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Oct 26 2016

Imperfect (Chapter 7 & Epilogue)

Title: Imperfect, Chapter 7 & Epilogue
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.

– – – –

imperfect_divider

art by Banbury

Chapter Seven

Derek tackled the suspect after chasing him for easily half a mile, then wrestled him into handcuffs. The guy was still fighting, so it took all his focus to keep him controlled for the minute or so before the local LEOs arrived.

Once they had him, Derek got to his feet, breathing hard from the all-out sprint.

One of the SUVs pulled up and Rossi and Prentiss piled out. “You okay?” Rossi asked.

“Yep. He was just damn fast.”

“But not as fast as you,” Emily remarked even as she passed Derek a couple napkins. “Here. Your elbow is bleeding.”

“Must have scraped it when I tackled him.” He wiped at the blood, but noted it wasn’t too bad.

“Come on,” Rossi said. “We’re headed straight to the plane. Reid and JJ wrapped up everything at the Sheriff’s office and will meet us at the airfield.”

“Problem?” he asked as he climbed into the back.

“No,” Rossi said dryly. “Just tired. Want to get some quality time with my bed and forget about work for a couple days.”

Derek grunted his agreement. Two days in Texas, then two days in Maine. It was late afternoon on Saturday now, and he’d be home in a couple hours. He just wanted to find his guide and relax.

Tony had gone to his house last night as promised, and they’d talked for about an hour after Derek had made it to his hotel. The video had indeed made national news. Garcia had hit it with the first network, but not the time. It had actually been a puff piece on the 5:30 news, not 6:00. Someone in Unit 2 had won the pool running in Quantico. He had no idea how many betting pools there were throughout the agency. With the director himself involved, it was likely most of their FOs and RUs had one.

His guide had been cagey about discussing the profiles he was working on, not wanting to get help from Derek, which Derek could respect, but they had plenty of other things to talk about.

And speaking of Tony, he remembered that just as they were beginning their pursuit of the unsub, he’d gotten a few texts from his guide that he hadn’t had time to read. Pulling out his phone, he started going through them. The contents made him sit up straight and pay attention.

Call when you get a chance? There may be a change of plans for today. —

Even though it was Saturday, Derek knew Tony had intended to keep working on the profiles from Derek’s house, so he wondered what the change was. And why.

No need to call. I need to make a quick trip to Atlanta. Everything is fine. No danger. I even have a sentinel-minder going with me. Should be back before it gets too late. DON’T STRESS. I mean it. If you start getting buggy, I’m going to make you watch Twilight.

“What the hell?” he muttered.

“Problem?” Rossi asked glancing in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t know. Tony texted about two hours ago. Said he’s going to Atlanta for a few hours.”

Emily turned around to peer at him. “Why?”

“He doesn’t say. Just that everything was fine and he should be back tonight.” Derek didn’t like the idea, but that really didn’t matter. If Tony needed to be in Atlanta, then that’s what had to happen. Although, if he didn’t make it back tonight, Derek was hotfooting it to Georgia. He couldn’t continue to be in a different state from his guide.

He was still mulling the issue over in his mind when they arrived at the airfield. Once they boarded, Reid regaled him with very detailed information about how Tony’s video was trending. Derek wondered if it was possible for sentinels to get conventional headaches after all.

– – – –

When they arrived back at work, JJ and Reid immediately left; they didn’t need to go up to the office, and JJ was giving Reid a ride home. Derek was about to do the same thing, when Rossi caught his elbow.

“Hotch texted me right after we landed. He’s here, and wants to talk to us.”

Derek frowned, wondering what the hell that was about.

“Does that include me, or am I free to go?” Emily asked.

“Just me and Morgan,” Rossi responded as they walked into the building.

“Great. I’ll come up and say hi, and then I have a date with a long, hot bath and a glass of wine.”

He started catching hints of Tony’s scent inside the building and had to force himself not to dial up to chase the smell. It was much stronger when they opened the glass doors leading into their bullpen, and there was nearly a sensory map in his mind of Tony’s movement through the room yesterday. The strongest concentration of scent was at his own desk.

The light was on in Hotch’s office, and he could easily hear that he was on the phone. Too easily. Then he realized he was hearing Tony through the phone, and followed the sound.

Suddenly, Hotch was standing right in front of him, and it startled Derek so badly that he stumbled back.

Rossi steadied him briefly before stepping away. “You zoned,” he murmured.

“I heard Tony’s voice… I didn’t intend to dial up that far.”

Hotch nodded. “I was on the phone with him. He’s on his way back to DC. Do we need to get a guide up here?” he asked, watching Derek closely.

“No. I’m good.” Derek took a breath, centering himself, and noted that while Hotch looked a bit pale and was moving somewhat stiffly, he was certainly better than the last time Derek had seen him. There were hints of pain in his scent-pile, but it was barely noticeable. He was dressed very casually, but it was late on a Saturday so that was no surprise.

Hotch spoke briefly with Prentiss and Rossi, but it was clear everyone was steering away from asking about Haley and Jack. The subject would probably be sensitive for a long time. Derek knew being cut off from his son was intolerable for Hotch.

After Emily had gathered her stuff and left, Hotch cocked his head toward his office. “Let’s talk.”

“Tell me this isn’t about Tony,” Derek began as soon as the door was shut. He and Rossi both took seats while Hotch lowered himself into his own chair with a little more care than was typical.

“It is,” Hotch said, causing Derek’s heart to nearly seize. “But he’s fine. You heard his voice… you should have been able to tell that he’s not hurt.”

“What in the world happened, Aaron?” Rossi asked.

“Why did he go to Atlanta?” Derek asked immediately. Yes, he could tell that there weren’t many stress markers in Tony’s voice, but that didn’t mean much considering the information void.

Instead of answering Derek, Hotch looked directly at Rossi. “Did you tell Agent Ericson to give DiNozzo cold cases?”

Rossi blinked. “No. I said old cases. He was supposed to strip out all our notes and profiles and let DiNozzo review them.”

“Well, he misunderstood and gave him cold cases.”

“That’s not a great test, and he should have known that. It’s better than nothing, I suppose, but we need to see his responses to cases where we know the profile was accurate. Unsolved cases won’t tell us as much.”

“I agree, but it’s not really the issue. I just recently got all this from Ericson and Fornell, so I’m playing catchup.”

Tobias Fornell?” Rossi asked.

“Yes.”

“What does he have to do with it?”

“Who is Fornell?” Derek interjected.

“He’s a unit manager in the DC office—violent crimes.”

Before Derek could ask another question, Hotch took the reins again. “Let me start at the beginning. DiNozzo did three profiles from cold cases that the BAU investigated at some point prior to 2000. He’s right about his technique being very textbook, but he added notes to each one about where he felt the ‘textbook-approach’ wasn’t right. He wasn’t sure why it didn’t fit, he was just sure something else was at play. I read over his profiles and looked at the original profiler’s work. First, he’s not far off of what was profiled on those cases, but I agreed with the areas he highlighted.”

“So he’s got some intuitive profiling skills,” Rossi mused.

“Yes,” Hotch confirmed, “but not the training to be able to articulate what he’s picking up.”

“But that’s all good, right?” Derek asked, not sure where this was going.

“It is. Anyone can be taught to profile-by-number, but as we all know, to succeed in the BAU, there has to be something more. It seems like DiNozzo will be a good fit, so I have no issue with him joining the Unit, and already passed on my recommendation to Strauss. That said, it was the fourth case he started that is the reason why Strauss called me.

“Since I haven’t talked to DiNozzo, I don’t know how he came to his conclusions, but Ericson reported that DiNozzo said there were some inconsistencies in the casefile that needed follow-up—not the profile, the actual investigative work. From what I can tell, Ericson dismissed him out of hand. DiNozzo kept pursuing the matter. It seems he was on it just about constantly from yesterday after lunch until a couple hours before he went to Atlanta.”

“He’s investigating the case?” Derek asked blankly

“Yes. It was from the late 90s. Right after Rossi left the unit and before I joined, so it wasn’t a case I was familiar with. Eight male victims in eight months in rural Georgia. There was apparently never a good suspect. DiNozzo came up with a fairly similar profile as the agents who handled the case originally, but noted that, more than the others, he knew this profile was wrong. And it seems he came up with a suspect as well. He asked Ericson how he should proceed. Ericson told him to leave it alone, again, and so DiNozzo went to Fornell. And then the two of them went to Atlanta to question the suspect.”

“What?!” Derek asked, sounding strangled. His guide went to find a serial killer? Without him?

Hotch held up a hand. “The suspect was already in prison—had been since 1999 on another charge. Due for parole in two years.”

“And?” Rossi prompted, because Derek didn’t know what to say.

“DiNozzo talked to him for ten minutes and the man confessed to all eight murders. Even wrote it out. It, along with a transcription of the interview was faxed to our office.” He pulled a piece of paper out of a folder, glancing over it. “‘When I killed ‘em, I never was gonna hide what I done. Figured the first time someone asked me, I’d tell the truth about them boys. Been eleven years now, and you’re the first to ask.’”

Part of Derek really wanted to know what Tony had figured out and how, but mostly he just wanted Tony to be back within reasonable distance. “So he’s on his way back?” he pressed.

“In the air soon if not already. The Atlanta field office and the Carroll County Sheriff are wrapping up the case. DiNozzo’s part in it is over. But the Atlanta field office contacted Strauss, thanking her for his assistance, and she talked to Ericson, and then called me. But the rumor mill is a factor. I came in to get familiar with the situation, but also to talk to you immediately so you’d get as much of the story as we have, all at once, and not get it piecemeal through gossip.”

Derek appreciated the thought. Walking in and having someone say something like, ‘Heard that guide from the video is in Atlanta looking for a killer,’ would have given him heart failure. “So, what now?”

“When Dave called us on Wednesday, Strauss contacted NCIS and asked the status of DiNozzo’s resignation. It was still in process, so, at our request, the director agreed to suspend it until some decisions were made. The fastest way to get him into the unit is as an inter-agency liaison. His full-time transfer to the Bureau will proceed more smoothly if he’s not actually out of federal service. But, the final decision is entirely up to him. I laid out the options for him and he said he’d have an answer after he spoke to you. There are other paths but they get him in the unit a little slower. As a liaison, he can start immediately.”

That sounded really good to Derek, but he’d go with whatever Tony wanted. “One issue on my end,” he began. “I can’t leave DC again without him. So if he’s a liaison and can travel away from the DC Center, we’re golden. But if he’s stuck here for any reason, I’ll have to work from DC.”

Hotch cocked his head slightly in inquiry. “Did something happen while you were in the field?”

“No, but I see him as my guide, and we don’t have a bond yet. It nearly tapped out my control to be so far away.”

“We’ll work around it if it should come to that. If you two have to remain in DC, we catch a big case and it requires another agent, I’ll come back early.”

“Hotch–”

“I’m due back in a week anyway.”

Derek nodded, knowing that arguing with Hotch in this frame of mind was pretty pointless.

Hotch waved toward the door. “Go. I need a few minutes with Dave, and then we’ll be leaving as well.”

– – – –

Derek took in the lingering scent of Tony in his home and felt something primal stir in him. He forced it down and went about repacking his go-bag and taking a shower.

He was considering a late dinner when he got a text from Tony.

— Just landed. Assume I’m still coming to your place? —
— Damn right. Get your ass home. —
— Half hour. I’m starving. I expect food. —

Laughing, Derek put his phone on to charge and set about throwing together a meal.

When he heard a car pull into his drive, he abandoned the food and met his guide at the door. The sight and smell of Tony nearly overwhelmed his senses. Tony was barely inside before Derek hauled him close and buried his face in the guide’s neck, breathing in everything, not even caring about all the odd scents lingering on the other man’s skin.

Tony’s arms came around him, and Derek felt the brush of his guide’s empathy smoothing out all his rough edges. “Tough one, huh?”

“I can’t be that far away from you again,” Derek admitted. They shouldn’t be feeling all this pull considering they weren’t a perfect match, but it was there, and Derek wouldn’t do anything to change it.

“It was harder than I thought it would be,” Tony admitted.

“You smell like prison,” he remarked. Not even remotely put off enough to let go.

“I probably also smell like tarmac, stale airplane air, and Fornell. So how about I go catch a quick shower?”

“In a sec,” Derek murmured, not wanting to let go. The hardest part was not imprinting taste, and when the urge got too strong, he pulled back. He touched Tony’s face and brushed a thumb over his cheekbone. “I go away for four days and you gain an Internet following and catch a serial killer. Just another week at the office?”

“More or less,” Tony replied with a grin, and Derek realized that the past week had done something good for Tony. His whole demeanor was lighter, as if he was carrying less of a burden, or perhaps found his center again.

“Go. Shower. Dinner will be ready when you’re done.” He couldn’t help but track Tony’s movements through the house, and wondered if he could persuade Tony to move into his bedroom. The idea of being parted from his guide overnight, even by a wall, was difficult. When he heard the rasp of fabric dropping away from bare skin, he forced himself to dial down and give his guide some privacy. And then he took a steadying breath and tried not to think about all that naked skin one floor away.

When Tony reappeared about ten minutes later in low-slung drawstring pants and tight t-shirt, Derek nearly abandoned his resolve. Somehow he managed to get dinner in bowls and on the table.

After a couple minutes, he asked, “So, tell me about the case.” When Tony looked up sharply, Derek held his hands up in a gesture of no-harm. “Just curious.”

Tony shrugged one shoulder. “I guess the original profiler on the case didn’t have a lot of understanding about college sports team or fraternity dynamics. It was an angry father getting a gruesome-type of revenge.”

They talked about the case details for a few minutes, and Derek drew out Tony’s thought process on the case. He decided Tony was downplaying the skill it took investigatively to immediately spot the right suspect. Even though he’d known Tony for years, he’d never seen this side of him, and the way his brain made connections was kind of fascinating.

“You’re going to be a good addition to the team.”

Tony made a face Derek couldn’t quite interpret. “God, Derek, my profiles were awful.”

“Not according to Hotch. He said they were pretty textbook, but that you were spot on about where they weren’t right.”

“I couldn’t even explain why.”

Derek pushed his plate aside and leaned forward. “Hey. Don’t sweat it. We can train you to articulate what you’re seeing. We can’t necessarily train you how to see it in the first place. If Hotch says you’ve got the chops, then you do.”

Blowing out a breath, Tony rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m not used to…” he considered for a few seconds. “Floundering, I suppose is the right word.”

“I really doubt you’re floundering, but just give it time. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll figure something else out.” He swore Tony was trying to peer into his soul.

“You sure?”

“Absolutely positive.”

Tony started to reply, but his phone chimed a tone Derek hadn’t heard before. “Sorry, that’s Agnes. She keeps sending me updates on her new fan page. She’s getting a kick out of having a Facebook following.”

Derek couldn’t help but smile. Tony indulging a lonely older lady was adorable, but he’d never say that out loud.

He got up to take the dishes into the kitchen after Tony finished a quick chat with his grandma. “Hotch mentioned the liaison thing.”

Tony followed him. “It seems fine to me, but I didn’t want to commit to anything without talking to you.”

Derek propped his hip against the counter. “I’m good with it. The team has Monday off. You up to start on Tuesday?”

“I can work with that,” Tony replied easily, but he seemed a bit distracted.

“What’s the Center have to say?” he prompted.

“Eh.” He shrugged. “Alex knows the lady who runs the support services at Quantico and says she’s qualified to ‘keep an eye’ on me. It’s fucking annoying, but I’ll check in with her at some frequency and we’ll make it up as we go. Optimally, they’d like me to pop into the Center once a week for a while to see how things go.” Tony fidgeted. “Can we sit?”

“Of course.” Derek led the way into the living room and took one end of the couch.

Tony hesitated, but sat right next to him moving close. “Is this okay? I’m kind of… skin hungry,” he finished, stumbling a bit over the words.

Derek immediately hauled him closer and murmured, “Baby, you can touch me whenever you want.” Tony practically melted into him, and a temporary connection brought on by contact sizzled between them. “I don’t often hear guides use that term,” he remarked idly while running his hand over Tony’s back. Tony’s aura began to shift and expand, seemingly filling the room. It was just as intoxicating as last time but not so overwhelming now that he knew to expect it.

Hand curled around Derek’s bicep, Tony replied, “I literally needed to touch your skin. The time apart was… well, my empathy was straining a bit, and I’m way more grounded in physical contact with you than at any other time.”

Pressing a kiss to Tony’s head, he considered that for a moment. “You didn’t say.”

“Because I could handle it,” he said a little sharply.

Derek pulled back enough to meet Tony’s gaze. “I know that. But we talked about the burden of being apart and how it affected me.”

Tony’s mouth opened and then snapped shut. Sighing, he settled back against Derek. “Raging double standard? Check.”

Laughing, Derek squeezed his guide. “Hey, no one’s spent weeks telling me I’m ‘fragile’ so I get it.” They stayed like that until Derek registered that Tony’s body was getting more relaxed and he thought his guide was actually falling asleep. “Bed?” he whispered.

“No,” Tony grumbled. “You feel good.”

“Sleep with me, then,” Derek prompted. “It’s not like I want you in the other room. But I’m not trying to push.”

“Yeah… that’d be good. Let’s go to bed, sentinel.” When Tony pulled away, the touch-connection fizzled and Derek immediately felt the loss. He had a feeling he’d be trying to keep a hand on Tony as much as possible up to their bonding. Not that touching Tony was any kind of hardship.

Getting situated in bed was when Derek found out that Tony still had a rib that was healing, and while it didn’t impede him overly much, he couldn’t sleep on it all night. So it settled what side of the bed they each would take easily enough.

Tony sat on the edge of the mattress, toying with the hem of his shirt. “Can I take this off, or will that be problematic for you?”

In response, Derek yanked off his own shirt, gratified by the spike in arousal scent coming from his guide. “I think I can safely say that I’ll never say no to skin.”

With a wink, Tony pulled his shirt off, only leaving his guide band on from the waist up. Derek quickly cataloged all the skin on display. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone but a sentinel to see, but he could track where every bruise had been.

Instead of saying anything, which wouldn’t change a damn thing, he slid under the covers and waited for his guide. When Tony pressed up next to him, Derek felt centered in a way he’d never experienced. This was right.

He snaked his arms around Tony, feeling all that smooth, warm skin. “God, you feel good.”

“Mmm,” Tony mumbled drowsily, his relaxation levels edging toward sleep already. It made Derek wonder if Tony hadn’t been sleeping badly the entire time Derek was gone. Derek’s sleep had certainly been crappy.

Pressing a kiss against Tony’s soft hair, Derek whispered, “Goodnight.”

Even though he was tired, he stayed awake for a while, just reveling in the experience of having his guide so close.

– – – –

Derek woke when Tony slipped out of bed. He reflexively tracked his guide for a few seconds, but then relaxed and reined his senses in. A few minutes later, Tony slid back under the covers, smelling of toothpaste.

Pulling Tony close, and getting a start of surprise, he asked, “You always brush your teeth at six in the morning?”

Tony chuckled and wrapped himself around Derek. “No. But I’m not usually in bed with a sentinel.”

Finally opening his eyes, Derek rolled to his side and nudged Tony’s head up, burying his face his guide’s neck, taking in the scent that had hints of rain in it for no logical reason. “You don’t have to change for me,” he murmured.

“Derek…” Tony breathed.

“I’m serious. Just… be you.”

Tony didn’t respond for a long time, but he finally said, “I’ll try. It may take some practice.”

There was no surprise; Derek had always known that Tony had baggage. “I can be patient.” He slid his hand up Tony’s ribcage. “You feel so good.” The skin was smooth and soft and it made his senses hum.

After a beat, Tony murmured, “I have to ask… did you have much body hair when you came online?”

“Not really. Losing it wasn’t a big deal.” But Derek knew Tony had been a lot hairier. Guides and sentinels started producing a protein after coming online that caused all their body hair to fall out. It was speculated that it was an adaptation to keep sentinel skin sensitivity under control.

“It feels incredibly weird to be without it. It’s super sensitive.”

“Really?” Derek asked with interest, sliding his hand around to Tony’s chest.

Chuckling, Tony caught the hand. “Really. And it’s a turn on, so quit it.”

Grinning, Derek breathed in his guide again. He’d always wanted this someday but he’d never had any idea just how good it would be. And maybe that was a good thing, because he’d have pushed for a match earlier and then he wouldn’t have Tony. And Tony was exactly who he wanted. He couldn’t wait to introduce Tony to his family. He just wanted to get through bonding before letting them know.

“I’m surprised you’re already so smooth,” Derek remarked, trying to distract himself from wanting to touch all that beautiful skin. “It took like a month for me.”

“Oh, man, don’t go there…” Tony said, sounding aggrieved.

He pulled back enough to see his guide’s expression. “What?” Yeah, telling Derek not to go somewhere was ridiculous. He always immediately went.

Tony made a face. “They told me I could wait for it to fall out or go through waxing—and of course it never grows back.”

“You got waxed?” he asked incredulously. Why would Tony put himself through that?

“That wasn’t the plan!” Tony said indignantly. “But after a week, I looked like I had mange. Mange, Derek.”

He started laughing.

“Man, you can’t even imagine what it’s like to have a full covering of chest hair and have it go walkabout in horrible little patches. And while waxing hurts like holy fucking hell, my vanity demanded it!” Tony was half laughing and it just made Derek laugh harder.

“You know I’m gonna use that, right?”

“Wanna bet?”

Still laughing, Derek moved closer again. “Yeah, no deal. I think I’m gonna be inclined to do whatever you want,” he admitted.

Tony’s expression sobered. He stared at Derek for a long time, and Derek had no idea what was going on. He was relaxed and his scent pile was unchanged, but his eyes were so focused and intense. Such amazingly beautiful eyes. It was impossible to look away.

He reached up and cupped Tony’s face. “What’s going on, babe?”

“I want to bond with you,” Tony said faintly on a breath.

Everything in Derek wanted to reach out for his guide. “Whenever you’re ready, I’m there,” he managed to get out evenly.

“Right.” Tony looked oddly flustered for a second, and glanced away, clearing his throat. “Maybe next weekend?”

Derek gently exerted pressure, turning Tony’s face back toward him. “Is that what you want?”

“It makes sense,” Tony eventually replied.

Sense?” Derek asked incredulously. “Why does it make sense?”

“Hotchner is only out for another week, so it seems like the right time.”

“No, no, no…” he whispered resting his forehead against Tony’s. “The Bureau doesn’t get to factor in here. Bonding is for us. The timing will never be good considering what we do. That can’t be part of the decision.”

After a pause, Tony gave a bit of a nod.

“Hey…” He slid his hand down Tony’s back. “Talk to me. If you weren’t thinking about everyone but yourself, when would you want to bond?”

The silence was long, but a breathy, “Now,” was the answer that made Derek’s heart skip several beats. Tony’s empathy seemed to flash over, like it was pulling at Derek. Then his guide got it wrestled under control.

He’d thought Tony was trying to pull in their bonding to make things easy for work, but he was pushing it out? That was not going to fly!

“Do you have any idea how hard it is not to kiss you? I can’t even explain… I am so on board with bonding whenever you want.”

Strong arms wrapped around Derek tightly. “Then no more waiting,” Tony said in his ear.

Derek shuddered. “Right. Okay.” He took a steadying breath. It was like his sentinel instincts were pushing at him, wanting more guide. “Now that we’ve decided, we should make tracks. I feel you pulling at me. I’ll call work, you call the Center?”

“Yeah. Kyle’s not gonna thank me for the last minute thing…”

Despite their agreement to get going, it actually took several minutes to pry themselves away from each other. Derek focused over-intently on the mundane tasks of gathering his stuff and making calls, otherwise he was gonna climb all over his guide and to hell with the Center’s request to use their facility.

– – – –

Tony pulled up to the side entrance to the Center. It was one that was usually locked, allowing keycard access only, but taking a sentinel who was slipping into a bonding drive through the front door wasn’t a good idea. Derek had growled at a few cars on the road, which was kind of surreal, and Tony wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Tony grabbed both their bags, instinctively knowing Derek would want his hands free to defend Tony from the hordes of imaginary guide grabbers that littered the Center. Yeah, unbonded sentinels got weird.

Alex was waiting for them, and even though Derek wouldn’t see him as a threat, he kept a healthy distance as he led them through a couple hallways and down a floor. They encountered no one on the way. It was fairly early at the Center, but the lack of foot-traffic was obviously deliberate.

He led them to a door, passed them a security card key, then left after flashing Tony a grin.

They entered into a small room with a table and a couple chairs. This was where any exchanges with the outside world would happen for the next week. Food would be left, laundry picked up, towels and linens delivered. But unless there was an emergency, no one would enter the inner room.

The whole thing was so weirdly deliberate, it was throwing Tony for a loop. Lying in bed with Derek was one thing. This felt like a staged offensive and it was peculiar. He left his shoes in the outer room next to Derek’s, then waited while the sentinel prowled around the bonding suite, checking every nook and cranny.

When he was satisfied with the condition of it, he came back to take Tony by the hand and pull him into the room, locking the inner door securely. The way security was set up for these rooms, keycard access to the outer door was allowed by authorized personnel, but the inner door was deadbolted from the inside. Once the deadbolt was engaged, the door would have to be broken down to get in. It was the best way to settle a sentinel’s instinct about people having access to his new space.

Tony wasn’t armed, but Derek was, so he took a moment to secure his gun in the provided safe—military and law enforcement were no strangers to S&G Centers—before reclaiming his guide.

Tony could tell that Derek was wrestling with his instincts, but he just stood there, hand curled loosely around Tony’s wrist, and watched Tony closely.

“Your scent pile… it’s different. You smell nervous.” And Tony knew that if he wasn’t completely ready for this, Derek would find a way to deal with all those instincts and they’d wait.

“It’s all very deliberate,” Tony said honestly. “Lying in bed with you is intimate and it pulls at me and makes me… want.” He looked around the room. “This is appointments and procedure and contingency plans.”

“It’s safe,” Derek remarked, stepping a bit closer. “I know you’re in your own skin so you don’t perceive it, but I’ve been around a lot of guides, Tony, and you’re like the fucking sun. You’re special, and maybe that’s not comfortable to deal with, but I’d sacrifice our spontaneity to keep you safe.” He tugged Tony closer until they were pressed together, their faces inches apart. “Besides, we’re resourceful… I’m sure we can recapture it.”

Tony’s breathing sped up. “I think it’s safe to kiss now.”

Derek’s hands framed his face. “Not yet. I’ll imprint the others and give us time to relax before tasting you…”

“You’re worried about a bonding rut?” Tony asked, surprised.

Huffing a little laugh, Derek nodded. “You have no idea what you do to me, baby. Really, you should be able to feel how much I want you.”

“I… try to respect your privacy,” Tony offered.

“Mm,” Derek murmured, obviously distracted. His fingers slid down to the hem of Tony’s t-shirt. “May I?”

In response, Tony lifted his arms and the t-shirt was pulled away. Derek drew him close and took up his favorite spot by pressing his face into the crook of Tony’s neck. The strong hands began to wander, obviously learning the feel of every inch of available skin.

Tony could tell that Derek was in some kind of near-zone as he imprinted his senses. He found himself laid out on the bed and methodically stripped, every part of his body thoroughly explored. There was something incredibly surreal yet profound in realizing that Derek was making Tony part of him in a fundamental way. He was generating a new sensory baseline—one with Tony as the ground for his senses.

He found it surprisingly easy to give in, to surrender to his sentinel, to be moved and explored and to just be.

Derek seemed to be returning to certain areas over and over, including Tony’s wrists and several areas on his chest.

“You can still see where the injuries were, can’t you?” he asked intuitively.

Resting his head against Tony’s chest, Derek murmured, “Yeah. I hate that you were hurt.”

“If that situation hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have come online, and we wouldn’t have this,” he said gently.

“I’ll never be able to be grateful you were harmed.”

“Grateful? Maybe not.” He wrapped his arms around Derek and pulled him more solidly against his own body, ignoring the minor complaint of his ribs. “But I’ll certainly never regret whatever gave me you.”

Derek broke way enough to brace himself above Tony, staring down at him for a long time. “No regrets,” he whispered before leaning down and pressing their lips together.

Tony lost himself in that final physical connection, in the hot press of mouths, and the slide of tongues. Derek eventually pulled away and latched onto Tony’s neck, beginning the process of imprinting taste.

Completely lost in the experience that was his sentinel, he was unaware of even the passage of time. He found himself on his side with Derek pressed up behind him, lips and tongue moving over the back of Tony’s neck and shoulders.

“Babe,” he whispered in Tony’s ear, making him shudder, “You’re not reaching out.”

Tony realized he was keeping his empathy contained, and deliberately set about thinning his barriers and reaching out for Derek. This should be instinctive for guides, but Tony had spent the last few weeks trying to protect the world from himself, so he had to make it happen consciously.

Their minds connecting was like an empathic impact for Tony, and he gasped. It was as if Derek’s mind connected perfectly with Tony’s, smoothing out the rough edges and grounding him. It was best to bring a sentinel into your mind gradually, but Tony’s empathy was unpredictable at best, and he knew that connection had been abrupt.

“Damn,” Derek whispered, voice wavering as he pressed his face against Tony’s shoulder. “You feel so good.”

A few moments later, Derek began to press his thick cock into Tony’s body and the bond between them began to build into something almost tangible. Derek began to move, thrusting deeply and shredding the last of Tony’s empathic control. His aura felt wilder than he’d ever experienced it before.

“Holy fuck, baby…” Derek gasped and thrust deeply. “My guide!” he grated out.

“Sentinel,” Tony managed to get out. In the next breath, their bond was complete and Tony felt Derek’s orgasm slam into his mind, immediately triggering his own release. The bond humming between them was so alluring, Tony allowed himself to completely relax into it.

Opening his eyes, he mentally adjusted to a change in position and realized he must have fallen asleep. Derek was next to him, head propped in his hand.

“What are you doing?” Tony murmured as he rolled to his side to face his lover. His sentinel. The man who now so perfectly filled what had been an aching void.

“Watching you.” Over Derek’s shoulder, he noticed Pavan and Gatlin curled up together on the floor. The two big cats seemed entirely preoccupied with each other.

“Sounds dreadfully dull,” Tony remarked as he slid a hand up the center of Derek’s chest.

Derek caught the hand and brought it to his mouth, kissing the palm lingeringly. “Not even.” Leaning forward, he pressed their mouths together and Tony readily returned the kiss.

When his sentinel continued to watch him, Tony asked, “What’s going through your mind?”

“You’re perfect,” Derek said seemingly out of the blue.

Tony just blinked in surprise.

“For me. You. Are. Perfect.”

“Derek…”

“A computer may say we’re an imperfect match, but there’s nothing imperfect about us.”

Smiling, feeling like he was exactly where he was supposed to be, Tony pressed Derek onto his back and leaned down for another kiss.

– – – –

Epilogue

One Year Later

Dave dawdled over making coffee. The small kitchen area on the plane was the farthest from where Tony was seated, and the activity gave him the opportunity to observe the younger man relatively unnoticed.

And he wasn’t the only one watching the newest member of their team; Hotch had laser beams on him right now, not even trying for the subtle approach.

Morgan casually moved over and grabbed a bottle of water. “Particular reason you and Hotch are watching my guide like he’s about to bust out the clown makeup and sing lullabies to his Glock?”

Dave blinked then bit back a laugh. The possessive language was telling, as was the preemptive strike. Initially, he’d thought Morgan’s post-bonding territoriality would fade, but it had actually gotten worse. Well, perhaps not worse, but it was certainly more pronounced than with most sentinels. It probably had a lot to do with Tony being such an odd blend of incredible empathic strength coupled with unexpected vulnerability.

The uniqueness of his onlining had left him in an unprecedented situation where bonding hadn’t taken the edge off his out-of-control gifts. It had stabilized them but actually made everything stronger. The team had become accustomed to the strength of Tony’s guide aura fairly quickly. Unless Tony let his shields down… there was just no getting used to that experience. It was incredible in its way, but also unnerving.

In the field, it was always an adjustment for the LEOs they had to work with. Morgan had growled at more than his share of people over the last year, and sometimes it was a problem. Dave had wondered if the Bureau might pull the pair from the team, but they were so effective working as a sentinel/guide unit that the higher-ups weren’t tempted to meddle at risk of losing them to a sister agency. After bonding to Tony, Morgan’s senses were like nothing Dave had ever personally encountered.

“He’s holding back again,” Dave finally remarked.

Morgan just nodded his agreement. When Dave raised an eyebrow in inquiry, he huffed a little. “I’m bonded to him, Rossi. He doesn’t have any ah-ha! moments that I don’t feel through our connection.”

Dave considered that for a second. The first couple weeks after they bonded, he’d noticed Morgan and Tony pulling away frequently to talk, presumably working things out about how to work together. But after that transitional period, Morgan had left anything related to shaping Tony into a profiler, a great profiler, to Dave and Hotch. Morgan answered his guide’s questions, but otherwise, they kept really tight boundaries around their working relationship.

It had taken time to get Tony to stop holding back. He had some of the best profiling instincts Dave had ever encountered, but he hadn’t known how to articulate his insights in a lot of cases. Teaching Tony to be a profiler had been an amazing experience for Dave, and it had only taken a few months before he considered Tony as something like a protégé. He imagined it was akin to how Gideon must have felt with Reid. He could only hope he never personally failed Tony as completely as Jason had his own student.

“Give me something here, Derek,” Dave murmured as he sipped his coffee. “I thought we were long past him holding back.”

Morgan glanced back at his guide, expression softening. “Yeah. But, then again, I don’t think he’s ever disagreed with all of us before.”

Dave blinked, considering that. The team was divided on the profile based on what they knew so far, but there were only two theories, both polar opposites. In his experience, that kind of contradiction usually meant it was something else entirely, and it was usually best to let it go until they could assess the scenes and the evidence in person. But if Tony had a third theory, they needed to get to the bottom of it, because his gut said a third theory was what they needed.

Morgan leaned in a way that blocked the view of the plane. “I don’t know that for sure, but I can’t think of any other reason why he’d start holding back again. And he’s poring over those photos like a man trying to prove something.”

“I was concerned something might have come up at NCIS…” he trailed off leadingly. Tony’s history at NCIS wasn’t anyone’s business but Morgan’s, but Tony had confided in Dave. He was a latent guide, he’d had guide training, he’d worked with the community… more than anyone on the team, Dave understood the issues Tony was facing. And they’d become friends, something Dave valued.

Morgan shook his head. “Not really. Sciuto’s probation ended last week. There was a review before the sanction was lifted, and Tony was invited to attend, but he wasn’t interested. It took time, but he’s done with all of that now.”

“And Gibbs?” That had been dicey. Gibbs had gone dormant about five weeks after the pair had bonded. Outwardly, Tony had seemed fine, but you couldn’t fool a room full of profilers. Everyone had known Tony was struggling. The nature of that struggle and how it was resolved had remained completely between sentinel and guide, but at the height of it, Morgan had put them in for a week of vacation and hauled Tony to Costa Rica. When they’d returned, Tony had been relaxed, tanned, and back on an even keel. Gibbs had never been mentioned again.

“Nah. They don’t talk. Tony tried a couple times, but it wasn’t… well, it wasn’t anything good.”

Dave nodded. “Hard to imagine anything else.” He knew Tony kept in contact with a couple people at NCIS, but for the most part he had cut ties. At the time, Dave had been able to see, despite Tony’s impressive defenses, that there was a lot of pain and grief over the way things had ended at NCIS.

Morgan nudged his shoulder. “So, you gonna quit fakin’ it over here and get on with kicking his ass? That’s your half of the deal, remember?”

Snorting in amusement, Dave nodded his agreement. “And what’s your job again?”

“To kiss it better,” Morgan retorted with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle.

“Glad you have your priorities straight,” he said on a laugh as he walked around Morgan and went to take a seat across from Tony. A few seconds later, Morgan slid into the seat next to his guide, leaning over to look at the photos Tony was examining.

When neither of them garnered a response from the guide, Dave reached out and tapped the photo Tony was currently preoccupied with. “What are you seeing?”

Tony sat back, a thoughtful expression on his face. He took the distance photos of all five crime scenes and put one separate from the rest. “First crime… disorganized, chaotic, unplanned.”

When he hesitated to say more, Dave prompted, “And the rest.”

“Careful repeats,” Tony eventually said.

Dave frowned, because that made zero sense in his estimation. “You think the other four were done by a copycat? The fifth murder shows a marked escalation.” Tony’s eyes flicked away briefly, and Dave figured he was noting how the rest of the team were moving closer. Hotch slid into the seat next to Dave.

“Not a copycat, no,” Tony replied. “He’s recreating his first crime. Deliberately.” He tipped his head to the side. “I would say compulsively.”

Huh.

Dave’s mind started spinning, reordering the information into a new framework that fit much better than either of their current theories. But there were still some holes.

“I honestly believe he would have stopped at five, but my guess is something went wrong with the last victim,” Tony added.

“The crime scenes are completely disordered. There’s no evidence of compulsive behavior,” Prentiss remarked.

Tony hesitated briefly, but then passed one of the crime scene photos to Reid. “Tell me how many things in groups of five or multiples of five you can see.”

Reid’s eyes passed over the photo quickly and his brows drew sharply together. “It’s statistically impossible for that to be chance.” He passed the photo to Hotch. Dave could have taken a look, but he’d rather let Tony net it out. “Once you told me to look for it, it was very clear. What was it that jumped out at you?”

Tony shrugged. “The part we disagreed on. Seemingly chaotic crime scene, impulsive killer, but twenty-five stab wounds on each of the four victims. The number…” he trailed off, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “When my mother was sober, she had compulsions around numbers. I grew up knowing if she was at the dinner table, I had to eat my peas three at a time.”

“Net it out,” Dave prompted. “Walk us through what you see.”

“Okay… we all noticed that the killings are each ten days apart.”

“Right,” JJ agreed. “The number of stabbings and the specific time between victims pointed to an organized killer, while the crime scenes themselves spoke to a disorganized unsub.”

Tony nodded. “I think the first victim was unplanned, and the unsub definitely knows the first victim. I don’t know what about her set him off, but it was so severe that he even lost his hold on his compulsion and only stabbed her twenty-two times. I think the last three wounds, which have some different characteristics according to the ME, were done to ensure a multiple of five. Then he carefully reordered the debris to look random but be in loose groupings of five. There are five decorative pillows on the bed, but one in the closet. Thirteen used post-it notes and two blanks in a pile. He adjusted as much as he could to satisfy his need for five without making it obvious.”

“Except there was only one victim,” Morgan murmured, looking over the photos.

“Right. So he needed four more. I think the important part is that it was five women, twenty-five stab wounds, and then he adjusts the scene to satisfy his need. And his need isn’t even about killing. The first killing was unexpected, and from there, everything else was strictly about making everything fit a pattern.”

Hotch set the photo he’d been looking at down and picked up several others. “And what happened with victim number five?”

“Yeah,” Morgan agreed, “he seemed to be trying to obliterate that victim.”

Tony tipped his head to the side, brow furrowing. “I’m not sure. But even though they couldn’t accurately count the number of stab wounds, and we got a best-guess of approximately 130, my hunch is that it would be 125 times.”

“He messed up,” Dave said as he thought through the issue. “He stabbed the fifth victim too many times, and then multiplied everything by five.”

“If that were the case,” Reid chimed in, “with this degree of dysfunction, he’d feel compelled to enact the new ritual four more times in addition to another victim to complete the first set of five.”

Morgan gave a low whistle. “Damn. So if he hadn’t screwed up with victim number five, he could have stopped and never killed again?”

“Depends upon what drove him to kill in the first place, but it’s possible,” Dave agreed.

Hotch looked up at Reid. “Arithmomania?”

“That’s likely. If he is compelled to count everything, he’s most likely to have ascribed some value to five and multiples of five, and he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from acting on it in some noticeable way when he encounters the number by chance.”

Hotch looked around at everyone. “We keep the working theory to the team. The town is small enough that someone is going to recognize the pathology, and we need to control when that information is released and to whom.”

– – – –

Dave managed to maneuver it so that he and Tony were riding back to the Sheriff’s office together. JJ, Hotch, and Reid had gone straight there after they’d landed. He, Tony, Morgan and Prentiss had gone to the most recent crime scene.

After reviewing the crime scene, both conventionally and Morgan going over it with a sentinel’s razor-sharp senses, he’d persuaded the pair to split up.

“I assume you maneuvered Derek and I apart for a reason?” Tony asked with amusement.

Dave drummed his fingers on the top of the steering wheel as he waited for the light. “You stopped holding back like that six months ago.”

Tony gave him a sharp look. “I was making certain before I threw another theory in the pool.”

He glanced over at Tony, watching him closely. “You can’t always be certain.”

Frowning, Tony asked, “Is this that big a deal?”

“It depends,” he said softly as the light turned green.

“On?”

“On whether you don’t trust us, or yourself.”

Tony sucked in a breath through his teeth. “It’s not that.”

“Not which?” he prompted, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Either.” He sighed. “I trust my intuition about these things, Dave, you know that. But I’m still not sure I trust my ability to connect my intuition to actual evidence.”

“And this is why I think you don’t trust us. Not completely. Just… say it. Whatever’s going on in your head. Let the team help. You know how Reid loves to explain stuff.”

Tony laughed faintly. “I like his explanations. I learn a lot from him.” Dave shot Tony a speaking look. Tony held up his hands in a surrender gesture. “I get it. Communicate.”

Dave knew there was a source to Tony’s trust issues with the team. He wasn’t sure exactly what had taught him not to expose vulnerabilities to his coworkers, but the entire team had picked up on it and were slowly helping to break down those walls.

“You know,” Dave said, moving to a different subject. “Some cases get personal. Your experiences with your mother enabled us to come up with the profile sooner.”

Tony just inclined his head.

“That was my too-subtle way of asking if you’re okay,” Dave said dryly.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I was pretty young when she died, but I remember the counting. And the drinking. Which I think she did to stop counting.”

“She had full-blown arithmomania?”

“Yeah. She couldn’t stop unless she was hammered, but she ascribed special significance to threes and multiples thereof. She believed I was a blessed child because I was born a little after three in the morning on the ninth of June.”

“Three, six, and nine,” Dave remarked.

“Yeah. For a long time, I thought her obsession with three was because of me, but later in life, I saw old photos of her, and noticed threes all around her… from way before I was born. She’d wear three barrettes in her hair, or three rings on her third finger, always three pieces to her outfits. I don’t know when the counting started, but I don’t ever remember her not doing it.”

“Is this going to be too hard for you?” Dave asked, glancing over.

“No… I dunno. Maybe it should be harder than it is. I’m reminded of her, which… well, it’s not easy, but I’m not going to fall apart or anything.”

“I never for a second thought you would, kiddo. Just don’t push yourself on this one… there’s no need to. We’ve got your back.”

“Thanks,” Tony said after a pause.

He pulled into the parking lot of the Sheriff’s station slightly ahead of Morgan and Prentiss. They were halfway to the building when Dave’s phone rang. “I’ll catch up.” Tony waved and kept walking.

The display read “Hotch.”

He answered quickly. “We’re here. On our way in now.”

We have a problem. Wait for me out there.”

“Tony already went inside–”

Damn!” Hotch hung up.

The door was already closing behind Tony and Dave jogged to catch up. He had just made it into the squad room, barely twenty feet behind his protégé, when he noticed two things: Tony abruptly halted, and Hotch was headed their direction, a severe expression on his face.

Almost in slow motion, Tony looked to his left, almost like his head was on a pivot, and stared at a young deputy. Then everything went to hell.

The deputy suddenly pulled his weapon, pointing it at Tony’s head from barely five feet away. Several of his fellow officers pulled their weapons, automatically pointing at the guide, asking what the problem was. Tony was still, hands up in a no-harm gesture.

“You all need to lower your weapons!” Hotch barked.

“What in the hell is going on in here?” the County Sheriff barked, coming out of his office.

Right at that moment, Morgan came running into the station, growling and earning about half the weapons now aimed at him.

Dave caught Morgan around the waist, not letting him go any farther. “You’re putting him at risk,” he hissed. “Wait!” Morgan managed to rein himself in and Prentiss appeared, curling a hand around his upper arm.

He turned back to the confused deputies who were not lowering their weapons. “You are pointing your sidearms at an alpha guide in the presence of his sentinel. You are risking a feral episode. You need to lower your weapons. Now!”

The deputy who started it all was focused solely on Tony. “They said you couldn’t read nobody’s mind!” he blurted out, voice a bit shaky. Hands a bit shaky, too, but at that distance, nerves wouldn’t save Tony if the deputy fired. Everyone was frozen in place, waiting to see what would happen. No one was close enough to the deputy or Tony to help before Tony could be shot.

“I can’t read your mind,” Tony said managing to sound much calmer than anyone else so far. “No one can read someone’s thoughts.”

The deputy raised his gun a little higher, stress practically leaking off of him. “You walked in and looked right at me!”

There was a very subtle shift in the room as Tony relaxed his aura shields in tiny increments. No one was reacting to it yet, but Dave had experienced Tony’s aura at full blast once with a suicidal unsub. Hotch had okayed this technique in just this kind of situation. It should relax everyone if done slowly.

“I looked at you, Deputy Youngblood, because I can feel your emotions. You know that’s what guides do, right?”

“You need to keep that to yourself!” Youngblood exploded. “I don’t want you messin’ around in my head!”

“I’m not, I promise. But… seems like you’re having a bad day, Deputy. You’re very anxious,” Tony carefully stressed the word, no doubt for the team’s benefit. Dave had an inkling already of what was going on, but now he was sure. This was their unsub.

“You don’t know nothin’ about it!”

“You’re right. I don’t. Why don’t you tell me.”

“There’s nothin’ to tell!”

“That’s fine,” Tony said calmly. “Then how about you put your gun down, I’ll rejoin my team, and we can all get back to work.”

Youngblood shook his gun at Tony. “What do you know?”

“I don’t know anything.” He made a careful placating gesture. “Listen, Deputy, you can’t keep doing this. Your friends, your fellow deputies, they care about you. They’re backing you up all the way, man. So if you won’t stop for yourself, you need to stop for them.”

“They ain’t doin’ nothin’!” Youngblood glanced around briefly, taking stock of the room. “You all just need to leave!”

“And we can do that, but you need to lower your gun. Or someone will get hurt.”

“Why?”

Dave wanted to bang his head against the wall. How could someone in law enforcement be that uninformed?

“My sentinel is watching you and several of your fellow deputies point a gun at me. I’m barely managing to keep him out of a fugue state where he will kill everyone between him and me.”

“He can’t kill anyone!”

“The law says he can. You’re threatening my life, and even though they have good intentions, your friends are doing the same. The law agrees that when it comes threatening a guide, they’re just as guilty as you right now.”

Youngblood didn’t react, but the other deputies exchanged nervous looks.

“For God’s sake, Elias! Put your gun down,” the Sheriff bellowed again. “That goes for the rest of you fools, too. If this boy’s sentinel mows you idiots down, I’m gonna be interviewin’ for months trying to replace your fool selves.” When they deputies were slow to react, Sheriff hollered, “I said holster your sidearms and step back, dammit! Anyone of you whose firearm is out of that holster when I count to five,” Youngblood twitched, “will be out of a damn job.”

Slowly, everyone’s guns were holstered except Deputy Youngblood’s. Tony and Elias squared off in the center of the room.

Dave estimated that Tony’s aura was at about fifty percent, and several people were blinking and looking really mellow already.

“Can I call you Elias?” Tony asked.

“I don’t care! I just… I want you to go!”

“I can go… that’s no problem at all, but you need to put the gun down.”

“You don’t understand!” Elias insisted.

Tony took a steadying breath. “My mama counted. Do you do that, Elias?”

The gun wavered for the first time. “Yeah,” he whispered. “In my head.”

“It’s hard to have to count everything,” Tony said gently. “It’s exhausting being in your own head sometimes.”

Elias swallowed heavily. “She still count?”

“She died when I was eight. But I remember she thought one number was special. Do you have a special number, Elias?”

When Elias didn’t respond, the sheriff snorted. “That boy is crazy about five. Everything has to be five!” Hotch moved close and whispered to the sheriff, no doubt telling him to keep his yap shut.

Elias steadied his hand, which had been starting to lower. “They don’t understand!”

“I know they don’t. But I do.”

“I’m not telling you my secrets!”

“And that’s okay,” Tony promised. “You can keep all your secrets. Shooting me won’t help you, Elias. I don’t know anything more than what you’ve told me. So if you put the gun down, and we leave, you don’t have to explain. But if you hurt me, there’s just going to be even more questions. And if I’m hurt, my people won’t leave. Not until they know why.”

Dave could tell Elias was wavering again, probably aided by a healthy dose of guide aura saturating every corner of the room.

“Elias,” Tony began, voice different somehow, lower and more deliberate, with a strange resonance Dave had never heard before. “Wouldn’t it be easier to sit? Then you can just set the gun aside.” There was some kind of thick, cloying intent in the words.

Elias blinked a few times, then sank to the floor, still pointing the gun up at Tony.

“I know you must be tired. It feels good to sit, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you set the gun down on the floor.”

Elias looked at his gun, seeming like he was in something of a daze. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

“I know,” Tony agreed.

“I just wanted her to stop talking.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t feel so much like counting,” he murmured, sounding bemused.

“Set your gun on the floor, Elias,” Tony prompted softly.

In the next second, it was over. Elias set the gun down.

Dave was going to secure it, but several things happened almost simultaneously. One of the deputies picked up the gun, which was a tactical error as it snapped Morgan’s fragile control and he started to lunge. Tony stepped right into his path, locking his arms around his sentinel in a desperate approximation of a bear hug. The sheriff personally cuffed Elias, while Hotch took the weapon off the deputy who was obviously confused about why a sentinel was coming at him with vicious intent. Then Tony’s aura was pulled in so abruptly that it was almost painful. The guide quickly hauled his enraged sentinel out of the building.

Dave moved over to Hotch. “I’m taking them to the hotel. I’ll be back.”

“DiNozzo will need to write a statement, and we should be able to leave in a couple hours.”

It was moments like that which showed, despite all his experience, that Hotch hadn’t worked closely with sentinels and guides very often—certainly not a bonded pair. “Morgan’s on the edge. You won’t get him back here easily, and you aren’t getting Tony without his sentinel… the report can wait, Aaron.” He hesitated, then asked, “I assume this is the problem you called about? You figured out who the unsub was.”

Hotch nodded shortly. “He and his partner returned from a call about ten minutes before you arrived. I was in the break room when he poured himself coffee. He was obviously on edge, but he dispenses his coffee in five separate pours.” He gave Dave a speaking look. “DiNozzo ordered him to put down the gun.”

“It’s an uncommon ability—practiced only by shamans, as far as I’ve ever heard.” Which raised some interesting questions. “I’ve never before seen it in practice, though I’ve heard it takes a lot of personal reserves.” He hesitated for a second. “He was in Youngblood’s head. My guess is the deputy was closer to pulling the trigger than anyone might have realized.” Dave really couldn’t think of any other reason for Tony to pull out the big guns. He’d have to talk to Tony later, find out what he’d picked up on from the deputy the minute he walked in the room, and as the standoff progressed.

Hotch stared toward the interview room that housed Youngblood, looking thoughtful. He predicted that Tony had some long conversations with Hotch in his future—hammering out when to use that ability, and possibly testing the limits of it.

Dave clapped Hotch on the shoulder and then left him to deal with the mess. He found Morgan and Tony already in the back of one of the SUVs. He opened the door, getting growled at by a hostile sentinel, who was glaring at him. He had his guide pressed against one of the doors, and his hands appeared to be under Tony’s shirt.

“Stop that,” Tony said, turning Morgan back to face him. “You knew he was coming out to drive us to the hotel.”

Instead of replying, Morgan buried his face in his guide’s neck. Even though Dave half expected it, it was always a little bit startling when the baser sentinel nature came to the fore. Morgan’s instincts probably were even more revved up considering that Tony looked worn out from what he’d done in there.

Dave got the vehicle started and headed to the hotel, unashamedly listening to the soft conversation in the back seat.

“Talk to me,” Morgan murmured, the sound somewhat muffled.

“Agnes is getting a YouTube channel,” Tony said after a couple beats.

“She is not,” Morgan protested.

“Oh yes she is. She’s got sponsors, too.”

That seemed really peculiar to Dave. Agnes was great, in an acerbic interfering old lady kind of way, but he couldn’t imagine what she’d do in a video. Although, she did have a rather large following on Facebook. In Dave’s mind, the best thing about the old meddler was her unconditional love for Tony and the mothering she heaped on him at every opportunity. That and the cookies. Cliché though it may be, Tony’s grandma sent him to work with cookies all the time.

“What in the world is she going to do on YouTube?” Morgan asked, sounding bemused.

“She’s doing some kind of video version of the agony aunt. Stuff from Facebook she’s going to address in a weekly advice video.”

“More like weekly telling-off show,” Morgan muttered. Dave heard the sound of the duo moving and the subtle shifting of fabric. The sentinel was always super tactile if his guide had been in any kind of danger.

“Exactly. Her bitchy wisdom got her a legion of followers, and now she’s going to capitalize on it. McGee was over last weekend, set her up with a high-def camera and condenser mic. Penelope volunteered to help, too. I think she’s going to be there for the first filming and handle all the editing and uploads.”

There was a pause. “Garcia hanging out with Agnes scares me.”

“That’s because you have a modicum of sense.”

There was the sound of more shifting and then silence for a couple minutes.

“I’m fine,” Tony finally said, barely above a whisper.

“If anything ever happened to you…”

“You’re stuck with me. No exchanges or refunds.”

Morgan snorted, but the amusement sounded forced to Dave’s ear. “Completely satisfied customer.” There was a long silence and they were almost at the hotel before Dave heard Morgan softly murmur, “I love you. Don’t ever leave me.”

“I love you, too, Derek. I’ll be with you all the way.”

Dave pulled into the parking lot and quickly hopped out to go check in and get the pair’s room key. A few minutes later, he watched them disappear behind a locked door and a do-not-disturb sign.

People often had a romanticized notion of the bond between a sentinel and guide. The bond provided a connection, but it didn’t guarantee a happy life or even a stable relationship. The kind of synergy Derek and Tony had together reinforced the dreamy ideas people had about S&G bonds. Over the last year, he’d heard more than one person wax poetic about “perfect” matches, fate, and the romance of it all. He found it rather amusing.

“You can’t blame gravity for falling in love,” he paraphrased Einstein as he walked back to the car.

The End

– – – –

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63 comments

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  1. Hesperglass

    Oh Wow! That was absolutely amazing! Thanks so much for sharing it with us 🙂

  2. chrisking2005

    That was *awesome* and OMG so pretty!

  3. jeja05

    What a badass Profiler Guide Tony! That was awesome!! Thanks Jilly!

  4. Wiebke (@hab318princess)

    that was wonderful, great pairing – loved it

  5. terrydeb

    Fantastic 🙂
    Loved reading every chapter.
    You have such a good way of making the people come alive in your work.
    Thank you for sharing your work I loved reading this xx

  6. Belle Meri

    That was a terrific story. I completely adore Agnes. Loved the Malfoy-wannabes… and the bit with Gibbs actually made perfectly logical sense. Well done!

  7. Lara

    Love love love your work.

  8. Megarea

    thanks for posting this! your stories always feel like hot chocolate with whipped cream on a cold winternight – they make me feel wonderfully warm and contend. 🙂

  9. charliesdragon

    Thank you for this, it’s great. 🙂

  10. Anthea Davis

    Absolutely amazing. So heartbreaking with Gibbs, and the sheer awesomeness of Agnes! Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  11. bindingdiva

    Oh, Jilly, this was such an awesome read. Derek is not one of my favourite characters on the show, but you made me love him so much in this. And your Tony, as always, is multi-layered and rich with character. This was a real treat. Thank you.

  12. bobdog54

    Thank you for posting it all at once! What perfection comes from working at all of the the edges.

  13. Deirdre Morrissey

    This is amazing, and you are a brilliant, awesome genius!!:-D I really don’t have the words to describe the wonder that is this story – I need to reread it to be able to say anything worth listening to. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  14. Susan

    Oh my goodness!!! You didn’t disappoint. This story was gut wrenching, infuriating,and heartwarming all wrapped up in one awesome package. I sooo wanted to slap Gibbs and Abby up side of the head. Anyway, thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more from you.

  15. Victoria

    Yay! Good ending to a terrific story. Thanks for sharing (I really needed a pick-me-up this morning).

  16. Lisagrace

    You had me dying with the description of the attempted robbery with the fake Malfoys. Agnes is BAMF with a cane. The combo of her and Garcia is epic. You had me hating Gibbs and Abby, on many different levels. The thought of Derek and Tony, yum.

  17. free4913

    This is amazing! Thank you!

  18. Anna

    Just lovely Jilly! Thanks for posting!

  19. helengloucester

    Sigh – that was brilliant, Jilly. Going to read it again. Thanks so much for sharing. Hxx

  20. Kris

    This was amazing. I just devoured it. Tony and Derek is not a pair I seek out, but what you have them build here is so wonderful. A partnership based on respect and friendship. Thank you.

  21. irinamarenco

    Fantastic. I love everything about this story. I love the “imperfect” perfect match, the long way to bonding, the humor. You have such a gift with your words. Thank you for sharing!

  22. pfyre

    Oh, my god that was perfect! I hate Gibbs and Sciuto is this but then again even in canon the two have been responsible for some incredibly cruel, nasty crap that was piled on DiNozzo. I love Tony finding his perfect match who was NOT Gibbs because Gibbs fucked up. He fucked up for years wallowing in his grief and anger instead of learning to cope in a more healthy way AND he fucked up over his treatment of Tony AND then he fucked up thinking that Tony should just forgive him and bond with him anyway. SIGH

    I love it when authors illuminate what a great person Tony is and that he never deserved to be treated as second best by anyone. Thank you for this. I love Tony with Morgan.

  23. starkindler76

    That was awesome, hon. I loved the relationship between Derek and Tony, and I liked how you addressed, well, everything, lol. Oh, and what happened in the convenience store was golden. I laughed so hard I could barely get through reading it. Only Tony, lol.

  24. bridgetlynn

    Swoon. This was lovely. And one of those pairings that I always wonder why it doesn’t get more attention. It’s not the most obvious…until you think about how much these two actually have in common.

  25. rigger42

    I really enjoyed this, thanks so much. 🙂

  26. Liska

    “Ah, hell, Tony. I’m gonna go grey.”
    “You’re bald. So no one’s gonna know,” Tony shot back.

    I love you … marry me? ;-D

    I loved your approach on the S&G topic, not so much stereotypes but real characters. I could feel it how much you like (or hate) the characters you write while reading, it is hidden in each word or sentences.

    Your “grandma” is adorable… where can I adopt her?

  27. Kaitlyn

    Loved this. I wasn’t really sure at the start, wasn’t sure that I would like some of the characterisation, but you made it work and the reasons were so clear and understandable. Makes me realise why I couldn’t watch the last few series of ncis. I though the build up was fantastic. I love the fact that imperfect can be so much better than the theoretical ‘perfect’ in part because it’s about choice. Thanks for sharing this one.

  28. 19bcm78

    This was a lovely and usual pairing. I really enjoyed it, as I do all your stories.

  29. trouble97018

    Wonderful story! Thank you so much for writing it.

  30. BarbG (twi)

    This is made of awesome…the scene in the convenience store had me laughing and hiccuping. I am not sure it I love you or hate you right now. I love that I got to spend a huge chunk of a grey raining day snuggled up reading this. On the other hand I got almost nothing else done. I guess I’ll just have to love ya….thanks for the effort you put in to this great read.

  31. kendallynn

    That was wonderful! Besides Tim and Jimmy, NCIS is full of jerks. BAU and Fornell are great. Thank You for this, I am still smiling.

  32. wolfmistress0

    I just finished reading and loved it. Do you have any plans to continue this storyline and maybe bring Blair and Jim in? I have to say chapter six was my favorite and my fur babies think I had a “completely going nuts” spell as I could not stop laughing as I was reading. The epilogue was my second favorite, the scene was so poignant, so heartbreaking the love the duo shared. I really didn’t want the story to end, but to see what kind of mischief Tony would get into next.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Jilly James

      I don’t have any plans at this time to continue this verse, but you never know… an idea may present itself. Thanks 🙂

  33. nimueofthenorth

    This is made of awesome! I mainlined the whole story way past my bedtime and I regret nothing. I love how the bonding isn’t the quick fix for Tony and instead he wants/needs to find his own centre again before starting something new. But I think my favourite part is Tony’s retelling of the robbery gone wackadoodle, that was absolutely hilarious and so very him. Thanks for sharing!

  34. Eden

    This was absolutely wonderful,thanks!

  35. christella

    wonderful story, utterly fabulous read.
    adored this pairing and how they get together, definitely one for my favourites file.

  36. Katie

    Love this so much! Thank you for sharing it. Always amazed at your talent

  37. syble4

    This was amazing!

  38. Georgia

    I love Sentinel fic (even though I never watched the show) and I love NCIS (as long as Tony is being treated right.) So this absolutely made my day. It’s fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  39. Alexi Cyn

    You have once again blown me away with your skills!!! I loved this from beginning to end! It’s not a pairing I’ve read a lot of but oh YES, I’m on board with THIS!!! I feel a little bad for Gibbs, but seriously, he brought that shit on himself. Hopefully Ducky will pull his head out, but it just might take a spell. This whole thing was just… **happy flails!** Right, going to stop gushing so I can go and re-read it. 😀 Thank you for once again sharing your immense talents with us! It is whole heartedly appreciated!!! 🙂

  40. PickingupEllen

    Gorgeous! (And I love Agnes, adopted grannies rule)

  41. Mariposah

    I’ve never watched Sentinal and I’ve read very little Sentinal fic. But I thought “Come on, this is Jilly and you know you can trust her.” I’m so glad I did, because I really enjoyed this (particularly the hold-up!) It was a great education in the whole sentinal/guide relationship too. If you ever feel like writing more of Tony and Morgan’s cases together, I will be thrilled to read them. (Hope that doesn’t come across as demanding – it’s not meant to.)

  42. AlisonK

    This is lovely and I really enjoyed reading it; thank you very much!

    I do like the “here’s your perfect match, now ride off into the sunset” type of sentinel stories, because I am an old romantic. It is also a nice way to get a pair together that might not otherwise be obvious, either to readers or to the other characters in the story, allowing for a certain amount of drama while at the same time not freaking out those like me who (these days at least) read to be comforted rather than disturbed. I find that, despite some of the things I read when younger, I no longer want to read upsetting stuff. (My MiL told me, some years ago, that she couldn’t read Kathy Reichs books which at the time I had no problem with, but I totally get it now. I also now want the HEA I could take or leave once upon a time. Go figure.)

    Anyway, although I don’t have a problem with the perfect match trope, there is clearly scope for another type of sentinel/bonding story. After all, if biology & genetics were all that mattered, surely we’d all get along perfectly well with our families and we all know that isn’t true! There’s more to all of us than our blood & genes and that human factor has to be taken into account too. I imagine, if we really had S&G, that there would have been some traumatic times when the various tests were first developed, with the PTB attempting to persuade or even force matches that, on paper, were ideal but didn’t account for people.

    The addition of Agnes & the “outing” of Tony by a YouTube-ing teen were an unexpected joy – because *of course* people would be posting videos of sentinels and guides whenever they could! Tony’s adoption by Agnes did remind me of a few anecdotes I have heard…. 😉

    Thanks again and best wishes for the Nov challenge.

  43. deecee22

    Wonderful story, great characters (I love Agnes, she’s already got McGee and Penelope sucked into her little world). Awesome!

  44. shallan

    Absolutely fantastic, Jilly! I got some great giggles, especially about Agnes. Thank you so much for writing and posting.

  45. Jeckissa Lynn

    I really adore this fic! I love that you have Tony rightfully putting aside what is on paper “perfect” and prioritizing himself and that leads him to a situation that is so much better for him. I also really like that while your Tony is suited to profiling, its not an instant perfect fit, that he has to learn the skills to go along with the intuition and he has some self confidence issues surrounding that, it feels very real and grounded. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with all of us! <3

  46. Lahgategirl

    Lovely story! Draco Malfoy goes to the Police Academy is my favorite part plus I really enjoyed Tony fitting into the BAU team.

  47. marzipan77

    This is a beautiful, thoughtful fic! By far the best Sentinal/NCIS crossover ever. They way you’ve combined Tony’s effusive character with his darker, more troubled, thoughts is breathtaking. His reaction to Gibbs is beyond perfect – he reacted with an honesty and integrity that I could only wish was mirrored on the show. Gibbs does use his grief to abuse and belittle others – how can that be thought of in any way heroic? Amazing insights into all the characters. I love the combo and Tony and Derek. And Rossi really shines in this fic. Utterly wonderful – and the hilarity of the YouTube video was a great comic foil for all of the angst going on! Fantastic!

  48. Twisted Sister

    Loved this. You write some of my favorite DiNozzo. The convenience store thing was great. I would break down and join Facebook just to friend Agnes.

    Would love to be a fly on the wall the first time Fornell sees Gibbs. Also is Agnes ever meets Abby.

    I hope Tim gets out the only thing at MCRT is Abby, Gibbs, and Ziva becoming a circling black hole of ugliness before it implodes

  49. Eilat

    That’s a perfect story – watching Tony’s professional confidence build up again was most satisfying. You made me sorry about Gibbs but you also totally pulled off how damaged he is. I think the series was just ridiculous over the end so it’s sometimes hard to navigate but you seem to be doing just fine. Thanks for a beautiful story!

  50. Jen

    Really couldn’t imagine this pairing at first. The story was intriguing. Hilarious robbery scene. Can totally see Tony as part of the BAU thou. That was awesome.

  51. Kikite

    Oh my god! Loved this!!!! This so rocked and I think I might have a new favorite pairing. If I didn’t have to get to bed, I would be so trying to read another story of yours. Thank you again for this!

  52. recklesswanton

    I’ve read this a few times now and I love it. More perfect with each go through. Thank you!!!

  53. Debra Sutton

    “Imperfect” is awesome. This is a fantastic story! I LOVE Tony and Derek together. Sensuous overload! Will there be a sequel? Or better yet, a series like “Emergence”? Keep up the fantastic work.

  54. Volitina

    That was fantastic! Really well paced and surprisingly deep for only 47k. Thanks for once again sharing your time and brilliance with us readers.

  55. Lidil

    A very satisfying end to a thoroughly enjoyable story.

  56. Baba StringThings

    What a wonderful story, you are incredibly gifted! Now I think I am going to go back, read it all again, and then work on finding all of your other work too 🙂 I ended up here via Rough Trade, then Keira, and now your site. It’s been a good day to find something wonderful to read, I really needed it. So thank you for sharing your gift. <3
    Renata

  57. Edie

    This was just fantastic! I’m so sorry – it looks like I may have neglected to comment the first time I read it. But it was just as great the second time around. I love the way you wrote all the characters here, but I especially enjoyed the twist of Gibbs not really redeeming himself in the end. I love the pairing of Gibbs and Tony, but this was a cool change and a pairing I’d never before considered but now really like. Thank you for writing and sharing this fic!!

  58. Pyrate Nyre

    Here I am reading, thoroughly enjoying, this story again. I love the Sentinel connection with Tony and Derek. They really are perfect for each other. Reading this time through was the first time I really admitted how badly Gibbs has treated Tony throughout the years. I know a lot of us see a Tony/Gibbs paring as the only possibility (and I once was one as well) but you got me to thinking just how much abuse should Tony have to endure? As for Abby I’m in favor of the sentence the former Sentinels would have placed on her, especially when Gibbs asked Tony to help her out after she hurt him. Anyway I love the pairing. Thanks again.

  59. JadedMara17

    Love loved it so much. I always adore your work. I just can’t get over how vivid and Multifaceted your tony is. I mean wow!!! no words and i feel like in each story we get to see different sides of him revealed. I always feel like the Tonys i read tale to tale in your work are all the same. Vibrant wonderful cheeky little beings full of chaos and awesome!!! I’ve always got my fingers crossed hoping you’ll write another one!

  60. naelany

    reread for the…. I’ve actually lost count lol. Still gets me every single time *happy sighs*

  61. Kelly

    I’m like nealany in that I reread this for who knows how many times. I giggle every time I read it. I absolutely love this story.

  62. Jennifer

    I think I just about died laughing when I read the Draco & Lucius Malfoy parts! I had to stop for about 30 minutes before I could get my laughter down to giggles!

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