- Death-Minor Character
Tony could feel the vibration of Wilde’s purr and he pushed his fingers further into the thick fur as he very deliberately adjusted his hearing back up until he could hear it as well as feel it. The new Sentinel took a deep breath as his mental remote control clicked his last sense back to the baseline he had spent the last two weeks establishing for himself. He took another breath, then let it out rather forcefully as he recognized that the purr had become more of a rumble.
“Come on, don’t be such a mother-hen, big guy.” The large African leopard stared silently back at him. “Seriously. I am completely capable of practicing another half-hour at least before I actually start to wear myself out.” Wilde made a kind of huffing noise as he stood and began to gently nudge his charge out of his chair and over to the bed.
“It’s not even noon, I do not need a nap,” Tony insisted, even as he allowed himself to be prodded across the room. “You know I have to practice. I can’t get out of here until I test as independently stable and I can’t get there without practicing this stuff.” He had given up actually arguing with his over protective spirit animal he second day he had been in isolation at the Center, but he was not above a little passive aggressive defiance once he was in place on the mattress.
DiNozzo situated himself on the bed, but made sure he was too close to the edge for Wilde to assume his preferred position sprawled out alongside his charge, in between the human and the room’s door. Tony closed his eyes despite being wide awake and only a little tired from his sensory exorcises, knowing that he was already getting a vibrant green-eyed glare from the leopard. He resisted the urge to smirk at the irritated huff that followed, but couldn’t keep from laughing when it was followed up by a feline head-butt that had him rocking slightly in place.
“All right, fine. You big baby,” he muttered as he gave in and scooted over to give his spirit animal room on the mattress. Tony smiled when he felt the large head dropped low on his chest, his hand automatically moving to scratch behind one ear. “Seriously, though, I would like to get back home at some point, so you’re going to have to let me work on this stuff again soon.”
The heavy weight of Wilde’s front leg on his stomach made the leopard’s opinion clear and the new Sentinel let out another short laugh as he made himself more comfortable. When lunch was delivered almost an hour later, the spirit animal finally seemed satisfied and allowed Tony to leave the bed again. The large cat also seemed ready to permit another practice session after the meal. Tony shook his head when Wilde positioned himself directly in front of his charge and assumed the watchful pose his human had grown used to.
“Okay,” DiNozzo said as he relaxed in his chair and took the few steady breaths he had been taught to use when he was first shown how to access his sensory dials. “Let’s get back to work, shall we? I think touch first this time.”
The mental coffee table with its line of remote controls was easy enough to picture and it was only the work of a moment to concentrate enough for his mind to adjust the volume down on his sense of touch until all outside sensation disappeared and then slowly up again. After nearly thirty minutes of up and down, he could reliably feel the hairs on his arm move with each helpful exhale Wilde was providing from a few feet away. Tony had only just re-adjusted to baseline when his door began to open.
“Good afternoon, Sentinel DiNozzo,” greeted one of the S&G Center’s assistant directors as the bonded pair entered the room and took seats across from him at the table.
“Sentinel Fletcher, Guide Binsa,” he acknowledged, making sure to let his amusement at the rather taciturn Guide’s formal address color his words. The couple had always struck him as a rather delightful reverse of Sentinel and Guide stereotypes and he enjoyed sharing a lighthearted smirk with her other half when they met up at Pride functions. Collin Fletcher sent back a similar expression before setting down the folder he’d been holding.
“How are your sensory exercises going today, Tony?”
As the Head of Sentinel Support for the main DC area Center, Collin had been checking in on an almost daily basis and had run or overseen several of his tests and interviews in the two weeks Tony had been there. Absently stroking a hand through Wilde’s fur when he leaned heavily against his leg, the NCIS Agent gave a nod. “They’re going pretty good. I can usually get in about twenty to thirty minutes on each sense before my den mother pesters me into a break.”
Collin shot a grin at the proud looking leopard and then turned his attention back to Tony. “Sounds good. You’ll probably want to keep that up for a while. Individuals who come online through any kind of traumatic event tend to do better and settle in quicker when they continue rehashing the basics for the first few weeks they spend reacquainting themselves with their everyday lives.”
“I will. Will I be doing that soon, perchance?” he asked with a blatantly hopeful expression.
Sarah Binsa, who worked as the Guide Coordinator and In-take Councilor for the Center inclined her head slightly. “Your stability testing went smoothly yesterday, and today marks day seven since you had any kind of sensory spike or zoning event. As long as you are feeling steady and agree to the quarterly sensory check-ups for newly online Sentinels, I have no problem authorizing your discharge.”
Tony grinned, letting out a short laugh as Wilde rubbed his head against his shoulder and chest. “That sounds great. Does that mean I can finish my registration?”
She nodded, only raising a single brow as the leopard brushed up against each of them on a quick lap of the table. “Your meditation sessions have been acceptable and your tests all indicate that your sensory baseline is well established so your psionic ID should be stabilized enough for the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. You have already filled out the preferential criteria forms and signed off on official registration so I can let Dr. Tong know you’re ready for your final exam if you would like to complete the process before you leave.”
“Perfect. Yes. Today sounds excellent.”
Sarah almost smiled just a little at his clear enthusiasm. Collin’s smile was plain as his Guide left the room and he turned back to the other Sentinel. “They’ll probably take blood this afternoon for the bio-marker tests, and I’d expect to be able to get your fMRI done in the morning. Based on your other tests your psionic profile will be entered into our database as a level 4 unbonded Sentinel. As you know, mid-level individuals need a high-compatibility match in order to form a complete and stable bond. Mid-level Sentinels also generally work well with most temp guides while unbounded.”
Tony nodded, having already read through all the registration and matching pamphlets shortly during his first week while he was still in isolation waiting for his senses to even out. He had to clench his fists on the table to keep from automatically rubbing at his sternum at just idea of it. He’d been told that mid-level Gifted didn’t experience as strong of an emotional imperative as those considered high-level or alpha. The paperwork had described it as a ‘distant’ feeling. He still didn’t think he believed them but he hadn’t actually talked to anyone there about it.
“As a level 4 ranked Sentinel, ordinarily we would recommend that you consider any potential Guides whose profiles are at least an eight-point match to your own. However,” Collin paused, gaze flicking notably from Tony’s face to his clenched fists and back again before continuing, “I think you might consider a nine-point match as your starting point.”
“Only high-level Gifted require a near-perfect match to fully bond,” he couldn’t help but say as he shifted slightly in his seat.
“Yes, and only alphas require a perfect match to achieve a complete bond. But I’m sure you also know that the majority of us test one level up after bonding because the increased stability of a bond allows us to use our gifts to their full potential.”
Tony cleared his throat. “I thought the unbounded rank determined how compatible of a match is needed.”
“It is. But there are rare cases where a Sentinel or Guide experience the emotional imperative closer to that of their bonded rank. From what your instructors here have said, I think you might be one of them.”
He gave in and rubbed at his chest and the uncomfortable itch he constantly felt there, just under the skin. “Okay.” Wilde moved closer and nudged his other hand, his head settling in Tony’s lap with a soft purr. “Can I have eight-point matches recorded but have it set for the Center to only contact me for nine or ten-point ones?”
Collin made a note on one of the forms in front of him. “That should be fine.” The normally gaze narrowed slightly, his fingers drumming absently on the table. “Tony, can I have you put both hands on Wilde and close your eyes for a moment?”
DiNozzo shot the other Sentinel a bewildered look but it was easy enough to comply as he suddenly had half of a grown leopard in his lap. He spared a moment to be grateful that his spirit animal didn’t actually weigh as much as an actual leopard and placed both hands on the cat’s head where it rested against his chest.
“Okay, I want to try a simple word association. I will give you a word and I want you to say the first thing that comes to mind.”
Tony opened his eyes to stare at Collin for a moment before closing them again and taking a deep breath. He waited a few seconds in silence before the other man spoke, then did his best not to actually think about it before he responded.
Tony blinked, feeling more than a little surprised by his instinctive response. He didn’t consider himself a possessive person so hearing himself make what sounded like a claim of ownership over another person, hypothetical or not, left him uncomfortable to the point of queasy. He had always viewed his latent status as an opportunity to find a guide, someone who would be his family, his match in more than just psionic compatibility. He had day dreamed as a kid of finding a guide who would love and respect him, who would stay.
DiNozzo tightened his hold on Wilde, fingers digging into the soft fur. He’d avoided more than casual, short term flings even after he’d turned 26 and the likelihood of coming online diminished because in his head only his guide would ever be that for him. He’d even avoided all relationships with men despite his attraction to them because he felt so sure his guide would be a man and having that with another guy felt strangely like cheating. What he’d said felt like something else and it wasn’t good.
“Tony,” Collin said, pulling him out of his mental disquiet. “You know that the emotional imperative is the instinctive desire for a bond.” After a moment, Tony nodded. “Aside from the strength of that desire, what differentiates the emotional imperative of a mid-level individual from that of a high-level or alpha Gifted is the want, the instinctive need, for their match, not just a bond in general. Your instinctive desire for your guide and not just a guide is an indication that your personal emotional imperative is that of a level five Sentinel, not a level four regardless of your current ranking.”
He swallowed, then cleared his throat. His hands began carding through Wilde’s thick fur as his spirit animal nuzzled insistently at his chest and neck. “Right. Okay. So what exactly does that mean?”
“It means that a nine-point match should definitely be your ideal minimum compatibility score. It also means that you have a higher chance of an instinctive match than most other level fours. Which of course means that you are just as likely to find your guide by recognizing your compatibility upon meeting them as you are through a profile match from the database.”
“Okay.” He drew the word out slightly, thinking that made about as much sense as it had the first time he’d read about matching as it pertained to specific rankings. Which was to say not very much. He was too tired, however, to ask for any further explanation now, though.
As if sensing his growing exhaustion, Wilde turned to face the other human with an unhappy huffing noise. Tony gave a tired smile when Collin laughed in response. “Well, that was everything I wanted to talk to you about today. I will make sure that you’re on the schedule for your biomarker test and psionic imaging so we can get you registered. Your discharge paperwork should be complete tonight so you’re free to leave any time after six, but are more than welcome to stay until your fMRI if they can’t fit you in for that tonight.”
Tony nodded but didn’t wait for the other man to leave before letting his spirit animal herd him over to the bed for a nap before dinner. He lay down, more than happy to give in to the cat’s aggressive cuddling as he ran through the conversation in his mind.
“Do you think I’ll find my guide, Wilde?” he whispered. The leopard nuzzled and head-butted him gently with a soft purr. “Yeah, I hope so too.”
One thing Tony could say about being discharged on a Friday, it had made sure that he had the entire weekend to get used to his newly enhanced senses outside of the protection of the Center before he was expected to attend the meeting the NCIS Director had requested. Even with the extra time, walking into his workplace was off-putting in a way he had not expected. Though that could just be the looks he was getting from as he made his way through the bullpen.
“Kate.” He nodded at his team’s probie when she stood from her desk at his approach.
“Tony,” Kate returned with a look somewhere between disgusted and scared. The completely uncharacteristic expression was extremely disquieting. The sudden appearance of Wilde standing between Tony and the desk made her jump. She started to say something else but a sharp bark of his name interrupted her.
“Gibbs,” he greeted as he turned to face his boss, noting that Wilde moved with him so the leopard was still between him and both members of his team. “You back to work yet?” the former Marine demanded in a tone that was gruff in an aggressive way he usually used with difficult suspects.
“Here to see the Director, actually. Center won’t sign off on field duty until I’ve gone another week without a zone or spike.”
The senior agent grunted. “Then get where you’re supposed to be, DiNozzo.”
Tony blinked as Gibbs effectively dismissed him and stalked up to Kate’s desk asking where his evidence was. Her response followed him as he and Wilde climbed the stairs.
“We’re still waiting on the search warrant.”
“Then find another way to get it. I want it here before you leave today.”
The implication of the order caused him to tense instinctively. The man’s impatience and tendency to work around procedure to get the perp in cuffs had never left him as cold as it did in that moment. Tony forced himself not to follow his team with his hearing and instead focused as adamantly as he could on reaching his destination. He effectively ignored his discomfort as he approached Morrow’s secretary with a smile of greeting. “Good morning, beautiful.”
“Morning, Agent DiNozzo,” she responded with a laugh and a roll of her eyes, though her gaze paused notably on the huge cat. “It’s good to see you feeling better. You can go right in, he’s expecting you.”
He thanked her with another smile, then took a deep breath as he entered the office. The older man was one of only two online Gifted that worked at NCIS in DC and the only Sentinel. Or at least he had been until a little over two weeks before.
“Director Morrow,” Tony greeted with a respectful nod as he took the seat in front of the large desk, one hand automatically reaching out to settle on Wilde’s back as the spirit animal leaned against his leg.
“Agent DiNozzo. It’s good to have you back.”
He inclined his head with as genuine a smile as possible. He would have said it was good to be back, but it was never a good idea to lie to a Sentinel. Instead he scratched behind the leopard’s ear and introduced his spirit animal. The Director nodded at Wilde, one brow lifting in surprise before he gestured to the suddenly visible hyena standing next to his desk. “Jarod.”
Tony greeted the other spirit animal in turn, watching Wilde amble over for a sniff with a small smirk of amusement.
“I assume the MCRT was in the bullpen when you came through?”
“Yes sir, I saw them both before I came up,” he responded with careful neutrality.
Morrow made a kind of humming noise under his breath. “I’m afraid Agents Todd and Gibbs are having some difficulty adjusting to the change of your status.”
“Sir?” Tony did his best not to ask what the hell that meant, but it seemed the actual question wasn’t necessary as the Director continued with a heavy, almost annoyed sigh.
“Agent Todd appears to be unprepared for some realities of working in the field with an online Sentinel.”
DiNozzo just blinked. “Isn’t the President’s personal Secret Service detail made up of Sentinels?”
“You have to admit that there are some notable differences in field work between our agencies.”
Tony blinked again. “And Gibbs?”
“Jethro seems… uncomfortable,” Morrow said with a lack of any kind of inflection, “with the manner in which our imperative can interact with the standard chain of command.”
“He’s pissed because I didn’t what, ask him for permission?” the new Sentinel blurted out incredulously. “The military has the highest percentage of online Sentinels of any occupation in the country. Gibbs was in the Marines for nineteen years.”
A few moments of silence descended on the office before Morrow folded his hands on his desk and fixed the younger Sentinel with a steady gaze. “I asked you to come in today for several reasons. The first was to make sure you were aware of the,” he paused, “climate here so you would not be caught off guard when you were cleared to come back to work. The second was to give you what we have on the man you shot.” He handed a slim file across the surface of the desk.
“Ari Haswari was a known member of Hamas. He was on this country’s list of the top fifty most wanted terrorists. We don’t have many details, but you deserve everything you have the clearance to see.”
The senior field agent nodded, placing the unopened file in his lap while he waited for the Director to finish. He didn’t have to wait long.
“The third was to tell you, face to face, that had I been here that day the only reason you would have beaten me there was because the evidence garage is closer to autopsy than my office.”
Tony found himself, for the third time in the past fifteen minutes, unable to do more than blink silently.
“There was an armed terrorist inside this building holding two of my people hostage. I am sure you know exactly how much of an invasion that is, so I am also certain that you understand what I mean when I thank you, Sentinel DiNozzo, for ending that threat with the precision and speed that your instincts demanded. Coming online in such circumstances is far from ideal, but every single person in this agency owe you our respect and our appreciation.”
Tony DiNozzo cleared his throat, grasping silently for something to say. A Battle Drive was characterized by an overly controlled state, a highly aggressive, laser focus on a threat to themselves or the tribe. He himself had very little memory of the event other than a phantom sensation of threat and the need to end that threat. He remembered the sight of the man, Ari Haswari, on the other side of the autopsy doors with a single bullet in his skull. In that moment he decided, however, that his memory or lack thereof mattered significantly less than the outcome of his actions. He met Tom Morrow’s gaze, one hand resting on the folder he’d been given, the other buried in Wilde’s fur, and said the only thing he could say.
“Thank you, Sentinel Morrow.”