face smiles and for once it's not biting or even a little mean. "Since we're so similar."
"And you think that will happen today?" Tony's voice is distance, like he's empathically reading someone. Probably Face. "This afternoon?"
"Yes." Blair answers, drawing their attention back to him and Tony out of the headspace he shouldn't even be in yet. "We implanted the training while you were sleeping. This is how guides have taught each other our skills for generations and it can only be done in an unguarded mental state so I apologize for messing with your mind while you were asleep but it's really the fastest and safest way to train guides, especially at our level.
"With Implantation Training, we just have to walk you through using your new abilities properly and deliberately a few times and the training will always be available to you. We'll do an ability or two a day until we're done."
Tony nods in the way of someone trying to assimilate something foreign and overwhelming to them. "And when we're done?"
"You pick your sentinel. Many have already expressed interest in bonding with you but the Council will evaluate them and the ones that are the best fit with you that aren't already here will be invited to this Center so that you can kind of casually meet them as we work through your levels.
"You'll get files on them to help you make a decision and probably more source material than you actually want on bonding so you know what to expect. That'll be my fault though, not the Council. I'm a total Hermione."
Tony gives him a small smile at the reference. "And if I don't want to bond?"
"Then you don't." Face answers fiercely. "It's a hard road and I can tell you from experience it sucks but if that's what you feel is right? Then that's what's going to happen. If you feel your sentinel isn't out there, I won't let it happen."
Tony noodles on that for a while. "But do I really have a choice? If the Council evaluates who is fit and only lets those sentinels show up, that seems like the illusion of choice. Like they are really choosing for me."
"I can see how you'd feel that way." Blair admits. "But it's not like we have a list of favorites and that's all you get. This isn't cronyism or anything like that. This is about your Compatibility Profile."
"Compatibility Profile? Compa-" Tony laughs. "What is this sentinel singles dot com? Is this a dating web site? That sounds like something from a dating web site."
"It's a similar concept but it's different in execution." Blair says, straight faced. "Ours is actually scientific."
Tony snorts and all three guides just lose it.
"Seriously, though," Blair says as they all start to sober. "We've been studying bonding for a long time so we can quantify and qualify the things sentinels know instinctively at first smell.
"We know that sentinels and guides have extra genetic markers that other humans don't. At least four of these various markers that you have have to not so much match but compliment those same markers in a sentinel for you to bond with that sentinel. Like puzzle pieces. You have to have four pairs of pieces that work together before you can complete each other's picture."
"Okay, I guess that makes sense. If you are physically incapable of bonding someone, there's no reason to set yourself up for heartbreak with them. What else? That's not the only criteria, right?"
"Oh, yeah. There's personality stuff. Preferences- not wanting a bondmate of one gender or another. Desire for a platonic bond vs. a sexual bond. Some of its mental stuff- Sexism. Internalized Homophobia. Some sentinels have a skewed view of what a guide is which could lower their rank or increase it, depending on the guide in question."
"Explain that." Tony says sharply enough that Blair hesitates.
"To me and Jim and Face and Hannibal, we're full partners. He has needs, I have needs, and we meet these needs together. We work together. We play together. We're couples in a romantic sense. We're equals." Blair pauses, at Tony's nod he continues. "Some sentinels think we're doing it wrong. They think that our sentinels allow us too much leeway and we should just stay at home like-"
"A toy." Face cuts in. "Property. Some sentinels view guides as sexual property."
"Harsh. I was going to say a pet. Maybe a 1950's housewife. But I can't really argue with you." Blair sighs. "Of course -to be fair- some guides want that. They want to stay sheltered at home while their sentinel takes on the world."
Just from his face Blair's pretty sure of Tony's stance, but, well, "I take it you aren't one of those?"
"No." The newest guide in the US shakes his head emphatically. "Put me down for an equal partnership. And a sexual bond while you're at it. I almost dated a guide in a platonic bond once and it was a nightmare, I don't want to go through that myself."
Blair nods but doesn't take notes or anything. He knows his sentinel is listening, possibly reporting Tony's preferences to the Council as the other guide states them. Honestly though, every sentinel in the building is probably listening. Every sentinel that's already come for Tony definitely is so all of them will know Tony's stance.
"Okay. Physical compatibility and.. emotional compatibility? What else?"
"Mental compatibility. Every sentinel is highly evaluated during training and every three years thereafter until they bond. But we kind of mentioned that already with the sexism and homophobia stuff."
"And that's it unless you have other parameters? Do you have a country preference? Or language?"
"I can speak a six languages but I would prefer to use English at home. Maybe we can start with sentinels in the US and expand later if I don't find my sentinel?"
"Do they have to be American? We so have several foreign sentinels in the US."
"No, foreign's fine but English speaking, please."
"Alright." That's still a lot of sentinels. "So we'll leave things as they are. Right now we have you 90% or better matches from within the US in house. If you don't find what you need here, like you say, we'll expand."
"Wait, what? In house? Now?"
"Yeah, I said you'd get to meet them casually as we get you trained. So you can get to know them? We aren't going to spring them on you. These are possible life partners, not a box of puppies."
"I guess I hadn't really thought about it." Tony says softly.
Blair can tell he's either flustered over or just stuck on something. "Any other questions?"
"No." Is the immediate and vehement response.
"Alright. Let's get your shields up and air tight and then Jim will bring in those books to help answer the questions you don't even know you have yet."
"Jesus, fuck!" Tony exclaims as he collapses back on the bed in his room.
It's training day four.
They'd asked him if he felt up to having lunch with his prospective matches and he'd agreed. He'd pictured a flirty little lunch seated between both bonded pairs with three or four of the hottest people he'd ever seen on the other side of the table.
That is not what he got.
He's been ushered into what he could only describe as a ballroom. On the smallish side but definitely a ballroom. He'd been sat at the long table of his imagination and bracketed but the alpha guides and then their bondmates.
But the table had been on a raised platform at the front of a room full or round tables. Seated on the back halves of the dozen or so tables so that they could all keep their eyes on him were sentinels.
"That had to be like fifty sentinels."
"52." Jim answers his not-question.
"No, no way. We have to cut that down." Tony tilts his head and looks to Hannibal. "That young sentinel. The one Gibbs wanted to deck. What did he do?"
Hannibal huffs and rolls his eyes but answers instead avoiding a question that might upset him like Jim would.
"He mentioned how bright and beautiful you are." Okay, that shouldn't piss Gibbs off. "And he might have made some proprietary comments about the money you obviously have.
"Then he went on to describe what kind of ride he thought you would be." Tony feels his mouth fall open and honestly can't be bothered to correct this behavior. "And he may have made some suggestive hip motions when you weren't looking."
"Okay, Christ, get him out of here before he gets himself killed.
"In fact get rid of anyone fi- no, three or more years younger than me."
"Three?" Blair questions, sounding shocked.
Tony frowns at him and nods. "I could probably live with a particularly word-wise five years younger than me sentinel but these young things are making me feel dirty." He tilts his head. "And I kind of feel like my sentinel should be older than me."
"Do you?" Hannibal asks. "Or do you feel like you owe something to a sentinel that's older than you?"
That sits Tony back because it's a good question.
"I don't know. I don't think so. I do know Gibbs very well, we've worked together a long time, and I know that anything that offended him like that little sentinel did would be almost guaranteed to piss me off. Which I did.
"I don't think it's about Gibbs, though. Derek Morgan's probably my best friend and I would say I know him that well. Chegwidden's familiar enough I could guess his reaction to something like the little jerk. And Tanner -who I know is younger than me, and Larabee, his mate.
"So I think it's just about an asshole being an intolerable asshole. Most men that young are nothing but asshole horn-dogs.
"It also about not feeling like a total pedo. And about being overwhelmed by the sheer number of sentinels that were in that room. I have never felt like prey before but that did it and I refuse to do go through that again."
Tony stops to think, his mind is racing but doesn't particularly seem to have any traction.
"You've gone through this?" Tony asks the room, jerking his chin at the guides. "Both of you?"
"Yup!" Face says, popping the 'p' playfully.
"Nope!" Blair pops his 'p' too before grinning at the both of them. "I'm one of that lucky 20% that comes online when their perfect match enters their airspace. One minute I'm walking through a hole-in-the-wall pizza join in downtown Cascade. Next moment I'm in the arms of a growly, aggressive sentinel. He couldn't let anyone near me until the alpha cleared out the restaurant and most of the block. It was all very beautiful and natural and romantic.
"Right up until the moment my sentinel asked me to kill him."
"What?!?" Tony just about shouts.
Jim, for his part, just sighs gustily and turns his eyes to the heavens. "You have to see it from my point of view.
"I was 22 years old. Almost five years in the Army, a Ranger the entire time. In and out of heavy amounts combat the entire time, mostly in. I was home, just off yet another tour overseas and out of nowhere I'm suddenly bonded to this beautiful, brilliant, young academic. He was maybe 15."
"I was a week away from 16, as well you know. Had just gotten my first Doctorate."
"Right. Young." Jim rolls his eyes."I couldn't remember how it happened. I thought I forced my guide.
"I just knew I was broken and corrupt on a level I couldn't identify and I would never be the man he needed his sentinel to be, so I asked my alpha to kill me. He said no. No explanation, no nothing. Just no. I took that to mean Blair had to do it."
"Needless to say that conversation was horrible." Blair rubs his hand along Jim's arm. "Between my training and his issues we didn't leave the Center for a year and a half. It. Sucked."
Tony just stares at them, not even sure what to do with that. He couldn't imagine how a relationship could recover from that kind of trauma, especially not one so loving and committed as Jim and Blair's. But maybe that's how they got to be so loving and committed? Tony just shakes his head and looks at Face.
Face rolls his eyes and gives him a little smile. "I went through this twice. Once when I came online and once after I went through Crisis because my parents died. Didn't find my sentinel either time. This stubborn old bastard didn't even come online until two years ago when we witnessed our CO's supposed murder." He serves his sentinel a big, false grin.
Hannibal for his part just pulls the gum out from where it's sticking out of his guide's teeth and pointedly throws it away in Tony's bedside trashcan.
"'Supposed murder'? That sounds like a story."
"Oh, it is. If you're good maybe we can have story time later. What's your question?"
Not even sure what he was looking for any more, Tony hesitates. The man went through two failed Sentinel Presentations and found his bond mate anyway, surely he knows how this should be done. "Advice?"
Face nods. "Make the cuts you feel are necessary. Be firm. Stick with it. And no matter what this guy says," He shoots a look at his own Sentinel, Hannibal Smith. "What inspires you to make a cut doesn't matter, just make sure you are doing it for you and no one else before you commit.
"If you don't find your sentinel here, there's a reason for it and 'because you were too picky' will never be the reason."
"Okay," He nods. "Anyone three or more years younger than me goes. That's firm."
Jim and Hannibal both nod and start moving for the door. "Understood. They'll be gone in an hour."
"Alright. Today we are going to do implantation training."
Tony nods. "That's how you and Face trained me to be a guide while I was sleeping."
"Yes, exactly." Blair agrees with a nod. "Though I would not say we trained you, per se. We didn't brain wash you into being a proper guide. You aren't actually trained yet. It's more like we gave your mind the map of the skills you need with this process. Once you've walked the map -or used the skills- three times, the skills are yours."
Tony nods, he's seen that. In the training, in his head. He just hadn't really tried to articulate it before now.
"Here's the plan." Blair continues. "We have three volunteers from the Center Cafe. You are going us implant training to teach each of them a recipe and they will make it for lunch for us today."
Tony grins and rubs his hands together, "I hope you like Italian."
Blair laughs and waves him toward the first volunteer.
Tony sits on a meditation mat with woman and mentally reviews the process. He holds his mind in the way it feels in his, well, map and once he's ready he reaches into the woman's unguarded mind. Implantations can only be done on unguarded minds, so they are good there. He focuses so that he doesn't wonder into anything that his volunteer would consider private. Contact made, he walks himself through making his favorite lasagna recipe step by step. He can see himself going through the from-scratch process and have gives that to her.
When he's sure she's gotten every step, he closes the imprint and pulls out of her mind.
"Well done!" Blair clasps him on the shoulder. "Good time, too. Only 10 minutes. Ready to do the next one?"
"Yeah. I'll probably need a nap after the third one though."
Blair nods as the next gentleman settles on to the mat in front of Tony. "Most of us do."
Eating with a group of sentinels is no end of fun for Blair.
It's awesome to watch the hierarchical behavior take place. The predatory-pride behavior blooming to live even in the middle of a Center dining room. All without any discussion.
They all get their food and silently jockey for seats. They never the same seat two meals in a row as they oscillate between the need to be close to Tony to gain his regard and the need to be his first line of defense from whatever might be on the other side of the dining room door.
Once placement is settled, one randomly selected non-alpha will try the food to make sure, despite the painfully thin odds otherwise, that the food is safe.
Then the unbonded non-alphas will try it.
Then the unbonded alpha-potentials.
Then the bonded sentinels. Their bondmates. And last Tony.
The funniest part to Blair, though, is watching Tony fall into line with this behavior without even realizing what he's doing.
Of course today things are different. Today the progression is more rapid and dramatic than usual though it is still evident. Once that first sentinel-sacrifice moans his appreciation of the food, the wave of first bites goes very quickly.
Blair shoots Tony a quick glance and finds the other man looking benevolently amused. He catches Tony's eye and tilts his head in question.
"It's strange to hear such.. appreciation 30 voices strong."
"It just means your lasagna is awesome." Blair grins, chewing his own bite. "Did she get it right?"
"Oh, yeah." Tony grins, taking another smacking bite.
They chat almost idly about Tony's experiences in training so far as they eating. Blair can't help but be impressed with how articulate and insightful the other man is. His sentinel will be a really lucky person, no matter who Tony ends up picking.
In an attempt not to influence Tony, Blair tries not to smile when he sees Daniel Jackson stand and make his way to the head table. He's one of the sentinels Blair thinks would best fit Tony emotionally even if they aren't terribly compatible professionally. A person's more than their profession though and the Program Dr. Jackson is involved in could probably use someone like Tony.
They're cute together too. Both physically gorgeous with ready minds and quick to laugh.
"I heard you say that you speak six languages?" Ah, of course that would get Dr. Jackson's attention. The idea that maybe he and Tony share a hobby and proficiency. "Does that include English?"
"No, actually it doesn't. I speak 6 plus English."
"What got you into languages?"
"I actually grew up tri-lingual. English is my third language even though it's what I speak most commonly."
"I think I'm a little jealous." Dr. J admits with a small smile. "What all can you speak?"
"Well, first I got Italian from my paternal grandparents. Then Spanish from my parent's housekeeper and her family.
"My parents made me learn English just before I started school."
And that? That actually hurts Blair. The idea that Tony's parents didn't have enough contact with him to influence him linguistically until he started school is painful. How could they have had so little to do with him that his, well, his paternal grandparents and the housekeeper had so much more influence on such a basic part baby Tony than they did? Poor baby Tony.
"I took German in school because no one else I knew could speak it and I thought it was hilarious."
"French because it didn't make sense to speak Spanish and Italian and not fluent in French too. I want to take up Portugese and Romanian eventually."
"To complete the set." Daniel Jackson agrees with a nod, making Tony grin.
"Mandarin on a dare to prove I could do it but I'll probably do Cantonese too some day.
"Arabic because I wanted to know what the Quran really says and for a while it looked like I was going to be assigned over there.
"Oh, and recently I've been working on Hebrew. "Tony tilts his head to one side as asks. "How is your Hebrew?" in Hebrew.
Jackson's smile goes a little tense as he answers in the same language. "Fluent. Why Hebrew?"
Blair can feel the trap in that question. He looks a warning at Tony but the man's focus is fixedly on the sentinel in front of him.
"Because one of my co-workers likes to 'mutter to themselves' in Hebrew and I wanted to be sure what they were saying matches what they told me they were saying."
"And does it?"
"Well that's fucking rude." Jackson says angrily, in English.
It really fucking is. Blair cuts in to ask. "This is David?"
Tony doesn't nod or physically react in anyway but Blair can feel Tony's affirmation.
Blair looks to Face. Face doesn't speak Hebrew but he does speak Arabic and had obviously following the conversation based off his tight lipped frown.
Somebody obviously missed something if David is capable of blatantly disrespecting a guide like Tony in such a way. They'll have to bring it to the Council because this will change her compatibility scores, especially with Tony.
Mentally Blair is already taking points off Sentinel David's score and giving them to sentinels at her currently level hat he knows will give Tony the respect he is due.
Like Evan Lorne. Or Dr. Jackson himself.
It's really fucking boring hanging around the Center while Tone makes his way through guide training.
Not that any of his possible matches are going to leave the grounds for anything short of dismissal directly from Tony. He could decide at any moment that it's time to pick his sentinel and no one wants to miss it.
Sure, it's completely unlikely to happen this early in his training but it could happen.
That's how Gibbs ends up hanging out in a Center rec room with three other sentinels chatting about -surprise surprise- Tony.
The first, an FBI Agent named Derek Morgan is actually a personal friend of Tony. Gibbs hadn't realized that they were close. He knew they shared a gym but the news about the kids basketball league the two put together explains Tony's suddenly passionate stance on the sacredness of Saturday.
The other two in their little seating arrangement are AJ Chegwidden and Harmon Rabb Jr. Lawyers. JAGs, yes, but lawyers. Ugh.
Again Gibbs hadn't realized Tony's friendships with these men were so friendly. So personal. He thought their relationships were strictly professional but he was wrong. Of course, if anyone could overcome a murder accusation to make legitimate friends with someone it would be Tony, so maybe he really shouldn't be surprised.
"So, all those moans at lunch gave me a thought." Tony says from three rooms away. Probably to one of the alpha guides.
All conversation in the rec room stops as all the sentinels in it tilt their heads to eavesdrop.
"Okay." Alpha Prime Guide Face Peck says leadingly.
"Well, we've got like 30 sentinels left, right?"
"And only four of those are women."
"Is that a problem?"
Silence. Probably a headshake or hand wave, Gibbs refuses to look. "Two of those women are mated to each other. So really there are only three choices that end in females, right?"
"So nine out of ten options out there ends with a dick in my ass." Face chokes and spits whatever he was drinking. Gibbs sympathizes even as he finds it hilarious. "Possibly two dicks. I've never been double penetrated before."
Gibbs swallows and shifts in his chair. The air conditioned room is suddenly warm and he's trying really not to think about his dick actually being inside his SFA.
"I actually haven't slept with a man at all in like four years." A few sentinels in the roomgive little needy moans. "I have a witness. The last guy I slept with is actually here."
The mood-scent in the room changes immediately. Arousal is shot in the back by aggression and several little sentinels focus on him.
"Oh poor Gibbs." Alpha Prime Guide Blair Sandburg says mournfully.
Gibbs can hear Tony frown. "Why poor Gibbs? What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing. They're just going to all be so hostile with him because you slept with him."
Tony laughs, its a little mean. "First of all, Gibbs is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to correcting poor behavior so don't poor anything him and second, I've never slept with Gibbs."
"If Gibbs hasn't figured out who he is, I imagine he will soon." Gibbs eyes shoot the Derek Morgan, not really sure why but the man has his eyes closed as he seemingly focuses on his hearing. "He'll guard the hell out of the guy, too. Probably assume I'm partial to him." Well, duh. "He has that whole stupid self sacrificing thing going on."
Blair Sandburg sputters a laugh.
"Now that's not to say I wouldn't have slept with Gibbs. My ass has been on offer for like a year now and he has to have known it but he's never touched me. Rule 12."
"I've heard about his rules." Blair responds. "But I think it's more a force issue that kept his hands to himself." Pause. Some sort of gesture or something probably. "If you came online while he was fucking you, you would have bonded automatically."
"That's not to say he doesn't want to bond you!" Face takes over in a rush. "He's here, so obviously he does but alpha-potentials are very sensitive on the topic of force. Like Blair said about Jim. Gibbs would have seen it as forcing you online and forcing you to bond. It would have been intolerable."
"I don't know. I think I'd have been fine with that. With Gibbs? At least we wouldn't be confined to the Center right now."
One of the alphas snorts. "Oh, you definitely would be."
"What?" Gibbs can almost hear the click of things falling into place in Tony's head. "Oh. Right. Implantation training only works on someone in an unguarded mental state. Once you're bonded you're never in an unguarded mental state because of your sentinel.
"God, Blair that sucks! I thought you and Jim were just stuck at the Center for being dramatic but damn." Silence. "Wait, so does that mean the guy I actually slept with didn't care about forcing me? Because that's really shitty. And he's here."
"Probably not." Sandburg says after a pause. "There's no telling if he knew what you were then. You said it was years ago, right? And you met him and Gibbs at the same time basically? You have to realize that being exposed to Gibbs -a sentinel in need- everyday. For years. Brought your guide genetics forward. It's entirely possible that your guide genetics were weak in your scent pile when you met them but the longer you were exposed to Gibbs, the stronger your guide traits became.
"In some ways you began to cycle on within a few months of meeting them but at the beginning you would have just registered mundane to their senses."
"I would say ask him." Face puts in. "I think it's unlikely that he was trying to force you. A guy like that would have gone dormant already but if you want to be sure, ask. Or we can have Jim ask. I have yet to meet anyone that could lie to Jim."
"Okay," Pause. "So, the point I was trying to make- I want to be ready and to be re-acclimated to anal sex for when I bond, so I need toys. I have a prostate massager at home but I think I need one here. A dildo would be good. Maybe a plug or two in different sizes? Oh! How about a vibrating-"
Gibbs forces himself to pull away from the conversation. Seriously. He does not need to think about Tony and sex toys at the same time. His sanity needs him not to think about it.
Morgan shifts in his chair, drawing Gibbs's attention back to him yet again.
"You know, suddenly I have a lot of pent up energy." The four of them laugh. "I'm thinking about some basketball. You in?"
"You know if we start to play," Gibbs smirks and tilts his head to mean 'Tony will show up.'
"Oh, yeah." Derek answers with a laugh. "He has a built in radar for the game but, then, anyone that played on the level he used to would."
"Then we'd better make it a good show."
Three vs three basketball is something Tony has seen and played hundreds of times. Full court, half court, no matter. Hundreds of times.
But watching sentinels do it? That's something new and exciting.
It's all-male players with is fine and fairly typical. All sentinels, of course. But it's Skins versus Skins.
Watching six of the sexiest, most buttoned up men he's ever met prance around in nothing but basketball shorts and tennis shoes? Sigh him up! Twice a day, please.
Besides the eye candy, the interpersonal dynamics are fascinating.
They're playing full court because even when they are working together sentinels need room to occasionally reassert their boundaries. Which they do between bursts of the most ruthless basketball Tony's ever seen.
On top of that, the team assignments are fluid.
That is to say that the alpha-potentials on the court, Jethro and Admiral AJ, have their basket assignments and stick to them but the other four are constantly switching allegiance.
The first time one of the, well, betas stopped at half court, turned, and shot for the backed he had just defended, Tony is flabbergasted because what the hell? Derek knows better than that!
Then Frank Moses, the sentinel that came online two years after retiring from the CIA, sidles up beside him and explains the situation as he notes the score in the little book he apparently carries with him all the time.
Any team game or sport played by only sentinels quickly becomes a friendly dominance competition. It makes the sentinels work on the silent communication that is vital to their group combat in the field. It keeps them engaged, paying attention, as they manage the point of the game -in this case the ball and scoring. At the same time as they negotiate and renegotiate team membership with looks, body language, smells, and heartbeats.
Half an hour in and Tony still doesn't have a grip on how they are doing it. The game is almost completely silent and physical indications Moses mentioned are so tiny that Tony just can't seem to see them no matter how hard he tries. He has nailed down Gibbs' posture and facial twitch that means he's won someone over. And he's pretty sure he can tell when Admiral AJ realizes he's lost someone but the rest is a mystery.
A sexy, sexy mystery.
As he watches, Ian Edgerton pulls off his shirt and leans forward in anticipation. Gibbs breaks from the group and tags the other alpha-potential in. And the two alphas just switch places. Without a word between them.
One of the Center people hands Gibbs a water bottle and a towel as he settles on to the bench, not far from Tony.
"How you doing, Tony?" The sentinel asks with an easy smile. It's a smile he's seen once or twice before over steaks at Gibbs' place and it's honestly one he could do with seeing more often.
"You made me personalized porn, how do you think I'm doing?"
Gibbs smile grows and he takes a pointed little sniff. They both laugh.
"Well, that's what happens when you talk about getting a dick in your ass in a building full of sentinels that all want their dicks in your ass."
Tony feels himself blush as they both laugh again.
"We all suddenly had a bunch of energy to waste." Gibbs nods to the court. "Not the reaction you expected?"
"I figured there would be a reaction." Tony starts honestly. "But I could never have expected what all I got."
Gibbs grins again. "You didn't enjoy shopping for sex toys with Blair Sandburg?"
"God!" Tony groans heartily, making Gibbs laugh again. "I didn't know shopping from a catalogue could be mortifying. He wanted to show me his collection. Just what he brought on the trip but still.
"It was all the worst parts of realizing your mom's a sexual being -a really kinky one- bundled up and delivered to me."
More Gibbs laughter. God Gibbs is beautiful. He always is but especially like this. All open, smiling and flirty. Free. It's the first time he's seen anything that actually supports Ducky's repeated statements that Tony and Gibbs are actually a lot alike.
The first time he's seen the man Gibbs keeps locking in a dragon-guarded box of dominance and aggression at work. It's amazing. It's enthralling.
And Tony has no idea what to do with it.
Training Day 16 - the Empathic Scan.
He doesn't have many skills left to learn. His shields are thick and layered. He can get general emotional readings easily on both individuals and crowds. Lie detection is a go. Imprint training, done. His trek into the Spirit Realm was a win and he's got the gist of future reading.
He'll be ready for a bond any day now. If he can figure out what he wants in a bondmate.
To that end he's working through his empathic scan training on his presumptive sentinels.
According to Blair, if it doesn't help him figure out what he's looking for it will definitely help him figure out what he doesn't want which is almost as good. And hopefully the bonded pair's observations and some statistical analysis will help him figure out the rest.
"We'll start with someone familiar." Blair technically tells him but obviously everyone in the room takes Blair's direction. At Tony's nod, Sandburg calls Gibbs to the stage.
And it's so damn awkward. What do you say in this situation to someone you've known as long and as well as he's known Gibbs? What's new to talk about to get his mind engaged and off Tony's scan?
"I hope you -I hope all of you- realize that no matter who I bond with, my bromance with Daniel Jackson is sacred." Gibbs laughs, his shoulders relaxing a bit, and Tony starts his scan. "I'm serious! You don't get to mess with it."
"As long as it remains platonic, I don't mind." Gibbs assures him.
Gibbs's mind is warm with honesty and affection. Underneath that there's the steel Tony has always known in Gibbs but it's not the razor-sharpened steel he expected. It's water and it's wind. It's tamed but there's a jaggedness to it.
"I didn't know language was such a big thing for you, Tone."
He nods, mostly focused elsewhere. "It's fun and it helps me think in different modes. Makes me a better investigator.
"Most people that know just tolerate my language thing or ask me how it's going to make money but he's a total enabler. He understands the learning just to learn it thing and it's really cool. I've never had that before."
"Yeah. We were talking about my learning Hebrew at lunch the other day." Gibbs nods and his face does the thing Tony has always interpreted as impatience with unnecessary information but all he gets from the sentinel is amused curiosity. "He had suggestions to help with my difficulties with the written before I even told him about the problems I've been having.
"He pointed me at youtube videos to help and got me books. On Hebrew and on all the languages I said I wanted to learn. And Latin, which would apparently be helpful if I join him on the job."
"Latin? Helpful in deep space radar telemetry?" Gibbs's face is pretty much blank but he can feel the sentinel's disgust with the terrible cover story and just starts laughing.
They talk for several moments about Gibbs's languages -German, French and Russian apparently- and he learns that Gibbs does in fact play the guitar. Or rather that he used to when his life involved a wife and daughter but that he's picked it up again, which is cool because it lets him peak into the deeply-hidden-love part of Gibbs that is usually hidden from everyone.
At Blair's prompt he moves on the Derek, then Admiral AJ, then Vin and his mate Chris. Harm comes after the mated pair.
She's a beautiful woman. It's impossible to miss normally but surrounded by the men of her kind it's even more evident. She's primal. She's vital.
She's ugly on a cellular level.
She is personally able to force him and she's willing to do it here in this room, in front of these witnesses.
It's horrifying and now he knows exactly why alphas are so sensitive on the subject.
"No." He stands quickly, knocking his chair over in his haste. "No." He pulls his feelers back but her mind chases him. He slams his shields up, as closed and sealed as he can manage.
Physically, he turns to run. She makes the pretense of concern and begins to race toward him herself.
"No! Stop!" She's almost to the stage. "Stay away!"
He trips over the damn chair.
The world goes black.
Tony is really fucking tired of waking up when he doesn't remember even trying to fall asleep.
The waking up part is awesome... but how did he get in the middle of all these bodies? There are at least four in the bed with him. And he didn't bond. There's no one else sharing his mind space and he's not sore anywhere.
Tony opens his eyes and turns to face Hannibal, having to lean up to do so over Face.
He's sandwiched in between the two alpha guides that have been mentoring him these last few weeks and of course their sentinels are on the outside of the arrangement. Jim between them and the door, Hannibal between them and the window.
"A sentinel tried to force you," Hannibal answers at a soft volume but not in a particularly gentle manner. "You gave yourself an low level empathic crisis trying to escape and shield against her."
"Your sentinels rioted." Blair says, wiping at his sleepy face. "Man, it was ugly."
"Did anyone-?" Tony doesn't want to ask, not really, but the reality of sentinel combat is they don't stop at injury. They don't fight to disable just like they don't take prisoners.
"No but only because we were given access to some stupidly top secret med tech." Hannibal answers. "Otherwise all the sentinels in the room would be sporting at least one cast somewhere."
Tony winces. "Ziva?"
"Is gone. The Council is not happy with her. God only knows what they're going to do."
"The Council took over the whole situation." Blair puts in. "The head of the Council is on site with his security personnel. Sentinel Saito kicked every sentinel on her compatibility level or lower out of here."
"But Daniel was on her level." Tony protests. "Lorne and Larabee, too. You can't tell me any of them would force anyone."
"No, you're right. I can't." Blair agrees. "But they're still here." Tony frowns at the older guide. "She lost a few compatibility points when we reported the Hebrew thing. They didn't give her points to anyone else, which is what I wanted, but she lost them. So anyone at 94.3% or lower is gone."
"So that leaves me with what? A dozen to choose from?"
"Something like that." Hannibal answers in a dry sort of tone. "You should know that the event inspired a few to form mated pairs. The Saitos are interviewing them to make sure they are doing it for the right reasons so we've got a few days to get you on your feet."
Back on his feet? "I feel fine."
The two bonded pairs all exchange looks. Oh, boy.
It takes a week for Tony to recover from his mini crisis.
Jesus, he never wants to go through a real crisis.
Now he's standing outside. There are about a dozen sentinels standing in a rough semi circle in front of him and three bonded pairs at his back including the heads of the Council, Sentinel Saito and his wife.
It's time. And this time he's not afraid. Not nervous at all. He knows what he wants, what he needs, and he knows how to find it. He's not sure he will find it here but he's going to try.
He reaches inside and touches the primal part of his soul. A wolf appears at his side. He's a little larger than a natural wolf, furred in shades of gray and silver. His eyes are green, an exact match of Tony's own.
The wolf looks at him, expectantly. "Well, go on then."
The wolf gives his a little boof and steps off the concrete walk way and into the garden full of sentinels. After a count of five, Tony himself steps onto the grass.