Title: Imperfect, Chapters 5 – 6
Author: Jilly James
Fandom/Genre: NCIS, Criminal Minds, Sentinel Fusion
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/Derek Morgan
Beta: Ladyholder and Naelany
Author Note: Please see main story page for summary, warnings, additional art, cast gallery, credits, etc.
– – – –
Tony finished putting the groceries away, but, despite his intentions, felt singularly uninspired to do anything with them. After the utter chaos of last night and this morning, he’d managed to get released back to his apartment, but hadn’t felt like he wanted to go anywhere. Still, he really wanted to see Derek, so he’d sent a text offering to cook instead.
But, now, the idea had little appeal. Everything felt completely fucked up, and Tony wasn’t all that happy with himself in the whole situation. It was hard to say what he could have done differently, but he kept thinking it should have been something.
It was barely after 1800 hours, but Tony impulsively decided to try to put some sort of closure around the situation. He sat on his coffee table, which wasn’t even remotely comfortable but seemed to always be where he perched for difficult conversations.
The phone was answered on the second ring. “You’re the last person I expected,” Gibbs said instead of his customary greeting.
“It’s become increasingly clear how little you knew about me,” Tony shot back, then sighed. “Sorry, I didn’t call to argue.” He could hear the rasp of sandpaper and was stunned Gibbs was at home so early in the evening, but he most definitely wasn’t going to ask.
“Then why did you call?”
“Because there’s a lot of years there, Gibbs. A lot of years. And as shitty as I think your actions were, mine… well, it wasn’t what I want the last words between us to be. Not when I once considered you a friend.”
“But not anymore,” he stated after hesitation.
“Now? No. Maybe someday. And if I have to explain why–”
“You don’t,” Gibbs said shortly. “I didn’t handle things… right,” he finished somewhat awkwardly. After a hesitation, Gibbs added, “They told me we couldn’t bond.”
“No. It’s…” He trailed off, because anything he could say would just be rubbing salt in the wound. If Gibbs had been able to let go of his grief and not shunned guides so completely, he probably wouldn’t be in this mess. “A bond between us would be abusive. To me. And probably to you considering how much you don’t want that connection.”
The silence was so long, Tony almost just hung up. “Today, I would do things differently. But I can’t say, even if I’d known you, that I would have done any different a decade ago.”
“That’s fair. But it’s sort of not the point. I always understood that you grieve, Gibbs, I couldn’t understand, and I’m not prepared to forgive, the way you wrote me out of your life without a word.”
“It wasn’t fair.” And maybe that was the closest Gibbs could get to an apology. But it wasn’t really enough for Tony. Not anymore.
“Right.” Tony took a steadying breath. “I didn’t call to rehash things. It was just me wanting to leave things in a better place, somehow. To tell you that no matter how this went down, I don’t regret the years I spent learning from you.”
“All right.” It seemed Gibbs wasn’t really participating in this conversation more than any other. In a weird way, the lack of engagement had more finality to it than anything that had been said.
“Okay, then. Thanks for the job, for the meals, for the mentoring, and sometimes even friendship. Good luck, Gibbs.”
When he heard nothing, he started to pull his phone away to hang up, but, at the last second, he heard, “Tony?”
Taking a breath, he said, “Yeah?”
“Is there anything you can do for Abby?”
Of course that was the question.
Tony closed his eyes for a second and just let go. Let all the guilt slide away, and any worry that he hadn’t done enough. “Empathic touch-sensitivity is… I can’t even explain what it’s truly like, but let me try to give you some frame of reference. There’s a raw nerve exposed, and just a casual, accidental touch on the street can be like that nerve has been abraded with sandpaper, or even stroked by a feather. It could be nice, it could be awful, but it’s always invasive. People think if an emotion isn’t negative, it must be okay. But it’s like being force-fed food you don’t want. It’s not okay just because it tastes good.
“But it’s worse than food, because it’s a part of someone else that’s being forced into my mind. And if I don’t invite the touch, it’s… ugly. And frankly, it’s abusive. Abby knew when she grabbed me what she was trying to do. She knew she was forcing her emotions on me. She did it deliberately to hurt me. But despite that, despite her deliberate attempt to cause me pain, I talked until I was blue in the face on her behalf. Which probably made people wonder about my emotional health. I sure the fuck would wonder if I were in their shoes. But despite their probable concerns about my mind, for my sake, they knocked her censure down to a year. They were debating between ten years and lifetime.”
He hesitated briefly before adding, “But the thing is, I didn’t do it for her. I did it for you, because I knew it would matter to you. I even suspected it would matter most.” Before Gibbs could say anything, Tony said, “Goodbye, Gibbs.”
– – – –
Derek tapped on the door to 2D. Despite knowing Tony for several years, they’d never done more than grab a beer, or something from a food truck after a game, so he was more than a little curious. Tony answered, and Derek easily detected the stress markers in the guide’s pulse, muscle tension, and even his scent. Despite all that, he was struck, again, by how attractive Tony was, not to mention how incredibly good he smelled.
“Hey, Derek. Come in.”
Forcing his sentinel instincts down, and the urge to pull Tony close and sniff him, he entered and took in the apartment, finding it to be elegant but with enough personal touches to not be sterile or uncomfortable. Immediately, he crossed to the baby grand and touched the smooth finish. “You play?”
Tony nodded, giving a half smile. He pointed to the guitar and the ukulele at various positions in the room. “Those, too.” Then his expression became more serious. “Turns out I’m a complete dinner tease. I got groceries delivered, but cooking… ain’t happening.” The stress markers were even more apparent in his voice.
Derek tilted his head toward the kitchen. “You mind?”
With a perplexed frown, Tony shook his head.
It only took a couple of minutes to assess the refrigerator, then he looked back at Tony. “How about you sit there,” he gestured to the other side of the island, “and I’ll cook.”
Tony looked disconcerted, or something like that, but he eventually nodded.
“You know, if you don’t want me in your kitchen, that’s cool, man. I’m not trying to intrude.” He’d happily do the cooking, but ordering takeout was fine, too. Being around Tony just felt right. Not to mention his guide aura was incredibly compelling.
“Oh… no. It’s not that. I feel like I should just suck it up and go to dinner, but the idea…” Tony trailed off, expression tight. “If you want to cook, that’s good.”
“Tony, there are other nights… if you need some time–”
“I really don’t,” Tony interjected quickly. “It felt like I moved mountains to be able to do this tonight, because it’s what I really wanted to do.”
Derek wasn’t sure what that meant, but taking the man at his word, he started pulling out ingredients. But he couldn’t seem to find the pasta.
After he’d looked in a fourth cabinet, Tony said, “Tell me you’re not looking for boxed pasta.” Derek just cocked a brow. “Not in my kitchen.” He pointed to the freezer. “There’s cavatelli in there.”
Derek easily found the obviously handmade pasta; more than enough for two. “You make this?”
“Couple months ago. Should still be fine.”
“Huh.” He got to work, nodding his thanks when Tony set a beer on the counter for him. Once he had some order to the chaos, he said, “It’s pretty easy to tell that you had a crap day. I don’t want to be pushy, but you can talk about it… if you want to.” He glanced over to find Tony frowning as he picked at the label on his beer bottle. “I want you to feel like you can talk to me, but no pressure.”
Tony sighed and rubbed his forehead. “The Center tap dances around the fact that I’m empathically fragile. It’s almost funny the way they try to avoid saying it, like I’m gonna fall apart if we all acknowledge the elephant in the room. It’s kind of ridiculous because I’m not emotionally fragile, which means I can handle the fact that I’m not in the best shape empathically. Hell, I shouldn’t be online at all, much less… like this.”
None of that was what Derek had expected. It wasn’t unexpected that Tony would have some empathic problems with the way he came online, but it wasn’t what he thought would be on the guide’s mind. “Why do you think they’re so convinced you can’t handle hearing that?”
“It’s half my fault. They keep bringing up conservatorship, and I sort of lose my shit every time. But what do they expect? I don’t want some stranger living with me, taking my emotional temperature all the damn time.”
Yeah, Derek could see that Tony wouldn’t react well to his independence and autonomy being challenged. He wouldn’t either. “They fought you on the conservatorship issue?”
“Eh. Sort of. We agreed a kind of day-patient thing to see how I do with the real world and maintaining my shields in the face of regular life stress. Go in every day, get assessed, do training, go home. Plus, I’m on some kind of stress-probation. I’m supposed to avoid it as much as possible until who knows when. But if there are situations I know are going to be tense, I’m supposed to have another guide present.”
“Okay, man, that really sucks.” Derek kept working on the sauce he was putting together, keeping the pressure off Tony by having something else to split his focus. “You said you had to move mountains… the plan not working out?”
Tony huffed a laugh that sounded more tired than amused. Derek glanced up as Tony was taking a sip of his beer and looking like he was wrestling with something. “Gibbs came to see me after I last saw you. He’d changed his mind.”
Derek almost dropped the knife he was holding, but he managed to play it cool. “And?” he prompted. He didn’t want to be a dick and demand Tony’s secrets, but he was pretty damn invested in the answer. Somewhere along the way, this had already passed way beyond take-it-or-leave-it. Derek didn’t want to lose Tony, and he didn’t even really have him.
“And nothing. I said no. I know the last time I saw you that I didn’t give many details about what happened, but, when Gibbs declined, he just…” Tony made a dismissive gesture. “Erased me. Told someone else to pass on that he wasn’t interested, and started working on my transfer paperwork.”
Derek wasn’t even sure how to react to that, so he just stared for a long time. “Okay, damn. That’s cold.”
“Thing is, I would have understood no. But I couldn’t let that go. So when he asked, there was really no choice to be made.”
“And what happened?” Derek asked, reading Tony pretty easily. “There’s obviously more to it than that.”
Tony sighed, looking pained. “It was a ‘no’ regardless, but, Jesus, Derek… he’s so damaged. He’s refused to ever work with a guide since the day of his onlining nearly eighteen years ago.” He rubbed his hand over the back of his head. “Hell, I probably shouldn’t even be talking about this.”
“Whoa,” Derek breathed. “How is he not dormant?”
“I don’t know. I just knew the minute I walked in the room that I couldn’t…” he trailed off. “I just couldn’t. Even if I had wanted to.”
“You’re not feeling guilty about that, are you? These are all his choices.”
“I know. Doesn’t help that it’s someone I cared about for eight years who, fundamentally, is wounded. And, yeah, he contributed to it, but it doesn’t change the circumstance he’s in now. He treated me shitty, but it’s not like there’s some weird equivalency.”
“I get that.” Human emotions were not easily reconciled. It wasn’t all that hard to love someone and still not be able to be around them. Ever. “So they pushed the conservator thing over that?”
“No… we stuck to the plan. I came home yesterday.”
Derek braced his hands on the island and gave Tony his sole focus. The food could wait. “What happened, Tony? ‘Cause it’s clear something did. Gibbs couldn’t let it go?”
Snorting, Tony shook his head. “No, that’s not a problem. But his surrogate daughter—who is also one of my friends and a former coworker—couldn’t. She thought I was punishing him or something.” He grabbed the beer and took a long swallow. “I had another guide here yesterday because there were planned visits throughout the afternoon. Partly to sign some paperwork and turn in my badge, but also say goodbye to people I’d been working with for a long time. There was a guide from the Center to monitor things, Alex Joyce—he mentioned he knows you.”
Derek nodded. He’d met Alex a few times, though he knew Alex’s sentinel, Vincent, better of the two.
“She came over early, demanded that I bond with Gibbs. It got ugly.”
Eyes narrowing, he pressed, “Just how ‘ugly’?”
“Well, let’s just say she wound up with a restraining order and a one-year censure for empathic assault.”
“What the hell happened?” Derek demanded, ignoring that he’d been determined to let Tony have his privacy. His instincts were all revved up because it felt like someone had hurt his guide.
Tony stared at the beer bottle in his hand, then set it far away. “She’s sensitive, capable of some degree of emotional projection. The short version is she built up a full head of steam, quite deliberately projected it, and then grabbed me.”
Derek nearly growled. Touching a guide without their permission was bullshit anyway, but to do it deliberately when you were angry? So far over the line. “How touch-sensitive are you?”
“I am so far off the touch-sensitivity scale, they don’t know how to measure it. It contributes to that whole ‘fragile’ picture they talk around.” Tony huffed. “God! You know, I don’t want to seem like I’m not grateful to the people at the Center… that’s not it. They took really good care of me–”
“Hey, Tony,” Derek interrupted, “you don’t have to explain. The situation sucks. Just because they’re doing their job doesn’t mean you’re not miserable. They’re not mutually exclusive.” He hesitated before asking, “Can they help with the touch issues?”
“Don’t know. Time might improve it, bonding might, or it could always be like this.” His expression became pinched briefly. “It’s why I changed the plans. I couldn’t deal with…” he trailed off and shrugged one shoulder.
“Right.” He tipped his neck to the side, and Derek heard the bones pop. It was quite loud and he realized he was dialed up higher than he normally could manage with any reliability, his focus so intent upon his would-be guide that it seemed easy. He wasn’t in sensory trouble so he let it be.
“I’ll get over it,” Tony added. “I just need a couple days, I guess.”
“You know you don’t have to ‘get over it’, right?”
“Yeah, well, I’m not gonna let myself develop a touch phobia, dammit.” He passed his hand over his mouth, looking like he was searching for his composure. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s not like no one’s touched me since I came online, but it was like someone shoving their emotions in my head, including their intent to harm. It wasn’t something I was prepared for. But I really don’t like how much it’s bothering me.”
Derek wouldn’t voice it, but in his mind, no matter how brief it was, what that woman had done was attempted mind rape. And it completely infuriated him. He was sort of stunned that the Center had only handed out a year-long censure. He wasn’t gonna push Tony about it, but if Tony agreed to bond with him, he was most definitely going to ask Monahan why the wrist-slap of a punishment.
“I can feel that you’re pissed, you know that, right?” Tony asked with wry amusement.
“Can’t control it, not even gonna try,” Derek retorted. “That’s seriously messed up. I take it they are worried the attack affected you empathically?”
“No, not exactly. My shields were reasonably okay. It’s more that they’re concerned that I won’t be able to deal emotionally with the whole cluster, and that will affect me empathically. There was a push to at least have a conservator this week to make sure I can interact with the world like a real boy. But I’m not letting one bad evening screw up my life. So, I probably should have canceled and gotten my head screwed on straight first, but… well, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.” The admission was slightly hesitant, but Derek got that Tony was putting something out there.
“You know I want to be here, right? You don’t have to be ‘on’ or the perfect dinner date or anything else. And if you’re having a bad day, I’ll still want to be here.”
Tony held his gaze, and seemed to be looking for something. Then he nodded and smile. “Cook for me then, sentinel. And tell me how the last few days have been in your world.”
– – – –
Laughing incredulously, Derek shook his head. “That didn’t happen.”
“I’m serious!” Tony insisted, grinning.
“Why would he hide the murder weapon in your bag?”
“I set my backpack down, got the camera out and was shooting the scene. The supposed witness was twitchy, and I was keeping an eye on him as subtly as possible. McGee finishes getting his statement and walks away, telling the guy to just wait for a while. So, I’m watching covertly, and the guy slips over and stuffs something in my bag. Turned out to be the gun he’d used to kill his neighbor.”
“He did it so he could claim it wasn’t his?”
“Exactly. I mean, never mind the prints, but he was totally coked out. I took pictures of the whole epic fail so there was nothing he could say.”
“Okay, I agree he really wins the stupid criminal award, but I still say that mummified hand didn’t happen.”
Tony shot him a look. “Have you fallen out of touch with the bizarrely stupid weirdness that is run of the mill crime?”
“Yeah, maybe,” he conceded. “I can’t think of the last case I laughed at the end of, that’s for certain. But let’s talk about that for a minute,” Derek said seriously.
Arching a brow, Tony asked, “What? Lack of laughter?”
“Not exactly, but tangentially.” He stopped to considered for a second. Dinner had been good, and the conversation even better. Once things relaxed a little, Derek knew with absolute certainty that he had found what he wanted. He couldn’t imagine how a “perfect” match could be any better. It was so easy to just sit and talk, and Tony’s guide aura was incredibly soothing and comfortable.
“You okay there?” Tony prompted.
“Yeah… just thinking about some advice someone gave me recently.”
“And that is?”
“To be straight about this,” he replied, replaying what Rossi had said in his mind.
“Us,” he clarified. “He said that if I was committed, to be straight… to tell you flat out. And I am. I’ll go all in for you, Tony. But I need to know if that’s what you want.”
Tony just stared for a few seconds, and Derek couldn’t really get a read on him. His scent pile didn’t change appreciably, so, other than an increase in heartrate, Derek was flying blind.
When the silence itself was starting to feel like a letdown, Derek asked, “Too fast?”
“I want to be your guide,” Tony suddenly said. “But the certainty I feel about that is more than a little weird.”
Derek couldn’t help but laugh, which was about ninety-percent relief. “Why?
“A couple weeks ago deciding the rest of my life on a first date was—I mean, who does that? It was too literally a bad rom-com. I knew, intellectually, that things between sentinels and guides weren’t the same, but it’s not the same as living it. Or sitting next to someone I’ve known for a long time, but having it be different overnight.”
“So… time?” he prompted. He’d give Tony as much time as he needed.
“This new guide part of me says hell no, climb that man as fast as you can.”
Derek laughed with real amusement this time. He wasn’t oblivious to the fact that Tony found him attractive—he could smell it—but it was something that had always been there. Tony had never let it get in the way or done anything about it, and so Derek hadn’t ever mentioned it. Sentinels and guides were different from mundanes. While they could do things the longer, more conventional way, for many it didn’t happen like that. A sentinel’s senses and a guide’s empathy called out “right” sometimes, and the draw was too strong to be put off for very long.
“Baby, you can climb me anytime.”
Tony smiled, genuinely, and it was kind of breathtaking. Plus, his scent was laced with arousal. “Most of me wants to climb all over you immediately…”
“Let me get my head sorted out. I’m not trying to achieve some ideal of perfection. I just need to feel like I’m in control of my life again.”
Derek could get that. Tony had been on a runaway train since he left Somalia. He had to feel like life was happening to him. “Whatever you need. I have to say, though, that I already feel like you’re mine. I don’t think I can act like we’re just casually dating.”
Deciding to be blunt, Derek replied, “Well, the sentinel in me wants to know where you are all the time, but that comes off like a controlling asshole, and I am not that guy.” Something had already shifted in Derek, from the moment Tony said he wanted to be Derek’s guide.
Tony snorted in amusement. “I’ll talk to Alex tomorrow and see what’s typical in our type of situation, then decide what I’m willing to do.”
“I can live with that.” He hoped. He didn’t want to start getting crazy and acting like a dick because he didn’t know where his guide was. “You feel like you’re mine already, and I won’t be able to stop myself from imprinting as much as I can. Things are gonna change.”
Unexpectedly, Tony held out his hand.
Derek hesitated, wondering if Tony was really up for touch.
The other man moved about six inches closer, the sweet smell reminiscent of rain and honeysuckle was harder to block out with every inch nearer. “Let’s not start off by you thinking you know what’s best for me,” Tony said rather softly, but still firmly. “If you don’t want to, then don’t. But don’t make the decision for me.”
Yeah, that was fair. Derek definitely felt the urge to protect his guide, but this wasn’t his call to make. Derek took Tony’s hand, and his senses suddenly went a little crazy as another sense registered guide.
Tony’s eyes were wide, staring unblinking for several seconds, before he whispered, “Damn.”
“I hope that’s a good damn because I’m not sure this is gonna be enough,” Derek managed to get out with some semblance of calm.
“Really good,” Tony breathed, barely audible to anyone but a sentinel.
Derek couldn’t stop from pulling his guide close and burying his face in Tony’s neck, learning his scent more intimately. Tony’s hands slid over Derek’s arms and shoulders to finally rest on his back, tracing random patterns. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d been touched by a guide, and yet he’d never experienced anything like it. His senses seemed to hum and shift, trying to get more of Tony.
The steady pulse of guide-aura began to get more intense, until the air felt thick with that feeling that was uniquely guide—safety and comfort and sex and love. Derek started feeling drunk and just held on to his guide.
They wound up with Derek pressed into the corner of the couch with Tony half sprawled over him. He couldn’t seem to stop taking in the scent and getting lost in the feel of guide. When the urge to taste as well as smell and touch was nearly overpowering, he dropped his head back, taking in steadying breaths.
The molasses-thick sense of Tony’s aura began to fade and Derek just blinked up at the ceiling, appreciating the relaxed weight of Tony against him. “Were you projecting your aura?”
A strong hand slid over his ribs rhythmically. “No. I just stopped containing it.”
Derek frowned and looked at his guide. “What do you mean? I’ve felt your guide aura every time I’ve seen you.”
“My secondary guide traits are weirdly amplified—like the aura and touch-sensitivity. I keep it pulled in as much as I can. You just felt so good in my head, I… couldn’t help but empathically reach out for you.”
Not remarking on the amplified aura, Derek slid his hands over Tony’s back, wishing for more skin. “I want you to always feel like you can be comfortable with me.”
“I already do. It’s kind of weird.”
“Why is that weird?”
After a pause, Tony replied, “I’m not usually truly comfortable with anyone.” With that, he slowly pulled away and sat up, and Derek clearly got the subject was closed. While willing to let the topic go, he wasn’t so eager to give up his new guide, so he kept an arm around Tony as they adjusted their positions.
Tony gave him a searching look, then asked, “You said you had something to talk about?”
“Yeah.” Derek had to stop to get his thoughts together. Touching his guide for the first time had completely off-lined his brain. “I started making some inquiries about you joining the BAU, but I realized I needed to have that discussion with you. So… what is it that you want to do as far as your job?”
Brows shooting up in surprise, Tony asked, “Join the BAU as what?”
“I’ve had some class time on profiles, Derek, but that’s it. I’m not exactly qualified.”
“If you’re interested, Rossi wants to bring you in to do some profiles, see how you do. If you manage textbook profiles, they’ll probably bring you on and consider it on-the-job training.”
“And the other options?” Tony asked looking thoughtful.
“We’re Unit 4—crimes against adults. Unit 1—which is counterterrorism—is interested in you based on your last op. They’d have no problems taking me, too, since they also cover arson and bombing, and that’s my background.”
“But you’d prefer to stay with your current team?” Tony replied shrewdly.
“I would, but this is more important,” Derek said seriously, and wasn’t even surprised how much he meant it. He wasn’t sure how it happened so fast, but Tony was too important to let anything get in the way. “The other option is we could move out of the BAU into a purely investigative unit. I could still do profiles… there are a lot of profilers attached to various criminal investigation units.”
After a few seconds’ consideration, Tony replied, “Give my number to whomever, or tell me who to call, and let’s get that ball rolling. We’ll go with Unit 4 as plan A, and see how it goes.”
Relieved, Derek nodded, planning to get started on it first thing tomorrow.
Unexpectedly, Tony reached up and touched the side of his face. “Do you have any idea how much I want to kiss you right now?”
Derek sucked in a breath and tightened the arm around his guide. “Oh, yeah. I think I have an idea.”
“But it would be a bad idea.” Tony sighed.
“Unless you want to spend the next week nesting,” Derek remarked, trying to go for casual. Imprinting taste and not bonding would be near torture.
“I kind of do,” Tony said softly, “but I think the current plan is a better idea.”
“Right,” Derek replied without any conviction, then stroked his thumb along his guide’s cheekbone. “I should go… you get more tempting every second.”
A few minutes later, Derek was out in front of the apartment building, taking a deep breath of air to try to clear his head. Being so immersed in his guide was a little like being drunk. He forced himself to stop tracking Tony’s heartbeat and headed for the car.
– – – –
Tony made it to the park in record time and leaned against a bench, breathing hard and dripping sweat. He couldn’t afford to stay still for too long without stretching or his muscles would tighten up in the cold. His compromise to avoiding crowds was to jog at 0500, and it was chillier than he’d expected. The physical exertion coupled with being outside had done a lot to help him get his thoughts straight.
After Derek had left the prior evening, he’d spent a lot of time thinking over everything that had happened thus far, and what was going to happen next. Since coming back from Somalia, Tony had been swept along with things happening outside his control. He’d had very little choice in anything the last few weeks. Derek being a notable exception, but also being something very good.
Physical contact had been a revelation. Tony’s empathy had grabbed onto Derek and felt more grounded than at any time since he came online. It had made him want to skip the getting his life in order plan and just dive in. But he wouldn’t be coming into their bond ready to be an equal, to be Derek’s guide. Tony had always been resilient, and he knew he’d get it together quickly given a little time and space.
Keenly aware of the increasing number of people pressing at his empathic barriers, he headed back home.
When he arrived at the Center later in the morning, he went through the empathic scan without a murmur, but before tackling whatever training he had for the day, he went in search of Kyle.
He was waved into the alpha guide’s office after only a brief delay.
“What can I do for you, Tony?”
Appreciating that he’d managed to persuade people to stop asking how he was doing, he got right to the point. “Derek Morgan and I are going to bond in the near future.”
Kyle leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled and pressed against his chin. “How near?”
“When I’m ready… I just need some space to get my life together.”
“If I may ask, are you drawn to one another?”
“Oh, yeah,” Tony said with a faint smile. “It was difficult not to just… jump in.”
Looking thoughtful, Kyle nodded. “As high level as the two of you are, if you’re feeling a pull to be together, it’ll be hard to resist. Not that you shouldn’t take as much time as you need, but if you’ve told him you’re accepting the bond, he’s going to get territorial and will be fighting that instinct.”
“Yeah, he sorta said something to that effect. That’s part of why I wanted to talk to you… how should I handle it? Is there some standard operating procedure in this situation?”
“Not exactly standard. You two will have to make adjustments as you go, but generally, you need to let him know where you are and be reachable. He doesn’t have the right to veto your activities or know things that are private, but if he starts to become anxious about your safety because he can’t find you, it could… tip things in a way that wouldn’t be good.”
“Do you mean like a feral bonding drive?”
“At the extreme end, yes. You have to strike a balance between autonomy and managing both of your instincts.”
Tony nodded, thinking through how to handle the situation. He realized he was absently rubbing his thumb over his guide band and made himself stop. He’d get a new one after he bonded, and so would Derek.
Kyle braced his elbows on his desk. “Something to discuss with your sentinel: Considering your unique circumstances, I would prefer it if you two consented to bonding at the Center. More than eighty-percent of pairs bond in their own home, but that still leaves quite a few bondings under this roof every year. If you never need outside help, you’ll never see a soul during your nesting week. Food and water will be left in a small room outside the bonding suite, and laundry picked up and delivered as needed.”
Tony held up a hand to forestall any more persuasion. “I’ll talk to him about it. I’m pretty sure he’ll push for it.” When Kyle’s brows shot up, Tony added, “He knows I’m in a fragile state empathically… I don’t see him being cavalier about it.”
Cocking his head to the side, Kyle replied, “You haven’t really been willing to discuss the issue before.”
“I wasn’t willing to discuss conservatorship,” Tony clarified, “and they seemed to go hand in hand. I’m not oblivious to how much harder this is for me than others, or how much more affected I am by low-level empathic stimulus. I’d just rather do anything to work around or through the problem than have a conservator.”
Kyle considered for long moments, before offering. “All right. It won’t be brought up again.” He held up a hand when Tony started to speak. “Unless… the decision has been made and we’re not giving you an option. I’m sorry if that’s assholish, but there are circumstances where I have no choice.”
“All right.” It was blunt, but Tony preferred knowing the score and not having some constant threat hanging over his head. “There’s one other issue… We need to evaluate my schedule here. At some point, hopefully soon, I’ll need to spend time at the Bureau doing some assessments, and perhaps paperwork.”
“Probably Quantico, but could also be the Hoover Building.”
“The Bureau has excellent facilities for guide support. Let me get you some contact information for both locations, as well as the woman in charge of Sentinel and Guide Support Services.” Kyle turned to his computer and his fingers flew over the keyboard for a few seconds. “I’ve emailed you all the information. And I’ll agree to the schedule change provided we coordinate with the head of guide services at whatever location you’re assigned to. You could need isolation time or empathic support, but you won’t be an agent yet, so this has to be set up in advance. And they’ll have to agree to call Alex or I directly if there are any problems.”
Tony sighed. He figured it would be something like that, but he’d just deal with it and move on. He was likely going to be a Bureau guide anyway, and he could start getting familiar with the Feeb’s support offerings sooner rather than later.
Tony had recently learned that the Bureau had rules for the health and well-being of sentinel and guide agents in their employ, and provided the necessary services to support those regulations. Anyone online would never go their entire career without an evaluation. NCIS had no such policies, and provided very limited budget to support services—almost all of it consumed by paying for civilian guide “consultants” for sentinels who needed them. Their contract with the Guide Council didn’t demand that they have rules or services, but Tony would be surprised if NCIS’s official policy didn’t change to at least require health certifications from the Center. The Center would do the work, but NCIS had to make the damn rule.
Nothing in NCIS’s policy could have fixed Gibbs’ aversion to bonding, or stopped him from being a dick, but better fitness requirements for sentinels could have prevented Gibbs’ dormancy. Hell, the military had those rules, but NCIS and other small agencies hadn’t implemented them. The Bureau, in this regard, did a much better job.
– – – –
Derek headed down the hall toward Garcia’s office to break the news to her. When he’d arrived this morning, he’d sent an email off to Rossi to let him know that he needed to talk to Hotch and Strauss about Tony. The senior profiler was in Maryland doing a consult with Reid, but was expected back by the end of the day.
Tapping on the door to her office, he immediately stuck his head in. “Hey, baby-girl. You got a minute?”
She spun around in her chair, enormous, bright earrings making odd noises as they bounced with her barely restrained energy. “I always have time for you, my glorious vision. Pull up a chair and tell Garcia all your woes.”
Laughing, he sat and leaned back comfortably. “No woes. All good here.”
“Oh, do tell!” she enthused. “We don’t have nearly enough days of all good!”
“I just wanted to tell you something… Rossi already knows, and he’s going to talk to Hotch soon. I’m not filling Reid, JJ, or Emily in yet—I’ll do that in a few days—so this is just between us for now.”
Her eyes were wide. “Oh my god, Derek! Are you leaving?”
“No!” he shot back quickly. “At least I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” she repeated, sounding stunned.
“I found a guide,” he interjected quickly before she could get going.
Her mouth fell open and she stared at him for so long that he wondered if she was broken. Then she made a sound like a dolphin and threw herself at him. He braced himself to keep the chair from rolling back as he accepted the hug.
“Oh my god!” she nearly screeched in his ear. “That’s so exciting! I’m so happy for you.” She pulled back and flopped in her chair, wheeling it super close. “Tell me all about her. What’s she like? Is she an agent, or will she be a civilian consultant?”
Derek wasn’t surprised by the gender assumption. He certainly dated his share of ladies, but that was never all he was interested in. “He.”
“He what?” she repeated, obviously bemused.
“My guide is a he.”
Her eyes widened and she breathed, “Oh my giddy aunt. Is he pretty? Because, sugar, I have to tell you, the thought of that does this heart so much good.”
He choked on surprised laughter. “Garcia!”
She spun towards her computer. “Name!” she ordered.
“No. You are not looking him up. You’ll meet him soon enough.”
Slowly, she turned back around, pouting at him. “But how will I know if he’s good enough for you?”
“You’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m working on being good enough for him.”
“Aww,” she replied, holding a hand to her chest. “You’re already falling in love. That’s so perfect.”
He blinked in astonishment. He wasn’t quite ready to go there in his head. There was no doubt he could love Tony, but they needed to get through the bonding before Derek could let himself travel anywhere down that path.
“So why aren’t you telling everyone?”
“He’s… had a rough ride of it lately. We’re putting off bonding for a little bit. Just gonna let things settle for now. But with Rossi, Hotch, and Strauss knowing, it might get out and I didn’t want you to hear it from anyone but me.” He didn’t want the rest of the team hearing it through the grapevine either; he hoped he had a couple days at least before he had to say something. But he didn’t want there to be any chance of Garcia hearing it from anyone but him.
He was in the midst of explaining the issues around his guide coming into the BAU, and how they might have to transfer to Unit 1, when he got a text from JJ that they had a case in Houston, and Rossi would meet them at the plane.
Immediately, he felt a spike of anxiety about being so far away from his guide, but he wrestled the feeling under control and went to meet up with his team.
En route to the plane, he sent a text to Tony, explaining that he’d be in Texas for a few days, but to call if he needed anything. He fought the urge to ask for an update. This was challenging his sense of self… he’d never been the intrusive, controlling asshole in a relationship, but not knowing if his guide was okay, and without a bond to provide that basic assurance, he was struggling. He managed to make conversation with his team and review the case, but it wasn’t easy.
He quickly got a text back wishing him a quick resolution on the case and telling him to check his email. As soon as he got on the plane, he logged in and found an invite to view Tony’s calendar, as well as a note saying that Tony wasn’t prepared for constant check-ins, but that he’d put everywhere he planned to be on the calendar so Derek could figure out where he was whenever he needed to. It helped some, but not as much as he would have liked.
There was also a mention that there was a request from the Center that, when the time came, they stay at the Center for the duration of their bonding and nesting period. Derek wasn’t enthused by the idea, but he understood the rationale and was on board with making sure his guide was taken care of. He sent back a thanks for the schedule info, and that he was fine with the Center’s request.
Rossi was about ten minutes behind them, but they were in the air immediately after he arrived. As soon as they were at cruising altitude, Rossi asked for a private word and they moved to the far end of the plane.
“I talked to Strauss and Hotch already. Hotch wants to see some preliminary profiles, and then talk to him, but overall, no objections. Strauss… she’s questioning if you two are a better fit for a criminal investigation unit that does more field work. I reminded her that limiting a sentinel or guide’s career opportunities because of their online status could get us in trouble with the Council. She’s going to leave it to Hotch, but expect her to be monitoring the situation. She’ll put pressure on Hotch to transfer you two if Tony struggles in this unit.”
Derek had a suspicion that Tony was going to do fine, but he’d help in any way he could to ensure that they remained in Unit 4.
“I also briefly spoke with DiNozzo. He’s coming in on Friday to look at some old cases and work up some profiles, also sign some paperwork. I told him there was no rush, but he wanted to do it as soon as possible. Strauss is going to take care of getting him status as a temporary consultant until the employment process can be completed. Hopefully we’ll be back tomorrow.”
Which would get them in a day before Tony came to the Bureau. “Thanks, Rossi.”
– – – –
Rossi slid into the seat across the table from where Derek was putting together the files they needed to take back to DC with them. The case had taken a little longer than expected, but he’d still get home tonight, and see Tony at the Bureau in the morning.
“I’m almost done. Literally just need a minute.”
“We’ve got another case, Derek,” Rossi said evenly. “It’s urgent and we’re headed to Maine.”
Derek sunk back in the chair and rubbed his hand over his face. “Okay,” he finally managed.
“We can take this one without you,” Rossi offered. “Drop you in DC on the way to Bangor.”
Shaking his head, he quickly replied, “We’re already a man down. I need to be with the team.”
“You’ve been on edge the entire trip,” the older man offered without judgment.
Derek sighed. “My instincts are in high gear. We don’t have a bond to let me know he’s okay, and I’m too far away if he needs me. Logically, I know he won’t. Tony’s a big boy… he can take care of himself, but I can’t help that everything in me says that I need to be closer.” He really wanted to take the out and go home, but that wasn’t gonna happen. “Plus, I’m pretty sure he’d kick my ass.”
Rossi nodded. “I asked Ericson to pull some old cases and strip the profiles out of them. He’s going to put DiNozzo at your desk.”
He managed a smile at the idea of his work area saturated in his guide’s scent.
“You need to fill in the rest of the team so they understand why you’re stressed.”
“Yeah, I’ll take care of it as soon as we’re on the plane.”
– – – –
Emily, Reid, and JJ took the news fairly well. They all congratulated him on finding a guide, but he could tell, and even smell, the anxiety about what the changes might mean for the team. He didn’t offer any meaningless platitudes; only time would give the reassurance everyone needed.
Rossi turned everyone’s attention to the new case, and Derek forced himself to focus on the task at hand.
They arrived in Bangor and got settled into their hotel just before 11. He was rooming with Reid, but since the cat was out of the bag—or guide as the case may be—he gave into his impulse and sent a text asking Tony if he could call.
Reid was at the small table in the room, doing something on his computer and giving Derek the illusion of privacy.
When he got a return text with an affirmative, he quickly dialed and waited to hear his guide’s voice.
“Hey,” Tony answered on the first ring.
Derek sighed, feeling some of his tension ease. He sat on the bed, leaning against the headboard. “Hi. How’d the daily scrutiny go?”
Tony snorted a laugh. “It was fine. Although… there was a little incident afterward.”
Derek could hear the amusement in Tony’s voice, so he wasn’t overly worried. “What did you do?”
“Why do you suspect me?”
“I haven’t bought the innocent act from you for about three years.”
“Right,” Tony said. “But before I say anything, I want you to know that I’m fine, not even a scratch on me.”
Derek sat up straight. “What happened?”
“Seriously, do not get worried, I am fine. But after I went to the Center, I stopped at a convenience store, and just my luck, someone tries to rob the place.”
“Tony…” Derek began, not seeing the amusement.
“There was no gun; he only had a knife,” Tony continued. “The kid was obviously high as a kite and was increasingly agitated. I was in the back of the place when the whole thing started. Anyway, I tried to talk him down, but his agitation was getting worse, and I didn’t want anyone getting cut. But I did notice that when I had moved closer, before I actually spoke, that he seemed a little more relaxed, so I figured it was the aura thing, you know? Thinking it couldn’t hurt, I decided to relax my shield and let it out full blast.”
Derek had been poised to get up and pack—hearing that his guide had been in danger was causing his nerves to fray—but he stopped at that. Knowing what Tony’s full-blast aura was like, he suddenly wanted to know what happened. “What did it do to him?”
“Okay, so meth and guide aura are apparently a really weird mix. The kid suddenly starts to cry. There’s three of us besides the cashier, and this old lady with a cane—her name was Agnes—says, ‘Young man, you give me that knife right this instant.’ And, weirdly, the kid does. Agnes passes me the knife just in time for the robber to have a full-on meltdown, and the crying turns into an epic sob-fest. On Agnes. He latches on to her like his favorite woobie, starts calling her grandma, and promising he’ll never do it again.
“And Agnes, who is my new hero by the way, pushes him back, smacks him a good one on the ass with her cane, and spends the ten minutes it takes the police to arrive lecturing him about his life choices, and what she expects from him going forward. Mind you, at this point I’m starting to pull my aura back in, and she glares at me and says that I will keep doing my magic until ‘this young man is in the custody of law enforcement.’”
Derek rubbed his hand over his face. “I take it back. The mummified hand is not the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. This is.”
“Oh, that’s not all! So the cops arrive while Agnes is in round three of ‘how you’ve screwed up your life, young man,’ and I still have the juice going full blast. As luck would have it, I knew two of the officers who responded. Francis and Frances—both great cops. But, seriously, their captain was trolling the fuck out of the whole department when he partnered them.
“Anyway, there’s a rookie with them, who was a delicate little blossom, if I do say so myself. He’s apparently so off-kilter by the effect of full-blast guide aura, that he walks into a display of chips and winds up sprawled out on the floor surrounded by Doritos and Sun Chips, blinking up at the ceiling in a daze.”
Derek snorts. “Come on, Tony.”
“I cannot make this shit up, Derek. So, Frank growls at the rook, steps right over him, and gets cuffs on the still-crying perp, who, I swear, must have been dehydrated by that point. Agnes gives the guy, whose name is Tommy, one last lecture, and a kiss on the cheek, before the fourth cop, whose name I didn’t catch, takes Tommy out to the squad car.
“At this point, I figure it’s safe to rein in the mojo. Frankie and Frank come over and ask me when I became a guide—there was a fair amount of friendly harassment—and then they started getting witness’ statements. But… this is when the rookie recovers enough from his Tony-high to get out of the chips and back to his feet. And he’s got a righteous case of pissed off going, and decides I’m to blame for his perceived humiliation.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Derek whispered, resting his head in his hand.
“I think you mean ‘oh, deputy mayor.’”
“Yeah, he’s the deputy mayor’s kid. Apparently washed out of the academy twice, and got back in a third time through some questionable favors.”
“I have a really bad feeling about this.”
“Right. You should. Because he decides he’s going to arrest me.”
Derek sat up straight again. “What the hell for?”
“He was spouting something about inappropriate use of guide ‘superpowers’, his word, not mine. And, you know, I’m trying to decide if I’m more of a Marvel or DC type of superhero. Hn. DC, I think.”
“What the hell happened?” Derek growled.
“Well, I guess this guy didn’t get the memo about touching guides, which, yeah, doesn’t really apply if you’re arresting one, but still. And no one had a clue what he was about to do, so I didn’t react immediately, and Frank and Frankie were too far away when this rookie takes his cuffs out and reaches for me.”
“Tony,” Derek broke in, feeling his alarm rising again.
“But, wait! Before he can make contact, Agnes thwaps him with her cane then calls him a nincompoop and disgrace to the uniform. So he tries to arrest Agnes, and, to be fair, she did technically batter him. But I’m not letting my new grandma get arrested.”
“Grandma?” Derek asked weakly.
“That’s coming up. Wait for it,” Tony replied happily. “I slipped between the walking nepotism cliché and Agnes, and told him to back off. And, of course, he’s back to wanting to arrest me again, when Frank physically yanks this guy away and tells him to cool off. Thus begins the biggest temper tantrum in an adult that I have ever seen. Including some foot stomping and lots of threats that were some variant of ‘when my father hears about this’ blah blah blah. Now, ironically, while this guy doesn’t look all that much like Tom Felton, he does have white-blond hair, so the resemblance was sort of uncanny.”
“Tom Felton… he played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. And, seriously, Derek? We’re going to have to work on that. I insist you get my pop culture references.”
“Are you on something?”
Tony just laughed.
“All right, I’m going with the madness. What happened next?”
“Things were not calming down. Rookie was getting louder and demanding I be arrested, and Agnes, too, for that matter. Frankie was trying to be reasonable and explain that you couldn’t arrest a guide for basically protecting themselves through any means at their disposal. Frank got on his cell and called his captain, because the situation was way out of hand. So I sent a text to Kyle.”
Derek’s lips twitched. “The second most influential guide in the country.”
“Right. Who calls the director of the FBI, for what reason I don’t know. He later said something about me being the FBI’s problem starting tomorrow, but I got the feeling that Kyle has a hate-on for the deputy mayor and was making a point. Mind you, rookie gets on the phone with his daddy, because a deputy mayor is just what that situation needed.
“So, fast forward about fifteen or twenty very-tense minutes, and we’ve got the deputy mayor and the chief of police there. They’d barely been apprised of the situation when Kyle, Scott, and Director Wright walk in.”
Derek couldn’t help it, he started laughing. “Please tell me you’re making this up.”
“Truth is stranger than fiction, babe.”
“Tony, you went to a convenience store and wound up in an incident that necessitated the presence of the chief of police, the deputy mayor, the director of the FBI, and the directors of the S&G Center. How is that possible?”
“Dude… I can’t even. It’s too weird. But Kyle and Scott weren’t going to let me get arrested by that asshat, and he seemed to think his daddy had some kind of magical powers to help him get his way. The rest? Surreal.”
“So what happened?” Derek asked in morbid curiosity.
“Once the deputy mayor figured out who was in the room with him, he backed down and hauled his son out of there, but the rook was bitching—loudly—all the way to the car.”
“So that was the end of it?”
“Do I even want to know?”
“Remember how I said there were three of us besides the cashier?” Tony asked leadingly.
“Third person was a fifteen-year-old girl. And, I’ll admit, I was off my game. Because everyone knows you have to keep an eye on teenage girls.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the fact that she seemed shy and quiet but she was deliberately being unobtrusive and sneaky as hell. I mean, I don’t know how she managed it, and none of us noticed.”
“She filmed the whole damn thing.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“No. But we didn’t figure that out right away. Everyone started to leave, the cops got the witness’ statements, and Agnes said she was adopting me and took me home with her. She fed me soup.”
“Right. I have a new grandma. She’s adopting you, too, by the way.”
“Uh, all right. So what happened with the girl?”
“I get a call in the middle of Agnes giving me advice on how to properly take care of my man. And while, at first, I was relieved for that conversation to be interrupted—preferably for all eternity—I came to wish I could return to it. It was Kyle, letting me know that our unobtrusive emo teenager had posted the video on YouTube. Mind you, she edited out some of the long, boring, waiting around bits.”
“Oh my god,” Derek managed on a breath, aware that Reid was giving him a concerned look—which must be in response to his body language because the younger man had his headphones on—but he stayed at the table and didn’t try to interrupt.
“Oh, yes, sentinel of mine, the whole freaking thing is on YouTube. Starting at around the time the perp started crying. She titled it ‘Bizarre robbery involving a guide in DC’ but her description was ‘Draco Malfoy apparently left the wizarding world and went to the police academy. Lucius Malfoy, aka Deputy Mayor of DC, still can’t do shit about his rotten son.’”
Derek put his head down and groan-laughed.
“It keeps getting worse, Derek. Social media lit up about it, and even though it’s only been a couple hours, it’s had nearly a million views.”
“What? That’s crazy!”
“Okay, Derek, really… we have to work on this. You cannot underestimate the effect of anything related to Harry Potter when dealing with social media.”
Derek just laughed again. “I trust that you’ll correct this deficiency.”
“Damn right. Though, I have to say, that if I hadn’t already accepted that my undercover days are over, I probably wouldn’t find the situation quite as amusing.”
Yeah, undercover wasn’t gonna happen, and it had nothing to do with the whole planet possibly seeing that video. He blew out a breath. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Of course I’m okay. I can handle one tweaker with a knife… through one means or another.”
“Yeah, I know. But not being there… isn’t easy.”
“I get it. Kyle told me that the lack of bond is going to put strain on you in situations like these.”
“There’s no pressure, Tony. We’ll bond when you’re ready.”
“And I appreciate it. But, really, you needed to hear about tonight from me. Because I’m sure you’ll be learning about it from some other source by tomorrow morning.”
Derek was sure that was true. The Director of the FBI being in it was guaranteed to make it a topic of conversation. “So how do I find this video?”
“I just sent you a link, though it seems to you can find it by Googling ‘Draco Malfoy goes to the police academy.’ But you’ll get a bunch of fanfiction results as well if you go that route.”
“Is this kind of thing routine for you, because I may need to start mentally preparing myself,” Derek teased.
There was a long pause. “I wish I could set your mind at ease.”
“Ah, hell, Tony. I’m gonna go grey.”
“You’re bald. So no one’s gonna know,” Tony shot back.
Derek just laughed.
“You okay?” Tony asked.
“I am now. Thanks for the call.”
As soon as he hung up, Reid pulled off his headphones and asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. I guess Tony got involved in some convenience store robbery and the whole thing wound up on YouTube.”
“That was your guide?” Reid asked incredulously.
Derek blinked in astonishment. “What?”
“JJ texted me a link to a video right after you got on the phone. I’ve been sitting here watching it.”
“Oh god.” Derek hopped up. “Let me see. It can’t be as bad as he said it was.”
“I don’t know, it’s pretty horrible.” Reid turned the laptop around on the table and got to his feet. “I’ll be back in minute. Need to get some water.”
Derek was so focused on restarting the video that Reid was out the door before he processed what had been said. There were eight bottles of water sitting on the table, which meant Reid was off to gossip with JJ. Derek just rolled his eyes and started to watch the video.
The full video, even with the boring parts edited out was still about twenty-five minutes, and he was barely five minutes in when his entire team entered the room. He hit pause.
“Really? That’s your guide?” Emily asked smiling.
“Yeah, that’s Tony. But I haven’t seen the whole video yet. I heard the highlights though, and I keep hoping he was exaggerating.” From what he’d seen so far, Tony hadn’t been.
“Don’t let us get in your way,” JJ said with a grin, sitting on the end of the bed.
Rossi came up behind Derek. “Start it over. I haven’t seen it yet.”
Sighing, Derek refreshed the screen. By the end, he was torn between horrified amusement and worry about how Tony truly had not been exaggerating. He’d wanted to come through the screen and strangle that cop for nearly arresting his guide.
“That kind of thing happen often?” Rossi asked, obviously amused.
“Probably not to that ridiculous degree, though some of the things he’s told me about his cases… I’m gonna have ulcers.”
“Look, this needs to be said,” Emily interjected, tone serious. When she had everyone’s attention, she smiled. “Your guide is smokin’ hot, Derek. Seriously. Wow.”
“Hear, hear,” JJ said, grinning.
Derek threw a shirt at her, but it wasn’t like he could argue. Tony was hot. And he looked damn good in that video, wobbly and amateurish as it was. He’d been wearing snug, faded jeans, a fitted green t-shirt, with his leather jacket; it made Derek really want to go home for entirely more pleasant reasons.
– – – –
Derek was with Emily on the way to the latest crime scene when Garcia called. “I’ve got you on speaker, sweetness. Emily is here. You got something?”
“Still data mining… looking for connections between the victims. But that’s not why I called. I am in a lull, and you are driving, so it was the perfect time to thank you.”
“Bringing that glorious sample of male hotness into my life. He’s way spicier in person.”
“You’ve met Tony, I gather,” Derek said, trying not to laugh.
“Indeed! He came to see me first, because you, my chocolate Adonis, apparently told him how amazing I am.”
“Nothin’ but the truth, mama. Now, don’t break him too much.”
“Oh, sugar, I’ll leave that all up to you,” she said suggestively.
Emily choked on her laughter.
Derek sighed. “Anything else?”
“Yes. I thought I’d advise you that your guide has picked up fans. There are already three fan pages on Facebook. The director, via Strauss, has ordered that I keep an eye on the Internet traffic around the issue.”
Derek frowned, but before he could say anything, Emily asked, “Are they expecting problems?”
“I doubt it. Just being careful. No doubt the director is twitchy because he’s in a YouTube video gone viral. He probably doesn’t want any more attention brought to it if some nutter should start stalking your guide.”
Forcing himself to keep going, and not head for the airport, Derek asked, “Is that a real worry?”
Emily shot him a look of concern.
“I don’t get the vibe that anyone is really all that worried, sugar. Just covering the bases.”
“What’s the mood like about the whole thing?” Emily asked. “With the director being involved, I figure everyone is going to have an opinion.”
“Oh, mostly they’re amused. I mean, seriously amused. A few people have remarked that it’s to the Bureau’s benefit to have a guide who can reduce someone to tears from across the room. But mostly it’s just good-humored chatter. It doesn’t reflect poorly on anyone but the Draco and Lucius Malfoy wannabes. The video made the local news, by the way. There’s a betting pool on if it will get picked up nationally, by who first, and when. I’m in for the six o’clock news today on ABC.”
Derek wanted to beat his head on the steering wheel. “That’s-”
“Garcia, I’m in for $50. CNN by 7:00 PM today,” Emily interjected. “And text JJ… see if she wants in.”
Everyone had lost their damn mind.
After they’d been to the crime scene and reviewed a preliminary profile, Derek managed a few minutes alone to make a call.
“Hey, Derek,” Vincent Lain answered on the second ring. “Not truly surprised to hear from you.”
“Off the record, Vince?”
“I’ll do my best. I assume this is about that video?”
“If we could get it down, we would. But it’s on so many sites at this point, it’s just impossible.”
“I figured. Listen, I heard the Bureau is monitoring the web chatter and that Tony’s picked up some fans. Is this gonna be a problem?”
“We’re taking the situation seriously. Probably more seriously than the Bureau is, actually. We’ve had mundanes coming by all morning asking to see him, or just get his autograph. It’s sure the fuck not ideal. We’re monitoring to make sure his address doesn’t get out, but it’s probably only a matter of time. Someone who knows him is likely to leak his location. And a local news station has called asking for an interview.”
“Oh for…” Derek trailed off and rubbed the back of his head. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn’t go out of town again unless his guide was with him. This was making him crazy.
“But, Derek, we’re keeping eyes on. I promise. Much closer than Tony would like. He’ll be safe. He’s already promised that if his address gets out, that he’ll temporarily relocate.”
He kind of wanted to hit something, but he spent a few minutes reviewing everything with Vincent before hanging up and immediately calling his guide.
“Hey, Derek. How’s the case?”
“It’s… straightforward in a way, but we don’t really have any leads. Listen, can I ask a favor? And I warn you that it’s probably going to come across as obnoxious.”
“Okay,” Tony said hesitantly.
“Would you stay at my place for a few days?”
There was a long pause. “Derek, I’ve never even been to your place. Plus, there’s really nothing to worry about.”
“Tony…” He trailed off, not sure what to say. “Listen, it’s not like you’d be intruding. I want you there. Garcia has my key and I’ll text you the address. I just… I need to know you’re not where a bunch of weirdos can find you.”
“Is this really driving you crazy?”
“Man, I want to catch the next flight back. It’s making me nuts.”
“All right. But you owe me! I’m probably going to take it out of you in a movie marathon.”
Derek let out a relieved breath. “I’ll watch whatever you want.”
“Good answer. Since I’ve got you on the phone… I take it that your spirit animal is a cheetah?”
“Yeah. He make an appearance?”
Tony laughed. “He’s sort of stalking me. It’s kind of adorable the way he keeps peering around doorways and partitions and vanishing when I look at him.”
“Good.” Derek found Gatlin’s behavior amusing, and he liked the idea of the big cat looking out for his guide.
“Back to work with you. I’m fine and you got me right in the middle of working up a profile.”
Smiling, he asked, “Did I derail you?”
“Completely. But you’re forgiven. Go catch the uber-creepy bad guy and come home.”
Home. That suddenly had new meaning that he really liked. “I’ll see you soon.”
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