- Urban Fantasy
“You’re a real son of a bitch,” Tony said quietly.
Joe White just stared at him.
Tony’s fingers curled into the wolf’s fur as he tried to settle his mind and bank the fury bleeding off his Sentinel. Even in his wolf form, Steve bled all over Tony emotionally and normally he could handle it but not right now. Not when his own anger was swelling in him like a hurricane.
It had taken him thirty minutes after the transformation to calm Steve down long enough for Tony to get dressed. Then he’d listened to Joe White justify his crap ass decisions regarding Doris McGarrett, Wo Fat, and the two fucking years they’d endured in their cursed circumstances.
“How long have you been CIA?”
The older man just raised an eyebrow and said nothing.
Scowling, Tony pulled out his cellphone and dialed a number without taking his eye off Steve’s mentor. He tucked the phone against his ear, and it was answered almost immediately.
Trent Kort whistled softly in his ear. “Kicking a hornet’s nest is bad for business, DiNozzo.”
“I know she’s alive and living on Oahu. She’s handling a Yakuza asset named Wo Fat who is an Alpha Guide and shaman. Is she on the books or rogue?”
Kort cleared his throat. “Rogue and wanted. This is quite a pay day you’re offering me, Tony. She was supposed to bring Wo Fat into the fold when he was a boy, but she ran with him instead. The Agency wants them both alive, but MI6 will settle for her head.”
“And Wo Fat?”
“Written off as a lost cause for recruitment. Why the interest?”
“Because he’s responsible for the curse I’m living with. I need to know everything about him—who trained him, his estimated power levels, financials, psychological profiles. I know you can get it.”
“Will this make us even?”
“Nothing will make us even,” Tony said evenly. “You murdered my father.”
Kort huffed. “It was a sanctioned hit, Tony. You can’t blame me for the fact that your father was a criminal and he tried to blackmail the fucking director of the CIA.”
“I can. I will. Send me everything you can gather, and when I find her I’ll give you another call so you can collect on the contract.”
“One day, those people at the Center are going to realize you’re the most ruthless bastard Guide to ever be labeled such.”
“Considering my circumstances, I’m pretty sure that Wo Fat has already earned that title.” He ended the phone call and focused on White. “You should go.”
“Leave the island—so aren’t anywhere near ground zero when this all comes down. Granted, I don’t think you deserve protecting, but Steve loves you like a second father so…leave and don’t come back around for a while. The fall out is going to be immense, and frankly, the Agency wouldn’t appreciate the fact that you’ve known where she was for a while and never turned her in. Betraying that organization is a foolish choice, and you’ve done it for a woman who abandoned her own children, probably arranged the hit on her own husband, and planned to corrupt an Alpha Sentinel.”
– – – –
After White left the house, Tony sent texts to Ellison and Chin. He wasn’t sure he wanted them anywhere near the situation either, but Chin was too loyal to turn his back on the situation. As for the Prime pair, no one told them what to do. Even the government politely suggested things to the two of them. Ellison was a force to be reckoned with, but Blair Sandburg was an immense force of nature. No one wanted to piss him off—Guides all over the world would side with him on practically any issue and Tony had to admit he wasn’t an exception to that rule.
By the time he was in headquarters, the whole team was there including Kono. She glared at him and hitched the arm she had in a sling closer to her body as if she could hide the injury.
Tony sighed. “No field work.”
“I won’t be silly,” Kono promised. “But I can sort through the results you’ve got coming in. I’ve already started on the medical supply company—I was able to eliminate a dozen or so potentials due to family connections and the like. I’ve got a lot of relatives, you see.”
He didn’t doubt that at all. “All right.”
Steve kept pace with him while he moved around the office going over data and starting one search after another. On a normal day, the wolf would find a place to lounge and stare at them like he was a king while they worked. His Sentinel’s agitation wasn’t doing much to keep his temper even, and every time he frayed a little more around the edges Sandburg’s already intense focus increased. He could feel the older Guide’s presence in the room—it grew heavier by the moment as if Blair were trying to put himself between the pair of them and Wo Fat.
“You’re…” Blair trailed off and inclined his head as everyone in the room focused on him. “My God, Tony.”
“What?” Tony questioned as he stilled under Blair’s attention.
“I couldn’t figure out why you were separated by the curse—it’s cruel, yes—but it fell on you both the moment you bonded, and Steve was the one that retreated in his spirit animal. If you’re being cursed on the psionic plane…it would make more sense if it had been you. In fact, I would’ve expected a near permanent transformation. Guides are uniquely powerful on the plane as you already know.”
Tony nodded. “And?”
“The wolf is nocturnal,” Blair said. “He rests during the day if it at all possible.” His gaze drifted briefly to Steve who was pressed against Tony’s leg. “You’re taking turns.”
“Day and night, yeah, I’ve been living that circumstance for two years, Blair.”
“No, you misunderstand me,” Blair said evenly. “You’re not taking turns here. You’re taking turns on the psionic plane—defending your bond from attack. It really is a siege. This Wo Fat must be stupidly powerful.”
“Stupidly powerful in one of way of putting it,” Ellison muttered. “I just got an email from a friend of mine in Japan. Up until about five years ago, it was accepted that when Wo Fat achieved a bond with a Sentinel that he would become the Alpha Prime Guide of China.”
“Then he’s as powerful as Blair?” Tony questioned.
Jim winced. “Honestly, he might rival Blair. If not now, certainly when he bonds with a Sentinel.”
“And he wants my Sentinel,” Tony said tightly. “Chin, what do we have so far?”
Chin threw a picture up onto the big screen. “Wo Fat. Former Ministry of State Security which is basically China’s secret service. He’s pretty high up the organization for the Yakuza though they’ve been searching for him just as hard anyone else for the last year. Both of his parents are dead, and neither were known to be upstanding citizens. There was some talk from the International Sentinel Guide Directorate that he should be taken from their home due to his father’s criminal record. That discussion was tabled when Dae Won, his father, was killed.”
Tony pulled up his own file. “Doris McGarrett killed Dae Won. It appears the Directorate wasn’t the only organization in minimizing how much Dae Won could influence his son. The hit was sanctioned by the CIA. She later killed Wo Fat’s mother which was not exactly sanctioned, but no one was going to make waves about it—at least until she disappeared with the kid. Joe White told me that Doris was obsessed with trying to force Steve online as a kid and that she killed Lei Kuan Fat in order to take Wo Fat for herself because he was an online Guide.
“She’s probably brainwashed Wo into believing that Steve is his Guide.”
“Don’t assume she had to go that far,” Blair warned. “Steve is a powerful Sentinel, and honestly one of the more attractive men have ever seen in my life. Plenty of Guides will covet him—even with your bond. You’d not believe the number of Guides I practically had to exile from Washington when Jim was still a cop. They came out of the woodwork after he came online despite our bond. I had to have two formally charged with pair bond interference while we were still trying to settle with one another.” He flicked his hand. “Plus that whole situation with that crazy Sentinel. At one time, I would’ve complained about our first years being difficult but after what you and Steve have gone through…” He sighed. “I should’ve come immediately, Tony, and I’m very sorry I didn’t. I let this situation fester like an open wound…”
“Weston told you repeatedly that there was nothing to be done, Chief,” Ellison said roughly. “Though we certainly know why, now.”
“She wants Steve,” Tony pointed out. “I knew that before I ever even met, Steve. She made sure to tell every single Guide gathered for his meet and greet that she didn’t think any of us would be a fit for him. She all but called me inferior to my face.”
“Her inflated sense of worth aside, Lori Weston is more of a nuisance than anything else,” Blair said. “All of these pieces fell into place because of Joe White.” He focused on Tony. “I know you recognize that and you’re sheltering your Sentinel from the fall-out of his mentor’s complicity in this situation. White should have come to you immediately with his suspicions instead of hunting for Doris McGarrett on his own. His motives for keeping it all to himself for two years are unclear.”
“I don’t think they’re unclear at all,” Tony admitted. “White is and always has been focused on protecting Steve—he’s always sheltered him from the truth.” He focused on the wolf. “Even in the face of betraying of Steve’s faith in him.”
“I’ve believed that betrayal in the guise of protection is all that an honorable a choice,” Ellison said. “Though I’d rather take a bullet than be lied to by someone I trust.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but I understand where you’re coming from,” Tony admitted with a frown. “People lie a lot, you know. They lie about little things and big things—it’s one of the first things I learned when I came online. It was difficult, at first, to tell when someone was truly deceptive and when they were just telling little lies to get them through their day.”
“Little lies,” Jim repeated.
“Yes, polite society actually requires them. Nothing would get done if everyone were a hundred percent honest all the time,” Blair pointed out and grinned when his Sentinel grimaced. “Jim would be pleased to live in a world where no one spoke unless they needed something. Then, of course, once their needs are met they would go away immediately.”
Tony laughed as Ellison huffed dramatically.
– – – –
Steve flexed his toes and curled his hands around the back of the bench in the locker room. He turned on the digital recorder.
“Hey, Steve. So here’s the thing—I’ve sent Joe White on his way. I know you’re probably angry with him and the circumstances but things are going to get complicated and ugly due to the attention of interested parties. We have heavy hitters heading our way. Your mother is officially wanted for questioning by the Sentinel Investigations unit of the FBI as of an hour ago. They got wind of my search process, and I think the assholes might have hacked our system. We need to have our whole system fortified against outside intrusions obviously. In the meantime, I’ve called in a few favors, and with Ellison on site, the Sentinel/Guide pair that is being sent to us will tread carefully as to avoid pissing the Prime pair off.
“With Kono’s help, we’ve halved the list of those using professional medical staff to maintain an invalid patient in a private residence. None of them fit Wo Fat’s description on paper at least, but I believe we’re close on this avenue of investigation. I’ve set up alerts with any and all commercial avenues of transportation off the island in case she gets wind of what is coming her way and tries to run with him. I think White is right about them being on the island. Blair thinks that the closer he is us the stronger his influence over us in the psionic plane. I’ve questioned him about us leaving the island to end the attack, but he doesn’t think it would do any good. The psionic plane—it has no end or beginning.
“Regardless, we’ve made some headway, and I think based on the progress that today you’ll find your mother. I can’t…hell, Steve, I can’t even pretend to know how that’s going to go for you. Just try to keep yourself as calm as possible, okay? The last thing we need is for you to have a feral episode—I don’t know what that would do to us. I’m honestly not sure if I could be of any assistance to you in that state if I were the animal. I could barely get a handle on you as a wolf in that circumstance. Though to be perfectly frank, the wolf is a fairly wild presence in my mind on any given night. I’ve grown accustomed to that contact—the constant stimulation and aggression wasn’t something I trained for. I do wonder what your connection to me feels like when you’re human, you’ve never discussed it. Anyway, I’ve kept an eye on the HPD event and arrest log—there was a home invasion at 10:32pm. No injuries—cash, small electronics were taken. I’ve marked it for the Watch Commander in case it turns into a serial situation.
“Honestly, it sounds like a couple of kids with high-end needs and low-end financial means. Whether or not those needs mesh with the adrenalin high they probably got from their little foray into felonious behavior will translate into something more ill-considered is up for debate. Take care of yourself, Steve and don’t let pride take you to a place you can’t handle. It’s okay to back away from a situation. Retreat isn’t cowardice or failure—remember that.”
Steve reached out and picked up the recorder then turned it off. He rubbed his thumb over the speaker, the texture of the little holes was pleasing in a way.
“Are you zoning?”
“No,” Steve said. “It’s…”
“Something that you and your Guide use together—a tangible connection between his time and yours,” Jim supplied. “I get it.”
“Yeah,” Steve said and stood. He slid the recorder into his pocket and cleared his throat. “Did the two of you get enough sleep?”
“We left him around eleven last night—shortly after Williams arrived to keep him company and read through results. Your Guide has a lot of contacts—odd ones actually for a man who worked exclusively in police departments and a single federal agency,” Jim said and leaned on the doorframe with a paper cup of coffee in hand. “Not only does he have contacts, he knows people willing to go out of their way to do for him. Before we left last night, a woman working Interpol sent him everything they have on your mother and Wo Fat. It turned out to be several hundred pages.”
Steve nodded. “He tends to collect favors and confessed once that he really doesn’t know how he does it. I kind of chalked it up to a Guide thing. I worked with a few unbonded Guides in the past, people around them often went out of their way to make them happy or to do things for them. I have to admit that the one I met in military intelligence used that to their advantage often.”
“Blair was much the same when he was younger but after years of being bonded that particular quirk has faded. Though people tend to favor him in conversations and see him as a source of comfort in difficult situations. That’s all Guide aura which he projects no matter how much I seek to shelter him within our bond. Some people covet a connection with a Guide no matter how minimal that connection is because of the comfort they can provide even in casual circumstances.”
Steve nodded, and the older Sentinel left him in favor of he briefing room. He meandered into the breakroom and grabbed the bowl of fruit that Tony had put in the fridge. By the time he was settled at his desk, his mind was settled enough for him to be pissed off by the fact that his Guide had sent Joe White off for parts unknown. He checked his email and wasn’t all that surprised to find a one-line message from Joe. He probably wouldn’t hear from the man for months which was annoying because Steve had a lot to say that he’d rather not put in an email. Though he certainly wasn’t above leaving thinly veiled threats on the old bastard’s voice mail.
He stabbed a piece of pineapple roughly.
“Your diet is disgustingly healthy,” Danny announced from the doorway of Steve’s office. “What’s wrong with a donut??
“Everything is wrong with a donut,” Steve informed his partner gravely. “Why are you here? Ellison said you were here with Tony in the middle of the night.”
“I’m heading home,” Danny said. “Chin will be in within the next two hours and Kono by noon. She has to visit the doctor to get her wound checked. Don’t let her do anything foolish, please.”
“I’ll keep her confined to the office,” Steve promised.
Danny’s gaze narrowed. “Are you crossing your fingers under your desk?”
Steve laughed. “No, Danno, I promise I’ll keep her here. We’re off rotation anyway, and if we get a serious lead on my situation, then I’ll need Ellison and Sandburg to help with the situation regarding Wo Fat.”
“And your mother?”
“I hardly think I’ll have a chance to arrest my own mother for pair bond interference since several agencies want her in custody. I don’t know who is going to win that particular lottery, but I don’t have the…I just want her to go away, Danno, so I’m not going to put up any sort of fight in that situation.”
“If she’s responsible for the murder of your father…” Danny trailed off. “Do you want me to find out?”
Steve took a deep breath and looked at Tony who was settled on the perch in the corner. A part of him never wanted such a thing confirmed, but he knew his personal feelings would satisfy the sense of justice both his Guide and Danny shared. “I don’t think you’ll get much an opportunity to find out either way, Danno. The CIA isn’t going to let us keep Doris if we find her.”
“Right.” Danny grimaced. “I hate those guys like you hate the FBI.”
“I’m really unfond of them that’s for certain,” Steve admitted. “They get in my way and get in our business.”
Danny laughed and with a wave left.
– – – –
“Wo Fat was on the Guide search list,” Blair announced as he entered the office. Ellison was trailing along behind him.
“The national center filed three different appeals to keep from providing that list,” Steve pointed out.
“I didn’t ask them,” Blair said. “I’ve brought in a team to handle the center branch here. Weston is being interviewed extensively about your Guide search and her behavior. She actually started complaining to me as soon as I entered the place about your bond and about the curse. She’s not at all pleased with what I had to say about her abilities or her ambition. As to the list, I retrieved it as soon as my team took control of their systems which was child’s play to accomplish.”
“I never met him, Blair,” Steve said as he focused on the large screen where Wo Fat’s face was displayed. “He’s attractive, and he would be hard to forget.”
“He was dismissed from consideration before you even arrived due to the criteria you set down with the national center when you notified them of your online status,” Blair explained.
Steve considered that but nodded. “I excluded anyone with a criminal record and required that all applicants be United States citizens. I believed that I would go back to active duty, so I also put an age requirement in the first round. I figured if I didn’t make a connection that I could widen that a bit. I just wanted to…”
“Make sure you didn’t devalue your worth to the Navy,” Jim supplied. “If I’d been career military, I’d have done no differently. You busted your ass to get as far as you have in the Navy.”
Steve nodded and wadded up the paper his sandwich had been wrapped up in. “So from his point of view, I did reject him.”
“Sight unseen,” Blair agreed. “But based on what he’s done and what information we’d gathered on him, he wouldn’t have passed an evaluation. He’s certainly not mentally healthy enough to provide a genuine bond to a Sentinel. I doubt he could even establish one, but we’ll know soon enough.”
“How big is the team you’ve pulled together?” Steve questioned.
“I have a full response team in place,” Blair said. “You’ve should’ve had one at the outset. You realize there are over a hundred latent Sentinels on this island, right? There are sixty-three online Guides here. The office Weston established wasn’t enough to serve the population here, and I’ll be having words with the current national director for his failure to provide proper oversight here.” He frowned.
“What’s going on?”
“Your situation makes our kind deeply uncomfortable,” Blair admitted reluctantly. “The very idea of being separated from Jim as you and Tony are makes me hurt and furious. I think that many of us have avoided coming here to help you because of that discomfort.”
“Do we make you uncomfortable?” Steve asked.
“Of course,” Blair admitted immediately. “I’m furious on your behalf, and it’s painful to think about your circumstances. There is a reason why pair bond interference is considered so profound a problem and why we lobbied to have it declared a federal crime.”
Steve frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault you mother is a nutjob,” Ellison said and shrugged when Blair gave him a look.
He wasn’t certain his mother was crazy, so Steve focused on the information in front of him. “We’ve eliminated all the people that we can based on Kono’s information and the medical equipment being used on site. If he’s unconscious, then he needs a set up like a coma patient.”
“Feeding, body care, oxygen, physical therapy, nurse visits, and perhaps a private doctor for consultations. His condition could be very delicate,” Blair said. “If he’s not conscious then he can’t protect his own mind.”
“How delicate would he be?”
“She’d certainly want to limit what kind of people that will come into contact with him. She’d never allow an online Guide anywhere near up for fear that they would report the situation. By all rights, he should be in the care of S/G Center. Of course, an online Guide would know he’s not in a genuine coma, so that’s a factor as well.” Blair shifted in his seat and picked up his tea.
“If she’s listed requirements regarding the kind of staff that can be allowed on the location that would be included in what most of the companies would consider private medical information,” Steve said with a grimace. “Intellectually I understand why patient information is confidential, but in my personal situation it’s really annoying.”
“Granted,” Jim said. “She’ll want an isolated location. Your work can put you anywhere on the island, but she would’ve certainly picked an area where you wouldn’t be expected to linger for any length of time. If she’s been here for two years, she’s rarely left the house or disguised herself in such a way that she believes you’d have a difficult time recognizing her. She might have domestic help, or at the very least she’s got someone buying her stupidly expensive groceries.”
“Great, so we expand our search to include delivery services,” Steve said with a frown and rubbed his head in frustration.
“It’s another point to cross-reference,” Jim said. “Or it might reveal her if she’s using black market sources for the medical supplies. I don’t think she’d take that risk—she’ll want to keep everything she can above board to prevent undue attention. Her trade craft is old-school which doesn’t necessarily work in your favor.”
Steve glanced briefly at the picture of his mother that Tony had found and put on the digital board. It was an old picture—taken shortly before she’d faked her death. In her youth, his mother had the kind of looks that would’ve gotten her far in an intelligence agency. Beautiful women and men were recruited and trained for spying because often seduction was a very effective tool. People can easily be led astray by the wrong kind of attraction.
“Beautiful woman,” Blair murmured.
“Honey trap,” Steve said. “I just wonder why my father was a target for her.”
“Oh, I doubt he was specifically a target. He just proved to be a very effective cover for her on the island. She blended right in being the wife of a cop and having two children certainly helped that along,” Ellison said and sighed. “Sorry that was insensitive, right?”
“It was true,” Steve corrected. “I don’t need my hand held on this issue, Jim. I’ve known for a while that my mother probably wasn’t dead. I don’t have any illusions left when it comes to her. The fact is that she has been instrumental in the mental and emotional torture of my Guide—she’d better hope the CIA catches up with her before I do. I can’t promise to be civilized about it.” He focused on her picture. “She was here—as a sleeper or perhaps working her way into the Yakuza organization. A cop’s wife might have been a draw at least for intelligence gathering.”
“She had help staging her death,” Chin said as he entered the room. He opened a thick folder as he placed it on the computer table. “A lot of help—externally and internally. During that time HPD had a few cops on the payroll that would be more than willing to look the other way with the right monetary incentive.”
“Right,” Steve murmured and reached out. He hit the button to darken the screen because looking at her face was starting to make him furious.
How many times could a woman betray her own children? He thought about Mary—safely tucked away in an enclave in California for psi-sensitives. His sister had always been a delicate dreamer—vulnerable to the emotions of others both good and bad. He hadn’t supported her retreat into the enclave originally, but after he’d come online, Steve had realized just how much stimulation Mary was exposed to, and she’d never have a Sentinel to shield her or protect her from the outside world.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Steve murmured and glanced briefly at Blair who was frowning at him. “Why?”
Blair looked downward, and Steve realized that he was holding the recorder in his hand. He sighed and slipped it back into his pocket. “It’s hard sometimes.” He paused. “All the time.” He clenched his fingers around the recorder through the material of his cargo pants. “His voice is the only thing I have that doesn’t hurt.”
– – – –