- Death-Minor Character
NOTE: I accidentally posted chapter 4 as chapter 3. The admin asked that I go ahead post both today to prevent more confusion. This is the real chapter 3 and chapter 4 has been relabeled correctly.
Tony drummed his fingers on his desk as he read through a new file. He was seldom more grateful that he led his own team than when his gifts were weighing on him and he needed that extra bit of distance from his co-workers to let himself even out. But days where they hadn’t left the office for weeks in a row and he had spent the previous four days doing nothing but reading through intel certainly ran a close second. He forced his fingers to stop their restless movement but within five minutes he was using that hand to steady the leg he had begun bouncing under his desk.
He tossed his pen down on his desk before he started tapping it aimlessly on the open folder. The not-so-subtle nudge of a feline nose on his arm drew his attention and he wasn’t terribly surprised by the sight of his spirit animal trotting over to his office door and looking back with a stern expression. Tony ran both hands over his face and wondered how exactly a leopard managed to look stern.
“Yeah, okay, I get the hint.”
Too tired and too restless to make even a token protest, Sentinel DiNozzo exited his office, quickly passing by the closed door belonging to the Chief of the BAU’s Unit One. He had grown accustomed and even slightly fond of his boss but the last thing he wanted to do was get way-laid by a discussion on the latest file that had been sent their way. He maintained his determined pace as he passed through the bullpen, though he did give a nod to the members of his team as he left.
No one so much as blinked at Wilde’s presence as they reached the hallway and it wasn’t until an agent in front of the elevator flinched as the leopard approached that he realized his spirit animal had chosen to make himself visible to even the Mundanes. Wilde was affectionate and friendly most of the time, but he spent most of their working hours visible only to Tony and occasionally the other online Gifted that he knew in the building. Expect, of course, when his human was especially stressed or the leopard had decided that his charge required he have a more substantial presence.
Taking a moment to shift course and rolling his eyes at the way Wilde sped up to place himself directly in front of him, Tony headed for the stairs. As restless as he had been over the last week, he didn’t think he was much more stressed than normal. But the leopard’s visibility forced him to acknowledge that for some reason he had felt just a little off the last day or two.
Maybe it was the date. It had been two years exactly since he’d come online and he had been convinced in the aftermath of his failed attempt at re-settling at NCIS that things would straighten out in a year or two. He followed Wilde down the pleasantly empty stairwell at an almost rapid pace. Now that he had let himself consider it, he was eager to get some fresh air and maybe a snack before he confined himself to his desk for another four hours.
His life had certainly progressed in the twenty-four months since his gifts had woken but he couldn’t deny that it hadn’t been in the direction that he had ever seen himself. After he had taken out a notable terrorist on US soil and come online in the process, he had found himself on the radar of several Counter-Terrorism departments throughout the alphabet soup. It would seem that once he was pointed out to them, that quite a few liked what they saw.
Taking the FBI’s offer and joining Unit One as an SSA had certainly been a step up after leaving NCIS. And earning himself a few promotions to become the lead for the unit’s secondary team and the Assistant Special Agent in Charge had all been notable career advancements. Yet, he admitted as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, as much as he had gained professionally, he was not where he had thought he would be. He resisted the urge to rub at his sternum and very intently did not think about what he was still missing.
He spent his entire lunch pointedly not thinking about it. Wilde and the attention he garnered at the sandwich shop he liked near Quantico helped with that. By the time he returned and was headed back to his office, he had nearly driven it as far from his mind as he ever managed. It slipped a bit further out of his thoughts as he nearly collided with someone heading quickly in the opposite direction.
“Tony. Man, it’s been an age.”
Pale green eyes lit a little at the unexpected sight of his friend. “Hey, Derek. What are you doing in my neck of the woods?”
“I was just dropping off some notes from a case I worked in Chicago. Arnold wanted to compare them with a new case.”
DiNozzo nodded at the mention of his team’s bomb expert, the man responsible for introducing him to Morgan a few months after he’d joined the Bureau. If it hadn’t been for Arnold he probably wouldn’t have thought twice when he saw Derek coaching the youth football team at the local S&G Center. Recognizing the other Agent and striking up a conversation at the Center had led to his helping out with the kids on the team, which had led to them playing ball at the local gym, which had left the two Sentinels good friends. “The detonators in the Manhattan Case?”
“Yeah, I think that’s the one he mentioned. Look, I’ve got to get down to a briefing, but we should definitely throw some hoops next week,” Derek said with a smile.
“Sure, sounds like a plan.” The two men clapped hands and gave one another a hearty pat on the shoulder in the almost hug that the profiler favored. A scent tugged at the edges of his awareness as he pulled back. Whatever the smell was, it was amazing and Tony couldn’t help but smile a little wider as he waved at his friend’s swiftly retreating back. It wasn’t until Morgan was out of sight that he realized that the smell had come from him.
Tony shook his head and led Wilde back to his office where he settled back in with another file. The scent was forgotten, though he did manage to meet up with his fellow Sentinel only a week later than they had planned, to play some basketball in the brisk March weather and complain about paperwork. After that, however, a string of difficult cases had him pulling longer days than he’d prefer and several months passed with only brief and sporadic opportunities to relax with his friends.
September saw him replacing work related stress with the frustration of sluggish sensory dials and a need for a temp Guide any time he was in the field. By the last week of the month he finally gave in and submitted the forms to have a new part-time member of the Bureau’s Sensory Support Services assigned to his unit. He grimaced as he closed down his computer and headed down to the lobby. He had never been a fan of working with temp Guides. No matter how psionically compatible they were on paper, none of them ever felt right to his senses. Just the thought of it had him cutting out right the second the clock end-of-shift.
“Now that’s a cheery face,” said a familiar voice as he entered the parking lot.
Tony tried not to scowl as he turned to face Derek. The other man laughed at the attempt and slung a companionable arm across his shoulders. After a few minutes of light-hearted conversation, the ASAC felt an actual smile tug at the corner of his mouth. What really improved his mood, however, was an unidentifiable but tantalizing scent he could just catch clinging stubbornly to his friend.
The smell teased at a vague memory of Derek from months before but he was too tired and frustrated to chase it down. He spent his entire drive home thinking about the scent, however. He stopped just inside the door to his apartment as he finally pinned it down. It smelled like Guide. But better.
“If it’s a temp Guide from Unit Four maybe I could have them assigned to us,” he muttered, half to Wilde and half to himself. The idea drifted through his head for an entire five minutes before it occurred to him. “Why would Derek be working with a temp Guide? He’s Bonded to that computer tech girl.”
Tony sat heavily at the table after arranging the leftovers he’d pulled out for dinner. He stared at his plate in shock until a huff and a feline nudge to his arm prompted him to start eating. How the hell had he forgotten Derek was Bonded? Bond status was one of the first things he remembered about every Gifted person he knew. Probably, he admitted with a self-deprecating smile and a bite of pizza, because he had always considered having a bond to be the most important part of being online.
As he finished the meal and loaded the dishwasher, Tony worried briefly that he might have been smelling Derek’s guide. He shook his head at himself and left the kitchen. “If it had been his Guide I’d have smelled it on him before, right?” he asked the leopard following close behind him as he went to change out of his suit.
“Plus it would have been a lot stronger, don’t you think?” Wilde only stared as his human pulled a tattered t-shirt over his head. “It had to have been some kind of short-term secondary transfer. Maybe it was a temp Guide after all. I don’t think there’s all that many online Guides in the building outside of SS Services.”
DiNozzo rolled his eyes at his spirit animal as he was maneuvered onto the couch for a snuggle. “Let me guess, you think I should watch a movie and think about it tomorrow?”
Bright green eyes pinned him as thoroughly as the huge leopard they belonged to. “Fine. Tomorrow, you big nag.”
The fitful night’s sleep Wilde had guilted him into Monday night didn’t allow for any epiphanies the next morning. Every second of Tuesday and most of Wednesday were taken up with a hot case that had his mind dissecting sense impressions from a warehouse they suspected had been used to store a worrying amount of explosive components. He was almost too focused on the case to notice Morgan boarding the elevator he was already in.
“Tony,” Derek greeted with his nose in a tablet screen showing what looked like crime scene photos.
“Hey man,” DiNozzo absently resonded.
The elevator had barely closed and started upwards before something delicious was flirting with his senses. He took a deep breath as Derek pulled out his phone to check an incoming message. Okay, I seriously need to figure out who the hell that is, he resolved. But Tony was so absorbed in taking in every bit of mouthwatering Guide that he almost missed it when his friend got off on his floor with a distracted wave.
DiNozzo was distracted himself as he returned to his office on autopilot. It was the same smell. The same awesome, fantastic, unbelievable smell. The scent had clung to his sense memory with the same tenacity that Wilde draped himself on top of his charge when he thought Tony needed extra sleep. He couldn’t possibly mistake it for anything else. And it was on Derek. Again. That meant that Morgan had been in at least casual contact with the same random guide twice in a just three days. What exactly were the odds of that?
“Slim. That’s what the odds are,” he told his spirit animal the second he had the door closed to his office. “So that means it’s someone he works with. Or around. Probably.”
Tony rubbed at his eyes, then sat down at his desk and gave Wilde the scratch he had been angling for as he leaned heavily against his side. “It was stronger this time. But we were in a closed elevator, so that doesn’t mean a lot. It doesn’t mean it’s Derek’s Guide. It would have been way stronger if it was. Don’t you think?”
Wilde rumbled unhappily as he plopped one huge paw on the half packed bag sitting in the middle of the desk. “Oh. Right. I was going to leave, wasn’t I?” The leopard huffed as he added the last file and headed out, impatient spirit guide following closely behind him.
“I’ve only smelled it on him at Quantico,” he pointed out as glanced at the big cat lounging in the passenger seat of his car. “So odds are the Guide works there. But they wouldn’t smell so damn good if they weren’t mine, right?”
He worried over the question all the way home, then promptly started pacing through out his apartment, prompting another rumble and then a growl that startled him into getting changed and starting dinner. Wilde had to knock him from his thoughts after he finished eating and he fixed pale green eyes on his spirit animal. “I’m going to call the Center in the morning. Maybe it’s time to look at those eight-point matches.”
It had taken more than two days to hear back from the Center but by the third of October he had met all seven of the matches the database had ID’d in the DC area. None were the right one. None were his. So on the off chance that Derek would remember any Guides he had come in contact with the previous Monday and Wednesday, he had left his friend a message inviting the man and his Guide to dinner. The other Sentinel had been out of town on a case and so didn’t respond until Tuesday but they’d managed to make plans for a meal at Tony’s that Friday night, baring any work emergencies.
Tony did his best to stay occupied with cases, solving one and starting another in the intervening days. Then it was Friday and he spent the hour dinner was in the oven pacing the room and annoying Wilde with a recap of all the times he had wandered through the SS Services office. Considering his case load it had pretty much just been on his way into and out of the building.
“It was probably a total waste of time considering that they’re all registered with the Center as part-time conservators and therefore would have shown up in my matches if they were close enough. And since I’ve met all of the ones that did…” he trailed off with a frustrated sound that impressed even the leopard if the look on his spirit animal’s face was anything to go by.
The oven timer distracted him and soon enough dinner was ready and he was letting his guests in the door. It wasn’t until he took a deep breath and felt something relax at the lack of that amazing scent that he realized he had still been just a little worried that the pretty computer specialist might be the elusive source. Even so, the last hope of a simple solution had him tense enough to draw concerned looks from Penelope and a raised brow from Derek. Until he blurted out the question over steaming bowls of fresh orecchiette.
“I don’t remember running into any Guides at work last week,” Derek said with another raised brow at the sudden inquiry. “There weren’t any around the office were there?”
Garcia set down her half-full glass of pinot grigio with a shake of her bright blonde curls. “Not that I know of. Why?”
Tony chewed his pasta and did his best to explain his interest.
“I had a smell?” Derek tried to clarify with a smirk.
He refrained from looking at either Penelope or Wilde, both of whom he was pretty sure were enjoying his awkward blush as much as Morgan was. “Yes. But it wasn’t you. It was definitely a Guide.” He speared another piece of pasta and broccoli rabe, chewing slowly to work up the nerve to say it to someone other than his spirit animal. “I think it might be my Guide.”
Garcia let out a gasp, neon orange nails covering her mouth as she bounced just a little in her chair. “Oh. Oh. That’s so fantastic. Do you have any idea who it might be?” She waved away her words before he could respond to them, rushing ahead with a large grin. “Of course not, that’s why you’re asking. But you are asking exactly the right person. Because I, my dear sir, can find anyone with a sturdy enough internet connection and a large enough cup of tea.”
Tony blinked at the exuberant declaration but was again prevented from responding when she went on.
“And I would commence my search post haste, except my own sexy Sentinel made me leave my laptop in the car.”
He raised both hands in surrender. “Very well then, Oh Oracle of Quantico, I will follow your lead because the next best thing I could come up with was walking a search grid through the building trying to smell everyone I came across.”
Derek was the first to start laughing but after a moment even Wilde looked like he was blatantly amused.