Chapter One: Abandonment – Both Real and Perceived
When Guide Dr. Spencer Reid was a small child, his favorite person in the world was his older brother Alec. The child of a brief relationship his mother had in college abroad before she met William Reid, Alec was given to the father after birth, and Diana was sent back to the United States. Despite that, Alec was allowed to keep in contact with his mother, especially after his father and stepmother were both killed. Being a Dormant Guide with a documented mental illness, the S&G Center in England had not been willing to give custody of a minor child, whom they guessed would be a rare Swing SentinelGuide, over to someone with shaky mental capabilities, even without the complications of her Dormant Guide state. As a child though, even as smart as he was, it didn’t really occur to Spencer that Alec not living with them was anything but ordinary.
As Spencer saw it, the facts were as follows. Alec had always been his brother. Alec had always loved him and made sure that Spencer knew he loved him. Alec had always lived far away limiting contact to mostly letters in whatever language Spencer was learning at the time and the occasional phone call. Despite the 12-year age difference, there hadn’t been a time when the young genius could remember not adoring his big brother and feeling secure that despite the rest of the chaos in his life Alec would always be there for him.
And then, he wasn’t.
Spencer found out who his Sentinel and Soul Match would be just after Spencer’s father left when he was 10. The trauma and angst of the event and the knowledge that he would be responsible for his mother’s care at such a young age caused him to come online. He could vaguely remember being huddled up in a ball in his bedroom crying his heart out and screaming that he needed his “Forever”. That was always what his mother had called the person who would end up being his Sentinel and Mate. He couldn’t remember much else about the event but remembered the aftermath distinctly.
There wasn’t another record in written Sentinel & Guide history of such a large age gap in a Soul Match where one of the Mates came online prior to puberty. Spencer hoped sincerely for the wellbeing of others that it never happened again. The strain that it caused to not just himself but his Sentinel, who was an adult college student at the time, was immeasurable. He would never forgive William Reid for the stress that his father placed on Spencer’s Sentinel due to his abandonment. As if having a crappy father of his own wasn’t bad enough, Tony had to live it all over again because of his Guide’s situation. He had always been sure that there would never be anyone else he hated more than William Reid and Anthony DiNozzo, Sr. It seemed though that the world was determined to change that.
~*~~*~ Flash Back ~*~~*~
One moment Spencer was crying in the corner of his bedroom, and the next he was a blue jungle. There was a giant lion laying in the blue grass with a young chimpanzee curled up between the much bigger animal’s front paws, which worried him. Somehow, he knew that the young chimp was his Spirit Animal and he was afraid of what the big cat would do to it.
“Hey, it’s ok,” he heard and quickly turned to see an older man crouched down nearby looking at him. “Sampson won’t hurt him. Is he yours? The monkey I mean?”
“He’s not a monkey,” Spencer corrected frowning as his small body trembled. “He’s a chimpanzee.”
“They aren’t the same thing despite what people think. They aren’t even in the same group of primates. Chimpanzees are a type of great ape and are more closely related to gorillas or orangutans. Monkeys have tails and are lesser apes. They’re more closely related to lemurs and tarsiers. The only thing that chimps and monkeys have in common is that they’re both primates. Mom says that it’s Curious George’s fault that so many people are ignorant to the difference.”
“Is that so?” The man asked smiling slightly. “You like chimps?”
“They’re ok,” Spencer said turning to look at the young chimp, again. “Mamma says that I’m really smart. I’ll be done with High School in two years. Once that happens I want to attend Caltech. Mamma says that some people will call me a genius, but that labels are for lazy people and that I shouldn’t let someone confine me to a box. Are you my Forever? Mamma says that I’ll find my Forever when I am older. I really would like to be older now.”
He watched Tony take a deep breath and look over to where the Spirit Animals were cuddling before turning his attention back to him. “I think so. What’s your name kiddo? I’m Tony.”
“Spencer Walter Reid. I’m in Las Vegas in Mamma and Dad’s house. Only daddy left us, and now it’s just me and mamma. But she’s sick, and I don’t know how to take care of her all by myself, and I’m scared. Can you come get me, please?”
He didn’t understand what he was asking due to his age despite how smart he was already. He only knew that he was scared and needed someone to come help him. When the older man came over and settled at his side, he didn’t hesitate to curl up in his lap. He didn’t understand what a strain he was putting on his Sentinel, or how some would see such an act of comfort as something more. He only knew that he was terrified and that this was someone who could take care of him.
The sound of the doorbell ringing echoed through the blue jungle, he found himself yanked from what he’d later find out to be the Spirit Plain and as a result refused to answer the door. When strangers appeared in his doorway, he’d wished he could crawl through the wall as he listened to his mother screaming obscenities in the background. Between the terror from his father’s abandonment and the pain from the emotional output he was receiving from most of the Las Vegas area, it wasn’t long before his world went dark. This time there was no blue jungle, just blessed blackness.
When he woke up, there were two strange men in his room, and he desperately wished Tony was there with Sampson. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind then the large cat appeared at the end of his bed. When the large animal leaped up to lay next to him, Spencer had immediately curled his little arms around Guide’s neck, resting his cheek in his mane.
“Hey, Spencer, my name is Blair Sandburg. I’m here to help you.” Spencer looked at the older Guide and was doubtful of his promises despite the warm feeling surrounding him.
“Is Tony here?” He’d asked immediately. Then, he’d quickly followed that up with. “Where’s my mom?”
“I want Tony or my mom,” Spencer demanded as he began to cry, again. “I know I’m supposed to be smart, and Mamma says I shouldn’t rely on anyone but myself to find the answers I need, but I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do. I want my Mamma or my Forever! Please, I need my Forever. You’re scaring me! Where’s Tony?”
Spencer watched the curly haired man turn his head away from him and following his gaze saw the frowning man standing by the door with his arms crossed. He couldn’t feel anything coming off him and wondered wh that was because Blair was shielding him. When he was older, he’d understand just how much the situation upset the man who would become his friend and honorary Uncle.
Out in the hall, Anthony DiNozzo, Jr was sitting on a hard plastic chair with his Uncle Stephen, who was a Guide, on one side of him, and his Uncle’s Sentinel, Marcus Stephenson, on the other side. Tony was in his practice uniform for Ohio State University, because he’d been in the middle of basketball practice when Spencer came online. By some miracle, his Uncle Stephen had been in the audience when the connection hit and managed to shield him quickly. So, by the time that he came back from his jaunt to the blue jungle with Sampson, everything was settled around him. Tony came online as a child himself the night his mother died. He’d been in the car with her, and the trauma of the event pulled him online. So, he knew what Spencer was suffering through being so young and having such powerful abilities inside of him.
After some training though, Tony had been able to handle things by himself and hadn’t even needed a conservator. Once the investigation into Anthony DiNozzo, Senior was completed, and his role in his wife’s death was found, Tony’s life improved considerably. Tony always thought that the only reason Senior had paid for his crimes was because of Tony becoming an active child Sentinel. He firmly believed that, had he been a normal child, his father would have gotten away with his crime. As it was, he’d managed to buy his way into a misdemeanor charge and got away with time served and some probation.
What it meant for Tony though was that the Paddington’s had a valid reason to seek custody of him. When things were finally settled, George who was the family head, ended up with Guardianship and Tony moved to England. When it came time for college, he decided that he wanted to go back to the states.
As much as he loved England, and it had become his home, he missed his birth country, and chose Ohio State University because they’d promised him a chance for a spot on the basketball team if he would join the rowing crew. Happy to get a chance at the sport he’d loved as a child, he readily agreed, and after many discussions, his Uncle agreed to let him go. Of course, it didn’t hurt his plan that his Uncle Stephen, who was only 7 years older than him was already in the country teaching archaeology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Stephen was incredibly smart and had gone through his schooling well ahead of other children his age.
“Fuck, Stephen, I’m so sorry,” Tony uttered for what seemed like the 12th time since he’d come back from his discussion with Spencer on the Spirit Plane. “I just keep fucking shit up for you two.”
After arriving in England, Tony had bonded best with his Cousin Edward and his Uncle Stephen who were closest to his age. There had been many times that Stephen and Marcus had put things off because Tony needed them. At least, that’s the way it seemed to Tony.
“Hey, none of that,” Marcus said sternly, and Tony turned worried and guilty eyes his direction. “There hasn’t been a second of our time with you that either one of us regretted. No matter what, it won’t be any different with Spencer.”
“The only thing I regret is that we’ll be mostly cut off from you until he turns 18,” Stephen said softly, and Tony couldn’t help but hung his head. Stephen and Marcus were his lifelines. He knew that at 20 he should be ok with being on his own. Hell, his friends at college loved their independence and the distance between them and their parents. For Tony though, being so far from his Uncles and the rest of the Paddingtons felt like a prison sentence.
“It is what it is,” Tony threw out philosophically. “I’m an adult, and he’s a child. His needs are more important than mine. You two are the only people in the whole world that I’d trust him to.”
“You make sure that you keep in touch with Georgie and Clive,” Stephen ordered sternly as he forced his nephew to look up at him. “And, while Spencer and his needs are important, they will never be more important than you. You are as much a brother to me as my actual brothers are are and we thank the Gods every day that you came to England. Besides, we don’t know yet that it will be a total separation. Blair could…”
“I can’t take the chance, Uncle,” Tony interrupted, his eyes drowning in a panic and pain that Stephen was well familiar with. “I can’t risk being like them.”
“Anthony DiNozzo, you stop right there,” Marcus ordered drawing Tony’s attention again. “You are not now or ever will be like those men at your boarding school. While I understand your fear, I won’t allow you to insinuate something of the sort about yourself. You’re a good man, and we’ll work something out. At the very least, I’ll be able to get to your games and matches and come visit. As a Guide, it will be Stephen who will need to be around the young man as much as possible.”
Tony took a deep breath, and slowly let it out as he nodded. When the door opened though, and Jim stepped out, he, along with Stephen and Marcus, immediately stood. “Jim?”
Tony had a unique relationship with the Prime Pair of the Northern Hemisphere. The two had only been in their position for a little over a decade, and Tony’s situation had been the first of the sort that they’d had to deal with inside of the US. Because of that, they’d taken something of a vested interest in Tony ensuring that he received the love and care that he’d deserved. Blair and Jim both frequently came to see him, and it wasn’t unusual for the pair to show up at a couple of his games a year now that he was back in the States. “How bad is it?” Tony asked as Jim leaned against the wall across from where Tony had been sitting.
“Well, you’re definitely going to have to see him, Kiddo,” Jim advised as he ran a hand over the top of his head. “He’s demanding to talk to either you or his mother, and since she’s obviously not available, then you’re gonna be it. Blair’s worried what will happen if you don’t talk to him. That said, we don’t want you to force yourself to do something that you can’t handle. I want you to know though that we all have nothing but confidence in your ability to stay in control of yourself in this situation. There are things that you, Marcus, and I need to discuss, but that can happen once we have Li’l Bit settled.”
“How do I know that I won’t accidentally force a bond on him?” Tony asked nervously rubbing his hands together, and Jim tilted his head to one side before answering.
“First off, you wouldn’t do that, and secondly Blare will be monitoring things closely. You need to understand though, Kiddo, that for the good of both you and Spencer, you need to form a Platonic Bonding with him before you head back to school.”
“No!” Tony thundered as he stood in a panic. It was only the hand that Marcus put on his shoulder to turn him away from Jim and toward him that kept him from fleeing. “Hey, hey, it’s ok. Breathe for me, D. Look, why don’t you, Jim and I go into the room the hospital offered for your use and talk. Stephen can go in and let Blair and the kiddo know what’s going on.”
Tony huffed as he folded his arms across his chest. “This is stupid. I’m acting like a baby.”
“No, you aren’t,” Marcus said firmly but calmly. “You’re acting like someone who understands firsthand the consequences that occur when adults take advantage of children. You’ve been thrust into a situation that no one could expect you to be ready for. Bonding is stressful enough, but to find out that your Soul Guide is ten years younger than you when you’re barely out of childhood yourself would be a lot for someone who had come from a well-adjusted home. Come on. Come with me. Jim, you too.”
Not really being given a chance, Tony followed Marcus to the conference room on Spencer’s floor that the hospital staff had set aside for his use. Once inside, he flopped down into one of the comfortable chairs and stared at the floor until a cold bottle of water appeared in front of his face. “It’s gonna be ok, Kiddo,” Jim said as he held out the water. Nodding, Tony took it and flashed a weak smile before the Prime Sentinel and Marcus settled around him.
“Let’s get this bullshit about you beating yourself up out of the way, ok?”
Tony nodded, with both hands wrapped around the water bottle, and his eyes focused stubbornly on a specific tile on the floor. He was surprised that Jim didn’t demand that he look up. The older man usually did, but he appreciated the little privacy that he was being allowed.
“Before either Blair and I or the Paddington’s could get you away from your asshole father, the bastard shoved you into a crappy private school after your mother was murdered. You were stuck there for 8 months while we fought him and the courts. If that wasn’t enough, the only friend you’d made at that shithole killed himself because a teacher was forcing him to have sex with him. You were, in my opinion, as much his victim as your friend despite the fact that he never touched you. Even without that, this situation with Spencer should freak you out.
“You’re 20 years old, and he’s 10. Someone or something has given you one hell of a karmic backhand across the face. My guess is that you have so much information in your head right now from the classes you’ve been taking at OSU on Sentinel & Guide abnormal psychology, that you haven’t been able to stop and really examine how you’re actually feeling. So, let me tell you what I can see as the Prime Sentinel of the Northern Hemisphere, ok?”
When Jim didn’t continue right away, Tony finally looked up and gave the man a hesitant nod before opening the water bottle and taking a sip. Fearfully, Tony looked at Marcus, as he briefly wished he was still small enough to crawl into the older man’s lap when he was scared. It had been a long time since he’d fit there, but he wasn’t sure that the occasional longing would ever go away.
“I have witnessed a lot of couples in all different situations and at all of the bonding stages. I’ve seen healthy bonds, bonds that worried me, and some that made me hard just looking at them. I can tell you with absolute certainty and no input from Blair on your emotional landscape that you have zero sexual pull toward that child. None.
There is nothing in you that wants to have a sexual adult bond with that boy. Not only that, but you’ve set up way harsher guidelines for yourself than any of us would for anyone in your situation. While I think it unnecessary, I understand your wanting to keep a physical distance from the boy until he turns 18, and I commend you for it. That tells me that you are absolutely the perfect person to be looking out for his welfare. You are not that scumbag, Kiddo, and you need to stop comparing yourself to him. I swear to you on Blair’s life that I will personally be the one to oversee this Guardianship agreement and make sure that everything is done right. That means that you’re going to have to listen to me though. Deal?”
Tony didn’t answer right away as he listened to his conscience war with itself inside of his head. It wasn’t until Marcus stood and moved to sit on the arm of his chair and rested his arm over Tony’s shoulder that he nodded his agreement. He would have answered verbally, but he was still too sick with fear to speak.
“You need to agree to a Platonic Bond. I’m serious when I say that both you and he need it. Even with the Platonic Bond, you may need someone on hand to act as a temporary Guide. I have an idea on that, but if all else fails, your frat brother Steve should be perfect. You’ll also need to keep in contact with the kid. No matter how any of us feel, he’s already attached to you, and won’t handle you disappearing completely. Even with phone calls and letters, it may be rough for a while, but we’ll find a way to manage. Lastly, you are not cutting yourself off from Stephen for 8 damned years.”
Tony opened his mouth to argue, but Jim just glared him into silence. “Blair and I are more than happy to have Spencer stay with us on occasion so that you can still see your Uncle. I’m not sacrificing you to save Li’l Bit when it isn’t necessary.
“I need you to remember that the relationship between you and Spencer at this point is purely platonic, and that means that no one expects you to stay celibate for 8 freaking years. The bond should prevent you from forming any kind of long-term romantic attachment with someone who isn’t Spencer, but you will still be able to and need to see to your own sexual needs. I know you too well to think you can give up sex for 8 years and come out a healthy adult on the other end. Obviously, we’d all like you to be discrete, but don’t harm yourself by trying to live like a monk, ok? And remember. You. Are. Not. Alone!”
Tony nodded, but when his mentor and basically Uncle, even though he and Stephen had never married, pulled his head down to rest on his shoulder, Tony didn’t fight it. For once, he decided it was ok, and allowed himself a few moments of comfort. Who cared if Tony wasn’t a child anymore? He was scared, and Marcus had been making the monsters go away since he was Spencer’s age.
When the door opened, and the man from the blue jungle came in, Spencer found himself sitting up hoping that the man would come over and put his arms around him. It wasn’t often that he wanted to be held. His mother wasn’t big on the whole touch and cuddling thing, but Spencer needed the comfort that he knew Tony could give him. Something deep inside Spencer told him that this was the person that he’d always be able to trust no matter what, and being the smart little boy that he was, Spencer always listened to his instincts.
When the older man came over and sat on the edge of his bed, Spencer happily scooted over to curl into his side. At first, he wasn’t sure Tony would comfort him the way he needed. It seemed like the man froze for a little while, but just as he was about to ask what was wrong, he put his arms around him and kissed the top of his head. “How are you doin’, kiddo?”
“Better now that you’re here,” Spencer admitted as he turned his head to look at the others in the room. In addition to the two men that had been in there before, there were two other men that he didn’t recognize. He couldn’t help but scoot even closer to Tony.
“Hey, it’s ok,” Tony assured, and Spencer managed to turn his gaze away from the strangers and toward his Forever. “They won’t hurt you. In fact, they’re here to make sure that nobody hurts you.”
“But, that’s your job,” Spencer pointed out and frowned at the way the man sighed.
“Yeah, we need to talk about that, Spence,” Tony advised softly as he ran a hand up and down Spencer’s back. He liked it because it made him feel safe. “I get the feeling that you’re really smart for your age, so I’m gonna just explain things. If you don’t understand something though, I need you to promise that you’ll ask a question, ok?”
“Yes,” Spencer agreed watching Tony carefully. He looked nervous, and he wondered what he could possibly have to tell him that was so bad.
“First, I guess, I need to make sure you understand what’s going on here,” Tony started, and Spencer saw that the frown on his face deepened. “I know that your Mamma talked to you about a Forever, but do you know what that means?”
“You are my Forever,” Spencer said with certainty as he pushed up his glasses before launching into an explanation of his understanding. “I am what is called a Guide, and prior to today, I was considered latent because I was not online. When daddy…. When William left, I believe it drew me online pushing me into an Unbonded status. Mamma said that my Forever would be a Sentinel who would take care of me and love me because he was made just for me like I was made just for him. I think that when I was wishing for my Forever really hard because I was scared that it pulled both of us to the Spirit Plane. Because you are the Sentinel that it pulled there with me, logically that means that you are my Forever.”
Tony offered a small smile as he nodded. “That’s about the gist of it, kiddo. Did your Mamma talk to you about Bonding, and what would happen?”
Spencer nodded again as he eagerly relayed the information both his mother had told him and that he’d learned on his own afterward. “Mamma explained a little, but I researched it thoroughly afterward. I wanted to be sure that I was prepared should something like what is going on now happened. I know that for a full bond you would imprint all 5 of your senses on me and then we would have sex.”
“That’s right,” Tony said, and it seemed to Spencer that he was tensing up even more. “Did your Mamma explain sex to you at all?”
“Not really,” Spencer said frowning and chewed his lip a moment before going on. “She tried, but she was having a bad day. So, it didn’t make much sense. We did go over it in one of my health classes though. My teacher stressed to me that I was too young to engage in sexual intercourse. When I did my own research, I found that the age of consent in Nevada is… oh.”
Spencer’s mind raced through the possibilities, and when he looked back up to Tony, he noticed things were blurrier than before. Impatiently, he pushed his hands under his glasses to wipe away the tears. “Does… does that mean that I’m all alone? What will happen to me? No one has told me about Mamma yet, but given her mental state when they came and got me, I cannot imagine that they don’t have her in a hospital. What’s going to happen to her? Am I going to have to go live with da… with William? Am I going to end up in a foster home? I don’t want to be without you!”
When Tony placed another kiss into Spencer’s hair, he pressed his face into the older man’s chest and let himself cry. “Please, don’t leave me, too!”
“Hey now,” Tony said softly as he held him. “No one is leaving you alone, and you aren’t going to any damned foster home. I would never let that happen. You also aren’t going back with that father of yours if I have any say in it. Come on now, let’s wipe your face off, and then there’s someone I want you to meet.”
When Blair held out a washcloth to him, Spencer took it and gave a weak smile before running the cold cloth over his face. Once done, he put his glasses back on and leaned against Tony again. “Now, it’s important to me that you know I am not deserting you, Spencer.”
Looking up at his Forever, Spencer sensed the honesty in the statement and after a few moments, nodded carefully. “I also want you to know that I understand what you’re going through. See, I came online when I was quite young, also. My mother was killed when I was a couple years younger than you. Since my father was the one who killed her, my mother’s family fought for custody of me. I was fortunate that the courts told my Uncle George and Aunt Olivia that they could raise me. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. One of the people I grew up with was my youngest Uncle, Stephen, and his Sentinel, Marcus. I have asked them to take over Guardianship of you.”
Spencer noticed two men approaching the bed and turned his attention away from his Forever to the strangers. “Spencer, the man on the left with dark hair is my Uncle, Guide Stephen Paddington, and the blond is his Sentinel, Dr. Marcus Stephenson, whom I also call Uncle even though they aren’t married.”
“But, why can’t I live with you?” Spencer asked quietly, and because Blair had him so thoroughly shielded, didn’t know how much pain his simple words caused the others around him. When Tony didn’t answer immediately, the newly introduced Stephen came around to sit on the other side of the bed from where Tony was perched.
“I know that this is all confusing,” Stephen began carefully, “especially considering that even though you are a child, you still have some urges pulling at you.” Spencer nodded quickly as he clutched Tony’s arm half afraid the man would vanish.
“The thing is though, kiddo, that you are Tony are at completely different places in your lives, and there are people who will think very badly about him even though there was nothing he could do to prevent your reaching out for him. They’ll assume that even though you will have what is called a Platonic Bond, that Tony wants to do bad things to you.”
“You mean that they’ll think he’s a pedophile?” Spencer asked innocently. When he felt Tony flinch, he quickly shifted his gaze away from Stephen back to up Tony. “But he’s not! I know my Forever would never do the bad things to me!”
“I know, kiddo,” Stephen assured drawing Spencer’s attention again. “We all want to be careful how this is handled, but Tony especially so.”
Spencer’s mind sped through situations and scenarios, and eventually, he turned his attention back to Tony. “You’re going away.”
“Just until you turn 18,” Tony admitted, and someday Spencer would understand the turmoil that his Sentinel had been under that day. In the moment though, all he understood was that Tony was leaving him too. “I’ll call you every day, and we can write letters, too. I just… I have to protect you, Spencer. I know that you don’t understand now and that it only seems like I’m just leaving you like your dad did. I hope that someday you’ll understand and forgive me. Right now though, I have to do what is best.”
“Just go then!” Spencer shouted angry as he tried to push Tony off of the bed. “Go away just like daddy. Go away and leave me with these people I don’t know. Go! I don’t want you here! Leave me alone! I hate you forever!”
“Spencer,” Tony tried, but Spencer just kept shoving at him. “Go away! Go away! Go away!”
Finally, Tony nodded and crossed to the man they’d called Marcus. Spencer watched angrily as the two talked quietly before his Sentinel left. Tony was right. Eventually, Spencer grew up enough to understand. College would do a lot to open his eyes to concepts that 10 yr. old him hadn’t been able to understand, even if he knew them in theory. That day though, all he felt for the world, in general, was anger and hate.
It would last until tragedy brought his Sentinel back into his life just two years later.