Title: One Guide Too Many
Fandoms: NCIS and MacGyver
Characters: Anthony DiNozzo, Jack Dalton, Matilda “Matty” Webber, Angus MacGyver, Riley Davis, Wilt Bozer, Hetty Lange, Marty Deeks, OC-Victor Marks, Jonathan “Jon” Baker, Francis “Ponch” Poncherello, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison
Relationship: Tony DiNozzo/Jack Dalton
Content: Angst, Non-Canon Compliant: Various Fandoms, Tony DiNozzo Leaves NCIS Team, Anti-Ziva, Bad!Team Gibbs, Alternate Universe – Sentinels and Guides Are Known, Matty is kickass, Competent Tony DiNozzo, Unfamiliar Minor Fandom Characters can be treated as OCs
Word Count: 20,199
Author’s Note: This was my first project for the July round of Rough Trade. I have done some timeline shifting to get things to match up better.
Victor Marks is being used with permission from Rivermoon1970 with many thanks.
Summary: When Guide Tony DiNozzo quit NCIS to save Gibbs, it was a final act of loyalty in his mind. While he had no intention of going back to NCIS, he had no clue what he was moving toward. The last thing he expected was to have his path illuminated by Abby’s friend Carol Wilson, who apparently had a completely different identity.
One Guide Too Many
Tony sat on his couch watching Skype and trying to figure out what in the hell that he was doing. It had been a few months since he’d quit NCIS to protect Gibbs from the fallout of the older man’s actions. On the surface, it looked like the same ol’ same ol’. Gibbs’ flock falling on their swords to protect their fearless leader. The former Marine’s loyal St. Bernard leading the pups in a plot to waylay an attack meant to take the Senior Agent down. But underneath, it was so much more than that, and the former Senior Field Agent wasn’t sure that anyone but himself understood that.
Tony wouldn’t be going back to NCIS. Abby was in near hysterics when they told her the plan, but once she realized that it was to protect Gibbs, the Goth was suddenly all onboard. “Anything to protect Gibbsy.” As if none of the rest of them tanking their careers meant anything. She’d tried to come around a few times since he’d quit, but Tony had finally put his foot down and told her that he needed some time alone. Either she gave it to him in the comfort of his own home, or he’d take more extreme measures to find it.
So far, Abby was only playing along. She thought that Tony wasn’t sophisticated enough to know that she’d put a tracking program on his laptop, and he guessed that she was most likely tracking his cellphone as well. The computer was NCIS issued and given to him in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge deal.
He didn’t know precisely what McGee was doing but knew that Vance’s pet would be fine. The Director would never let something negative impact his favorite agent’s massive ambitions. Tony was mostly thankful for that because it meant that Tony could excuse himself from any responsibility and protective instinct that he felt for the younger agent.
Gibbs was…. Well, Gibbs was a mess that Tony didn’t know how to deal with and wasn’t willing to with the older man gone. They hadn’t seen eye to eye for years. Things between them had become more and more strained since Gibbs came back from Mexico and Tony refused to resume their prior arrangement.
Gibbs was a Sentinel who had always refused a formal bond with a Guide using his dead, mundane wife as an excuse. Instead, he’d run through temporary Guides like they were disposable until he ran across Tony in Baltimore. From that point forward, Tony was expected to act as Gibbs’ Guide in any way that benefitted Gibbs while they ignored all the ways that could help Tony but wasn’t. The former Marine was so far into the closet that he’d even passed Narnia up and was working his way to Middle Earth. Tony had never been interested in denying part of himself when it was safe, but it wasn’t until Gibbs took his siesta at Mike’s cabin that Tony realized it was just what the Marine expected him to do.
Once Tony announced that he would no longer be acting as a stand-in Guide for Gibbs outside of emergency work situations, their dynamic shifted. Tony tried to compensate to keep the impact from hitting the rest of the team. Unfortunately, the Team Leader made it well known that he wasn’t happy, and the others were more than ecstatic to revel in the freedom to treat the Senior Field Agent as badly as they’d like.
Why he stuck around, Tony had no idea except that there were a lot of times that NCIS and Gibbs’ basement really felt like home, and he hadn’t wanted to lose that. However, even someone as stubbornly loyal as Tony was had to eventually get a clue. Quitting NCIS was the last act of the Oath of Fealty for a King that he no longer honored. King Jethro and the Kingdom of Gibbs would have to find a way to function without their court jester masquerading as the loyal knight. It was time to move on, and Tony was doing it.
If he could just cut the last unnecessary worry for Ziva.
It was really the Guide in Tony that wouldn’t let go of the need to heal a mentally damaged Sentinel that had been hovering in his stratosphere for ages. It was why he was sitting there in his living room drinking a scotch that he didn’t really want and waiting for her to connect on Skype. He knew that Ziva believed Tony was her true Guide. The former Mossad agent thought that once she was done playing around with more interesting people, Tony would be waiting for her to return to him. Only, he’d had enough with the dog references and Ziva sure as fuck was not his Sentinel.
The only reason he had stuck around this long and let her continue to abuse him was that some part of him knew that she was a damaged Sentinel. There was something inside of him that wouldn’t let him do anything else as long as she was in his space on a daily basis. He’d always had this need to help people, to save them, to heal them, to be that part they were missing until he could find a permanent solution. When he’d first come online, it was something that he’d rebelled against considering that in his entire life no one had ever tried to help him, save him, heal him or be that missing part he couldn’t survive without.
Eventually, though, Tony was forced to choose between saving one boy or letting himself and two children burn, and he’d stopped fighting his instincts. He’d had to work hard to learn how to manage the Chameleon aspect of his Guide gift that had mixed dangerously with his chart-topping St. Bernard aspect.
The Chameleon aspect was a rare trait to be found in a Guide and was customarily seen in Sentinels that did a great deal of undercover work. Most Sentinels with the attribute underwent years of lessons on how to manage the trait so that they didn’t lose themselves in all the twists and turns of their personality. Tony, however, grew up with an abusive father who hated Sentinels and Guides and had most likely killed Tony’s mother because he’d no longer been willing to tolerate her Guide side.
Because of the environment, he grew up in, Tony got no training and had spent so many years in the twists and turns of other people’s needs that he really had lost himself inside of his own Chameleon qualities. It wasn’t until he’d run across Guide Jonathan Cole a year prior, learning in the aftermath of the younger man’s death they shared the same Chameleon and St. Bernard qualities, just what Tony was headed for if he didn’t make changes.
So, he’d spent the last year trying to resist his own urges in order to find the man that hid beneath the bending and twisting masks that made up Tony DiNozzo. Now he was down to the last string tugging at his St. Bernard and Chameleon by the name of Ziva David, and he was finding it hard to turn his back on his own instincts. This was the St. Bernard quality that he was having a hard time cutting off. Ziva was a horribly mentally damaged Sentinel who should have gone dormmate with how twisted she was.
After the fire, Tony had tweaked his class courses and added a great deal of Sentinel and Guide Studies classes to his major because he wanted to learn everything that he could about himself and others like him. He’d learned that the various aspects of a Sentinel or Guide’s makeup had been connected to the different animals that made up the Spirit Guides. A bendable personality was called a Chameleon, enhanced loyalty was a St. Bernard, intense focus was an Eagle, cunningness was a Fox, sneakiness was a Snake and so on and so forth. Some aspects were more often seen in either Guides or Sentinels, but there weren’t any that were strictly one or the other. The other most interesting thing that he’d learned was that the animal your Spirit Guide was represented as your strongest trait that you shared with your True Mate. Since the Moon Bear represented independence, it would be interesting to see how that worked out. If he ever found a mate that is.
That wasn’t going to happen though as long as he was continuing to tether himself to a damaged Sentinel because he was letting his own slightly damaged instincts rule him. Ziva wasn’t right for him. He knew this. Intellectually he was very well aware of this, but every time he tried to cut the last thread between them that St. Bernard part of him reared its ugly head and he found himself hesitating. The biggest problem was that he could, in some ways, really understand Ziva. He knew what it was like to grow up with a father who let his ambitions rule his life. He knew what kind of damage that did to your soul and psyche.
He knew what it was like to long for a familial connection to one of your parents that you would never get healthily and how it skewed every other relationship in your life if you weren’t careful. He knew how loss and death of a loved one damaged you. He knew what it was like to get lost in the classifications that other people put on you instead of just being who you were. He knew how hopeless it could feel to look around you and feel like you had no connection to anyone tangible and no idea how to remedy that.
The difference though was in how they each reacted to those things.
Ziva let anger and pain rule her life and took them out on everyone around her. She manipulated people to try and get what she wanted and expected that everything should be handed to her because of the things that had been done to her. She’d let both the anger and the manipulation become such a part of her that her top two aspects were the alligator, which represented someone quick to anger, and hyena, which represented a manipulative personality.
Ziva thought that the world owed her, whereas Tony though the world owed him nothing. Whereas Ziva let herself be consumed by the negative things in her past, Tony fought every day to push past them. Ziva would never crawl out of the hole that her father had metaphorically thrown him into. Tony had merely burrowed out the other side and gone on with his life.
Tony had fought to change his life, while Ziva expected someone else to change it for her. And, on top of that, she assumed that Tony was the fool who would do it for her no matter how horribly she treated him. The real question was, was Tony going to continue to dance to her tune? Or, was he going to cut the last thread connecting him to the toxic environment that NCIS had become. He knew the answer. In his heart, Tony knew what had to happen.
In his mind, he pictured an old-fashioned razor opening and hovering near the last neon green thread that connected him to Ziva. The color reminded him of a toxic waste spill and thought it was an apt color to represent the relationship he and the Mossad Sentinel shared. As he shut the lid on his laptop, which would shut the machine down, Tony imagined the blade severing the thread and imagined it turning to ash as it died.
He couldn’t actually hear Ziva’s screams of anger wherever she was at but knew it happened. Now that he was free of her and everything else at NCIS beyond Gibbs, he just couldn’t find it in himself to care. He wasn’t scared of any of them anymore. Finally, Tony was his own man again, and for maybe the first time in his life his destiny was his own.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
The next afternoon, Tony was heading down the hallway toward his apartment after his run when he realized that someone was waiting at his front door watching him. His Moon Bear Spirit Guide was lumbering down the hallway next to him. The big spirit guide had popped in next to him as he entered the building, and Tony was curious as to why until now. His Spirit Guide had been protective since his appearance when Tony came online, and an unexpected visitor would certainly bring him around. It took Tony a second to figure out why the woman looked familiar, mostly because she was so out of place in his personal life. Given that he’d only ever had professional contact with her before, the last thing he expected was to find Abby’s friend Dr. Carol Wilson to appear on his doorstep.
“Dr. Wilson?” He greeted, pasting a confused smile on his face as he neared the petite woman. “Is there a problem? I don’t see anyone in white suits, and you aren’t in one either for that matter. So, I assume it’s not a problem with my plague.”
“Special Agent DiNozzo, it’s so good to see you,” Carol offered with a smile holding out a hand for him to shake as he got close. “No, it’s nothing like that. I’m sorry. I didn’t even consider you would worry about that, and I should have. My visit is completely unrelated to that.”
“Is something wrong with Abby?” Tony prompted as he turned to unlock the apartment door, then waved the CDC researcher in ahead of him.
“No, nothing like that either,” she offered, stopping near the middle of the living room. “I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it. Consider me suitably impressed. You have a beautiful home, Very Special Agent DiNozzo.”
Tony let out a startled laugh at the title and gave her a cheeky grin with his head tilted to one side. “Well, I am afraid that while I am still Very Special, I am no longer an agent. Just your normal every day unbonded online Guide with no future prospects in line. So, just call me Tony, please. Would you be terribly offended if I left you for a minute to go shower? I know it’s rude, but I just got done with my run, and…” He trailed off with a shrug, and she smiled back at him.
“No, please, I intruded on your workout. I am happy to wait if you’re comfortable with that, or I can come back at a better time if you’re not done.” She offered, but Tony just waved a hand in the air.
“It won’t take long, and Abby speaks highly of you. Please, make yourself at home. There are drinks in the fridge. I shouldn’t be too long.”
When Carol just waved him off, Tony left without argument, as his mind tried to process why the researcher would be in his apartment, and why he felt like he’d just fallen down a rabbit hole.
Fifteen minutes later, Tony walked out with a frown on his face, having come to a troubling conclusion while he was in the shower. He stood in the entryway between the hallway that led back to the bedrooms and the front living room where Maddie seemed to be wandering around looking at things with a bottle of water in her hands. “So, tell me Ms. Not Carol Wilson, who are you and who do you work for?”
When she turned around and looked at him with a smile on her face, Tony had no doubt that she knew what the hand he had tucked behind his back was resting on. However, there was very little chance that he was going to walk out of his bedroom not armed once he realized that there was no chance that she was some mild-mannered CDC researcher.
“If it makes you feel better when I met Abby I was going by the name of Carol Wilson,” the stranger advised with a shrug. “My name is Matilda Webber, but most call me Matty, and I am the Operations Director for an organization called the Phoenix Foundation. I’m here because I need your help Mr. DiNozzo, and I am willing to answer whatever questions you have. I’d appreciate it though if you didn’t shoot me. It’ll be a bitch to get rid of my security detail in the future if you do.”
Tony tilted his head to one side as he considered the woman in front of him. There was no way she hadn’t been CIA at one time, and he would eat his favorite Italian loafers if she didn’t know Hetty Lange. “Why would a former associate of Hetty Lange’s want me for anything? I’ll leave the gun where it is for the moment, but that’s the best I can offer right now. I also reserve the right to change my mind about that bit, if necessary. I hope you’re hungry and like omelets and bacon. That’s what I had prepped for breakfast, and I haven’t eaten yet.”
Knowing that she’d follow him, Tony turned away from her before she could answer and headed into the kitchen. Studying the tall stools at both his island and the kitchen table in the corner, he frowned but headed to the fridge where he had the ingredients he’d prepped before his run set up. Even though it was nearly lunchtime, Tony’s sleep schedule had veered into staying up into the early hours of the morning and sleeping in later. He’d always been a night owl, and since he hadn’t been in a rush to find new employment hadn’t felt the need to fight his natural urges.
“I’m sorry. I’m not used to having someone of your smaller stature in the kitchen. If you need something, please let me know. There’s a stool around here somewhere that I used recently to change one of the lightbulbs if you need it.”
“I’ll manage, Mr. DiNozzo, thank you though for the offer,” Matty said calmly from somewhere close behind him. “Most don’t think about it.”
Tony wrinkled his nose as he gathered the things he needed and pulling back from the fridge, used his foot to close the door as he frowned down at the woman lurking nearby. “Please, it’s Tony. Mr. DiNozzo is my father, and I don’t like having to think about him if I can help it. Maybe you should start by explaining why Abby thinks your name is Carol Wilson and that you work for the CDC.”
“Well, I very well couldn’t tell her that I worked for the CIA up until about a year ago,” Matty offered with a wry smile. “She doesn’t care for them much more than you do, and for the record, none of us like Trent Kort. As to the different name, I am sure you can figure that out, but I’ll explain anyway. I doubt that you’ll be surprised to hear that agencies other than NCIS have wanted to hire her for years, or they did up until a few years back. When she was in college, I was sent in to assess her as a possible recruit. Eventually, I determined that she wasn’t ready at that time, but possibly could be in the future if she matured in certain areas.”
As used a fork to re-whisk his eggs, Tony just snorted at the ideas, and when Matty spoke again, he thought he heard some amusement mixed with disappointment in her voice. Over the years since then, I’ve kept our friendship alive hoping that something would change and whomever I worked for at the time would be able to recruit her. Unfortunately, it’s become apparent that isn’t going to happen, and now I keep our friendship alive more to monitor her as a possible threat instead.”
“You think Abby could turn all Dark Side?” Tony asked turning to frown at her noticing that she’d managed to climb up onto a stool and was perched at the island.
“I think that Abby could easily be seduced by the right person into doing something that she doesn’t realize how dangerous it is if they whisper the right things in her ear to feed her ego,” Matty explained sounding regretful, and Tony couldn’t help but admit at least to himself that she was most likely right.
“As to Henrietta, while we were co-workers once upon a time, and get along, that doesn’t mean that we agree on everything,” Matty continued, and her words made Tony pause what he was doing to turn and look at her. “I’ve always thought that Hettie got too attached to her little-lost lambs and was at times far too manipulative of those under her.
“Jenny Shepard was one of her little projects, and it’s my opinion that, like others around the former NCIS Director, she wasn’t willing to admit firstly that the woman chose to end her life instead of dying a horribly slow death that would have robbed her of her dignity long before it took her life. I also think that she made a lot of terrible decisions toward the end. One of them being that terrible undercover mission to avenge her father’s death and the second being the placement of Eli’s little girl on your team. I am not Hetty, Tony. I can see further than the end of my nose, and I know who was to blame for Director Sheppard’s death. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I’m not saying that because I really need you to help me, either.”
“And just what is it you need me to help you with?” Tony asked as he leaned back against the counter while he waited for his pan to pre-heat.
“I need you to accept a bond with a Sentinel who is a Perfect Match for you and prevent two men I work closely with from ruining their lives.” She advised matter-of-factly, and Tony just gaped at her. He’d been waiting for his Sentinel for longer than he cared to remember but had more or less given up hope.
Now, this woman who had been masquerading as an acquaintance of one of his friends just shows up out of the blue asking him to help her by bonding with this person. It was quickly becoming clear that Tony had lost his mind, because if this whole situation wasn’t some big hallucination, then Karma was laughing her ass off at him. The fucking bitch.
Huffing, Tony just turned around and went back to his cooking, putting Matty and her insanity out of his mind while he worked. Maybe when he got done, he’d be out of this Twilight Zone he’d found himself in.
Otherwise, he was seriously screwed, and not in a fun life-affirming way either.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
Tony was finishing up the two omelets with the bacon on a paper towel on the counter to get some of the grease off of it when his Moon Bear Spirit Guide named John Atlas popped back in resting against his side. It was one of Tony’s Frat Brothers who helped him name the Spirit Guide when Tony came online at OSU. Gregory noted the irony of someone who lived in Ohio having a Moon Bear and threw out John Glenn as its name as a nod to the famous Ohio astronaut. Tony wanted something cleverer though, so they had a rousing drunken debate between Mercury Glenn and John Atlas.
Years later when he’d been stuck in the sewers with Bill Atlas, Tony was glad he’d stuck with his guns declaring that it was his Spirit Guide that helped get the Marine out. Mercury Glenn sounded too much like a car dealership anyway. It had given the two of them something else to talk about while they were trapped, and a way to keep the Gunnery Sargent engaged while Tony tried to get them out.
As he lowered a hand to rub Atlas’s head, a pure white miniature dog that Tony guessed to be an American Eskimo Dog appeared on the counter next to him. “No Spirit Guides on the counter,” Tony admonished shaking a finger at the dog playfully only to get a bark and a dance before it leaped at Atlas who caught it happily. Tony couldn’t help but roll his eyes at his Spirit Guide who was hugging the toy dog happily and felt his awareness of Matilda Webber surge as their Spirit Guides bonded. Given that moon bears were supposed to be fierce, grumpy and independent, Tony figured Atlas was the most cuddly and happy moon bear ever.
Tony wasn’t sure what he thought of this whole situation with his Sentinel and the other Guide and wanted to be irritated that Matty was using her Spirit Guide to find out how Tony felt about the entire thing. Well, now she knew he was conflicted about it. Tony had been waiting for his Sentinel for longer than he wanted to think about, but it sounded like he wasn’t going to get the man easily. Sighing, after plating everything, he picked up the two plates of food and headed to the kitchen table where Webber was waiting for him.
“Tell me about this situation, and why my Sentinel was kept from me,” Tony ordered, and fortunately Webber seemed to accept it, understanding the answer might get her closer to what she wanted.
“Your Sentinel’s name is Jack Dalton,” Matty started before taking a bite of her omelet and moaning, “and if all your dishes are this good, you can cook for me anytime.”
“Anyway, back to Jack. He is paired with a Guide named Angus MacGyver who is the Foundation’s primary operative at the moment. Without betraying too much of Mac’s personal secrets, he has some anger over abandonment issues thanks to things that happened in his childhood. He then hooked up with a Sentinel under the encouragement of the former Director who was a total traitorous bitch and was working for the bad guys, by the way. This Sentinel, Nikki Carpenter, was a horrible match for Mac, but Thornton had her own agenda, and Mac ended up getting the short end of things when Nikki faked her own death for some get rich scheme she had. That pushed Mac further toward Jack, who has been acting as his protector since Mac was in the military.
“The problem is that Mac is becoming a little too attached to Jack, and the two, while they make great friends, would be a horrible Sentinel and Guide pairing. Neither of them would reach their full potential and eventually their incompatibilities would ruin both their mating and their friendship. No one wants to split up Mac and Jack’s working relationship, but there needs to be a better mix in their personal lives to save the team they’ve built. In order to do that, we need to get them both paired. Unfortunately, Mac is being stubborn and refuses to let us do a search for his Sentinel. Luckily though, Jack is much more willing, or at least prone to doing what I want when I threaten him, and when your name came up as one of the possibilities, I knew it was a sign that we were on the right track.”
“So, you want me for my series of animal ratings so that I can corral your Sentinel and save their team? Oooh, how can I resist such a titillating offer?” Tony threw back sarcastically before biting off a piece of his bacon and chewing noisily showing his frustration.
“Initially, maybe,” Webber admitted with a shrug before she rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward, “but let me be clear, Tony, your name wasn’t the only one on the list.”
Tny just rolled his eyes at that not impressed. He was tired of not being wanted for himself and being expected to always dance to someone else’s tune. From the grumble of unhappiness that Atlas gave from his spot on the floor next to Tony’s chair, his Spirit Guide agreed.
“I want you because I think you got a really shitty deal from NCIS, and I think that you and Jack would make an amazing Sentinel and Guide pair once he gets his head out of his ass and stops letting Mac pull him in. I like Jack, a lot. I’ve worked with him for a long time, and as much as he irritates the crap out of me, I know what an amazing man he is underneath that stupid himbo mask he wears. He’s quite a bit more empathetic and emotionally sensitive than most Sentinels, and he’s learned to hide that behind this brainless wonder routine to protect himself.”
Matilda must have sensed he was at least listening because she pushed on when Tony remained quiet choosing to eat his meal as she talked. Tony knew that he might be quick to react negatively at the moment and didn’t wanna risk losing something just because of how toxic NCIS was at the end. “Between my own interactions with NCIS and the things Abby’s told me, I know what a bad environment for you that place has been since you guys rescued Ziva. I also know that like Jack, you don’t deserve it, and you shouldn’t have to keep playing this brainless frat boy part that they expect of you just so that the little Mossad Princess and the Insecure Hacker Boy can feel more secure in their positions. While Gibbs may be a legend and someone you look up to, frankly, he’s a crap leader and needs his ass kicked for what he’s allowed to happen to that team. But hey, his loss is hopefully my gain.
“Your animal ratings are just what brought your availability to my attention. It was the man I know you are, and how amazing of a match I think you’ll be for Jack that brought me to your door. Now, do I think that the amazing match will work to the Phoenix Foundation’s benefit? Yes, I do. There’s no point in lying about it. But, I consider Jack a friend and I want him to have something real and really fucking good in his life, and I think that man can be you. The only thing Jack’s wanted for as long as I’ve known him is to have his own Guide so that he’d have someone to love unconditionally and wouldn’t ever leave him. I’ll be damned if I’ll let a couple of twisted bitches stand in my way. Now, are you in, or do I need to keep looking?”
Finishing up his meal, Tony pushed the plate toward the middle of the table, and then rested his head against a fist as he studied the woman sitting across from him. While he didn’t have a problem with working for a woman, it hadn’t worked out for him so well the last time he did it. However, everything in him, including his Guide senses that Tony had open looking for the tiniest hint of dishonesty or manipulation, told him that this woman, unlike Jenny Shepard was for real. If she was right, if she was telling the truth, just maybe he could finally have that Sentinel that he’d been waiting for since he watched that little girl burn, yanking him online.
Maybe, like Jack, he could finally have someone to love unconditionally, who would always understand who he was at heart and in his soul. Someone who would never leave him, and still want only what was best for Tony. This situation didn’t sound like one that was going to be unraveled easily, and Tony’s gut told him that he’d have to fight and keep at it to get what he wanted.
Just maybe, if Tony ended up with Jack, wasn’t the pain and effort Tony had to go through be worth it?
Wasn’t his Sentinel worth it?
As he gave Matilda Webber a nod of acceptance, Tony supposed that he was going to find out one way or another.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
The next day Tony found himself leaning against a wall covered in large screen tv’s. As workspaces went, it was definitely better than the Navy Yard bullpen, and when he’d muttered that at least there wasn’t any orange, Matty laughed at him. She said if he played nice she’d see about banning the color from ever being put on a Phoenix Foundation wall. They were waiting on Jack to arrive. Apparently, he’d been in one of the labs with the rest of his team, and they were just waiting on him to make his way up to the team’s conference room.
Tony was trying to calm his nerves, but it wasn’t working all that well. He couldn’t remember the last time he was as anxious about meeting someone as much as he was Sentinel Jack Dalton but thought it might have been Jeanne. Considering how that relationship ended, Tony wasn’t sure how well that boded for whatever it was he was hoping to achieve with Jack.
Matty turned the glass walls to the room white with a quick double tap explaining it would give him and Jack some privacy. So, when the door opened, Tony straightened quickly, only to huff and relax back against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest and his legs crossed at the ankle. Despite the relaxed air he was trying to portray, he knew that at least Mac should be able to feel his nerves. From the way Jack’s eyes locked onto Tony’s own and hadn’t moved off of him, the former NCIS agent guessed that the Sentinel felt the same thing Tony did.
Ever since he’d entered the building, Tony knew that there was a Sentinel that felt really damned good, which supported Matty’s declaration that Jack was a Perfect Match for him. The room they were in though had some muting ability for both Sentinels and Guides, so Tony hadn’t been entirely sure that it was Jack he felt. The second the former Delta entered the room though, Tony knew that the Director of Operations had been right. Jack and Tony would be as perfect of a match as you could get.
If they could just get past this tangled mess with one Angus MacGyver who, if Tony was reading things right, was most definitely not going to be happy about giving up Jack. Tony couldn’t help but flash back to the situation with Ziva and Michael Rivkin. The former SFA was afraid that like Ziva’s obsession with Michael and his with her, MacGyver wouldn’t be giving up who he was starting to identify as his Sentinel easily or maybe even willingly.
Unfortunately for Angus, Tony wasn’t going to give him any other choice. There was one thing that neither a Guide or Sentinel could fight and that was the presence of a Perfect Match. While not everyone found it when it happened a combination of spiritual and biological came together to make the pull toward your Perfect Mate impossible to resist. That meant that no matter what MacGyver did Tony was still going to end up with Jack.
“Why is the entire team here? I am confident that I only sent a message to Jack to come up. So, what are the other three of you doing here?” Matty snapped, and Tony took the opportunity to study the rest of his Sentinel’s team.
“We were all together, so we figured you decided to save time and only texted Jack,” MacGyver threw out, and Tony arched an eyebrow at the blatant lie. There was no way that MacGyver hadn’t felt Tony’s presence in the building. Tony knew how strong of a Guide he was and knew that once they bonded he and Jack would be considered the ranking Alphas for the Phoenix Foundation. While Angus was a strong Guide and in a different company could be top Alpha himself, he wasn’t as strong as Tony, and Jack was definitely a stronger Sentinel than Angus was a Guide.
It was a factor that Matty hadn’t mentioned back in Tony’s apartment, but it only strengthened her claim that the two men were incompatible.
“Have you ever known me to only text one of you to save time?” She snapped again frowning at the group, and when Jack stepped away from them, Tony smiled. However, when MacGyver followed him and put a hand around Jack’s wrist, Tony literally growled.
While everyone knew how twitchy and territorial a Sentinel was about his Guide, the reverse was also true, especially before they were bonded. While Tony knew that he was going to have to get used to the close friendship between the two men, he didn’t appreciate the interference. By the way, Atlas popped up and started growling at the other Guide, he guessed that his Spirit Guide agreed.
Tony saw a raccoon pop in and begin chattering at Atlas angrily, but the small creature wasn’t even a quarter of the moon bear’s size. So, needless to say, the big bear wasn’t feeling all that threatened. When MacGyver didn’t immediately drop his hand from Jack’s wrist, Atlas took exception and took another step forward and hissed at the Guide, who was either incredibly stubborn or a moron.
“Uh, Mac, that’s a moon bear, and that hiss means that he’s about half a second away from attacking your ass. So, Spirit Guide or not, I’d take your hand off Jack if I were you. I don’t know why it’s pissing the big guy off, but while he can’t do physical damage, he can affect your Guide abilities for a few hours if he attacks you.”
At the sound of the new voice, Tony shifted his gaze toward the speaker and guessed that it must be the man Matty told him was MacGyver’s best friend. Wilt Bozer wasn’t either a Sentinel or a Guide, but was listed as strong Sensitive, and was often the one whose opinion MacGyver could be trusted to listen to the most often, especially in personal situations. While Tony knew that at times being a strong Sensitive was a precursor to coming online as a Guide, Mac couldn’t feel any Sentinel or Guide in the man. While not all Guides could sense other Sentinels or Guides, Tony was one of the lucky ones who had a strong sense of such things and found it a handy asset to have over the years.
“Why should Mac back off? It’s this stranger’s crazy Spirit Guide that’s causing the ruckus. Maybe dude should control his animal.”
Arching an eyebrow, Tony looked to Matty to see her practically vibrating with irritation, before moving onto the final member of the group. Riley Davis, according to Matty, couldn’t be more of a daughter to Jack if he’d helped create her. Being the only true mundane of the group, Tony didn’t for a second think that meant she was harmless. Matty told him that the girl had skills that could make both Abby and McGee look like armatures, and since the Director was the only one who knew all three, Tony took her words seriously.
Because she wasn’t either a Sentinel or Guide and apparently no one had ever taught her how to shield her emotions, her insecurities were wide open for the Guide to read. That was most likely the reason he wasn’t upset about her reaction. Shielding would be something Tony was going to have to teach her right away. He could sense her loyalty to the group and knew that as a Mundane she had no idea what was going on.
Unlike Angus MacGyver, who was very well aware that something was going on or should be if he was any kind of a Guide and should know that he shouldn’t be touching Jack.
“Silence!” Matty snapped at the group, and Tony twitched as he fought the urge to straighten. There were very few people in the world who he’d found could out Gibbs, Gibbs and Tony thought just maybe that Matilda Webber was one of them.
“Jack, what’s going on?” MacGyver asked ignoring his boss, and Tony turned to look at the man astonished. Seriously, unless Phoenix Foundation was a complete hack organization, there was no way that a Guide as potentially powerful as MacGyver would be once he was bonded would be left untrained. Tony really wanted to push past the other Guide’s shields and find out what was really going on in his head, but to do so would be akin to rape. Tony would therefore never do such a thing, no matter how much he wanted the information without some kind of legal warrant, and something like that had to be signed off on by the North American Sentinel and Guide Council Legal Department.
“Angus MacGyver!” Director Webber snapped again, and this time even Tony couldn’t stop the flinch. He was relieved though to see that Jack flinched too and took control of the situation by stepping away from MacGyver. Tony studied the other Guide who momentarily looked furious before his expression was locked down as tightly as Angus had his emotions hidden behind his shield. Knowing that his temper would fare better if he ignored MacGyver for a moment, Tony looked for Jack and found him seated on a bench in front of Webber.
“Guide MacGyver, you will stay where you are, and if you speak again you will find yourself suspended for a week! Now, had I wanted all of you to come, I would have had all of you paged. Instead, I sent a private text myself to Jack’s cell phone and asked him to come up because I needed to speak with him.”
When Matty turned her eyes on Jack, Tony was amused to see the Sentinel raise his hands as if in submission. “Hey man, I didn’t invite them along. I just said that you wanted to talk to me and that I couldn’t help with their little pow-wow anymore. It’s not my fault they followed like a safe of little ducklings.”
“A safe? Why the hell would someone put ducks in a safe?” Bozer muttered not as quietly as he should have drawing a glare from Matty. When MacGyver seemed to relax and send a smirk his friend’s way, Tony guessed that it had been deliberate and filed the interaction away for later perusal.
“I know, Jack,” Matty said somewhat calmer, and Tony found that interesting as well. Momentarily he glanced to Bozer and noticed the younger man looked more than a little pleased with himself and wondered if he was one of those Sensitives that had the ability to affect large groups of people. Since Sensitives weren’t Sentinels or Guides, they didn’t have the ability to influence anyone on a one-on-one basis, but some of the more powerful ones could affect a room, to say calm a heated situation. It was something he’d have to ask Webber about later.
“The item I needed to discuss with you is personal, Jack,” Matty advised, seemingly trying to get the conversation back on track. “If you want them to leave, they’re gone. When I say this is personal, I mean it.”
“Ain’t nothin’ you can say that I won’t tell them later anyway unless it’s something confidential,” Jack offered with a shrug and Tony as pleased that the Sentinel’s gaze had drifted back in his direction. He hoped like hell the other man could feel the same pull that Tony could because it was getting hard to resist. If this was what a Perfect Match felt like, Tony totally understood why there were so many laws on the books to protect them and their mating instincts. He knew that no matter the situation he’d met Jack Dalton in it would have been impossible to resist his pull.
“Ok, Jack,” Matty agreed, and she seemed to be focusing all of her attention on him, “but if something changes, you just say the word.”
“The only people that need to be here right now are you, me, and Tony.”
Jack nodded as he flicked his gaze to Matty before quickly moving it back in Tony’s direction. “Who is he?”
Tony heard rather than saw Matty sigh, and knew the tough situation was about to be made worse. There was absolutely no way that Guide MacGyver was going to take this well with the territorial vibes that he was putting off. The former NCIS agent could only hope that the other Guide wasn’t more attached to Jack than Webber thought.
“You know how concerned I’ve been about this situation with you and Mac, and don’t you interrupt me either, Jack. You need to listen this time.” When the smaller statured woman paused, Tony saw Jack look her way, but eventually, his eyes moved back in Tony’s direction. Tony wished that this thing would hurry along, and in his head was praying to every deity that he knew about even if he didn’t believe in any of them that Jack would pick him.
“Macis too attached to you, Jack, and it’s starting to cause issues. I’ve seen him warn off other Guides who were just speaking to you, and I can feel him trying to strengthen his tether to you. I know he isn’t doing it on purpose, and I understand why it’s happening. If I didn’t like Mac, or if I thought that he was up to something shady, I would have taken a different course of action altogether. Instead, because he refuses to allow us to look for his Sentinel, I did the only thing I could. I looked for your Perfect Match.”
At that the Director stopped again, Tony guessed waiting for the information to click in Jack’s head. Somewhere at the other end of the room, Tony heard a muffled sound but didn’t look away from Jack. Mostly because he wasn’t able to. Had he, though, he would have seen Bozer had put a hand over Mac’s mouth, and Riley move away from the pair as her expression changed from hostile toward him to thoughtful.
“You mean?” Jack asked, and his voice sounded more strained than it had minutes before. This time when the Sentinel turned his gaze toward the Director, it stayed there, and Tony understood that, too. Director Webber had already told Tony that she and Jack were genuine friends and had worked together in one fashion or another for quite a long time. She had likened it to the bond that he had with Gibbs. Had their situations been reversed, Tony knew that he would have needed to see the truth in Gibbs’ eyes before he could believe the words.
“Yes, Jack,” Matty confirmed gently as she took the hand he reached out toward her in both of hers. “Tony DiNozzo is your Perfect Match. He’s your Guide Jack. Your real Guide, not this unhealthy stand in situation you have going with Mac. He’s perfect for you in literally every way. You two match in all the places you need to and your weaknesses are balanced by his strengths and vice versa.
This is really happening, and I need you to promise me that you’ll give it a chance, and not let anyone else influence you. Not me. Not Riley. Certainly not Mac. I know you can feel the difference now between Tony and what you’ve been doing with Guide MacGyver. I know you can feel now how unhealthy it was for both of you. The only way this team stays together, the only way you all are able to keep functioning is if you and he both find your mates. He’ll never agree to find him until he believes that you’re out of reach, and you know it.”
“I don’t want the kid hurt,” Jack murmured softly, and if Tony wasn’t standing so close to where Jack was seated and facing him, he doubted that he would have heard him.
“I know, Jack,” Matty understood regretfully, “but there’s no way around that.”
“The thing is though that I really believe that we can find his real Sentinel if we were only allowed to look. I need you to promise me.”
“I do,” Jack said obviously pained, and Tony could see the Sentinel’s shoulders slump. “You’re gonna have to keep him busy. Keep him away from me, from us. I don’t know if he’ll stay away otherwise. I didn’t mean…”
“You stop right there, Jack, this isn’t your fault,” Matty scolded sternly, “and it isn’t his either.”
“It’s that damned traitorous bitch Thornton’s fault. We just have to get this fixed, so that we can get you guys back in the field.”
Jack nodded and stood moving Tony’s direction. “Guide,” he said loud enough so that the whole room could hear, and Tony didn’t even have to try to hear MacGyver’s loudly spat of No!”
“Sentinel,” Tony echoed softly, and when Jack’s arms wrapped around him, he didn’t even try to hold in his smile. Their foreheads were touching, and Tony guessed that Jack’s next move would be to either bury his nose in Tony’s neck or capture his lips for a kiss. Frankly, the Guide didn’t care which option he took, as both would move this thing along considerably.
Unfortunately, before he could decide, Angus MacGyver seemed to have decided that he’d had enough being ignored and need to remind them that they weren’t alone. “No! Jack! Get your hands off him you… whoever you are!”
Jack let out a groan and dropped his head to rest against Tony’s shoulder for a moment, which was close to his neck, but probably not what the Sentinel wanted. “Damnit. I gotta deal with this.”
“OK, Jack,” Tony agreed and made his Sentinel lift his head to look at him. “but, if I think that it’s starting to veer into a bad place, I’m gonna step in. I’d rather have him hate me than you. While we need him to understand that he’s not your Guide, I don’t want angry words said between you that will hurt your friendship and working relationship. It would kinda ruin the whole point of this thing.”
“Yeah, ok,” Jack said with a sigh and a nod as he pulled back. “I can agree to that. Don’t let go of my hand though, I’m not sure I can stay in control of myself if I can’t at least touch you.”
Understanding, Tony took Jack’s hand in his and stood by the Sentinel’s side when he turned to face his friend. “Mac, come on, man,” Jack began, and Tony opened himself more so that he could better read the room. When a white bear popped up to stand in the empty space separating them from the trio in the back of the room, Tony wondered whose it was until Atlas moved over to lean against it. At that point, the feel of Jack in his head sharpened and Tony almost let out a moan of frustration as he felt deeper how much the Sentinel wanted this bonding.
“Jack,” Mac began but one thing that Jack Dalton had never been was afraid to step in when he thought his charge was going off the rails.
“No, Mac,” Jack started with a head shake. “You know she’s right, man. I love you like a brother, but that’s all it is, and you know it. Hell, I’ve been telling you that’s all it was for months, but you’re just not listenin’. Look, I get it. I do. You’re scared, and you’re lonely and all you want is your Sentinel, but you know I’m not that person.”
“I don’t know that!” Mac snapped angrily, and Tony silenced a sigh before it could come out as a blast of anger came his way. Fortunately, he had incredibly strong shields, and he was able to hold onto his own emotions. “You’re just letting Director Webber get in the way! Thornton believed we were a strong match…”
“And look what happened to her!” Jack snapped loudly, and Tony moved his other hand to move up and down the Sentinel’s arm in a hopefully soothing motion. “She was a traitor, and she’s the one you’re gonna use as evidence that you’re right? You’re smarter than that! I know you know somewhere inside that big brain of yours that we’re not right together beyond brothers and friends.”
“Maybe you’re just too fucking thick to see what’s in front of you!” Mac snapped back pulling away from Bozer who had been trying to calm him down. “After all, thinking has never been your strong point, Jack.”
“Hey!” Jack snapped, and when he felt the burse of hurt through their still-forming bond, Tony decided that it was time to step in.
“That’s enough,” he said stepping forward slightly and to the left so that Jack was just slightly behind him. He knew that the action would grate on the Sentinel’s nerves, so he brought Jack’s arm around to rest over Tony’s chest, and the Guide wrapped his free hand around Jack’s forearm. “You don’t get to hurt him just because you lost control of yourself.”
“Shut up,” Mac said turning his anger and frustration Tony’s way. “You don’t know shit about any of us. You don’t even belong here! We don’t need you!”
Taking a deep breath, Tony fought to keep a leash on his own emotions knowing that it would do them no good if he lost control, too. With being so wide open to the room, he could better feel Guide MacGyver, who in his anger had let his shields drop exposing his emotions to anyone who could read him. His absolute fear and pain were so prevalent, it wasn’t hard to believe he was this upset.
The younger Guide felt like he was convinced that if he lost Jack that he lost everything, and it was a sentiment that Tony understood. When people kept leaving you, it was hard not to wrap yourself around the first willing person like an octopus and refuse to let go. But, that didn’t mean that it was healthy, and often you missed that thing you were looking for in your distraction. Or other important things that you needed to get you to that something you need. Tony wasn’t a religious man, but he did believe in Karma and Fate and believed that certain things came to you in a specific order. Sometimes, that whatever it is you want the most hasn’t come to you yet because there’s something else significant standing in front of it undone. Tony thought of it like a cosmic checklist you have to complete to get your prize.
“Except I do,” Tony offered as calmly as he could under the circumstances. “I do belong here, and at least Jack does need me. I know that you’re upset and think that he’s going to leave, and you’ll be alone again. I know that because in your anger you’ve dropped your shields and opened your emotions to me, which I suppose in a way is a good thing because otherwise, I’d be really pissed at you right now. Only, I can’t be because I know where you’re at. I’ve been where you’re at, and like you have to learn right now, I had to realize that the thing I was clinging to so tightly wasn’t mine to keep.”
“Oh, I’m sure Mr.Pretty Boy, Richie Rich,” MacGyver started but Tony held up the hand that wasn’t clenched around Jack’s in a silent request to stop him.
“Please, don’t,” Tony offered as the pain MacGyver was feeling began to make Tony hurt for the younger Guide. “Don’t turn this into some name calling match, because it won’t do you any good. Here are the facts as you and I both know it. While you may not be bonded, I know you can feel the bond forming between Jack and I because it’s kicking out the one you had with him because it was unhealthy. Jack Dalton is not your Sentinel. You know that. You want him to be because he’s one of the few Sentinels anywhere on this planet that you trust. I get it, but that doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t yours.”
Needing to shift positions, Tony lifted their clenched fists and kissed Jack’s knuckles before putting it behind his back so that it wasn’t so in MacGyver’s face and he could take another step forward away from where the Delta Force Sentinel stood. “You and Jack need a separation. You need to let this unhealthy bond fade so that the healthy one can rejuvenate itself. That bond, the good bond, I have no intention of interfering with. Matilda has no intention of interfering with, and honestly, neither of us will allow anyone to interfere with it. The whole point of me being here is because of that good, healthy bond between you and Jack and all the fucking good things you two do with it.”
“Look at yourself,” Tony demanded calmly and earnestly, “Please, just take a mental look at yourself right now to see what is going on with you.”
“I think if you do, that you’ll not like what you see. You’re a good man. I can feel that, but I’ve recently been around a few people who went wrong at some point, and no one caught it in time. Now, at least two of them are beyond the point of getting better. They’re both considered a threat to the very thing they used to cherish so much and wanted more than life. Fortunately, you’re not anywhere near that point, and if I have anything to say about it, you’re not getting that far.
“I know, you need Jack because he’s the only one who’s ever stood by you as long as he has. There’s a silver-haired Marine Sentinel in Washington DC that I feel exactly the same about, and I am scared shitless that he’s one of those that has gone too far past the point where he can turn around and fix himself. I finally realized though that I had to leave because Gibbs wasn’t good for me anymore. Matty had to find Jack’s Guide because she could see you and Jack weren’t good for each other anymore in the roles you’d been set up to play in each other’s lives.”
“For some reason, you don’t trust this place to find your Sentinel,” Tony shrugged and tilted his head to one side. When he could see the raccoon had made his way toward the two bears and was being sniffed by Atlas, Tony took that as a good sign. “That’s your right. I can promise you though, that Jack and I and even Matty aren’t going to stop looking until we find your Sentinel. Not because the team is important. Not because you’re a major part of the Phoenix Foundation. We’re going to look because you’re still a good man, and every Guide deserves his Sentinel. To do that though, you have to let go of this unhealthy bond you’ve wrapped around Jack because I am trying really hard not to lose my shit. I don’t know how much longer I can do that though with you trying to interfere. Please, Guide MacGyver, stop.”
When the younger Guide let out a sad, humorless huff, Tony wasn’t sure what it meant. Gradually though, he could feel the unhealthy bond that had been trying to fight its way between Tony and Jack begin to dissipate.
“My friends call me Mac,” MacGyver said softly as he found himself wrapped up by Wilt Bozer. Soon, Riley made her way to Mac’s other side, so the upset Guide was wrapped up between his friends. “If we’re going to be working together, we need to be at least friends. That’s how this team operates.”
Tony nodded and gave a sad smile as he stepped back to stand next to Jack. “It’s how all the really good ones work,” Tony shared as he leaned against his Sentinel not turning his attention from Mac otherwise though. “They start out as friends and turn into family. You probably won’t see Jack and I for a while, but I trust that your friends there will watch out for you.”
“You know it,” Wilt said with a firm nod, “and I’m Bozer.”
“I’m glad that Jack finally found his Guide. The guy deserves to be happy. Thanks for helping Mac instead of tearin’ him to little bits, ‘cause dude…”
Tony gave a snort of laughter as he saw Riley rolling her eyes. “Yeah, I’m Riley, but I’m guessing Matty already told you that. I know you and Jack need some time, but I hope you don’t mind if… I mean….”
“You and Jack are a completely different situation,” Tony said cutting in. “You’re basically his kid, and from what I hear you and I have a few things in common, too. Give us at least a week of isolation, and then one of us will call you to come over. I’d like to get to know Jack’s daughter.”
When the young hacker blushed and tucked a curl that had escaped behind her ear, Tony took it as a good sign.
“Well, now that we have all that worked out, Jack and Tony you are excused. Jack, I am going to send the paperwork Tony needs to fill out to your tablet. So, don’t forget to take it home. You’re officially on bonding downtime. Just let me know when you’re ready to come back. Mac, Bozer, and Riley you have the day off. I expect you all back here tomorrow though. We have plenty of things the three of you can do in the meantime. Chop-chop, people! I’m not talking just because I like my own voice!”
Tony’s snort of laughter was lost as Jack quickly pulled him out of the room. He could feel how much his new Sentinel didn’t want to piss off their boss, and thought it was just adorable. If the growl that Jack threw at him as he hauled him toward his office so that they could leave, the slightly older man didn’t find it amusing in the least.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
Three days later, Tony was sitting on Jack’s couch with his Sentinel next to him. They were kinda watching a playoff baseball game, which they both agreed was the only time either of them really got interested in baseball. They both were big college football fans, but Jack liked pro basketball better than college. While Tony preferred college given that he’d played that at OSU along with football. The general consensus though was that they would both sit and watch just about any sport over most tv shows. They diverted on the movies they loved, as well as the music they preferred to listen to, but nothing intolerable.
Feeling his Sentinel’s eyes on him, Tony turned his eyes away from the TV and looked toward Jack who was watching him with a thoughtful expression. One of the first conversations they’d had that first morning was that they would strive to be more their real selves when it was just them and drop their stupid acts that they presented to others. However, when they were in the company of others, and especially on a case, whatever mask it took to get the job done was acceptable.
“You know, we’ve talked the hell out of just about everything but our families,” Jack pointed out, and Tony fought the urge to groan. The last thing he wanted to do was spoil their bonding by bringing up his asshole father. The problem was, though, that just because Tony wasn’t working at NCIS didn’t mean that Senior wouldn’t be a possible work complication. While from what he’d been told by Jack the cases at Phoenix were on a whole different level from what he’d done with NCIS, it didn’t mean that his con artist father wouldn’t eventually be a factor for them to account for. In fact, given the international aspect of Phoenix, it was possible his father could be more of a worry instead of less, given that most of what Tony did at NCIS was domestic. Not to mention, even though he hadn’t told his father he was moving, eventually, the man would track him down when he needed something. Somehow he always managed it.
“I don’t have much family to talk about,” Tony said eventually and rested his head on the back of the couch as he watched Jack, who also got resettled into a more comfortable position. “My mom died when I was a kid, and my father is an asshole. He was an asshole before mom died, and after he just got worse. Both of them were alcoholics, and mostly remembered me when I would be useful. Although, mom would occasionally sober up and take me to the movies when the guilt kicked in. Dad just liked to beat the crap out of me when he remembered I existed, and then he’d tell me how worthless I was or that I’d never amount to anything.
“I always thought that maybe if mom hadn’t died, I might have had a better relationship with her family. Her older brother Clive was nice to me and tried, but they all live in England. So, I’ve never had much chance to connect with them. I guess at some point after Senior sent me off to school, I realized that I’d have to make my own family. I still have a fairly good relationship with my frat brothers from OSU, and I have contacts at all of the previous PDs I worked at. For a long time, I thought NCIS was it, but then I realized that I was fooling myself. So, I guess I never brought it up because I’m not proud of the only blood family member I have any kind of contact to.”
“I can’t say as I blame you if he was that kind of father,” Jack said softly with a frown on his face. Tony could feel the anger his Sentinel was feeling concerning what his father had done to him. As a result, Tony sent soothing vibes across their bond. “I still have my mom and my kid brother, but my Pops is dead. Biggest regret of my life is not making things right between us before he died. Mom always told me that it would be too late someday, but Pops and I were both too stubborn to do anything before there was no time left. What does your father do?”
Tony snorted at the question and sighed at the eyebrow Jack quirked. “He’s a conman. Senior tricks people out of their money selling them fake dreams. He’ll claim to you that he’s not a con man because he always believes that they’ll work out. Given that he’s a liar and a schmuck though that’s not really the best defense in my opinion. When he meets people I know, his introduction for himself is always that they’re meeting the real Tony DiNozzo. Like, I’m some kind of clone, or I want to have anything to do with his filth and bullshit. I left NCIS because my former boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, was as close to a father as I had for a long time. Then at some point, he forgot that or decided that I was some kind of threat and our relationship turned confusing.”
Pausing his through, Tony turned his attention away from Jack for a long moment as he debated just how honest he should be. In the end, though, he realized that if he couldn’t be honest with someone that some believed was gifted to him by some higher deity, then who in the hell could he ever be honest with. “The fact of the matter is, Jack, that the only real family I have is you.”
“I have some people that I have longtime connections to. I have a ton of people who are acquaintances or work contacts. I can flirt with just about anyone. I thought I had family at NCIS, mostly because that was what some of them insisted that we were. The thing is that I have been part of a dysfunctional and abusive family most of my life, and no matter how much I tried to pretend otherwise, there were certain aspects of that so-called family that were utterly abusive. I want Gibbs to not be a total waste, but I think that’s because I’m not sure my soul wouldn’t crack if I was so fucking wrong about him like I was everyone else. I’m tired of trying to find people to attach myself to and failing every fucking time. The truth of the matter is that I fucking need you maybe more than I need air to breathe and blood in my veins. As old and cliché as that sounds, I don’t fucking know if I can survive much longer being so goddamned alone.
“I know what having the Spirit Animal I have says about me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fucking need someone. I feel like I’ve slowly been withering into nothingness inside since I was 8 years old and fucking no one has noticed, and I really fucking need you to notice, Jack. I fucking need this to be something I can hold onto and count on still being there when we’re 80 and living off stories of our glory days.”
“I see you,” Jack insisted before he leaned forward taking Tony’s face in between his hands. “I fucking see you. I see you. I need you. I want you. I am not fucking letting you go. I don’t give a fuck what your father’s done. If the relationship with this Gibbs dude is salvageable, I will do everything I can to help it heal. If any of the other fuckers try and come around, I’m fuckin’ torching them. But, from here on out it’s at least you and me, baby, but I would bet my life that you’ll have Riley and Mac and Bozer too. Hell, you’ll probably even have Matty, and my mom and kid brother are cool as hell. Hell, Jeffy would love to have someone to talk clothes with. He’s a model and would love to have someone that appreciates fashion as much as he does, and mamma would love to have someone who loves to cook that she could pass her recipes down to. This isn’t a ‘for now’ or a ‘for a while’ or a ‘for as long as nothing better comes along.’ This thing between us is forever, and as important as Mac and even Riley are to me, even they don’t come close to how important you are in my life. It’s us, babe. They’re gonna have to fuckin’ kill me to separate me from you.”
“Please, not any time soon,” Tony whispered not being able to force anything louder out from how tightly his throat was clenched.
“I’ll do everything I can to make your wish so,” Jack promised, and taking a deep breath, Tony gave into his own wants, and closing the space between himself and Jack, folded himself as best as he could around his Sentinel and hung on until it felt like maybe the world wasn’t crumbling.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
Less than a month later, Tony was heading through the doors of the NCIS Los Angeles Office of Special Projects with his Sentinel by his side. The Guide was feeling more than a little trepidation about this whole thing and didn’t buy for a second Hetty’s claim that Tony had paperwork that he’d left undone and needed his attention. Tony and Jack weren’t fully back to work yet, and outside of Riley, whom they invited over one day so that Tony could get to know her and she him, they hadn’t seen the rest of the team. He wanted to take Jack’s hand but wasn’t sure that it was the right image to portray and felt his Sentinel’s worry through their bond.
“Special Agent DiNozzo, thank you for coming,” Tony heard off to their left, and wasn’t surprised to see Hetty standing there. “I am unsure why you would bring Sentinel Dalton with you, however. His presence is not either needed or wanted.”
“Love you too, Henrietta,” Jack offered with a grin, and Tony barely held back his smile. His Sentinel warned him when the two of them made the decision to see what it was that NCIS wanted that Sam Hanna wasn’t his biggest fan and that Hetty downright hated him. Tony wasn’t too concerned with that though. As far as he was concerned, this was nothing more than an exercise to soothe his curiosity.
“As you should know, I’m not with NCIS any longer, Hetty,” Tony said much calmer than he actually felt. “I only came as a courtesy. Why don’t you tell Jack and I what it is you want from me, and don’t try that bullshit paperwork line. I know for a fact that everything I had outstanding was either completed by me within 24 hours of quitting or done by someone else.”
“I don’t appreciate your attitude, Mr. DiNozzo,” Hetty said with a frown, “and Jethro has assured me…”
“Gibbs has absolutely no say in the matter,” Tony snapped back interrupting the diminutive woman before she could try and use his former mentor against him. Tony hadn’t felt comfortable contacting anyone from NCIS DC office yet and wasn’t about to discuss his maybe former friend with someone he could feel hated him. Jesus, did she hate him.
Tony hadn’t been aware that Henrietta Lange was a dormant Sentinel and wondered if that had something to do with the way she’d created her OSP team, because the vibe in the office was unhealthy, to say the least.
“I don’t appreciate,” Hetty started again but was once more cut off. This time though it wasn’t by Tony.
“I think this is where I make my presence known,” Matty said as she stepped out from behind Jack and Tony and headed around her two agents to stand in front of them. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing Henrietta but let me be very clear when I say that you’re not getting away with it on my watch.”
“Damn,” Hetty cursed softly, and Tony noticed that the OSP team had given up their not so casual observation and he would bet that they’d be joining them shortly. “I wasn’t aware that Tony joined your… organization, Ms. Webber. Where is it that you’re working again?”
Tony hid his smile at Matty’s snort of disgust, but Jack didn’t even bother as the himbo routine was firmly in place. They’d agreed that two idiot routines would be overkill, and Tony wasn’t thrilled with the idea of exposing himself to further criticism. “As you are well aware, Henrietta, that information is above your security clearance, and that goes for Special Agent Gibbs and Director Vance. SecNav and SecDef though are both aware of not only my employer but that Guide DiNozzo decided to join us when it was discovered that his True Sentinel worked for my organization. I will say, SecNav was highly curious as to why you were trying to pull Guide DiNozzo back into NCIS under this bullshit ruse. Still doing the manipulation thing I see.”
Tony thought that if they were in a cartoon, this would be the moment where smoke began pouring out of Hetty’s ears. Growing bored with the conversation, and trusting Matty to handle things, Tony turned his attention to the four people who had come out to join them. He only met Callen and Sam when Director Shepard was killed. Sentinel Sam Hanna was the same as always, and Tony didn’t understand anymore now than he did the first time he met Sam what the hell Hetty was doing.
It was apparent to Tony that Sentinel Hanna had a bond, but it wasn’t to Callen. He knew, from his own research after getting back to DC on that disastrous trip, that Hanna had a Guide, his wife Michelle, whom he’d met when he and Callen worked for the CIA. Tony couldn’t ignore how much Callen and Sam echoed himself and Jack and how big of a flashing warning the universe was giving him at the moment. Callen was a Guide who was practically screaming for intervention. He desperately needed a Sentinel for his work pairing with Sam to be healthy. Without understanding why Tony knew that he would do anything in his power to see to it that it happened. He had no idea why this situation had been allowed to go on, but he guessed that Hetty Lange had something to do with it.
The strength of his concern for the situation with Callen and Sam wasn’t unnoticed by either Matty or Jack, whom Tony could feel was having a similar reaction to the two men as he was. They’d been getting some weird urges for the last couple of weeks and had a meeting scheduled with the LA Primes Sentinel Jon Baker and Guide Frank Poncherello, who went by Ponch. Tony and Jack had a meeting scheduled for the next day with the two men, which Matty had given her blessing too. His boss seemed to have an idea what was going on but thought that maybe it would be best coming from Jon and Ponch.
If the almost paternal urge in him when Tony opened himself up to Callen was any indication, he was beginning to wonder if he and Jack weren’t going to end up with their own Pride. Before meeting Jack, the thought would have sent him screaming. Things felt different now that they were fully bonded, and his own Pride didn’t feel like such a horrible idea. One thing was for sure, NCIS Special Agent Guide G Callen would not be allowed to continue in the environment he was in. Between the insanely painful Sentinel longing the man had and the constant manipulation that he was forced to withstand from Hetty, shit was going to change. Having a couple ideas already for possible Sentinel options for Callen, Tony moved his attention to the Guide’s NCIS partner.
Sentinel Sam Hanna, on the other hand, was mostly like every other military Alpha Sentinel that he’d met in his time with NCIS. He was fairly rigid in his thoughts and actions. He was insanely disciplined in everything he did, and Sam had a personal shield that would require Tony to penetrate with a force that he wasn’t willing unless it was a life and death situation.
One thing that he could feel though because the Sentinel had just within the last few moments begun sharing openly was his concern and care for his Guide. Even if Callen wasn’t his True Guide, there was definitely a bond there that Tony was not willing to break any more than Matty had been ready to sever the one between Jack and Mac. It just wasn’t as healthy of a bond as it could be if Callen were bonded, and Tony thought maybe Sam knew that.
Moving onto the two people who seemed to be team members of Sam and Callen’s that Tony didn’t know, the Guide started with the only woman on the team. Tony guessed that she was hoping he wouldn’t catch onto all of the emotions that she was hiding behind the distrust and suspicion that she was throwing at him. For a Sentinel, Tony would guess that she had quite a strong empathic side, and while he imagined that Hetty was trying to force a connection between her and the shaggy blond, it wasn’t really the right fit. Oh sure, if the two of them worked at it, and had enough patience, Tony supposed that eventually the two of them could form a bond.
The problem was that if either of their True Mates appeared that bond would be immediately snapped, and the potential damage was immeasurable. Perched on the wall around the team’s bullpen was a Bald Eagle Spirit Guide that had to be the woman’s that was giving Tony enough attention that Atlas popped in and gave the other predator a huff of annoyance. Given that she was dormmate, Tony couldn’t really fault Hetty’s logic in this instance, especially if neither of the two unknown agents had agreed to a mate search. On the surface, they would most likely seem like an almost perfect pairing, but Tony already had in mind a much better Guide for the woman.
While in DC, Tony met a Sentinel agent from the FBI LA office, who worked a lot of undercover jobs, named Colby Granger. Granger was one of the most laid-back Sentinels that Tony had ever met. One of the items on Tony’s to-do list was to contact the other man, once Jack was comfortable enough to allow it. Tony had thoroughly enjoyed the time he’d spent with Colby, and at the time, wished that they’d been a better match. Now though, having found Jack, Tony knew that the Sentinel, who had a Hawk Guide named Hawkeye, didn’t have a True Guide. That didn’t mean though that a nearly perfect match couldn’t be found, and Tony had a feeling that this woman would be just the one for a man Tony hoped could become a friend. He would need to find out if this woman had a Perfect Match, and Tony couldn’t help but hope she didn’t. He also thought that Colby would fit wonderfully on the team.
Being a former Army Ranger would be a connection that Sam could appreciate. His laid-back attitude would fit well with Callen, and he had enough of a boyish charm and urge for occasional pranks, that Tony trusted him to soothe things when they got rough. Making a mental note to check on a potential match between Colby and this woman the next day in his meeting, Tony shifted his attention to the shaggy-haired blond who seemed to be the last member of the team.
It wasn’t as hard to read the man who looked like what Tony thought of when he pictured a California surfer as it usually was for a Sentinel, but Tony knew a master of misdirection when he saw one. He wasn’t shocked to feel a barrier that could have been made of steel underneath all the emotion that the man was sharing. When a black lab popped in to lean against the blond’s side, Tony felt himself still for a moment as his attention went back and forth between Spirit Guide and the man as some nugget popped into his head and tried to form into one of his busts of inspiration.
“Tony?” Jack whispered in his ear, sounding slightly concerned, but before Tony could reply the nugget burst and the Guide realized who he was looking at.
“Oh,” Tony said aloud drawing some attention, but not bothered about that for the moment. Kissing Jack’s cheek, Tony stepped forward to kneel down next to Matty who was frowning at him.
“Sorry to interrupt, Boss, but I was just taking in the environment,” Tony started in a quiet rush knowing that at least Sam and Jack would be able to hear what he was saying, and possibly the blond as well. “Who is the shaggy blond?”
“LAPD Detective Sentinel Marty Deeks,” Matty said with a frown, “if you’d been paying attention…”
“He’s a nearly perfect match for Mac,” Tony said with a quiet rush that drew a sound of surprise from his Sentinel and drew a blip of emotion from Sam that came and went so fast Tony hadn’t been able to catch what it was. “You know that some Guides have the ability to see matches of varying levels, and if this meeting tomorrow is going to be what I think that it is, you know that I’m strong enough to be one of them. I’m not like some Super Guide or something but seeing potential Perfect or Near Perfect Matches is a superpower I’m ok with having. Matty…”
Tony stopped talking not knowing what more he was willing to say with them not being alone. Looking up to find the blond, Sentinel Deeks Tony reminded himself, he saw the LAPD Detective had moved to stand just behind Sam and might have moved forward but for the fact that the former SEAL had put out an arm to stop him. Feeling Jack touch his shoulder, Tony turned his attention to Sentinel Hanna. Speaking again just loud enough that Matty and the other two bonded Sentinels could hear him, Tony said, “I have a much better idea for the woman.”
“I think you know the bond Hetty’s trying to force is not quite right, Sam. I know you think I’m a fuckup, but there’s shit about the situation with Director Sheppard that you don’t know. I also know that you know Jack and Matty, and therefore should know that Matty wouldn’t have taken me on if I was the fuckup that you’ve been led to believe. There are things going on that you don’t have all the information on, and I am really fucking new to this. So, I’m mostly going off instinct at this point, but don’t interfere in something that isn’t right. Especially when you know Deeks and the woman aren’t the best pairing. I don’t know what the fuck is going on here, but I’m willing to help provided that you allow me to find everyone here the Matches they deserve.”
“Even Callen?” Sam asked aloud making it clear to the room as a whole that there was a separate conversation going on.
“Especially, Callen,” Tony said in a normal tone as he stood and took Jack’s hand. “What Hetty has going on with you two is wrong on levels that unfortunately I am intimately familiar with. As much as I hate the CIA, there’s no way that they would have let your situation continue this long, and you know it. It isn’t healthy for Callen to have you paired with your Guide and him alone. I think you know that. I have a few ideas. One of them currently works for the BAU as a profiler, but she was with Interpol before that and has an extensive undercover background.”
“How would you know that?” The woman questioned emotionally bleeding more fear than Tony guessed she’d like.
“Tony is one of those Guides who can see Matches and the health of a bond,” Jack explained patiently drawing his Guide closer. “Look, I don’t know what y’all have goin’ on here. It sure as hell isn’t paperwork that needs filled out. M’guess is you have a case that’s gone balls up, and you need Tony’s help. Now, we’re pretty new as a bonded pair. We were close enough to the end that I’m willin’ to agree as long as Tony is as well, and we can work somethin’ out where he and I stay together. I know you don’t have reason to b’lieve me, Agent Blye, but Callen an’ Sam know me an’ know that I’m damned good at my job. They also know that I take m’word seriously. My guess is Tone has an idea for everyone on your team that needs a bond. I am thinkin’ there’s a new Pride formin’ for a certain sect of LA that’s been left out in the cold because of the nature of our jobs. If I’ve learned anything about m’Guide, it’s that he ain’t leavin’ anyone behind if he can help it.”
“I vote we get this case wrapped up then so that we can move onto finding out what Tony has in mind for Kensi, Deeks, and myself,” Callen suggested, and when Jack’s eyes turned his way, Tony gave a nod of agreement.
“Lead the way, G,” Tony said in the way of agreement before looking down to Matty. “I’d appreciate it if you stuck around. I think Jack and I would feel better during this knowing you were here.”
“There’s no way that you could get me out of here without you,” Matty agreed before turning her attention to Hetty who was somewhat pucker-faced, but Tony didn’t really care. He and the legendary NCIS agent would never see eye to eye or even get along, and he was ok with that. He had a feeling that her dormant status had less to do with her stature and more to do with the person that she’d allowed herself to become, Because of that he held little sympathy for her. At some point, someone was going to have to straighten her out, but now wasn’t the time and Tony certainly wasn’t the man.
“I have a member of Jack and Tony’s team that I would like to bring in to help your tech people. I think Riley would be a valuable resource, and I know Jack would feel more comfortable knowing she was working in the background. She’s actually out in the car waiting. I wasn’t sure what was going on but knew this cover story was bullshit and wanted her on hand just in case.”
“I think Mr. Beale and Miss Jones are quite capable of handling things,” Hetty offered making her annoyance no secret. “But if you insist on coddling your agents, I suppose she can come in. I’ll need to know more information about her and your organization though, so a background check can be run to verify her clearance level.”
When Matty smiled, Tony was reminded of a shark just before it was about to eat some helpless seal. “If you’d rather, I can just call O’Neill and tell him that you’re being an asshole. I think we both know whose side he’ll fall on. You burned your bridge with SecDef a long time ago. You’re not manipulating your way into information that you don’t deserve or frankly, is safe for you to know. You can be sure that I will be relaying your attempts to get information outside of your Security Clearance to both SecDef O’Neill and SecNav Davenport. Get your head on straight, Henrietta, and stop acting like a teenager who isn’t getting her way. I think you’ll find that the environment around you is shifting, and if you don’t wise up you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of things quickly.”
“I have to say, I agree,” a new voice offered, and Tony noticed that someone had stepped out of a corner office that he didn’t recognize. From the smile on Matty’s face though it was someone she liked and trusted.
“Owen,” Matty greeted, and Tony felt the burst of happiness from his boss when the older man knelt down to give her a hug.
“It’s been too long, Matilda,” the man offered before standing and holding out a hand to Jack. “NCIS Assistant Director Owen Granger. Thank you for coming, Sentinel Dalton. I know that you weren’t quite through with your bonding leave, and I apologize that we had to interrupt that. We’ll be more than happy to have the assistance of Miss Davis if it will make you feel more comfortable. O’Neill already warned me she would most likely be requested and gave his ok for her being a part of the case. Henrietta, I think Matilda and I have this covered. Why don’t you take the rest of the case off? I think you have some things to consider.”
Tony was surprised when Hetty merely nodded and headed back to the office Assistant Director Granger came from. “Now, why don’t we all go up to the command room. Agent Blye, can you please go get Miss Davis from the car outside and meet us upstairs? We’ll start the briefing when the two of you join us. Please, follow me, Matilda, Guide DiNozzo, and Sentinel Dalton.”
Feeling like he’d managed to successfully navigate a minefield, Tony nodded then looked to Jack getting an affectionate smile and a quick peck before the two followed the rest of the group. When they’d agreed to come, it had been Tony that suggested Riley join them just in case. He’d been highly suspicious of the story that they were being given and knew that there had to be a case or a blown op behind it all. He just hoped that things went smoothly, and as he climbed the stairs wondered if maybe it wasn’t better that his first time in the field with Jack would be without Mac. Before he could examine the notion too in depth, though, they were entering the LA office’s version of MTAC and pushed those thoughts from his face. When he saw a very familiar scumbag on the screen, he knew precisely why he was there. Paperwork his ass.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
The case took longer to complete than Tony would have liked, but then Vincenzo Salvatore was never one known to be predictable. They’d discovered that Tony had been needed not just for his familiarity with the man, but also because of the four OSP team members, only Kensi wasn’t known in some fashion to the man. Deeks, Callen, and Sam all had identities that clashed with Salvatore in a way that would put the op in danger. Wanting one more undercover person available to them, and knowing an opportunity when he saw one, Tony called in a favor and got Colby Granger loaned to them for the op. By the end of the case, it appeared as though his prediction about Colby and Kensi, both of whom had lost their true mate to either death or rejection, being a much better pairing was going to turn out to be true. Colby told him that the two of them would be taking things slowly, which they were able to do not being a True Pair, but things were looking good.
Deeks had wished his former NCIS partner well and followed Matty back to the Phoenix Foundation to meet Mac. Tony still didn’t know why Mac hadn’t allowed a search, but given that Matty called them that morning and said MacGyver and Deeks had gone into bonding and wouldn’t be available for at least a month, it sounded like Tony was right there, as well.
Not having as close of a tie to Emily Prentiss as he did to Colby Granger, Tony was still working on Callen and hoped that the meeting he and Jack had that afternoon would help to get that moving forward. Tony had taken the time to call his friend Derek Morgan, whom he knew from college football and used to played basketball with at the local Y on occasion in DC, and found out that Emily’s true mate was dead as was Callen’s. It was a theme that Tony was finding oddly familiar and wondered how many Sentinels or Guides in the intelligence community couldn’t find mates because of their true mate being deceased or because of security clearance issues. It was something that was on his mind a lot, and he felt needed to be changed.
When the car he was riding in with his Sentinel stopped, Tony turned his head to flash a smile at Jack before the door was opened. “Welcome Guide DiNozzo and Sentinel Dalton, if you will go up the stairs, Robert will take you to the study where the others are waiting for you.”
Nodding his thanks to the college-age looking man who opened the car door, Tony climbed out, and after Jack followed and took his hand, the two did as requested. Entering the house, which was much larger than Tony expected two former cops to own, he and Jack were greeted by the promised Robert, who introduced himself before leading them to the study.
Entering the room, Tony noticed that not only were Sentinel Baker and Guide Poncherello there but also North America Primes Guide Blair Sandburg and Sentinel Jim Ellison. Feeling his Sentinel’s matching surprise, Tony turned his head to arch an eyebrow at Jack before he headed toward the four other men in the room.
“Sentinel Dalton and Guide DiNozzo, thank you so much for joining us,” Sentinel Baker greeted with a smile offering his hand first to Jack and then with the newly bonded Sentinel’s agreement Tony. “Please, have a seat. Would you like something to drink? Ponch and I aren’t too formal.”
After Tony asked for a bottle of water, and Jack asked for sweet tea, if they had it, both men turned to greet the North America Primes, as neither of them had met the two before. Both Tony and Jack got enthusiastic hugs from Blair followed by a handshake from Jim accompanied by an indulgent grin on the older Sentinel’s face. Once the greetings were out of the way, and both men had their drinks, everyone settled into their spots so that the meeting could get underway. The two men figured they were just having the regular meeting with the area Primes and didn’t know why Blair and Jim were there. So, when it was Ellison who began speaking both Tony and Jack were a little surprised.
“We appreciate you both meeting with us,” Jim began as Blair rested a hand on his leg while the Sentinel spoke. “Blair and I know that this meeting won’t be what you expect, but it’s important. Blair and I have felt the need for something to solve an empty place in our Pride system for quite some time but haven’t had the right Alpha Pair come up. The four of us, that being myself, Blair, Jon, and Ponch feel that you two are the right pair.”
At this point, Blair continued on with the explanation. “We’ve found that while the Pride systems can draw in most patrol police officers, we get resistance from the detectives and undercover type divisions. We also find that we can’t reach most of the intelligence communities. While they all form their little insular Prides, they resist any connection to the larger structure, which creates a divide and an us versus them mentality. We want to change that, but over the period that we’ve been in charge of the US have gotten quite a bit of pushback in places from people who don’t want the normal flow of a Pride changed. That outdated thinking needs to change, and that’s why we’ve asked you here.”
It seemed that the four men were going to take turns speaking, as California Prime Guide Poncherello took over. “We need you two to form not just a Pride that covers the organization that you work for, but for the moment at least all of Los Angeles. Both Jon and I are aware that there are many intelligence type agencies in the city outside even of NCIS, FBI, CIA, and Homeland offices.
“Matty advised us that you made a connection with all of the agents at the NCIS LA office and that you’ve already initiated a potential bonding between two pairs of Sentinels and Guides who have both kept themselves outside of our Pride. We also were told that you’re working to solve a third problem that I am told Jim and Blair have been concerned about for a while. That is what we need. Not the ability, because we have hundreds of Guides in LA easily who have the ability to see Sentinel and Guide matches. What we don’t have is someone with the connections, personality, and job to reach those that resist the traditional Pride mentality.”
“We know that the traditional Pride and Sentinel and Guide community first, and everyone else second motto doesn’t work for every Sentinel or Guide. People who choose the military, people who work undercover, people who work cases that affect not just a family or two but hundreds of thousands of families can’t drop everything each time an issue comes up that their Primes see as critical.” Jon, who had taken over when Ponch stopped, paused for a moment before continuing.
“Take the two of you, for example, neither of you took an oath to protect Sentinels and Guides, and then Mundanes when it was convenient. You took an oath to protect people. Just like you don’t discriminate in any other area, you don’t discriminate between Mundanes, Sensitives, Sentinels, and Guides. Your cases are important whether there’s a single member of our community involved or not. While Ponch and I get that, we know that most people in your profession or similar professions don’t trust that. However, if they had someone who was just like them, and ran a Pride where their cases, their deployment, their black ops, their whatever could come first, and then the community that maybe we could draw in these people. Then, if we got enough of these Prides, we could connect them, and they’d have a larger population to look for mates in.”
“We know that there is a pattern to the long-term unbonded in these places. It’s the ones with Sentinels or Guides who died before they could find each other, or whose pairing is blocked because their mate is outside of their security clearance. Some of them get rejected by their mates if they do find them because they don’t want to deal with or aren’t capable of handling the stresses of their mate’s professions. So, we’re asking you two to form a Pride that is larger than your organization and that runs differently than is expected.”
Jim took back over after Tony and Jack were given a couple of moments of silence to think about what they were being asked to do. “The fact that we’re trying this so far from DC isn’t a coincidence. We thought about picking Honolulu, but Sentinel McGarrett isn’t bonded. Sentinel Williams and Guide Kelly felt that them forming a Pride when Steve would be the stronger Sentinel once he’s mated would be a mistake. Plus, there’s not as big of a mixed population amongst the various agencies and military branches as there is here in California and LA specifically. We need to prove that this will not just work but work to the point that those that will argue against it will be outnumbered by the ones that will see to reason.”
“If we do this, who do we report to, and what kind of information are we expected to share?” Tony asked before looking at Jack who had a question of his own.
“And how much authority will we have to handle issues that we come across without involving those that don’t share the same level of Security Clearance as Tony and I do?”
“Technically you would be part of the California Pride,” Ponch replied after looking to Jim and Blair who both gave him their nods of approval to speak for the group. “You would only report to Jon and I and Blair and Jim, but the only information we would expect you to share is what can be shared that won’t endanger national security. Jon and I may only have been patrol officers, but we understand the concept of national security and confidentiality. We don’t want to do anything that will hinder your Pride’s success. As a matter of fact, if there are things that come up that you feel only Blair and Jim should know, then we’re ok with that, also. Once we get things going, you may be shifted to just reporting to Jim and Blair, but that’s a detail that we’ll have to work out with time. We want the people we can’t reach to be helped. We want them to have a Pride, a larger family of their own and not continue to be left out in the cold.”
After a pause to again confer with not only his Sentinel but Jim and Blair, Ponch continued. “As for your authority, you will be authorized to handle any situation that you come across. You’ll have the backing of all four of us, and if you need to know how to handle a situation, we’ll be more than happy to assist.”
“Does this have anything to do with Hetty Lange? Matty told us that Tony had some issues with her.” Jim commented with a frown before Blair leaned further into him.
“There’s a big issue there, Hoss,” Jack offered with a drawl after he took Tony’s hand, needing the contact with his Guide. “The makeup of her team is really unhealthy for the four-person Sentinel and Guide team she’s formed. She’s overly manipulative in situations where she doesn’t need to be, from what Callen told us, and he’s more loyal to her than any person in that building. The whole thing is just wrong. Tony and I talked it over las’ night after getting’ home, and we both agree that she needs some type of sabbatical or somethin’ to get herself back in order. We don’t want to separate her from them permanently because, despite her nonsense, the three team members left are really attached to her, especially Callen.”
“I think that Callen has lost enough people that are important to him in his life that we have no business taking away another one,” Tony inserted before letting Jack continue. Knowing how quickly Callen and Tony had connected once they were allowed to just be, Jack gave his Guide a kiss on the temple before he went on.
“With all her damned connections, there’s no way that Hetty couldn’t have found him a Sentinel over the years they’ve known each other. Hell, if she doesn’t know Ambassador Prentiss, whose daughter Tony is eyeballin’ as a possible Sentinel for Guide Callen, I’ll eat my damned leather band. But a Sentinel bonded to Callen wouldn’t have let some bullshit continue from Hetty and would have caught the games that she plays with him, especially where his past is concerned. Heavens knows Hetty would never have allowed someone to come between her and one of her little projects. So, Callen didn’t get a Sentinel while the one he was expected to use was allowed to get married and have kids. Somethin’ needs to happen there, and soon before I unleash Matty on her damned ass.”
“I don’t know if I want to let you handle that or not,” Jim quipped with a grin, “a part of me would really like to see Hetty and Matty go head to head.”
“Jim!” Blair shouted playfully before slapping his Sentinel. “That will not be happening! Seriously though guys, you do what you need to do, and if you want either Sentinel Baker and Guide Poncherello or Jim and myself to assist you just let us know.”
“Actually, given who it is we’re thinking that it might best, in this case, could we, in this instance only, give you our proposal and you handle it from there, Guide Sandburg,” Jack said after looking to Tony for agreement and getting the nod. “Neither of us have made any bones about our dislike for the woman, and we don’t want someone to scream that we let our bias influence us. Plus, right now, Y’all probably have better resources to get her back on track, and the plan is definitely to get her back in that office. We just want it run the correct way.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Jim agreed before looking from one man to the other. “Does this mean you’ll consider our request.”
Tony and Jack spent a few moments communicating silently but eventually came to a decision. “Maybe we should take more time to talk it over, but we accept. We definitely have more questions about this whole thing, and don’t promise to hold back if we butt heads with Y’all, but yeah. We’re in.”
As hugs and handshakes of congratulations and thanks were shared, Tony couldn’t help but marvel at the difference a few short months had made to his life. He had a Sentinel of his own. Tony had an organization that was genuinely concerned with his happiness and welfare but shared his burn to protect people. Now he had a chance to build a family of people like himself that had been left out in the cold for one reason or another. It was a little awe inspiriting, and he was more than a little nervous, but he thought just maybe he’d finally found the right place for him.
~*~~*~ ~*~~*~ ~*~~*~
One Year Later
Tony was walking down the corridors of the Phoenix Foundation trailing dirt and whatever the hell was inside that contraption that Mac made to save all of their asses behind him. In front of him, Deeks and Bozer were arguing about something the rest of them had lost track of two days ago. Whatever they were debating had been going on for the entire 9 days of their op. If they didn’t settle it soon, he was going to wring both of their necks. It was such an improvement over where they all started out at that he hadn’t said anything so far. Everyone had their limits though.
Behind him, Jack and Mac were talking over something, and beside Tony was Riley who was as quiet as he was. Most likely thinking over some computer thing too complicated for him to understand. As much as a computer genius as McGee always claimed to be, he wasn’t even in Riley’s league, and she didn’t have a single degree in anything.
“Tony, we have an issue,” he heard, and with grin turned his attention to the tall, thin man who had appeared at his side. It didn’t take too long in the setting up process for Tony to realize that both himself and Jack would need Personal Assistants to help them keep everything in order. The answer came from the most unexpected place. Not long after coming to the realization, Tony was having a meeting with Jackson Grimes about the scientists in his and other organizations who also had trouble finding mates because of their circumstances. After one frustrating interruption too many when Tony’s cell phone text notification went off, Jackson pointed out what Tony had already come to realize and said that he thought he had the perfect solution. Thus, Tony found himself with an assistant by the name of Guide Victor Marks, and Jack found an assistant in Victor’s Sentinel CJ Robertson.
The pair faced difficulties that, while they didn’t fit into what they’d intended their Pride be for, were no less critical to either Tony or Jack. Victor was A-Sexual and had found a mate in Texas boy CJ, who adored his Guide and couldn’t care less about the fact that their relationship didn’t fit into the norm for the S&G community. It quickly became clear that Victor and CJ were precisely what Tony and Jack needed, and the two men were made a part of the family that the new Pride was forming.
“What’s up, Victor,” Tony asked smiling over at the spiky-haired Guide. “Like the look, I think those rhinestone glasses are the perfect addition, and I don’t normally like that no lens glasses thing. You almost ready for your art show?”
“Yes!” Victor said happily as he turned his attention away from his tablet for a moment. “The last painting was finished last night. Now, stop distracting me. There’s an issue with Sentinel McGarrett and that woman. Apparently, according to Sentinel Williams, she’s playing games with him. She’s suddenly reappeared of course just as he had Steve convinced to let you do a Guide hunt. He’s worried about what will happen with Steve if he doesn’t find a permanent Guide soon.”
“And what does Chin have to say about this?” Tony asked as they paused outside of the locker room so that they could finish before Tony went in to shower and change.
“Guide Kelly agrees that he’s worried as well and thinks you and Jack need to step in. Maybe it’s time that Moss just happens to take a vacation to Hawaii and just happens to run into Steve?”
“That would be sneaky, and I couldn’t in good conscience mandate that,” Tony began and considered messing with his assistant, but at Victor’s arched eyebrow gave in. He was too gross feeling and too tired to mess with Marks as much as he enjoyed it. Victor gave back as good as he got, which made things lively between the two of them at times. “However, should Guide Dougal just happen to get the idea, who am I to stop him.”
Victor gave a nod of approval, and for a moment Tony’s attention was caught by one of their newest pairings coming out of the locker room. After returning their greeting, Tony got caught up thinking about how different his life was. When Matilda Webber appeared at his apartment in DC asking him to come to meet a possible Sentinel to mate with, Tony hadn’t known what to expect. Things at NCIS had ended not horribly, but not great either, and the Guide had been feeling like a sailboat on the ocean with no compass. He’d desperately needed someone to come along and show him the correct direction and Matty had delivered in spades. He now had a Sentinel whose very first concern in life was Tony. He had a job where he could use his talents, but still, trust the people issuing them to have his safety and wellbeing in mind. He had this huge new family he’d formed and a smaller much closer and tight-knit family that he’d built that was every bit what any other family was. Best of all, he was helping more people than he’d ever imagined he could and in ways that he’d thought weren’t even possible.
He never expected that he’d honestly be ok with having no contact with most of the MCRT crew, but honestly, he truly was. He communicated with Jimmy Palmer and Ducky on occasion but had mostly cut ties with the rest. Ziva never came back from Israel, and through Jimmy, he knew Abby was convinced that Tony had run off to be with her. As if.
McGee had returned, and tried his hand at SFA, but found that he wasn’t as ready as he thought and ended up booted back to Junior Agent after a few too many missteps. Abby hadn’t taken Tony’s disappearance well despite her beliefs and tried to track him down. Eventually, SecDef had to make an official visit to NCIS and order her to cease and desist or be sent to a prison that no one would ever find to get her to stop. She’d then turned her worry to anger and tried her hand at making Tony’s life miserable, only to see herself suspended and in serious trouble. After some quiet contemplation, Tony found that he didn’t care one way or another because it felt like he and the Goth had stopped being real friends long before Tony left NCIS. Jimmy thought perhaps her issues had more to do with Gibbs than Tony, but in the end, Tony still didn’t care, and the subject was dropped and never resumed. Abby had turned into his personal Voldemort and was She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
Gibbs was the oddity of the bunch. Apparently, after the whole fiasco got resolved with the DOJ and whatever project he’d needed to complete was finished, he hadn’t been happy to find out that two of his three agents weren’t returning. After a meltdown in Vance’s office, the older man tendered his resignation and completely disappeared. Tony at the time assumed that he was sunning himself on a beach somewhere with a bottle of his rotgut. However, less than two months prior, the older man had appeared in the NCIS Los Angeles office and asked if they’d contact Tony for him because he just wanted to talk.
Tony felt he owned the man a conversation at least and considered hundreds of different outcomes by the time Jack got them there. The last thing he expected was a hug, an apology, and an offer to help. It was just possibly the strangest moment of Tony’s life, but honestly, he was glad that it happened. Currently, Gibbs was working as a consultant for both the NCIS LA office and the Phoenix Foundation. If things continued to go as well as they had, Tony and Jack had already discussed asking the man to be an investigator of sorts for Pride issues.
Tony was curious as to what happened while the older man was missing, but Gibbs refused to talk about it. One day, Jack had asked him if it really mattered when Blair had confirmed that the former Marine wasn’t under any type of influence and was much more mentally healthy than the last time he’d seen the man. Eventually, Tony had to admit to himself that it wasn’t, and it was just his natural curiosity wanting the answer. Tony figured that eventually, his mentor would confess to what happened, and until then the Pride Alpha Guide had to be patient.
Things weren’t perfect, as the situation with Abby showed. Beyond her though, Tony was concerned about Ziva and knew that Matty had someone keeping track of the former NCIS and former Mossad agent at all times. Senior had yet to make an appearance, which Tony found even more concerning. When Matty assured him that she was keeping an eye on him as well, Tony decided to leave things in her hands. Then there was what he’d come to find were the common issues and complications of running a Pride, and one such as his own seemed to come with problems that no other Pride faced. That was ok though because Tony was determined to make this thing work, as were the people around him. In the end. That was all that mattered.
“Tony?” He heard and after shaking his head saw Victor studying him and felt he worry through the brotherly bond he shared with the man.
“Sorry, just got lost in my head,” Tony offered with a smile. “Things are pretty great, huh? It’s like the perfect movie ending. I never really thought it was an option, only now I have it. Sometimes I just can’t help thinking about everything that’s changed.”
When Victor didn’t respond right off, and his expression grew serious, Tony was momentarily concerned. “I don’t know if you and Jack realize just how much you’re improving people’s lives.” The eccentric Guide offered quietly.
“You may not be some super Guide Shaman type like Blair, and you don’t have some mystical power no one has ever heard of. Nonetheless, though you have changed the lives of everyone, you’ve taken into your Pride, just by giving them a chance at something they never imagined possible. You offered them a place for people who didn’t fit in the traditional. You didn’t bash the old way. You didn’t demand a complete overhaul of everything. You and Jack just set up your Pride to run how you wanted it and refused to let anyone bully you into anything else.
“Oh sure, you have the California Primes, as well as the North American Primes behind you, and maybe even it was their idea, but it was you and Jack that actually did it. You took their idea and gave people like me and CJ or Grisha Callen and Emily Prentiss a place where they felt that they could fit in without having to engage in this ridiculous ‘we’re more important than them’ ideal. It means a lot to us all, and often I wonder if you and Jack have any idea what kind of an impact you made. So, it’s not just you who’s better off. We’re all better off, and that’s something a lot of people are thankful for.”
Not knowing what to say and probably not able to speak around the lump of emotion clogging his throat, Tony nodded his thanks accepting the brief touch from Victor before his assistant wandered off to do whatever item was next on his list.
“Wow,” he heard and turned to see Jack standing behind him. The Sentinel’s eyes were shinier than normal, and Tony could feel his mate was as affected as Tony was. “I guess we done good, huh, Babe?”
Offering a nod of agreement, Tony let Jack pull him into the locker room. If they spent a few extra minutes together under the shower head letting the hot water rain down on them as they thought about what Victor had said, no one said anything. They both knew there would be ups and downs in their future, but as long as they stayed committed to each other, they’d always come out on the right side in the end. Their Pride depended on it.
End Note: I have removed some EAD stories. Swingin’ on the Vegas Strip was taken down to be completed and will be put back up as a finished work. It was in too many places in an unfinished state, and I didn’t want it up anymore until I have it done. Q Breaks Alec’s Heart was taken down because it’s going to be one of my two projects for the first round of Every Fandom Big Bang. Speaking of…
Sign-ups for authors and artists have begun for Every Fandom Big Bang, which accepts pairings from any fandom! Our motto is “Your fandom fits our bang!” The story minimum word count is only 5K with no max. For more information or to sign up go to Every Fandom Big Bang on WordPress. Stories can be posted here. So, if you don’t have a WordPress account it’s not a big deal.