Title: Seven Days
Fandom/Genre: NCIS AU
Content Rating: MA
Warnings: Some description of medical procedures; other warnings as they arise.
Summary: He was undercover as a priest when he met his match – the Sentinel of his dreams. Three years on and Tony has gladly left his dog collar far behind, living the dream as bonded Guide and husband to Jethro, and Papa to Kelly. That doesn’t mean a miracle wouldn’t be useful right about now, as an ultimatum and failing gifts leaves the Guide with very few options. He has seven days and a secret to keep from the two high functioning Sentinels he shares his life with.
He’s an undercover expert with a trickster Spirit Guide – It’s gonna be easy, right?
A/N: This story is a continuation of the ‘Verse I wrote in the 2015 LBD Challenge story ‘St Augustine in Hell’, which is posted here, although it isn’t necessary to have read that story to enjoy this one.
Also as I was plotting this and the other stories in the 2016 LBD challenge onRough Trade, I realised that they were also following a theme of ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’ and should be read in that order. This story is the ‘Body’ section of the trilogy, but again each story can stand alone.
Tony wandered through the house, barely raising his voice above a whisper, sure that his Sentinel would hear him. He descended the stairs to the basement, pushing back the frisson of fear at the lack of empathic feedback he was getting. He really didn’t want to think about why…
“Come on man, I know you want to finish up before we go away, but this is…”
He turned the corner of the staircase and felt icy panic well up in his chest. Jethro was sitting on floor, his back braced against the skeleton of the sailboat that never seemed to get nearer being finished, no matter how many hours his Sentinel spent on it. Gibbs’ head was bowed with his hands lying loosely in his lap. Although he was breathing regularly, it was obvious that he was, yet again, zoned on something. His senses were pretty stable, but if anything was going to cause him to lose himself, it was usually visual.
Tony sucked in a shaky breath, and slid to the floor next to his lover. He could still feel the body heat radiating off him, so he hadn’t been sitting there too long, but Tony didn’t know exactly how long it had been. It could have been three minutes or thirty and Tony had no idea, which was just not acceptable. Every molecule of the Guide in him was shouting to bring Jethro back from his fugue state; it should only take a moment. But this was the third time this week; three times more than he’d zoned in the three years since they’d bonded.
And it was Tony’s fault.
He swallowed hard against the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm him and rather than reaching out immediately for Gibbs, he instead pulled his cell from his jeans and scrolled his contact list until he found ‘Nicola Waverley’. Using his thumbs, he quickly typed,
‘Another zone. That makes three. You win. Coming into the clinic tomorrow after 11.00. We are not telling Gibbs!’
He hesitated for only a moment over the screen before he sent the text. His hands were trembling as he cleared the memory of the text from the sim. Not letting himself think about the repercussions, he searched for another number and once again tapped away at the screen.
‘Call me at 0700 in the morning. Tell me to come into work…problem with Wilkes case. I’ll argue! Make it clear that we could lose the case if I don’t come in and clear up a few things…could take a day or more if I need to come into court. Don’t let on it’s a setup. I’ll explain everything tomorrow.’
He sent the message and then once again quickly, and guiltily, deleted it. It fucking sucked to have to use Marcus like that, but the man was rock solid. He’d do as Tony asked and wouldn’t ask any questions. He was the best undercover operative Tony had ever worked with, and that was the biggest compliment he could get, what with DiNozzo being the best in the world. Marc also knew that Tony had been concerned about his empathic responses, and had covered for him when he’d gone to be checked out at the clinic.
Which was what had brought him to having to make this fucked up decision.
Tony blinked away the gritty feeling in his eyes and systematically shut down all the emotional tells that would tip off his Sentinel that there was something seriously upsetting him. He clenched his jaw at the guilt he felt for using his abilities against his husband, but he just wasn’t willing to let Jethro know just how desperate he was. Rule #18 had never been so bittersweet.
A ripple of movement in the air in front of him was the only clue he got before the figure of a very pissed off coyote appeared in front of him. The creature’s lip was pulled back in a look of angry disdain as he began to pace in front of Tony.
“I know, Loki…I know. But you’ve gotta understand. He’s already lost a wife. How can I tell him he might lose me too?”
The canine creature whined unhappily, his mood mirroring Tony’s perfectly.
“Nicola’s promised me I’ll only be there a day…two at the most, and then I’ll explain. I have to wait until I know what’s going on before I worry him…And Kelly…”
Tony almost lost it as he thought of the beautiful redhead teen. She was a burgeoning Alpha Prime just like her daddy, and getting nearer and nearer to coming on line every day. He’d hoped she’d make it to her seventeenth birthday, but it seemed it wasn’t to be. She was pulling on him empathically, and the problems he was having were making it harder and harder for him to meet her needs as well as Jethro’s. She deserved so much better.
He straightened his shoulders. Using all the skills that made him the best UC, he pulled on the mask of ‘Tony DiNozzo, Guide Extraordinaire’; a man without a care in the world who was going on vacation to a Sentinel retreat with his husband and step-daughter in the morning. No one – not even his Sentinel – would be able to tell the difference. It was seamless.
With a sad whine, Loki watched him don the mask he had chosen, before the coyote nuzzled him under the chin and shimmered away into nothing, a mournful howl following him into the spirit realm.
Without giving himself time to think about what he was doing, Tony turned to his Sentinel and placed a steady hand on his chest.
“Come on, Gibbs. What you doin’ going off without me? Time to come home.”
His voice was warm and coaxing, and the steady rise and fall of Jethro’s chest beneath his hand was reassuring, but it still took several minutes longer than it should’ve before his Sentinel took a deep breath, lifted his head, and turned still slightly hazy eyes in the Guides direction.
“There you are.” Tony said with deep affection.
Jethro reached up and grasped his hand on his chest. “Why can I smell anxiety in your scent pile?”
Tony snorted. “Probably because I found you zoned on a wood tack.”
“Ahhh.” Jethro nodded. “Spose that’d do it. How long?”
The perfect Guide that Tony was so expertly portraying was completely in control and he smiled reassuringly.
“Oh just a minute or two. Just as long as it took me to get here.”
“Looks like I need that retreat after all.”
Tony just smirked as he stood and offered Jethro a hand. The older man rose fairly easily, but frowned and hissed a little as he took a step. DiNozzo lifted a quizzical eyebrow.
“Goddamn pins and needles in my ass.” Jethro grumbled as he started up the stairs, Tony’s amused chuckle following him until he reached the kitchen. Gibbs just glared at him half-heartedly, before he moved to the fridge to collect a couple of bottles of water for the night.
Tony stepped into his space, pulling clever, knowing fingers down Gibbs’ cheek, watching as the Sentinel’s eyes darkened with arousal.
“Come on, let’s get you into bed. Maybe I can rub it better for you.”
The feral growl of agreement was all the encouragement Tony needed to follow his love into the bedroom. Gibbs carelessly dropped the bottles onto the bed stand and then crowded Tony against the edge of the bed, tumbling him onto the soft mattress and landing none to gently on top of him, already flicking open the buttons on the Guides jeans.
Without missing a beat, Tony reached around and placed his big hands on the swells of Jethro’s muscled ass and began to massage the cheeks.
“Now, those pins and needles…About there?”
Gibbs mouth was on his before Tony could utter another word, and he huffed out a little surprised breath. Sinking into the pleasure his Sentinel was so selflessly giving, Tony let himself enjoy the heavy weight of his husband’s body and the claiming press of his lips.
He opened his shields as much as he dared and, in the most secret recesses of his mind, allowed himself to soak up the beautiful perfection that was their bond. He didn’t know how much longer it would be before even that began to degrade, and he wanted…needed the memory of it to sustain him in the difficult few days ahead.
“Guide…” Jethro murmured, as his sensitive fingers began to claim dominion over Tony’s skin, one hand pushing up under his t-shirt while the other uncovered his straining cock, waking a need in Tony that he felt guilty for enjoying, given the breach of trust he planning on perpetrating.
“Sentinel,” he replied, forcing himself to stay in the now.
Whatever happened, tomorrow would take care of itself.
“Are you sure?”
“Jethro, I’m sure. You heard what Marcus said. I have to go in otherwise we could lose the case. But that’s no reason for you two to stay back. The flight to Denver International is less than four hours, and Spirit Air look after Sentinels really well. I even paid extra for you both to be upgraded to Aegis class. So lots of buffering, white noise generators and Sentinel friendly seat covers and food.”
Gibbs gave him a withering look. “Yeah and look how much it cost you. I don’t know Tony, my gut…”
Tony couldn’t afford for Jethro to talk himself out of going, so he pulled out the big guns. He nodded over at the willowy redhead standing at the check-in desk of the Sentinel friendly airline.
“Kells has been desperate for this vacation to begin for weeks, and you know she’s really close to coming online. I want Jim and Blair to get a look at her as soon as. I have a feeling we’re going to need their help and advice.”
That wasn’t even a lie. He was getting more and more concerned that Kelly’s emergence was going to be a bit of a rough ride for all of them, even without the problems he was having. He’d been looking forward to talking to Blair about how they were going to handle it – he had an idea that the Guide Ultima was going to suggest she stay with them in Colorado, and that idea was no doubt going to need some gentle handling to get Jethro to agree.
Tony just hoped he’d be there to help.
He powered on with his argument, not allowing himself to get caught up in the emotion that was bubbling away in the locked down parts of his mind.
“Jim is flying their jet into Denver to meet you, and you’ll be at the retreat before 11am their time. Just in time for lunch! And I’ll be there as quickly as I can. With any luck I’ll sort it all out today and be with you by dinner. They were happy to give me a credit for my ticket and they’ve assured me it won’t be a problem to book a flight at short notice, me being FBI and all that.”
Tony gave him a cheeky smile, but Gibbs brow furrowed. He was not at all happy, but Tony knew his concern for his daughter overrode everything else. Finally, Jethro gave a tight nod.
“OK. But you get to the retreat as quickly as you can. Don’t let those Justice Department jokers keep you hanging around for nothing. I need you far more than they do.”
Before either of them could say more, the flight was being called, and Kelly rushed over, tangling her long red hair in her fingers in excitement.
“You’ll be there soon, right, Papa Tony?”
“Yeah, princess. As soon as I can.”
He pulled her to him and pressed a kiss to her temple before turning again to his Sentinel.
“Be safe,” Gibbs said gruffly, before he took Tony’s mouth in a strong, claiming kiss.
His overwhelming love for his Guide hammered on their bond, and it took all of Tony’s strength not to break down and tell him; tell him what was happening; tell him how frightened he was; tell him he was so sorry for all the subterfuge. But the sweet, excited smile on Kelly’s face, and the deep abiding love he had for Gibbs made him hold his tongue. He owed it to them to sort out a problem that was solely his.
They both deserved better than a malfunctioning Guide.
He watched as they walked away, working hard to keep his heart rate even and his breathing natural, knowing Jethro would be training his senses on him until they were on the plane, maybe even during takeoff. As they disappeared through the departure doors, Tony turned and walked steadily back to the parking lot.
With his back turned, even Jethro wouldn’t be able to see the lone tear that ran down his cheek.
Gibbs turned to his daughter, who was busy untangling the earbuds to her iPod. She smiled up at him – a smile that was all her mother. He was so proud of her. She was growing into a beautiful and intelligent young woman. She had responded amazingly well to having Tony in their lives, which was all for the best considering what a strong Sentinel she was going to be. He could already feel the power moving just out of reach, and knew that Tony had some worries about how explosive it would be when she came online. He had to admit he shared those concerns, not only because of her reactions to her senses, but also to the reality of her bonding with a Guide.
As a Sentinel, he knew it was necessary for her physical, spiritual and mental health, but as a father he was finding the idea of a man or woman taking that place in her life was very difficult to deal with. Tony had warned him that she probably would be online before she could legally have a full bond at seventeen, which was in four months. He also knew how difficult it would be for her to maintain a bond that was platonic, considering she was definitely going to be Prime and would need the full extent of her Guide’s gifts.
And, as Tony was always happy to remind him, he really didn’t have a leg to stand on. They had both lost their virginity at fifteen, although he still maintained it was different for boys, despite Kelly’s cry of sexism. Still he couldn’t help vocalizing a growl at the idea of his little girl sleeping with anyone, even though he knew it was inevitable.
“You OK, Dad? You sound pissed.”
He sighed and shook off his mood. “Yeah, a little.”
When she began to frown worriedly, he extemporized.
“I hate to say it, but Tony was right about this section of the plane. I’ve never been so comfortable inflight.”
Kelly snorted in a way so reminiscent of Tony that he felt a sudden surge of longing for his Guide. He already missed the familiar thudding of his heartbeat. At least the t-shirt he had stolen from the laundry basket and slipped on under his flannel button down, would keep the scent of Tony close until he joined them. The urge to bury his nose in the soft cotton was so overwhelming, that the only way he stopped himself from zoning on it was to bite down hard on the inside of his cheek and make himself listen to Kelly, who was having a great time teasing him.
“Yeah, but most of your flight time was in military transport. Even a Mundane would find it hard to enjoy that, let alone a burgeoning Prime.”
He had to agree. Painfully noisy, disgustingly dirty and reeking of aviation fuel were the main sense memories of the Trash Haulers. There were times he’d rather have walked than utilised military transport. The clean lines, neutral smells, filtered air and white noise generators of this plane were a real luxury that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do without in the future.
“Kell, has Tony said anything to you?” He asked quietly, not really knowing what information he thought she might have.
“Nothing really…I’ve just got some weird vibes recently. Nothing I can put my…finger on, but…” He tightened his jaw. The more he thought about Tony, the more antsy he got.
Kelly reached over and tangled her slim fingers with his. “He hasn’t said anything. I think he’s been a bit worried about you zoning, and I know he was pissed about work this morning. He’ll be with us as soon as he can, you can trust him on that.”
Gibbs nodded, still not completely mollified. Shrugging off the tension in his shoulders, he reached into his carry-on and pulled out his latest paperback. Flicking it open to the bookmarked page he instantly saw the familiar neat writing on the edge of the page. He traced his husband’s beautiful penmanship with a fingertip, feeling the rise and fall of the paper under the ink of the message.
‘I love you, Sentinel. Be safe. See you soon.’
He knew he should have found it reassuring, but somehow it didn’t help the churning of his gut at all.
Dr Waverley was as far from his own mother as it was possible to be, both in looks and temperament. Still, Tony always felt the kind of warmth around her that he imagined one should with a maternal figure, but that he’d never had from Mariella Paddington-DiNozzo.
Nicola was also a little bit of an anomaly in the S/G world, in that she was a very low level Guide whose empathic sense was very useful in S/G medicine. It meant that her shields were not strong enough to allow her to bond, but she had a sensitivity to problems with the shields and empathic abilities of other, stronger Guides, and the effects of those problems on their Sentinels. It made her a very useful member of the S/G community despite her own unbonded state. In fact, she was happily married to a Mundane brain surgeon who worked right there at the Washington S/G Centre Clinic.
As always, her long red hair was piled in a messy bun on her head, her lips their signature crimson, and she today she wore ultra-expensive Louboutin shoes, which even with their 4” heels brought her height to a tiny 5’3”.
Tony had seen her laughing and crying, and so angry she was shaking, but he had never seen the look she was wearing across the desk from him now; pale, pinched and completely focussed on him.
“So I take it I’m not buying a ticket to Colorado this evening.”
“I’m afraid not, Tony. Although I think you knew that really.”
Tony nodded weakly, and bit down on his lower lip. He was having to work really hard not to reach out for Jethro through their bond. It would only worry the Sentinel, and also tip him off that all was not well here at home.
“You really should call Gibbs back home…” Nicola said, as if she had read his mind.
“No!” Tony was not going to be pushed into making his Sentinel’s life any more difficult than Tony had already.
Nicola’s expression was both exasperated and sympathetic. “Tony, why? What is it you think you are achieving. We are going to have to take you into surgery. He’ll know immediately you go under anaesthetic…”
“No he won’t,” Tony shook his head firmly. “I’ve got him tapped into the ‘Tony DiNozzo; 24/7 Super-Guide channel’. He won’t know the difference, even if I’m unconscious. Loki will take care of that.”
He could see that she was a little taken aback by the way he was able to manipulate his link with his Sentinel, and also the interaction between him and his Spirit Guide.
“Look, Nic…why don’t you tell me what you found. I’m imagining all kinds of horrific things here and I just want to know what I’m dealing with.” He smiled winningly, but was pretty sure it fell a little short of his usual ability.
With a deep sigh of resignation, she turned around the large flat screen monitor on the desk, positioning it sideways on to the both of them.
“These are the CT Scans we took this morning.”
She pointed at two dark spots in the area Tony recognised as a cross section of his brain. He had a slight headache from the dyes they had injected and the metallic taste that had hit the back of his throat was still lingering. He was trying desperately not to panic at the size and position of the two nondescript patches that might be the end of his life with Jethro and Kelly…In fact the end of his life full stop.
“What are they?”
Nicola shook her head. “We’re really not sure. Your paravinculum is far larger than any Guide we’ve ever scanned. In other circumstances, if I were to give our researchers these scans, they would be getting very excited. You are something new, Tony and we’re not quite sure why you are being affected like this. The loss of your empathic connection with your Sentinel should not be happening. In fact, if it wasn’t that I’ve seen you and Gibbs together and know better, I might have believed the symptoms you reported were a result of your Sentinel closing down your bond from his side.”
The icy rush of panic that ran down Tony’s spine was almost impossible to fight. Only his desperate grip on his empathy kept him from sending Gibbs his despair at the very thought that his Sentinel – his husband – might feel the need to break their bond.
He blew out a shaky breath, as Nicola’s warm hands brought him back from the brink. He pressed his eyes tightly closed against the prickling of tears.
“Tony, listen to me. That’s not what’s happening here. These spots could be any number of things; blot clots, calcification or maybe even tumours. They have nothing to do with Gibbs.”
He opened his eyes and searched her eyes for the veracity of her words. He saw only sincerity, and allowed himself to believe her. He had to; the alternative was just too awful to contemplate.
“So…What now,” he murmured hoarsely.
“So now, I’d like you to agree to let Simeon take a look.”
“You mean brain surgery.”
“Yes. And to be honest, I’d like schedule it for today. The sooner you let us take a look see…”
He began to shake his head. This wasn’t in the plan at all.
Nicola dragged a chair next to him and squeezed his hands tightly. Her hands were soft and warm. He hadn’t realised how cold he was until he felt the touch of her fingers against his.
“Tony, I’m not trying to scare you, but Jethro has zoned three times in one week. This last time you admitted you didn’t even know it was happening. Things are obviously deteriorating exponentially, and the need to deal with this is becoming more urgent. I can’t imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t bring him out the next time. At the rate things are going, I give it seven days at the most before we are in a dangerous situation.”
He wanted to rail at her; tell her he would always do his duty to his Sentinel. But then he remembered how long it had taken him to pull Jethro out of his zone the night before; how he hadn’t even known that Jethro had zoned, and he had to admit she was right. The optimist in him wanted to believe he could still get through this in his two-day self-imposed time limit, and be in Colorado without Gibbs being any the wiser. But the realist who lurked in the back of his malfunctioning brain laughed at how stupid that was.
Jethro would know immediately that something was wrong. Even if he could fool Jethro’s senses, the big wound on Tony’s skull would be a big giveaway.
He knew things weren’t going to get better on their own. He had to act now, for Jethro’s sake.
And Jethro was all that mattered.
Tony blew out a harsh breath. “OK. I need to write a couple of emails, which I only want you to send if something goes wrong, or I am out of it for more than two days.”
Nicola looked like she was going to demur, but eventually she nodded. “I don’t like leaving your Sentinel out of the loop, Tony. It’s a clusterfuck waiting to happen.”
There was no way he was going to involve Jethro in this, not unless it became completely necessary, but he could understand her concerns. Most Guides would not even consider going into hospital without their Sentinel having full disclosure; in fact, many Guides would put their Sentinels into intentional zones in order to keep them from going feral during surgery.
Well, Tony had gone one better. His Sentinel was in Colorado, in the capable hands of the Ultima Pair of the planet. It couldn’t be any safer than that for both Jethro and Kelly.
He knew he’d won when Nicola turned her laptop towards him with the draft email programme open, before picking up the phone to call for a room and an OR to be made ready.
Tamping down the fear that was bubbling under the surface, he pressed shaking fingers to the keyboard and began to type.
Hey, Ducky. I have a favour to ask…
The Sentinel Retreat Colorado Rockies, was situated high up in the mountains, and was ostensibly a place of peaceful recuperation for S/G pairs and those unbonded who were having problems coping. The compound was built around a central building, which housed offices, suites for bonding and isolation, meditation and meeting rooms, a training area which had state of the art testing and training equipment, and a large lounge area with huge picture windows, that framed the wonder of nature that was the Rocky Mountains.
Around this central block were several log cabins, all completely Sentinel friendly and built to withstand the severest of weather. Over to one side, just a short march down the mountain were Military style barracks and a mess hall, bordered on three sides by forest which was used for tracking and hunts and training those pairs who would be entering the military.
The service areas – laundry, kitchens and maintenance and the big industrial sized generator room were all housed near the entrance to the compound along with a manned gatehouse.
High above the whole complex was the home of Blair and Jim, the Ultima pair – both the strongest and most experienced of all the S/G pairs alive.
In reality the Retreat had been built for them; Jim had found it more and more difficult to be a Sentinel in an urban setting, and when his senses had begun to become dangerously unbalanced, Blair had moved the Earth to get him a place where he could be safe and still have a use as a Sentinel.
So now Jim trained all the highest level Military and Law Enforcement Sentinels from across the globe, while Blair’s project was working with the high level kids, who seemed to be coming on line earlier and earlier.
They were happy and fulfilled and so very much in love. It had been a rough ride to get there, but they were now so close as to be one soul in two bodies.
Right that moment though, something was making Jim twitchy, and Blair couldn’t let him go taking off in the jet to collect the Gibbs’ until he’d settled down a little.
“Come on, man. What’s going on with you.”
Jim growled and paced up and down at the large office window, followed closely by his midnight-black jaguar Spirit Guide. Blair took a moment to admire them both; muscled and sleek, the epitome of apex predators, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.
“Jim, talk to me, baby.”
“There’s something…gah!” Jim ran frustrated hands through his short brown hair. “…Just out of sight. I keep seeing a flicker of it in the corner of my vision and before I can pinpoint it…it’s gone. And that fucking coyote that’s been howling and keeping us awake the last few nights…”
Blair snaked his hand under Jim’s t-shirt and slowly stroked it down the Sentinel’s spine, expanding his empathic shields to try to help Jim focus on what was picking up. He was gratified to feel Jim’s muscles relax a little under his touch.
“It doesn’t feel like a living breathing animal.” Jim’s forehead crinkled as he tried to concentrate on the feeling.
The Guide nodded. “OK…So a Spirit Guide. But we don’t have anyone on site who has a coyote. Tony will be here later today but…”
“Yeah. But they are still too far away for it to be him. I’m hoping we haven’t got a wounded Sentinel or Guide out in the park.”
Blair frowned at that idea. He had been feeling a little off himself. Nothing he could put a finger on, but now Jim had verbalised it, it did seem to be coming from the Spirit Plane.
“I’ll meditate and see if I can find out anything. Maybe I can catch up with Incacha. And you could take Gibbs out later and have a scout around. Put your mind at rest that we don’t have anyone in trouble out there.”
Jim sighed and Blair was relieved to see his shoulders relax even more.
“Why don’t I come with you to Denver. We can talk about it a little more on the way there.”
“You have all the best ideas.”
Jim turned and gathered Blair into his arms, causing the Guide to go boneless with pleasure. This was the safest place Blair had ever known and he allowed his shields to spread over his Sentinel’s mind, saying without words how much Jim was loved. He knew they should be leaving to pick up Tony, Jethro and Kelly, but just a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt. He lifted his face hopefully, and was graced with the sweetest of kisses. He sank willingly into the sensuality of their physical and emotional bond, thanking the gods that despite all the hurdles they had faced he still had this wondrous gift.
Simeon Waverley looked over at the monitor on the wall as he scrubbed up for the surgery on Tony DiNozzo. He knew his wife was particularly concerned, and having seen the scans he could understand why.
Tony’s brain was a marvel.
The paravinculum was a complex and barely understood region of the brain, allowing a Guide to channel empathic, psychokinetic and telepathic energy to others, both Mundane and gifted. Once bonded with a Sentinel, the region became even more efficient and often expanded in size.
But in Tony’s scans it was obvious that the man was possibly the next evolution of a Guide – a SuperGuide in fact – and while on an intellectual level Simeon would be interested in further study – ethically and personally he was going to make very sure the information stayed confidential. In the wrong hands it could make Tony’s life very difficult indeed, especially as he worked for a Government agency. Still, knowing Gibbs as he did, Simeon was sure anyone messing with Jethro’s Guide would only have a very short time to enjoy the fruits of their endeavours. The man was frighteningly intense, and a force to be reckoned with.
Simeon manipulated the tap with his elbow and turned to allow the theatre nurse to get him gloved up. He was going to have to go in with a very gentle hand if he was to avoid causing any damage to the structures around the suspect spots, and given the extra complexity of the area in Tony’s case, he was feeling more than a little concerned about the outcome.
Still, he wasn’t the foremost S/G Specialist brain surgeon in the US for nothing. As he walked confidently into the OR, he let all the concerns flow away, bringing his concentration to the job ahead.
“OK, guys and girls. Let’s get to work. I’ll be waking him once we’re near to the target zone, so be prepared for me please, Briony.” He looked over at his anaesthetist. “Are we good to go?”
“OK. I think this is a Rach No. 2 kind of job if you would, Jon.”
And as the strains of Lang Lang playing the opening chords of the concerto rang out across the room, Simeon took up his scalpel and began to make the first incision in the green draped area of shaved scalp, hoping against hope that he what he would find inside Tony’s skull, would not endanger the life and bond of the owner of this extraordinary brain.
It had taken about 30 minutes of careful investigation to get to the site of the suspect spots on Tony’s scan, and things had gone very well so far. Simeon took a step back from the table and looked over at his theatre nurse, Briony O’Connell, before meeting eyes with Michael, his long-time friend and anaesthetist. He had a good team and could trust them to be the consummate professionals.
“I think we can start bringing him up now, please. I’d like to keep him pretty far up until I finished this deep part of the investigation.”
Michael nodded and began to push several prepared syringes of medication into Tony’s IV, his eyes always on the monitor in front of him.
“You going to wake up a little for me, Tony?” Briony asked, her voice gentle but firm.
The man on the table moaned quietly, and gradually opened hazy eyes.
Simeon nodded over at the nurse as she slid a stool around to sit close to Tony’s head, where he could easily see her.
“You’re in the OR, Tony. We’re having a look inside your head, remember.”
“Uhh…yeah, OK. I ‘member. Don’ tell Jeth.”
“No, it’s OK, we won’t.” She looked up at Simeon and gave him the thumbs up and the surgeon began to tease away the brain tissue to unearth the source of Tony’s problems.
“We need you to talk to us for a while, Tony, so Dr. Waverley knows he’s not affecting any of the important areas of your brain as he works. Do you understand?”
Tony swallowed hard. “Wait…Have to protect my Sentinels. Jet and Kells…”
The nurse smiled. “It’s OK, Tony. You don’t have to worry…”
The whole team were shocked at the vehemence of his response. There were resonant overtones of the Guide Voice and it was amazing to them all that Tony could function at this level whilst under what amounted to very heavy sedation.
Simeon stopped what he was doing immediately and was about to speak when Tony continued.
“Loki. Shield our Sentinels. Do not leave them until I call for you.”
There was a rattle of instruments on their trays, as one of the nurses dropped to her knees under the empathic weight of Tony’s ‘Voice’, while one of the Mundanes in the theatre gave a little squeak of alarm as Tony’s Coyote Spirit Guide shimmered into being next to the operating table.
With long loping steps, Loki circled around the prone form of the Guide, and then placed his front paws on the edge of the metal bed. He met the eyes of each of the surgical team, his lip curled threateningly at the shocked group, before nuzzling Tony’s bandaged hand and then disappearing in a flash of blue/white light.
“OK….c’n poke about now. I’ve got ‘em both cov’r’d.” Tony mumbled, oblivious to the awed expressions on the faces around him.
“Riiight,” Simeon murmured, willing his pounding heart to slow down. The last thing Tony needed was a brain surgeon with shaking hands, but after that awesome show of empathic power, it was difficult not to give in to the surge of adrenalin.
He turned to his aide who dabbed his brow with a cool cloth. It was refreshing and gave him a few seconds to collect himself. Finally settled enough to continue, he gave a shaky nod to the nurse at Tony’s side.
She rubbed her face with the sleeve of her scrubs and swallowed hard.
“Well, Tony. Why don’t you tell me about how you met your Sentinel.”
“I was a priest,” he began, and the nurse gave a worried look at Simeon, only to have the surgeon nod. She looked back down at her patient in surprise as he carried on with the story of meeting his Sentinel during an undercover operation at a church.
Teasing away the folds of brain matter, Simeon reached deeply into Tony’s paravinculum, searching for the anomaly. Finally, after several minutes, he found the cause of the anomalous scans.
“Crap,” he mumbled under his breath.
Although it wasn’t the worst outcome, what he saw was not at all an easy fix, even for a skilled surgeon like him.
“OK, look sharp people, I’m going to need three Phynox a-2 clips and the applier. We have some tricky customers here and the sooner we get them dealt with the happier I’ll be.
“Hey, Jethro, Kelly. Good to see you.” Jim smiled broadly as Kelly planted a big kiss on his cheek.
Jethro smiled tightly at the Ultima pair. He had never been so glad to see anyone in his life. Despite the superior appointments of the plane, it had been a difficult flight. There was something just outside his field of vision, both physical and metaphysical, that had him jumpy as all fuck, and now the crowded airport concourse was playing havoc with his senses. He had never wanted Tony more than he did right then.
“Jethro, you OK?”
He started a little in surprise at another Guide’s closeness, and then realised he’d been on the verge of a zone. Now though, the soothing feeling of Blair’s empathic shielding had nudged him back on track. Jethro ran a trembling hand over his face.
“No, not really.”
“Where’s Tony?” Blair gaze was searching the concourse behind them.
“He had to work, Alpha Blair. A court case. He might be here tonight or maybe tomorrow.”
Kelly was almost purring as she snuggled up against the Guide, who wasn’t much taller than her now. Jethro watched as Jim shot a quick look over at Blair and his gut lurched with concern.
“Have you heard anything from him?” he demanded, gruffly.
Jim shook his head. “No, Gibbs, it’s just a surprise that you’re here without him.”
Gibbs frowned. “Not my idea. I said we’d wait but he wouldn’t have it. Too worried about my zoning I expect.”
This time it was Blair’s turn to look surprised. “You’ve been zoning…how many times…what were the circumstances…”
“Come on, Chief. Let’s get over to the jet and get these guys up to the Retreat. You can nag at him to your heart’s content when we’re somewhere a little calmer.”
Blair nodded with a sheepish grin of apology to Jethro. “Yeah, come on. I arranged for your luggage to go straight to the private hangar.
Kelly and Jim strode out ahead, making a path through the milling crowds. Tiredly, Jethro followed behind but not before turning on and checking his cell for messages. To his relief there was a voice mail from Tony.
‘Hey you. Hope you had a good flight. It looks like I’m going to be hung up here for at least a day and I won’t be very reachable. I’ll try to give you a call tonight, but if not then I’ll be there as soon as I can. I love you, my Sentinel. Give Kells a goodnight kiss for me. I’m saving your kisses for when I get there…and they won’t all be on your mouth.’
Tony’s voice sounded smooth and unruffled; almost too smooth. Something about that set Jethro’s teeth on edge. Jethro was about to call Tony’s cell, when Blair was at his side.
“Come on, Gibbs. You’re acting a little punchy, and I’d like to get you somewhere quiet and more Sentinel friendly as soon as. I’ve got some Blue Mountain perking just for you, although you might have to share with Jim.”
The Ultima gave him a wry grin, as Jim’s sub-vocal ‘Too fucking right’, hit Jethro sensitive ears. He nodded and picked up the pace a little, allowing Sandburg’s irrepressible good humour to pull him along through the clamour of the airport. He could always call Tony later and put his mind at rest; maybe even get a little phone sex out of his husband too.
With that enticing thought, he strode out after Jim and Kelly, with Blair trotting along beside him, talking quietly about nothing in particular. Strangely enough, Jethro found it oddly calming.
Tony was floating in a twilight world. The dull pain in his head throbbed along in time with his heartbeat and his eyes felt gummed together. He could feel the hot, itchy press of dressings on his head, but it took him a little while to remember why. He kept phasing in and out of consciousness, one time hearing the faint rumble of a trolley outside the room, the next feeling the tightening of a blood pressure cuff on his upper arm. When he eventually managed to crack his eyelids open, the light outside the window went from the brightness of day to dusk, in what seemed the blink of an eye.
Time had no meaning to him at all and it could have been a minute or several hours later when the familiar voices of Nicola and Simeon washed over his hearing. He strained pick out their words and then, when he was successful, he wished he hadn’t.
“I know…Very serious…danger to his Sentinel, which is why he came in… no hope of sustaining a bond.”
Tony’s gut clenched at the words and he struggled against the pull of the meds that were holding him captive. What were they saying? Were things really that bad? His panic had made him lose track of their voices and he had to work hard to pull the hysteria he felt under control, as bright spots appeared in front of his eyes, while darkness began to gather around him. His chest was tight with fear and he thought his heart would break at Nicola’s next words.
“It would have been better to…break their bond…Can’t tell Tony that.”
His heart felt like it was beating out of his chest, as his worst fears were realised. He’d put his Sentinel in danger, and they we’re trying to keep that information from him.
He felt like his soul was breaking apart as the despair hit him. There was no way he was going endanger his Sentinel anymore. He was the only one who could make this right, because he knew his stubborn husband wouldn’t let him go. But Tony loved Jethro far too much to saddle him with a defective Guide for the rest of his life, just because he had an overactive hero complex. And although he knew Kelly would miss him, she deserved the Guide in her dad’s life to be functional. It was too dangerous to both of them for Tony to be selfish about it.
At least if he took action now, Jethro would be able to bond again. There were other fully functioning Guides out there who were just as, if not better equipped to sustain a bond with a powerful Sentinel like Gibbs.
With a huge effort of will, he gathered the threads of his empathy, and began to sink down into the furthest recesses of his mind, allowing his consciousness to float away on the whorls and eddies of the Other-World; that shadowy place between the planes where nothing lay but darkness and silence.
Just before he lost himself to the blackness, he whispered in his mind, hoping that one day, maybe his Jethro, his love, would hear and understand.
‘Forgive me, my Sentinel. This is the best thing I can do for both of you. I love you.’
“This was too close, Si.”
“I know; it could have been very serious. I think Tony was well aware of the danger to his Sentinel, which is why he came in. If you hadn’t clipped off the aneurysms today, then the chances of a subarachnoid bleed in the paravinculum would have been exponentially greater, and the damage that could have caused would have given them no hope of sustaining a bond.”
Nicola grimaced at the thought of what that would have done to the two men. Their relationship was envied by many in the S/G community
“It would have been better to have Gibbs here of course. Even if the worst had happened, there would be no way Jethro would break their bond. That man worships the ground his Guide walks on. Although of course you can’t tell Tony that. He wouldn’t believe you.”
She was about to add more when the alarms at Tony’s bed began to blare forbiddingly.
They rushed to the bed to find Tony’s vitals dropping fast.
“His respiration is depressed; heart rate falling; blood pressure low.” Simeon pulled down the bed guard and pulled back the dressing on his head, looking for any obvious bleeding.
There was a flurry of action as the room began to fill with crash teams and nursing staff. The controlled chaos of crash teams, culminated in several vials of drugs being pushed into Tony’s IV, while a nurse bagged him to keep his oxygen levels up until an O2 line could be set up.
But it was all to no avail. Thirty minutes later Nicola had to admit that Tony had fallen into a coma, without any indication as to why.
As the team rushed in to prepare Tony for a CAT scan to check for another aneurysm or bleeding on his brain, Nicola looked sadly at her husband, whose expression was grave.
“I think it’s time for me to send that email to Ducky. If he’s in autopsy, it’s the fastest way to get hold of him. His assistant keeps an eye on his mail box throughout the day, but he won’t answer immediately if he’s working.”
Simeon nodded in agreement.
“We need to get Gibbs here as soon as possible, and if we don’t want a feral Sentinel on our hands then I think it’s best for someone close to handle him.”
It wasn’t a sound that was audible to Blair, but three Sentinels at the kitchen table cocked their heads to listen. Just the fact that one of them was Kelly, who was not yet online would have been surprising enough. But when they all concentrated on the centre of the room moments before Loki appeared, howling and trembling in pain, only to be joined seconds later by a panther, wolf, white lion and a juvenile cheetah, then Blair was damn sure something really hinky was going on.
All his fears were compounded when Gibbs stood suddenly and cried out desperately.
“No Tony! No, don’t go…”
He fell to his knees and only Jim’s super-fast reflexes allowed him to catch the other Sentinel before he crashed face first onto the wood floor.
In the midst of all the chaos, Jethro’s cell began to ring, and it was Kelly who had the presence of mind to answer it.
Blair was listening to the one-sided conversation as he quickly moved to help Jim with Jethro, who was trembling with empathic overload.
“Yes, this is Kelly…Grampy Ducky? I can’t talk, there’s something wrong with Daddy…”
The Guide Ultima was very impressed that the burgeoning Sentinel was coping with the amount of emotional and physical stimulation in the room, while still being able to carry out a conversation.
“What? No…he said he was in court. What is he doing in hospital…was there an attack? An accident?”
Blair saw Jim’s head turn as he listened to whatever Donald was saying.
“OK. We’re with Blair and Jim in Colorado.”
The Guide held out his hand for the phone and Kelly immediately gave it to him, moving quickly to sit on the floor by her father, pushing back his hair from his forehead with trembling fingers.
“Donald, it’s Blair.”
“Oh thank god. My dear boy, for some reason, which I am at a loss to understand, Anthony has decided to sign himself into the S/G clinic for exploratory surgery without telling Jethro. And now I have been contacted by the hospital to say he has slipped into a coma.” The old man sounded beside himself with concern.
The shock was immense. Blair felt his mouth go dry with panic. Not only did they need to get an empathically compromised Sentinel back on his feet, but they had to then get him to DC asap.
Jim slid Jethro’s head over to Kelly’s lap and slid his cell off his belt.
“Tell him we can be in DC in just over three hours. I’ll call in a Code Ultima 1 to expedite the flight plan.”
Blair had never been so glad for the coolness under fire of his Sentinel, as Jim wandered to the other side of the room, already barking orders into his cell.
“OK, Ducky. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
“Thank goodness. I’ll be at the hospital and I’ll keep you informed of any developments.”
Ducky rang off with the minimum of fuss and that alone told Blair it was serious. He looked over at Kelly, who was pale faced, but still holding it together. He slid Jethro’s phone into his back pocket and moved quickly over to the little group on the floor.
“OK. Let’s get your dad back on his feet, while Jim sorts out the flight. I’m going to need your help, Kelly. Do you remember the work we did on empathic overload…?
Four hours later
Jethro found Tony’s heartbeat before they’d even fully entered the Clinic parking lot. It was steady, but worryingly slow. A soft touch to his arm helped him to stabilise and stave off a zone, but it was a close won thing. He flung open the passenger door before Jim had brought the truck to a complete halt, and was striding across the tarmac toward the entrance with Blair in tow.
“Stay with me, Sentinel,” Blair murmured, slightly breathlessly, as he jogged alongside. “You’ll be no good to him if you zone or fall into a feral episode. Keep one of your senses on me or Kelly, OK.”
Gibbs could only give a simple nod. He was struggling to keep the primitive Sentinel at bay and words were way beyond him.
The whole flight had been a blur of jumbled emotions, as he fought not to send himself into empathic cascade. Tony was too far away for their bond to resonate, but that didn’t stop him reaching out. Only the constant support of Kelly and Blair had kept him from spiralling down into a feral state; something that Jim had promised him would end with the Sentinel Ultima putting him down hard, regardless of their altitude at the time. Gibbs had clutched onto his daughter both physically and empathically with every fibre of his being, in order to make sure she wasn’t in any danger from him, or from the most powerful Sentinel on Earth.
As they passed through the Clinic doors, Jethro noticed a familiar face at the elevator, but couldn’t find the brainpower to put a name to it.
“I’ve cleared the way, Blair.”
“Thanks, Nicola. Any change?”
Jethro realised the familiar woman must be Dr Waverley. He’d met her a couple of times when Tony had dragged him here, or they’d accompanied Kelly for her shots and check-ups.
He tapped on the button to call the elevator, none to softly, only to have Kelly wrap her fingers around his.
“Steady, Daddy. We’re here now. It won’t come at all if you break the button. We’ll be with Tony soon,” she chided softly.
But what she didn’t know, what he couldn’t find the words to tell her, was that he couldn’t feel his bond with Tony at all. Not a glimmer, and that terrified him.
He stepped away from her into the foyer, looking left and right for the signs for the stairwell, but he didn’t manage to move more than a pace before Jim was standing in front of him and Blair behind, his hands smoothing down Jethro’s spine in a gentle, but insistent rhythm.
“Guide,” he growled out desperately. “I can’t feel my Guide.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from behind him, and then the elevator doors slid open and he was hustled onto the car.
“Take a breath for me, Jethro…good, good…now another. They are going to tranq you if you don’t calm down and then you’ll be out for hours. Tony needs you here and sane, OK?”
The muscles in his jaw jumped as he ground his teeth together. Couldn’t these people understand; he couldn’t feel their bond. How was he supposed to stay calm when the reason for his life was, to all intents and purposes, completely cut off from him? He could feel his systems going into Battle Drive; adrenaline coursing through his veins; his muscles tense and ready to fight to retrieve his Guide from where ever he had been taken.
Suddenly the car came to a juddering halt, in a very familiar way. Under other circumstances he might have smirked at Blair pulling his own trick with the emergency stop. But right now there was no way. He reached out for the control panel, his fingers clawed with violent urgency.
“Sentinel. Stand down! Now!”
Blair’s Guide Voice was like a shock of ice water down his spine, and there was nothing Jethro could do but obey. His buzzing in his ears faded and he began to pick up quiet sobs. A quick scan of the interior of the car showed a grim faced Jim, a pale but outwardly calm Blair, and Kelly with tears pouring down her cheeks, trying her hardest to be brave.
Gathering all the strength of will he had, Jethro breathed in and then out as slowly as he could, letting the air hiss from his lips in a shaky sigh.
“OK… Now do that again, and I might consider restarting the elevator.”
He obeyed, too concerned about his Guide to do anything else. He was aware enough to know that if he lost it in here, there would be no way out for his kid, and that wasn’t acceptable.
“Good, well done.”
The car lurched and resumed its ascent. Jethro watched as the numbers on the readout climbed, and wondered how the hospital could function with elevators that moved so slowly.
“Give me a rundown on what your senses are telling you,” Blair’s voice was quiet, but Jethro was in no doubt that it wasn’t a request.
“His heartbeat is steady but slow…38. His blood pressure is low…too low. Respiration shallow and slow. I can’t smell him…too many other scents here…illness, medicines…”
“That’s OK, I understand. What about empathically.”
Gibbs found his breathing increasing as his fear once again rose. “I can’t feel him, at all. Not even the usual vibes that an online Guide puts out. If I didn’t know better, I would think he was a Mundane. I know he can do that when he’s awake…make himself invisible empathically, that’s what makes him so good under-cover but he can’t do it when he’s asleep.”
“Yes he can, Daddy. He just gives it all to Loki.”
Jethro saw Blair’s eyes widen with the surprise he also felt.
“How do you know that, Kelly?” The Guide enquired.
“When he first bonded with Dad, he used to play ‘Sentinel Hide and Seek’ with me. He’d hide in the house and garden and see if I could find him, just using the little pings I get from his shields and our parental bond. He said it would help when I came online.”
Blair nodded, “He’s right, it’s a good way to practice recognising empathic signals from others.”
The doors of the elevator opened, and it was only Jim’s firm grip on his upper arms from behind that stopped Jethro from running through. A soft touch from Blair was all he needed to take him back from the edge again, as Kelly finished her explanation.
“So, I hardly ever won, and then one day, by the time I found him he’d fallen asleep. I got really piss…angry with him.” She flicked a little embarrassed glance at Jethro, but he was too overwrought to even care about the slip of the tongue.
“So he showed me how he was tricking me. He called Loki and told him to take over. Immediately I couldn’t feel him at all.”
“And, it’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen…”
The comment came from a man, who Jethro hadn’t even realised was standing in the corridor. He was wearing a tag that said ‘Simeon Waverley’. He was obviously Nicola’s husband, and Mundane, but Jethro couldn’t remember if he’d met him before.
“I’m Tony’s surgeon, and he pulled that little trick both before the operation and during it. Scared half my staff to death when his Spirit Animal wandered through theatre like he owned the place.”
The tone was jokey, but Jethro could tell from the stress underlying it that the man was seriously concerned.
“I need to get to my Guide,” he ground out, straining a little against Jim’s hold on him. His temper was starting to fray, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep a lid on everything. He needed Tony. Now!
Waverley looked sympathetic. “Yes, I know you do. But you also need to know what’s been happening….”
Blair took charge, stopping Simeon before he could go any further.
“Maybe we could let Jethro see Tony and then you can explain it to us all?”
With a glance at Jethro, Waverley seemed to understand and nodded his head towards a private room directly ahead.
Jethro pulled out of Jim’s grip and almost leapt across the corridor, yanking open the door.
Tony was lying in one of the large King beds reserved for S/G pairs, surrounded by machines that were dim and silent in deference to a Sentinels senses; parchment pale and still as death, his head was shrouded in white bandages. As he reached along their bond for his Guide and found no reply, a dagger of pain in his gut made Jethro stumble to the bedside.
Moments later Jethro was stretched out alongside his Guide, gently cradling Tony’s left hand, which was the only part of him that wasn’t tangled up in leads and IV tubing. He pressed his nose into the crease of Tony’s neck, but was distressed at the overlying taint that covered most of his Guides scent. He lifted the cool, dry fingertips to his lips and tasted the chemical salt/sour of saline and anaesthetic. As he focussed in on the slow pulse at Tony’s wrist, he knew he was sinking into a shallow zone. He knew it was happening, but he couldn’t stop himself, as the lack of their bond was like a slow bleeding wound in his psyche. All he could do was plead as he searched for the link between them over and over again.
‘Come back to me, Tony. I need you, Guide. Please…’
Kelly took a step towards her father, but Blair put out a hand and stopped her.
“It’s OK, Kelly. Let him rest for a few minutes. He’s safe here and I won’t let him go too deep. Let’s hear what Dr Waverley has to say and then we’ll decide what to do.”
He smiled as she tucked herself onto the chair next to the bed as close to her father as possible, and then turned to the surgeon, who looked more than a little relieved to see them there.
“Tony came to my wife with concerns that he was having problems with his empathic shields. Apparently, Gibbs has had three zones this last week, each getting longer in duration. The last one Tony didn’t even pick up on, and found Gibbs by accident. You can imagine how distressed he was.”
Blair sank down onto the end of the bed in shock. He couldn’t understand why Tony hadn’t spoken to Jethro about this – and if not his Sentinel, then why not Blair himself. Needing more information, he made himself concentrate on the information the surgeon was giving him.
“A CT scan found three dark spots on his paravinculum, and earlier today we investigated.”
The Guide Ultima looked over at a sob from Kelly, but Jim was already there, and had taken her place on the chair, pulling her onto his lap and whispering soothingly into her ear.
“He had three intact aneurysms, the largest of which was pressing on an area of brain tissue which we believe is central to the functioning of a Guides empathic shielding. I undertook a procedure called clipping, which fastens off the neck of the bulge in the blood vessel with non-ferrous spring clips. This causes them to deflate and stops them from haemorrhaging. He came through the procedure well; I had no reason to believe there would be any problems and I’m sure that if we can bring him out of this coma he will find his shielding is back to full strength immediately. With the number and severity of the aneurysms, any other Guide would have been in very dire straits, even to the point of losing their bond with their Sentinel. I’ve never seen a paravinculum so hyper-developed, or powerful, and his ability to interact with his Spirit Animal…well it’s awe inspiring.”
“So if everything went well, why is he in a coma?” The rough rasp of Jethro’s voice showed he was struggling out of his zone by himself, but Blair gently extended his shields to give him an empathic boost, and he was gratified to see the tension in Gibbs’ shoulders begin to relax.
“Honestly…we don’t know. There is no medical reason. We scanned him a few hours ago and the clips are well positioned and not pressing anywhere that should affect his autonomic systems. There is no internal bleeding and the fluid pressure on his brain is within normal parameters post surgically.”
Blair frowned. He was unsure what to suggest. He knew Jethro would be looking to him for answers, but he was flailing in the dark like the rest of them. This was not something he’d ever experienced before, and given the surgeons comments about Tony’s empathic abilities, it really shouldn’t be happening at all. Alpha Prime Guides were very hardy when it came to illness and medical procedures, and rarely if ever had bad outcomes from surgery. For someone of Tony’s power it should have been a walk in the park once the problem had been solved.
That ability was something Mundane medical researchers were very interested in, but Blair was careful not to encourage them. He would not have his Guides used as guinea pigs.
There was suddenly a cold rush around him that was nothing to do with the temperature of the room, and he didn’t need Jethro’s sharp intake of breath to tell him that a Spirit Animal had materialised. It was a shock however, to see an almost transparent Loki shimmer into being. His head was thrown back as he howled and howled, but there was no sound to be heard. The coyote was phasing in and out of being, and it was immediately obvious to Blair, that whatever was wrong was happening on the Spirit Plane. He stood and stripped off his jacket.
“I think…we need to meditate. There’s something going on up on the Spirit Plane. There is no way Loki should be that insubstantial. I’ve only seen that with a dying Sentinel before.”
Gibbs gave a strangled moan of distress as the words left his mouth, and Blair wished he could bite them back.
“We’re not going to let that happen, Jethro. But I have a feeling I’m going to need your help up there. Are you in a place where you can let go of Tony long enough to meditate with me.”
Blair knew it was a big ask, not only because it would mean Jethro letting go of his Guide, but also because Gibbs and meditation were not two words that went together well. He was aware that Tony often had to bribe his Sentinel with the promise of sex bonding to get him to do even the most basic of exercises, and regardless of the urgency, Blair was sure Jim wouldn’t agree to him making any promises of that nature.
Only five minutes later, orderlies had placed three large meditation mats at the foot of Tony’s bed, and Jim, Jethro, and Kelly, were settling down in the lotus position. Blair called his wolf, Chief, to him, and the almost corporeal Spirit Animal curled around the frighteningly translucent Loki, gently licking his head, while his tail curled comfortingly over the shaking canine’s back.
Experience as a shaman had Blair pulling them onto the Spirit Plane within moments of him settling into position, and it was immediately obvious that Gibbs was going to have problems maintaining his focus. The big surprise was Kelly.
Blair had only suggested she meditate as a support for her father and to allow her to feel useful. A burgeoning Sentinel should not be able to make it to the Spirit Plane. But there she was, frighteningly stable; so much so that Blair was pretty sure this whole traumatic experience was pulling her, thankfully gradually, online. He was grateful for small mercies, as having her blow in this situation could be a step too far for all of them.
More worrying still was that there was no sign at all of Tony. He’d been hoping that he could connect with Tony on this plane and bring him back to his body. It seemed more and more likely that they were dealing with something out of the ordinary – although with Tony that wasn’t really anything new – and whatever it was had been instigated by Tony himself.
“Tony…please…where are you?”
Jethro’s voice was painful to hear, and Blair was about to try to comfort him when Kelly reached out and grasped her father’s hand tightly.
“If we call him together, maybe we can reach him,” she said positively.
Blair had never been more grateful for the confidence of youth, as Jethro’s presence on the Spirit Plane immediately became more substantial.
“Tony, we miss you. And I’m getting scared, ‘cause I think I’m coming online. I’ve had a couple of hearing whiteouts in the last few hours and the smell of the hospital is really getting to me. I don’t want to do it without you. I’m scared I’ll have to go into the centre if you’re not here. And daddy is a mess. You know he can’t keep his senses in line without you.”
“Tony…DiNozzo, report!” Gibbs snarled brashly, but it was all bravado. After a few moments silence he collapsed in on himself.
“Don’t leave me here. I can’t…I can’t do this on my own anymore. I love you…”
Jethro gripped Kelly’s hand with both of his, trying and failing to hide their shaking. Kelly simply pressed her shoulder up against her father. Blair couldn’t have been more proud of her; given what she had said, he wouldn’t have been surprised if she had failed to even manage to meditate let alone get onto the Spirit Plane on her first try.
There was only silence around them, but Blair had a prickle at the back of his neck that told him something was coming…whether it was going to be bad or good he couldn’t tell. Jim stiffened and their bond was bristling with the sparks of danger warnings from his Sentinel.
From the corner of his eye Blair caught a dark smear in the usual blue light around them. With a jolt of recognition, he realised what was happening. It was an opening to the Other-World and there was only one way that could have happened. Now all he had to do was persuade Tony that committing the psychic equivalent of suicide was a big mistake, because he had no doubt that if he failed, they would not only lose Tony, but his Sentinel too.
‘Shit,’ Blair thought, ‘No fucking pressure’. But a pulse of love and support from his Sentinel gave him the impetus to make a play.
“Didn’t take you for a quitter, DiNozzo,” he sneered harshly.
“What? Your Sentinel not worth the effort of sorting things out. You too lazy to fight your way back from whatever hole you’ve dug yourself in to?”
He could see the Sentinel in Jethro getting pissed at the slurs against his Guide, and Blair knew that if this didn’t work, Jethro would probably lose his focus completely. But there was a pale light shining from the Other-World…the place between planes, and Blair was pretty sure that with one more little push, they would find out exactly what had caused Tony DiNozzo to consider this ultimate step.
“Even if you take the cowards way out by losing yourself in the Other-World, that doesn’t mean your body will die. Is that what you want? To leave your Sentinel with a soulless shell to mourn? Do you want to leave Kelly to struggle without her Papa as she takes her first steps as a Sentinel? To not be here for her until she finds her Guide? Because if that’s the case, then you’re not the man I thought I knew and admired.”
There was a rumbling and the blue-tinged ground beneath them seemed to roll, as the slash of stygian darkness began to spark with bright flashes of white light.
He winked at Kelly, who was holding firmly to her father’s hands, seeming innately to realise that she had to hold him still; that they needed to wait for Tony to come to them.
“Think I pissed him off?” he whispered to her, enjoying the way she smirked back at him.
But the humour fell from his expression as Tony’s voice finally whispered from the darkness, his words filled with loss and desolation.
“I know there is nothing they can do. I heard what the doctors said. Jet and Kelly deserve better than that. They deserve better than a broken Guide… Please, you have to let me go.”
Night had fallen. Tony wasn’t sure how he knew that, but he knew it all the same.
He took an audit of his physical state – it was nothing but instinct after far too many painful awakenings over the years. His head was aching, but it was dull and distant; probably because of the drugs that were making his thought processes so sluggish. His muscles were tense and stiff, but there was no other pain anywhere.
Slowly he began to remember the events that had led to him waking. How Jethro and Kelly had travelled to the Spirit Plane with Blair, and had called him back from the Other-World. After listening to him explain what he thought he’d heard, they had then filled him in on what had actually happened in his room hours before.
He’d had to admit just how stupid he’d been to make assumptions based on limited intel. But in his defence, it had been a fucking crappy few weeks and he knew he’d been preparing for the worst from the moment his empathic shields had begun to fail. Those few broken sentences under the influence of the residual anaesthesia had seemed to bring his worst nightmares to life.
As soon as he’d agreed to return to the mortal plane, everything had gone black and he supposed it had taken a while for his body to catch up with his mind. Just how long he wasn’t sure, but he knew everyone must be really worried about him.
He owed them all a massive apology. Just how he was going to make it up to Jethro and Kelly, he wasn’t sure. But he knew he’d put his best effort into it – no matter how long it took. He was just glad the whole nightmare was over.
That was until Blair got a hold of him.
Aware of the ass reaming that the Guide Ultima was capable of giving, Tony knew he would probably be wishing he was back in the dark nothing of the place between Planes. He almost hoped that Jim would just beat the living daylights out of him. At least if he was unconscious, he wouldn’t be subjected to one of Blair’s infamous lectures on Guide ethics and responsibilities.
As he gradually surfaced from his strange drugged stupor, Tony slowly realised he wasn’t alone in the room. With trepidation, overlaid with fear that the medics were wrong and his gifts would be gone, he opened his mind to scan the immediate area. For the first time in nearly three months he could feel the sweet and heady thrum of his psionic bond with Jethro, and that heightened awareness of safety and protection that always came with his husband’s presence by his side.
Joyfully he sank into it, feeding his limited, but gradually replenishing psionic energy into the weakened empathic shield that nurtured and protected their bond; giving back to his Sentinel what little strength he had. He had failed Jethro so badly in the last few months and he was determined to give his Sentinel nothing but his best. He gathered the tattered threads and began to weave his shields around his husband once again.
But then just as suddenly as he had recognised and begun to shore up the bond, it was gone. Tony gasped brokenly and his eyes shot open, the loss of the positive emotional feedback causing his eyes to well with tears.
Jethro was sitting at the side of his bed, looking more broken than Tony had ever seen him. His chin was rough with stubble, his pallor grey, and his eyes so closed off that Tony could hardly breathe.
“I’m sorry,” Jethro said gruffly, shocking Tony with the apology. “That won’t happen again. It’s difficult to be around you and not reach out.”
Tony was totally confused, not quite understanding what was going on. Why wouldn’t Jethro want to luxuriate in their bond as much as Tony did? It had been three long, painful months, and as much as he had tried to shelter his Sentinel, Tony was sure Jethro must have begun to feel the weakness in their bond.
“I won’t bother you for long,” the Sentinel continued quietly, his voice hoarse and breaking. “I just wanted you to know that as soon as I hear from your lawyers, I’ll move things along. I won’t fight you, and whatever you want, I’ll sign the papers. You can come back hom…to the house and collect your things when they let you out of here. Or I can hold onto everything until you get settled in a new place.
“It looks like Kells is coming online, so Blair has insisted she goes back to Colorado with them when they leave. I think it’ll be the best thing…she’s going to need someone strong to gentle her through the first few days. I’m just grateful that Blair is willing. And she won’t cope well with the emotional fallout without you nearby.”
Feeling sick with fear, Tony reached blindly for the controls for the bed, and raised his upper body, trying desperately to parse what Jethro was saying. That was a really long speech for his husband and Tony was finding it hard to get past the first sentence or two.
“Why…why do I need a lawyer?” He asked, his voice shaky with emotion.
“For the divorce.” Jethro looked down at his hands that were white where he had them fisted tightly on his thighs. “I’d like to say we should just do without – you know how I feel about those blood-suckers – but with our joint savings and bonds, and the money you put into the house remodel, we’ll need to thrash out who gets what. I can cash in part of my pension fund to make sure I can cover my side, so Kelly and me can stay in the house. With her coming online it’d probably be best if she’s in a familiar place.”
Panic welled up in Tony’s gut and for a moment he thought he was going to be sick. “D…divorce?”
“That’s what you want isn’t it?”
Their eyes met, and there was a dark thread of steel in Jethro’s gaze that made Tony feel scared of his Sentinel for the very first time.
“No…no, Jethro. Don’t say that. It’s not true.”
“It seems pretty damn obvious to me that it is. You were going to leave me – just fade away into nothing and leave me and Kelly behind to mourn without even telling us why.”
“Jethro…” Tony’s voice broke as he struggled to understand. “I thought I was losing my gifts. It was the best way. You need a strong Guide, and I thought…You know what I thought I heard. It would have been dangerous for you. You’d zoned three times in a week, for fucks sake. I thought it was going to break our bond and leave you vulnerable. I couldn’t allow that to happen. I’m your Guide, it’s my job.”
Tony jumped as Jethro’s hand shot out and grasped his left wrist none to gently. Tony didn’t resist, and for a moment the physical contact made their bond thrum under his skin, but instantaneously Gibbs pulled his hand back as if stung, and the bright spark when Jethro’s mind joined to his grew dark again.
Without looking back up at Tony, Jethro pointed a shaking finger at the custom designed platinum and onyx wedding ring on his finger. “So when I asked you to marry me, you said yes because you are…were my Guide?”
Every single word of that statement was horrific and Tony began to realise that things were way worse than he’d imagined.
“No! No, Jethro. I said yes because I love you. I’m so proud to be your husband. I don’t want a divorce. Please believe me.” Tony knew he was pleading, begging even, but he had no shame about it. The last thing he wanted was to lose Jethro and Kelly because of his idiotic mistake, and fucking weak-walled blood vessels in his brain.
“Then why…WHY, did you think it was OK to leave me?” Jethro looked wrecked, almost overcome with emotion as his voice got louder and louder. “You’re not just my Guide, you stupid bastard. You’re my husband; my lover; Kelly’s papa. How could you be so fucking stupid as to believe we’d be better off without you? What else am I supposed to think when you lie to me about being sick. And then, when those lies prevented us from being there to support you, then you try to commit suicide. I didn’t even realise there was anything wrong!”
Jethro’s voice broke on the last words, and to Tony’s horror he turned and strode towards the door. The Guide knew that if he let his Sentinel leave, he would go to ground. No one could track an Alpha Prime if he didn’t want to be found, and given the emotional stress he was under, that was a dangerous situation to be avoided at all costs.
“Please, Jethro. I was wrong, so fucking wrong. And if I have to apologise every day for the rest of my life to make it up to you and Kelly then I’ll do it. But please don’t leave, not like this. There has to be something I can do…something I can say, that will make you change your mind.”
The passing of almost a minute was marked only by Tony’s shaky breaths, as Jethro’s head dropped onto his chest and he came to a stop in front of the closed door, his hand hovering above the handle. Tony was appalled to see the bright red smears of a skin rash just beneath the collar of his shirt, which was a good indication that he was suffering Sensory Flares. His Sentinel was at risk of falling into Sensory Cascade Failure, which if Tony couldn’t get things under control, would leave him zoned and unreachable.
Not even considering the likely outcome or consequences, Tony slid his legs out from under the covers, determined to follow his Sentinel until he made him listen. He didn’t even get completely upright before bright spots swam in the periphery of his vision and the world began to spin around him. He thought he made a sound of alarm, although he wasn’t really sure, but before his knees impacted the tiled floor, there were warm, strong arms wrapped around his shoulders, and he only just had time to realise that he was back in the only safe place on Earth, when he was gently placed back on the bed.
Jethro didn’t know whether he wanted to hug his Guide or punch him. The idiot had almost cracked his skull on the floor; his barely-beginning-to-heal-after-major-brain-surgery skull! They had things to sort out and the sooner the better. The stress was playing havoc with Jethro’s senses and all he wanted was to find somewhere dark and quiet to lick his wounds.
Waiting for Tony to wake up from the self-imposed coma, Jethro had thought long and hard about the implications of his Guides actions. Tony had lied to Jethro; he had hidden his condition from him; and rather than face what was to come together, Tony had chosen to go it alone – making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of his Sentinel.
At least that’s how Tony had obviously seen it. All Jethro could think was that Tony hadn’t trusted him to stay by his side. Did he really think Jethro was so shallow as to kick him to the kerb because he was ill and losing his gifts?
Did their marriage vows mean nothing to him?
Regardless of the deep well of love the Sentinel had for Tony, the lack of trust – on both sides now – was going to take a great deal of getting over.
Unable to stop, he reached out with his senses, needing to reassure himself that Tony hadn’t sunk back into the horrifying nothingness of the coma. Jethro puffed out a shaky breath as his sensitive fingertips and hypersensitive hearing catalogued the rhythm of Tony’s pulse and breathing. The other man was already rising back into full consciousness, after his idiotic attempt at standing up had made his blood pressure dip and caused him to faint.
Under other circumstances he would have teased Tony about that, but things were still too fraught between them for that kind of interaction.
“How can we get back to where we were Tony. How could you betray me like that? Why didn’t you trust me enough to tell me?” he murmured, his heart breaking just a little at the thought that it might not be possible for their relationship to fully recover, despite their bond.
“I don’t think he had any choice, Jethro.”
Jethro turned fast, placing his body between Tony and the intruder before he’d even recognised that it was Blair.
“You didn’t hear me come in, did you Jethro?” Blair was smiling gently and radiating feel good emotions, pulling Jethro down from his hyper-aware state. The adrenaline surge left him dry mouthed and shaky, and he found his legs really didn’t want to hold him up. He stumbled to the side of the bed and sank down into the chair.
Blair poured a cup of water from the jug and handed to Jethro, who downed it gratefully. He was so very tired, and didn’t know how much more he was going to be able to take before he began to lose control of his senses.
“I’ve been reviewing the CT scans and Dr Waverley’s observations. Tony’s paravinculum is really remarkable – in fact Simeon feels he is the next step of evolution for Guides, although we’re going to keep that very quiet! It’s the source of his emotional shapeshifting abilities, the way he can interact with Loki, and the ease with which he has been supporting both you and Kelly, while neither of you realised what he was going through.”
Blair sat on the side of the bed, and brushed Tony’s hair off his forehead. Jethro couldn’t help another scan, and found that his husband had drifted into a light sleep. Gibbs wished he could join him. His skin was sensitive and itchy, and his sight was spiking a little, causing a bright shard of pain to spear his temple.
“But the most important thing, is that those aneurysms were situated in a very specific place within the brain structure, that not only affected his empathy but also his reasoning and connection with your bond. I think that pressure was what caused you to zone and is still residually affecting your senses. It’s also why Tony to made such crazy, and frankly out of character decisions when it came to telling you about this whole issue.”
Gibbs could hear the sincerity in Blair’s words, but he was epically pissed, and didn’t want to let go of his anger. If he accepted what Blair was saying, then he’d also have to accept that the damage being done to Tony’s brain was the cause of all their problems, and then he’d really have to forgive Tony, because it wasn’t his fault.
“I couldn’t think of a way out…” Tony whispered from the bed. “The idea of talking to you about it was so…frightening. All I could think was that you wouldn’t want me anymore; that I was worthless to you.”
On hearing the plaintive sincerity of Tony’s words, Jethro couldn’t find any blame for his lover. If it wasn’t a conscious decision, and Tony hadn’t knowingly decided to deceive him, then it looked like he was going to have to find it in him to forgive after all.
“Is it fixed?” Jethro asked Blair, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to go through something like this again. He was hanging by his last nerve and right now, the only way was up, he felt so tired and beat.
“Yeah, Jethro. They fixed it. Nicola wants him to stay here for another day to make sure there are no ill effects from the coma, and then you can go home. The prognosis in these cases is excellent, but Nicola will keep a close eye on him anyway.”
“Where’s Kelly?” Tony asked. “Did Jethro say she’s coming online?” A furrow appeared between his eyebrows, and Jethro couldn’t resist smoothing it away with his thumb. He was gratified when Tony leaned into the touch, seemingly as ready to put this whole fuckup behind them as Jethro was.
“Yeah, but there’s nothing to worry about. She’s doing it slow and steady. Although she’s just like her Papa and getting ahead of the curve. She summoned her Spirit Animal and jumped up onto the Spirit Plane before she’d even got one sense online.” Blair gave Tony a sip of water.
The expression of pride on Tony’s face did more to settle Jethro’s mind than any words could. He loved Kelly as much as Jethro did, and Gibbs knew he would never knowingly do anything to hurt her. It was more and more obvious that the events of the last few days were nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with Tony’s unfathomably prodigious Guide gifts.
He sent a meaningful glance at Blair, and the Ultima quickly understood and gamely made a strategic retreat, promising to return in thirty minutes with coffee for Gibbs. Tony just pouted weakly when his own request for caffeine was treated with derision.
Once the door closed behind Sandburg, Tony’s eyes dropped to the bedcover, his nervous fingers tracing the nondescript pattern of the weave.
“Are you…do you still want me to call that lawyer?”
Jethro could hear the trepidation in the words. He didn’t need enhanced vision to see the pulse racing at Tony’s throat, and there was nothing he wanted more than to take Tony in his arms and soothe his fears. But there was one thing he needed to say first. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and waited until Tony lifted his eyes to meet Jethro’s.
“I understand that maybe this whole situation was out of your control. I also know that under normal circumstances you wouldn’t use your gifts to deceive me…” Jethro paused when Tony jerked at the inference.
“Never!” he promised firmly.
“But you have to realise that this whole situation has me jumping at shadows. So I need you to promise not to go on a whole guilt trip if I take a while to settle back down.”
Tony nodded, his eyes bright with tears that didn’t fall. “Can I…can I come home?”
There were echoes of an unloved little boy in the plaintive question, and it melted the last block in Jethro’s heart. He rose wearily from the chair, kicked off his shoes and slipped onto the bed with a heavy sigh.
“Of course you can. Where else would you go?”
He gently slid his arm beneath Tony’s neck and pressed a soft, almost chaste kiss to his lips. Tony melted beneath him, and it was so compelling that if he hadn’t been so bone deep tired, Jethro would have claimed his Guide right then and there. But a hospital bed after major surgery was neither the time or place.
“I really am sorry…”
“Ah, ah, ah. None of that. We promised, in sickness and in health, and that’s one promise I don’t intend to break. I love you, Tony. That’s all that matters.”
“I love you, too.”
They both began to relax, and fed by Tony’s relief and Jethro’s restored trust, the psionic energy flowed between them, once more strengthening their frayed and damaged bond. There was no urgency, only acceptance fuelled by the renewed connection they felt to each other.
Without another word they both slipped into sleep.
Three months later
Jethro was sure that there could be no more beautiful sight than his gorgeous Guide riding his cock. As hot pulses of pleasure surged down his spine and into his balls, he was even beginning to believe in the existence of God. Surely only a higher being could have put Tony on the Earth – a fallen angel made just for Jethro; his match in every way.
Tony’s head was thrown way back, his spine arched, while the hot tight heat of his body encased Jethro’s prick with almost painful pressure. His own erection was almost flat to his stomach, leaking clear droplets that rolled slowly down the rigid length in a constant stream.
The words falling from his mouth were as filthy as his movements. Hot, dirty and nasty, the whole package was turning Jethro on beyond even his prodigious stamina. Still, he was using every trick in the book to make it last.
His Guide, however decided to play dirty. Little by little, Tony was opening his mind; the sounds, sights, smells, touches and tastes of their lovemaking as perceived by him were trickling through their bond. Gibbs was receiving the whole fuck in stereo and it was the hottest fucking thing he’d ever felt.
More and more Tony was learning new things about his abilities, and this was one of the more exciting and personal discoveries. Gibbs could feel just how intense Tony’s pleasure was; see how the slick slide of Jethro’s cock over his prostate was flashing strobes across the backs of his eyes. He could hear his own moans of bliss as heard through Tony’s ears, and feel the effect of that aural stimulation on Tony’s excitement.
All too soon, the whole performance came to a gut-wrenching, ball-breaking crescendo as Tony shook in completion while Jethro surged upwards, filling him over and over again.
Their bond blew wide open, and each of them cried out once more, this time with emotional fulfilment, as their fully restored bond blazed with vitality and the complete awareness of the truth contained within the other’s heart; that they loved and were loved in return. Through hard work and the power of their bond, the trust that had been almost destroyed three months earlier was alive and stronger than ever, and with it so was the harmony of their relationship.
Completely wiped out by the experience of the shared sensual feedback, they both flopped back onto the bed, turning to lie face to face, exchanging soft kisses as they slowly came down from their high.
“Mmmm,” Tony murmured.
“Yeah,” was all that Jethro could manage, although he felt so much more.
“Can’t wait to see Kells tomorrow. I’ve missed her.” Tony sighed happily.
“Yeah, me too. It’s going to be busy at the retreat though. Blair says all the guest houses are going to be full.” Gibbs wasn’t that enamoured of strangers, but right then he was too sated to raise the energy to complain.
“We probably won’t even see them, whoever they are. Most of our time is going to be spent working with Kelly.”
Tony leaned up and smiled down at his Sentinel, drawing gentle fingers in random patterns over Jethro’s chest.
“Just think, now she’s fully online, the next issue is going to be finding her a Guide.”
“What do you mean, nope?” Tony frowned down at Jethro, but quickly noticed the glint of amusement in his gaze.
“She’s going to be the first fully functioning, non-bonded Sentinel ever recorded. She’s going to have full control of all her senses, and die a virgin at the age of 108 years old.”
Tony snorted inelegantly. “Either that, or he’ll have to be some ex-special ops badass so he can fight us both off.”
Jethro nodded, “And he’s going to have to be no more than ten years older than her and really smart too. At least two or three doctorates.”
“One of which will have to be anthropology, as Blair seems to have taken our daughter over to the dark side in the three months he’s had her there in Colorado. Oh, and because she’s an Alpha Prime, he’s going to have to be one too, and of course they’ll need to be a shaman, as Kelly was able to jump to the Spirit Plane and contact her Spirit Guide before she was even freaking online.”
The both grinned in amusement, as sure as over-protective dads could be that there was no way such a paragon of a Guide could exist.
“So an elderly virgin it is then,” Gibbs proclaimed smugly.
Tony gave a happy hum of agreement as he stretched like a cat, all long limbs and tawny skin. Just like that, despite having just come, Jethro could feel the hunger beginning to overtake him once again.
“Is it too hypocritical of me to say that I’m really glad you’re not an elderly virgin, my Guide,” he growled as he rolled over on top of Tony and began to gnaw none too gently on the spot where Tony’s neck met his shoulder.
“Ungh…my Sentinel,” Tony, moaned, writhing as their rapidly filling cocks slid through the come that still decorated his belly. “No…Not hypocritical at all.”