- Death-Minor Character
Tony fiddled with the door of his dishwasher, double checking that he had remembered to set it to the WhisperSoft setting that was designed specifically for Sentinel senses. He very rarely was in enough of a hurry to forget such a thing, but he had been edgy and absent minded all day and the last thing he needed was to deal with the extra racket. As it was, he’d already had to resort to using his white noise generator almost non-stop both at home and at work over the last two days.
Once the machine was running quietly, he turned to wipe down the counter and make sure there wasn’t anything else left from dinner that he needed to put away, anything to allow him to ignore his computer a little longer. Unfortunately, he had already spent every minute he was home the day before tidying up his already clean apartment so he was soon wandering aimlessly from room to room with no means of distraction. Even so, it took five minutes of pacing and several gusty sighs from his feline audience before he could face the computer screen. Or rather, the list that was on it.
Tony let out a heavy exhale of his own. “Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate how much help she’s been. There’s no way I would have gotten as far in the search as I have without her help, but…” He shook his head and refused to admit aloud that for all that he knew he would be much more frustrated if he were still sniffing around on his own, he was pretty sure he would also be more hopeful if he hadn’t made it most of the way through the possibilities without yet finding his Guide.
He glanced over as Wilde joined him on the couch. “I mean, how did she even get a list of every since person who was at their favorite coffee shop that week? Sure, if they go there most mornings before work there’s a possibility of Derek coming into contact with the person there but…”
Bright green eyes stared back at him when the Agent trailed off again. Tony took a deep breath, then went on, his voice soft and tired. “But isn’t this kind of, you know, grasping at straws?”
The giant cat inched closer and rested his chin on top of his charge’s head, prompting the man to reach up absently and give his spirit animal a scratch. When his hand finally came back down, his head went with it. DiNozzo groaned as his head falls into his hands. Wilde huffed at the sudden loss of his headrest, then huffed again when Tony failed to respond to the soft rebuke. The man had no choice but to respond to the next one, as the head-butt sent him almost toppling off the couch.
“Hey!” he yelled as he caught his balance and turned to glare at his spirit animal. The exclamation gained him a long, overly patient stare. The Sentinel’s eyes narrowed, knowing that look all too well and having no intention of falling in line.
“I’m allowed to be upset, here, okay? Things suck and the search is going nowhere, and I’m not sleeping, and my senses are screwy. And I haven’t caught a single whiff of that smell in weeks! I have every reason to mope and those damn sad eyes are not going to talk me out of it.” He was breathing a little heavy by the time he had finished his tirade, but he refused to feel embarrassed. Things did suck. And he totally did have the right to be upset about it, no matter what his leopard thought.
His leopard apparently thought it was time for him to move, because in the next instant he was being nudged and bumped and head-butted off the couch and into the bedroom.
Tony hit the mattress gracelessly, breath knocked out of him by the impact. And the less than gentle nudges of a huge leopard. After a few minutes he had been bullied into laying down on his side with Wilde a large and heavy presence half behind and half on top of him. It wasn’t until the spirit animal had positioned himself with one giant foreleg hanging over the Sentinel’s side and his chin plopped onto the side of the man’s face – conveniently keeping Tony from so much as lifting his head off the pillow – that DiNozzo realized what was going on.
“Are you seriously trying to cuddle me into submission?”
Wilde responded to the incredulous but almost amused tone by nuzzling his human with a soft growl.
The words, “My Hotness had to get off the phone and now I’m waiting. I don’t do well with waiting, Tony,” had drawn him out of his morose office and down to her own around 1830 the next day. He was as eager for a distraction as she was, though he had revised that opinion somewhat when he saw how anxious she actually was. He had quickly drawn her in for a hug, careful of the spirit animal she had clutched to her chest as he did so.
“So, I can assume your team had a case?” he prompted a few minutes later, once she had started to calm.
Penelope nodded, eyes wide and the fuzzy ball on her headband bobbing as she regained her seat. She would no doubt have been waving her hands around as she recounted the day’s events if she hadn’t had one hand holding her hedgehog spirit animal and the other buried in the soft fur of his leopard. He winced when she got to the point where the youngest and comparatively unexperienced member of the team had to shoot the unsub in the head in a hospital filled with hostages that included himself and his team lead.
“He may really be as okay as he’s acting, you know. If he’s as smart as you say, he knows he did the right thing.” Tony reassured as he waited with her for the team. When she opened her mouth to respond, he shushed her with a soft gesture. “And if he’s not okay yet, he will be. I’ll bet you and the team will make sure of it.”
Her worried expression slowly morphed into a determined one. He took advantage of the fact that her panic seemed to have subsided by coaxing her into an exchange of playful banter and flirting that kept her mind occupied until her phone beeped, signaling a text from Derek. Minutes later he left her in the care of her Sentinel and made his way back to his desk to finish the day’s paperwork so he could head home.
Tony lost himself in the minutia for longer than he had actually planned before a strange, prickling sensation began to trickle over his skin. He looked down at his hands, where the tingling had started, as if the sight would somehow explain what was going on. Before he could think more than a distant ‘there’s nothing there’ he was distracted by a growing pressure in his chest, in his head. The man took a deep, careful, breath and clutched at Wilde’s fur as the leopard was suddenly only an inch away.
He started to ask his spirit animal what was going on, but a wave of emotion crashing into him had him stumbling to his feet instead. Tony was out his door and halfway down the nearest set of stairs before he had even considered what he should do. Then he didn’t wonder about anything, too busy clutching the handrail and struggling to stay on his feet while a blastwave of hurt and fear and anger and guilt and confusion knocked him into the wall of the stairwell. His ears rang, the world around him echoey and out of focus but the sense of desperation that filled him was what kept him in place for a long moment.
Then he was running, the almost glowing form of his spirit animal ahead of him as they sprinted headlong down the remaining steps, out into the hallway. Seconds later he shoved open the glass doors to the bullpen and forced his way through the people in his way. He may have shoved a couple of them too, but the startled cries of warning given by the first had the rest scattering away before he reached them. The open path before him led to a desk where Garcia was sitting on the floor holding someone almost in her lap behind the large presence of her Sentinel who was apparently trying to get their coworkers to disperse.
Tony moved forward, heart racing, breath catching, eyes fixed on the huddled man with Penelope. He knew he was approaching the epicenter, the eye of the storm. The young Guide who’s traumatic Onlining had exploded out into the building and brought what he assumed was every Gifted in reach. DiNozzo could see them out of the corner of his eye, spilling into the Team 4 bullpen and automatically joining Derek in a loose protective ring around that desk and the two people halfway under it.
Tony DiNozzo did not join the others. He wasn’t even sure why until he was there and the smell hit him with as much force as the blast of emotion had. His Guide. The young man whimpering on the floor was his Guide.
He froze for several painful breaths, then a loud screech and a familiar hand on his shoulder hurtled him back into awareness. The sound of Derek’s voice was a buzz at the edges of his senses while the sound of a single rapid heartbeat grew thunderous and wonderful in his ears. The feel of his fellow Sentinel trying to block his way was pushed past with a snarled “mine” that had him released quickly enough to prevent bloodshed.
The last few steps disappeared and he was suddenly on his knees, easing his arms around the slim, shivering figure. He spared just enough attention for Penelope to take note of the name Spencer as he settled his Guide against him and tried his best to calm him. He barely even paid attention to Wilde as he curled his large body around them from the other side. He noticed a small brown and tan owl only enough to be able to avoid knocking it off the young profiler’s shoulder where it was perched. When the shaking in the long limbs had become only light tremors Tony looked up and met his friends’ worried and hopeful eyes.
“The Center’s been called, they’ve got a team on the way, man,” Derek said, Sentinel soft.
He nodded at the words, thought a moment, and turned to Penelope. “Your office has empathic shielding, right?”
She blinked, then started making grabby motions with her hands until Morgan was there, helping her to her feet. “Of course. Of course. Come on.”
Tony pushed himself up, Spencer still clutched protectively against his chest, arms tight around his neck and long legs dangling over the side of his arm. The Gifted parade grew to include two Sentinels, two Guides, an owl, a leopard, a hedgehog and a badger after only four steps. He knew a few of the other Guides trailed behind them, making sure no one got in the way but he didn’t care enough to even acknowledge them. The only thing that mattered was the man in his arms and the safety of the dark office with its sleeping computer screens and its comforting shielding and soundproofing.
There was a moment’s pause as the others closed the door behind him before he was lowering them both to the floor. Tony situated the still distressed Guide in his lap as carefully as possible and sat with him, one arm wrapped tightly around slim shoulders and the other hand sweeping up and down Spencer’s back. Eventually the body shifted against him and a pair of wide hazel eyes were looking up at him from an angular face that was shrouded in pain and confusion.
“Hi Spencer,” he said softly. “I’m Tony, I’m the Sentinel on Team 1. We’re in Garcia’s office. You’ve come Online.”
The beautiful grey-blue eyes brightened with comprehension, then darkened to a forest green as he started to shake his head sharply. Tony did his best to bite off the sound of protest and release his hold when his Guide pushed his way out of his arms and scooted backwards until he was huddled against the side of the desk. He didn’t manage to keep from flinching when Spencer let out a single broken word that was soon followed by many more in a strained but pleasant voice.
“No. No. I’m not Online. I can’t be Online, I’m Dormant. My mom…” He trailed off into silence and Tony refrained from arguing the point. He’d heard enough from Garcia about Spencer Reid’s intelligence to know he would come to the right conclusion on his own without being pelted with assurances. The last thing he wanted was to come across as condescending or to make his Guide feel badgered or smothered by a truth he could reach with a little time to think. That time was even shorter then DiNozzo had expected. Only about a minute later, the genius was taking in the sight of the two animals with clear understanding.
“His name is Wilde,” Tony volunteered with a nod towards the leopard hovering halfway between them, hoping something to focus on would help the new Guide push aside what was sure to be overwhelming empathy no matter the shielding on the room.
“Oscar?” Spencer asked quickly enough that the question sounded like a desperate grasp at a distraction.
There was a short pause, then a lock of chestnut hair was falling into the Guide’s face as he nodded. “Author of the 1937 short story Bringing Up Baby and writer of the screenplay for the 1938 film of the same name.”
Tony couldn’t help but laugh. “The film starred Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and earned her the title Box Office Poison until The Philadelphia Story in 1940. The movie recovered from it’s commercial failure in the 1950s when it was shown on TV and was entered into the National Film Registry in 1990. It’s now listed 88th on the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.”
A smile lingered on both of their faces after the exchange of trivia and Tony was relieved to hear the man’s heart rate settle in the quiet that followed. He was debating a safe topic of conversation when the owl that had been standing on the desk above his human stopped rubbing his head against Reid’s messy hair and instead settled himself on the Guide’s upraised knee with a hop and an almost indignant coo. Tony laughed again when Spencer tentatively reached out to run his fingers over the tan breast feathers with a soft exclamation of surprise.
“Athene cunicularia. Burrowing owl.” There was silence again while the Guide stared fixedly at his spirit animal. “His name is Archimedes.”
DiNozzo gave the owl a polite nod of greeting, then glanced back to the bird’s charge with a curious expression. “The Greek math guy or the cranky owl from the 1963 animated film The Sword in the Stone?”
Spencer smiled as he ran his fingers over the small brown head. “Both I guess. Though the fact that Merlin’s owl was named after a famous physicist and mathematician was the only thing about the movie that I didn’t find disappointing as a kid.” Tony raised one brow in silent question and was relieved when that was all that was needed to keep his Guide talking. “I was five. My mother had just read me Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and the film was nothing like I’d expected.”
His other brow rose to join it’s twin for a brief second but he didn’t ask why his mom had read him a Victorian re-write of middle English folklore at the age of five. He was hardly one to throw stones about how someone had been raised. His parents certainly hadn’t left him anything to be proud of in that respect. Tony just watched Wilde inch his way closer to the Guide as he tried to keep the conversation going before the pinched look on Spencer’s face got any worse. The man obviously wasn’t suffering from empathic dissociation any longer, he was aware and responsive after all. But the threat of empathic overload still hung heavy in the room, especially given the traumatic way the Guide had come online.
“I can see how Disney wouldn’t have measured up,” he agreed, keeping his tone light as the leopard finally got close enough to lean against Reid with a soft nuzzle. Another couple minutes of trivia had Spencer slumping a little to the side, one hand buried in fur, the other still stroking feathers. The conversation didn’t appear to be staving off the strain as well as it had been, and the urge to comfort, to protect, became too strong to ignore.
Slowly, Tony scooted a little closer. “Can I sit with you?” The nod he got in response was not exactly confident and was far from eager, but the Sentinel took the permission at face value and carefully moved to situate himself so the new Guide was bracketed on either side by himself and Wilde. When he ended up with a small bit of Spencer’s weight braced against him, it took absolute no effort to hear the shocked exhale or the way the building tension started to drain from Reid’s shoulders, just a little.
He wondered for a moment if he was going to have to come up with a cautious way to introduce what they could both feel. It was only a moment before such a thing was proven unnecessary as the Guide spoke in a tone of voice even five advanced senses couldn’t parcel out. “You’re my Sentinel.”
His own shoulders relaxed at the quiet words and he took a deep breath, forcing himself not to get lost in the delicious scent of the man next to him. “I am.” Tony’s breath left him in a rush of dizzying relief at the acknowledgement that followed.
“I’m your Guide.”
He turned to look at the other man without caring that he probably looked as desperately hopeful as he felt. “You are. If you want to be.”
He had felt the way the arm against his side had started trembling again, had seen the way the lines of discomfort had been growing deeper on the beautiful, angular face over the last couple minutes. Tony knew that Spencer was struggling against the empathic weight of his new gifts.
He knew that it would only get worse until he was either isolated at the Center or Bonded. The latter he refused to think about with his Guide still a stranger, still suffering the trauma of his violent Onlining. The former he tried not to focus on as the idea of other people near his Guide regardless of the reason made a furious ache grow in his chest. But he stayed still, stayed quiet, stayed as comforting and undemanding as he could while he waited for Spencer to respond.
“I want to be,” came the surprisingly determined voice.