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Jan 23 2017

Fracture

Title: Fracture
Author: Jilly James
Fandom/Genre: Leverage, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Sentinel Fusion
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/Eliot Spencer, Nate Ford/Sophie Devereaux, Alec Hardison/Parker, Past Tony DiNozzo/Emily Prentiss
Content Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual contact
Warnings: No major trigger warnings
Author Notes: This is an AU of Leverage, so knowing the canon would just give you some more insight into the characters. Actual show knowledge is not necessary.
Word Count: ~16k
Beta: Thank you, Naelany!
Spoilers: Vague references to NCIS and Criminal Minds seasons, but Leverage spoilers are only in vague parallels.
Challenge: Written for the Little Black Dress challenge on Rough Trade, July 2016
Summary: Tony DiNozzo has been looking for his sentinel with no success. He’s certain his sentinel is already online but can’t locate him. Someone ran a con to hide Eliot from the S&G Center, and Tony’s determined to figure out who.



Fracture, by Jilly James

– – – –

2012

Tony tapped on the office door then immediately entered, getting a bright smile of greeting from the woman surrounded by an array of computers and monitors.

“Good morning, he who brings hotness to my doorstep,” Penelope said, tilting her head and offering her cheek. “I grant thee permission to kiss me.”

Laughing, Tony dropped a kiss on her cheek then pulled up the extra chair. He loved being around Penelope. She just radiated good feelings and was genuine in a way he rarely encountered in people. “Good morning, Penelope. I just sent you a file.”

“Oooh. What is it? Is it something fun? Illicit would be even better.” She quickly had the email open then the image he’d spent the morning sketching filled the screen. “Oh, Tony,” she breathed. “Is that him?”

“Yeah,” he said, his stomach tight with anticipation. “He was upset about something last night, and I connected with him enough to see his face. I spent the morning drawing. I’d hoped it was detailed enough for facial recognition, but I got nothing from my search.”

“Okay, first, how did I not know that you can draw this well? We’ve been friends for seven years!”

“It’s not that big a deal,” he said, shrugging one shoulder. “Just years of crime scene sketching.”

“Oh no, this is not that. You have a gift, my friend. When I make this match—and I will—I expect a portrait of yours truly as recompense.”

“Deal,” he readily agreed. Though he’d have done the portrait of her just knowing she wanted it. He adored Penelope. She was one of his closest friends and had made his transition to the FBI so much better after his departure from NCIS nearly seven years ago.

Her fingers were already flying over the keyboard. “The issue is that standard FR software doesn’t handle heterogeneous facial recognition. There are some applications that are bridging the gap, and we can try applying that, or we can make your pencil sketch look more like a real face.”

“Please don’t explain any of that,” Tony pleaded, holding his hands out in front of him defensively. Mostly he’d gotten her to stop trying to explain technology to him. He could use computers better than most people gave him credit for but no one was on Penelope’s level.

He watched as she used several pieces of software seamlessly to render his pencil drawing into something that looked more realistic while still managing to keep up conversation the entire time. Tony kept up his end of the discourse but his mind wasn’t really on it. He’d come online four years ago, certain his sentinel was already out there, but he’d never been able to find them. The Sentinel and Guide Center had found several possible matches for him over the years, but none of them had been responsible for the pull he felt.

When Penelope finally got the modified drawing running through several databases, he asked, “Your team on a case today?”

Penelope nodded. “They’re en route. I’m doing some data mining.” She pointed to two of the screens which displayed high activity. “But there’s nothing else for me until they have a lead.” Giving him a pointed look, she added, “They’re still a man down, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” he replied noncommittally. Hotch had offered Tony the spot in his unit after Emily had moved to London, but Tony had declined.

Tony had originally come into the BAU seven years ago as part of Unit 3, crimes against children, but moved to Unit 1, counterterrorism, five years ago. Unit 4 was crimes against adults, which Hotch ran. While it was appealing on some level, he liked the team he worked with in Unit 1. Also, he wondered if all the bad feelings over Emily were truly resolved.

Penelope tapped her pencil—the one with the feathers on the end—on the back of his hand. “Derek’s not still mad about Emily, no matter what you think.”

“Oh, he probably is,” Tony countered. “I don’t even really blame him for the resentment, but I wouldn’t have done it any differently.” After he’d joined the BAU, he and Emily had tried dating a few times even though they knew there was no real relationship potential. She was a sentinel and he was a latent guide who might never come online. They’d settled into a friends-with-benefits thing that worked for them with their crazy schedules. Until Tony had come online.

If he hadn’t had so much conviction that his sentinel was out there already, he’d have readily bonded with Emily. They were highly compatible, and she had offered almost immediately, but he’d declined. Even though they cared about each other, Tony being a guide had ended their sexual relationship. They’d tried once but with their degree of compatibility, sex nearly triggered the urge to bond.

Regardless, they’d remained friends. When she’d supposedly ‘died,’ Tony had known it was bullshit. He was a level-10 guide, and there was no chance a sentinel he’d had any kind of intimate connection with had died without him knowing about it. But it had been Emily’s wish to appear dead, so he’d played the role and let her go.

“It’s not even really about you keeping it secret that she was alive,” Penelope countered. “Of course he was pissed about that for a while, but the real problem was he couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t bond with her.”

Tony frowned, putting the pieces together. “Emily moving to London had nothing to do with me,” he replied gently, inferring that she meant Derek was upset over Emily’s second departure. “No matter what Derek thinks. Yes, she wanted a guide but that wasn’t her only reason for re-thinking the direction of her life. Emily and I both being in the BAU and being compatible was… convenient. That is not enough reason. And I really don’t care if people are annoyed that I didn’t redirect my life for their convenience.” Only Penelope and Emily had known that Tony felt strongly that his sentinel was already online and out there somewhere. There was no reason to tell anyone else because it wasn’t anyone’s damn business. Even the fucking Bureau had tried to stick their nose into the matter of his bonding until the S&G Council had to issue a directive to butt out of Tony’s personal life.

“I know, sugar,” Penelope said, squeezing his hand. “I just hate that you and Derek are growly with each other.”

He blew out a breath. “For your sake, I’ll dial down the growly, okay?”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek then grabbed a tissue to wipe the lipstick away. “Thanks. You are my two favorite men and I don’t want you at odds. Besides, if Derek–” A beep from her computer cut off whatever she was going to say and the words ‘Match Found’ flashed on the screen. Tony’s heart suddenly felt like it was in his throat.

“Angus Cole,” she murmured as the real photograph filled the screen. “That him?”

Angus?” Tony repeated incredulously, but he really didn’t care about his sentinel’s name. “Yeah. His hair was shorter in the dream, but that’s definitely him. Who is he?”

Garcia was frowning as she scrolled through data. “This is weird. There’s no mention of him being a sentinel. It says he’s a controller for a large software company.”

“You mean like an accountant?” Tony asked incredulously.

“Yeah, sort of. I’ve never heard of a sentinel in that type of job.” She continued to scroll through data. “Hmm… this seems way weird.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know. This is all very pristine.” She did a little more work then said, “There’s definitely no Angus Cole registered in the Center’s S&G database. And his background has no mention of him being a sentinel.”

The information was flying so quickly across the screen that it was difficult for Tony to read anything unless Penelope stopped to read herself. Still, he saw enough. “It’s a cover identity,” Tony remarked after a few minutes.

“That is indeed what this looks like. I suppose there are some people out there with lives this boring, but since we know he’s a sentinel, it adds some dimension. Let me dig a little deeper. Oh, wait a minute. If this is a cover…” Her fingers moved even faster than before. “Oh, hell. I tripped an alarm when I first accessed his info. It was subtle and cleverly hidden but you can’t fool me.”

“Who did we just alert?”

“I’m trying to trace where the packet went… just a sec.” She suddenly made a face. “Homeland Security and us.”

Us, meaning the FBI?”

“That is exactly what I mean.”

“Well, isn’t that special,” he griped. He leaned back in his chair, crossing his fingers over his abdomen. “So now we wait.”

“And what are we waiting for? Not that I’m not eager to have you sprawled out in my lair for as long as you want to… sprawl.”

He snorted. “I think we just fell into the covert ops rabbit hole. I’d give it five more minutes before the men in black are knocking on your door, telling us to stop what we’re doing.”

Eyes wide, Penelope stared at him. “How much trouble are we in?”

“None. Don’t worry about it, Beautiful. The FBI has made it clear that they’re highly invested in me getting bonded and that Bureau resources can be brought to bear to facilitate that if needed.”

Her nose wrinkled up. “Isn’t it creepy that they’re that interested in what goes on in your bedroom?”

“Very creepy. But there are only three alpha sentinels at the Bureau, and they want more. Any sentinel I bond to has a high likelihood of being an alpha, so…”

“So, do we keep digging?”

“Definitely not. You don’t know anything now but that Angus Cole is a cover identity of some kind. If you find out anything real, someone could get pissed.” He shook his finger at her. “No risks for you, young lady.”

“You’re not going to disappear, are you?” she asked worriedly.

“Nah. It’ll be fine.”

At least, he hoped so.

– – – –

Tony followed the Homeland Security agent through the warren of cubicles at the DHS office wondering what he was going to be facing at the end of this.

After a couple agents showed up at Garcia’s office telling them to cease what they were doing, Tony had been taken to the deputy director’s office and asked to explain his search for ‘Angus Cole.’ The deputy director had tried to get Tony to explain what was going on, but Tony got the impression that the FBI wasn’t responsible for Cole, so he’d hedged and prevaricated until a call had been made. Tony was then summoned to the DHS office in Arlington to meet with the Director of Operations Coordination.

He wasn’t sure if it was a good or bad thing that he knew said director rather well.

There wasn’t even a pause as they reached the office of the director; Tony was immediately ushered inside. As the door closed behind him, he crossed to the man rounding the desk and shook the proffered hand. “Hello, Director Morrow.”

“Just call me Tom. It’s good to see you again, Tony.” He gestured to the guest chairs. “Have a seat.” As soon as Morrow was back behind his desk, he asked, “Tell me why you’re looking for Angus Cole.”

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out a folded piece of paper and passed it over. It was a copy of the sketch he’d done this morning. “I drew that this morning.”

Morrow’s eyebrows shot up. “In what context did you see this man?”

“Dream.” At Morrow’s incredulous look, Tony added, “He’s my sentinel. It’s not common for guides or sentinels to dream of each other, but it happens in certain circumstances.”

“And it’s most likely to happen to guides who have a profound connection to the psionic plane.” He passed the sketch back. “Level-10 guides,” he added, leaning back in his chair and looking thoughtful.

“Yes. Though my rating is something I keep quiet. My superiors at the Bureau know, of course.”

“I can see an angry phone call coming my way if this comes to fruition. You certain about this?”

“I’ve known since I came online that my sentinel was out there. I’ve been trying to find him for four years.”

Morrow nodded. “Why is it that the SGC didn’t match you? I know ‘Angus’ is registered under a different name.”

“I honestly have no idea. You give me a name and I can ask.”

“Marcus Taylor.”

“Right. And since you gave that up so quickly, I’m going to assume it’s another alias.” He didn’t wait for a response, but instead pulled out his phone.

Hey, Tony.”

“Blair,” he greeted. “Could you do me a quick favor? I’m sort of pressed for time.”

Probably. What’s up?”

“Could you see if there’s a Marcus Taylor in the sentinel registry?”

I can do that for you, Tony, but we’ve gone over everyone who is higher than an eight-point match to you.”

“Yeah, well, maybe a seven-point match is destined to be this time around. Just look, please.”

I’m pulling up the registry now. Just give me a sec.” After a pause, he said, “Well, I have two entries, but only one is active. But I don’t see how this could be, but let me run it. Okay, he’s a level-4 and you only have a five-point match. That’s not even remotely possible. He couldn’t handle a bond with you… it would fry his brain.”

Tony considered that for a few seconds. It felt like he was at a dead end on the registry front. “What does he look like?”

Strawberry blonde, blue eyes, 6’1.”

He rubbed his forehead, feeling frustrated. “No, that’s not him.” He noticed that Morrow looked confused.

Hey, man, how about I run you against the dormant sentinel. I can’t imagine how you could be connecting with someone dormant, but it’s better to double check. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. Well, no, maybe not. Just… I’ll check.” After a few seconds, Blair made a sound of surprise. “This is kind of strange. When this Marcus Taylor was online, he would have been a full ten-point match to you.”

They’d only ever found one other ten-point match to Tony, and he’d hated the guy almost immediately. The only thing the meet had done was convince Tony that his actual sentinel was still out there. “You sure he’s dormant?”

That’s what the system says. And, as you know, when we look for matches, we exclude dormant profiles.” He blew out a breath. “He’s forty, came online when he was twenty-five while serving in the army. He’s 5’11, brown hair, very blue eyes.”

“That sounds right,” he said, wondering how he could be a match to a dormant sentinel. It had to be something else. “You sure he’s dormant?”

That’s what the system says. Dormant four and half years ago. Case notes say it was injury related. And that’s super extra weird because we usually follow up on those; injury-related dormancy is so rare. I’m not supposed to do this, but I sent you his picture.”

“Hold on. Let me look.” Tony pulled up his email app, and a second later, he was looking at his sentinel. He nodded to Morrow even as he put the phone back to his ear. “That’s him.”

You saw him?”

“I dreamt about him last night,” Tony admitted.

Man, that doesn’t make any sense. Dreams like that are fairly rare, but it never happens with someone dormant. Let me follow-up with him and get clarification of his status.”

“Can you hold off on that? There are some issues at play here that I need to straighten out first.” The last thing he needed was the Center mucking with his sentinel’s cover.

Blair hesitated for a second but then agreed. “Just keep me in the loop. If he’s actually online, I want this fixed. Good luck, Tony.”

As soon as he hung up, Morrow asked, “You have the Alpha Guide Prime of North America on speed dial?”

Tony just shrugged. “Considering your surprise, I take it dormancy isn’t part of his cover? Blair said he’s been dormant for more than four years.”

“No. Definitely not. And I’m quite certain he’s still online.” He stared at Tony for a long time, and Tony raised his eyebrows in challenge. “Tell me the real reason you left NCIS.”

Tony had wondered on the way over here if his departure from NCIS would come up. Morrow had barely been out the door before Tony had tendered his resignation without explanation. Well, he’d given an edited explanation to Gibbs, but that had been it.

“You’re probably one of the few people I even can tell,” he said as he thought through the issues. “I know one of the rumors was that I had some sort of unnatural loyalty to you.”

“That rumor was quashed pretty quickly when you turned down my job offer,” Morrow said dryly. “What was the real reason?”

“The new director and her pet assassin,” Tony replied. “From my perspective, Shepard was complicit to some degree with Kate’s death, and I wasn’t going to serve under her.”

Morrow looked shocked. “That’s not at all what I was expecting. I did wonder if you left because of grief over Agent Todd’s death.”

“I mourned Kate, but that wasn’t why I left.”

“So walk me through it,” Morrow half-ordered as he leaned back, watching Tony closely.

“I figure Shepard knew at least three months in advance that she was on the short list for the directorship?” He needed confirmation of that, but he couldn’t imagine anyone would spring the directorship of a federal agency on someone.

Morrow nodded. “Almost three, yes. My transition out of the director’s chair took almost two months. We shortlisted Shepard nearly a month prior. Why?”

“Because, to me, she came into the role with an agenda and with Ziva David already on board, and there’s no doubt in my mind Ziva knew Kate was going to die.”

“Well, now that I need explained.”

“Ari was Mossad’s mole in Hamas, Ziva was his handler—no doubt chosen because if Hamas should ever see Ari with her, he could allay suspicion because they were related. I can’t see any reason why Mossad would change handlers during a long undercover operation unless the handler died.”

“Agreed. So you’re saying David was in the US for the purpose of killing Ari.”

“Either kill him herself or give intel to the person assigned the job.”

“But the impression Shepard gave was that bringing David to NCIS was an impulsive decision after the death of Haswari. A way to give David a fresh start.”

“I don’t buy that. I don’t speak much Hebrew but I understand more than I speak. When Ari was still alive, I heard Shepard say, ‘I’ll have you here soon’. To me, that means she knew Ari was going to be dead and Ziva would be able to change assignments. And probably that Mossad would be on board. The delay in dealing with Ari cost Kate her life, and I wasn’t going to serve under or work with people that corrupt.”

Morrow’s eyes narrowed. “The intel that there was an intelligence leak to Mossad… that came from you, didn’t it?”

“I’ll never admit that officially. Only Fornell knows because I gave him the tip. I was monitoring the situation between NCIS and Mossad, and when Mossad started acting on Navy intelligence, I put a bug in Fornell’s ear that there was a leak. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots. I just wish she hadn’t had two and a half years to spy on us.”

“Well, you didn’t have access to the right resources until you moved into counterterrorism.” He cocked his head to the side. “You seem certain Shepard knew Agent Todd was going to die.”

“Oh, I’m not certain about that. But I am certain that she knew about David’s real mission and that David was delaying for some reason. Kate’s death being David’s design wasn’t a hard leap to make. Shepard had to have figured it out, and yet she still put David in Kate’s chair.”

“Even without these new facts as a consideration, I always thought it was tasteless that she’d put the sister of Agent Todd’s murderer on Todd’s grieving team. I tried to persuade her not to do it out of respect for Gibbs’ team and the rest of the agency, but she was determined. Of course, we eventually understood why. She wanted intel on René Benoit and Mossad provided it. It was best for everyone that the brain tumor took her.” He paused briefly then said, “So you went to the FBI to become a profiler. Tribute to Agent Todd?”

Tony laughed. “I loved Kate like family, but she was a lousy profiler. When Gibbs needed serious profiling, he went to Ducky.”

“And why not you? I often wondered about that.”

“When Katie was with the team, it was sort of her thing. If, between her and Ducky, they hadn’t come up with the right answer, I’d have jumped in. Besides, I was still finishing up my Master’s in abnormal psych when Kate joined. She needed to find her footing and it didn’t cost me anything to let her have that.”

“Hm.”

“You going to tell me about not-Marcus, not-Angus? Because I’ve been working this for four years—feeling the pull to a sentinel I couldn’t find. I’m trying to be patient, but it’s not really happening.”

“I’m going to read you in on one of our covert projects. Top Secret. My hope is that you’ll be happy with your sentinel, and the two of you will work together in this organization.”

Tony frowned. “And if that’s not what we want?”

“I won’t stop you, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t prefer to have a real profiler on the team.”

“I’ll keep an open mind,” he assured. He wasn’t prepared to make any promises because if his sentinel was in a bad situation, it was Tony’s job to get him out, not join him in it.

Morrow got up and went to a wall safe and entered a passcode and retina scan. He came back with a small stack of folders. “Five years ago we founded a covert intelligence unit. It wasn’t our first attempt at it, but it was our first real success. The team code-named themselves ‘Leverage.’”

The first folder was tossed to him, and he opened it to find a photo of a man somewhere in his late 40’s with short, dark, curly hair and brown eyes.

“Nathan Ford, team leader. Formerly of a private security firm. Absolute strategic mastermind. He planned the majority of the company’s truly successful operations. He was on vacation when his wife lost her passport. They were at the embassy filing the paperwork to get a replacement when there was a bombing. He and his wife sustained injuries, but their son died.

“Eventually, he and his wife divorced. He went through a… bad patch, to put it mildly, then came online. The Center got him dried out and helped him get a handle on his guide gifts. He’s a level-8 guide. We recruited him to plan an operation for some covert work.”

“What kind of covert work?”

“Steal some intelligence that promised to lead to the men responsible for the bomb that killed his son. Under a provision in the Patriot Act, the team were given special powers to basically go out and steal whatever might be helpful in the prevention of terrorism.”

“So you manipulated his grief over his son, knowing he’d want to find the men responsible?” Tony asked dryly.

“Yes. We’ll do what we have to keep ahead of terrorism. I haven’t a shred of regret,” Morrow replied evenly. He wasn’t hostile, but he was determined.

“Fair enough.” Tony had been working with counterterrorism intel for years now, and he’d always known it wasn’t all obtained through legal means.

“Ford immediately recruited Sophie Devereaux, an undercover agent with Interpol who had also been a source for him over the years. The information exchange was mutual, and he helped her several times.”

Another file landed in front of him for a woman around forty, dark hair, dark eyes. “Devereaux was a level-7 sentinel and had been for nearly a decade. When she saw Ford for the first time after the loss of his son, they realized they were a match. A perfect match, in fact. It was six months before they bonded. Not clear why they waited so long. Devereaux’s sentinel rating when up to level-8 after they bonded.”

Perfect matches usually wound up the same level after the bond settled and the sentinel’s senses were retested.

The next file was handed over with a picture of a younger woman with blonde hair. “That’s Parker. First name unknown, birthplace unknown. Former thief with a Robin Hood complex. Primarily active in Europe and Eastern Europe. We believe most of her targets were criminal enterprises, but most of it can’t be proven. She’s good at covering her tracks.”

“So if she has a Robin Hood complex, who was she giving the money to?”

“Mostly orphanages.”

Tony nodded, flipping through the pages with very limited background data. “And how did she come across Nate’s path?”

“She was one of Devereaux’s informants. Whenever Parker would come across information useful to law enforcement, she’d hand it off to Devereaux. Devereaux enlisted Parker for that first job we recruited Ford for, and then for some reason, she decided to stay.”

The fourth file was passed over. “Alec Hardison. Hacker extraordinaire. Even better than Ms. Garcia. He’s also an electronics expert and can build just about anything with a circuit or a battery.”

“Don’t tell me we’ve got a Frank Abagnale situation?” he asked, unwillingly amused.

“Exactly that. The FBI had a hard time pinning anything on Hardison over the years but finally nailed him on a fairly small charge. Ford recruited him to the team. Not sure exactly what Ford said to him, but he agreed to give it try, and like the rest, he stayed.

“Interestingly enough, Hardison and Parker came online simultaneously the moment they met. Delayed the op by five days while their bond settled. Both are level-6, and like Devereaux and Ford, they’re a perfect match.”

“That’s ridiculously sweet,” he said absently, scanning over the pages. “But it probably contributed to why they agreed to stay with the team.” He was mentally putting together a picture of the team, assessing how they might fit together.

The last folder was passed across the desk, and he felt his stomach tighten with anticipation. The picture was definitely the man in his dream. He took a steadying breath. Four years he’d been waiting for this.

“That’s Eliot Spencer. Level-9 sentinel. Formerly Army Special Forces, briefly went to work after discharge with a private military corporation, but left when he was asked to do some things he found morally questionable. He was recruited by the CIA. Again, ultimately left when he found his directives to be unethical.”

“And the Agency was okay with that?” Tony wondered if the CIA was going to be knocking on their door some day.

“No. They tried to burn him. It was a disaster for them. Spencer is arguably one of the best in the world in unarmed combat. He’s just as good with a firearm, but says he doesn’t like them and will only use one when absolutely necessary. He has excellent undercover skills as well.”

Tony considered for several seconds. “How often do they cross the line?”

“Technically, they don’t.”

Frowning, Tony replied, “That’s a dangerous game. The Patriot act could be repealed. Honestly, it should be.”

“We do try to cover them and get them search warrants when possible, but they’re all under seal. In any case, the team are all sentinels and guides. They’re fussier than I would prefer about the ethical lines. Especially Parker and Spencer. The letter of the law isn’t so much the issue as some ineffable moral code.”

He nodded, wondering where he’d fit in that team dynamic. “I take it you want me to join the team?”

“I do. Ford and Devereaux are good but neither are formally trained profilers. Also, Spencer being able to use his senses at the highest possible level would only aid the team. However, if you two bonded and decided not to work for the Leverage Unit, I’d like the opportunity to recruit you into another unit at DHS rather than see you go to the Bureau.”

Tony didn’t particularly want to leave the BAU, but he wanted his sentinel more. “I can agree to that.”

“Good. I’ll give Ford a call and let him know you’ll be arriving. Some time in the next few days, I assume?”

“Tonight, if I can swing it. But I’d rather you let it be a surprise.”

Morrow’s brows shot up. “This is not a good team to spring a surprise on.”

“The thing is, I can only think of three reasons someone might interfere with Spencer finding a guide: they worry he might leave and compromise the unit; someone is targeting Spencer directly for some revenge or punishment purpose; or it’s someone who is attached to the team remaining the way it is today.

“If it’s targeting Spencer directly, it could be anyone. But if it’s either of the other options, the culprit is either in DHS or is one of the team. In either case, I don’t want to give them a heads’ up so they can do something else.”

“I’d like to think it’s not one of Spencer’s teammates, but I take your point. Very well.” He scribbled something on a piece of paper. When he passed it over, Tony found two addresses in Boston. “They have a bar that Hardison owns that’s part of their cover. Their actual offices are in the building behind it. There’s a basement pass-through. Minimal security on the former, extreme security on the latter. Be careful.”

– – – –

Eliot sat at the bar staring moodily into his glass. He’d been nursing the same drink for over an hour. Too much alcohol fucked with his senses, and he couldn’t afford that. His control was feeling shaky lately and he was dialed down most of the time to give his senses a rest. But even though it was hell on his senses, he wasn’t prepared for no alcohol. At least, not tonight. He took another sip and let the Scotch burn its way down his throat.

Even with his senses dialed down, he heard, smelled, and felt Parker coming up from behind him, so he wasn’t surprised when there was a poke to his arm. “Would you stop that!” he growled.

“Come on, Eliot, what’s wrong? Everything went smooth as silk yesterday but you’ve been in a funk ever since we got back.”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he bit out. “Leave it alone.” Before she could say anything, he downed the rest of the shot and headed for the backroom. Things had not gone ‘smooth as silk’ yesterday, and no one knew that better than him. He decided to go home and get some sleep, spend some time alone working out his bad mood.

He had some stuff scattered around so quickly shoved everything in his bag. Once again, he heard the other sentinel coming before the door closed and the faint sounds of the bar were muffled. “I don’t want to talk, Sophie.”

“I think you need to,” she retorted calmly. Sophie had always struck him as an odd fit for a sentinel. She was pretty and feminine, and more nurturing than any sentinel he’d ever met. She was a complete badass, but she certainly didn’t fit any kind of typical sentinel mold.

“Is this about your guide?” she prompted when Eliot continued to ignore her.

He threw his bag into an empty chair and turned around. “I’m tired, Soph. I’ll get over it. I always do. But you guys need to back off for a few days.”

“Eliot, let us help.”

“How? How can you help? I’ve been online for fifteen years. Fifteen.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I’m just frustrated. I’ve never regulated well without a guide.”

“And we needed you to stretch your senses yesterday in a way that was difficult?”

“Try near impossible. I came so close to zoning, and if I had done that before I took out those two security guards, Parker could have died. Died!” The team, especially Nate and Sophie, tended to push him to use his senses in ways he wasn’t comfortable with when he had no guide support.

“I know you worry about zoning,” she said cajolingly, “but you’ve never not been there we needed you. We all have faith in you.”

He sort of wanted to hit something. “It’s not about faith. It’s about limits. Actual limits. People have them!”

“I know. I do know.” She sighed. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I thought about maybe removing that restriction from my Center profile. It’s been more than four years since I’ve heard from them with any kind of match.”

“Eliot,” she said in way that was almost disappointed. “I thought you didn’t want to go through any more bad matches. The guides you met were driving you crazy. And even worse, in my opinion, was the hope they brought up every time you got a call.”

Eliot couldn’t deny that. The Center had never found great matches for him. Six or seven-point matches. One time there was an eight-point match. There had been a nine-point match about a decade ago. They were all terrible for him. Some of them were like trying to ground his senses on broken glass. The Center had told him that he had an odd extra biomarker that might make him a difficult match for a guide. Out of self preservation, he’d asked the Center to stop calling him unless they had a high-compatibility match—which meant nine or ten points. He’d never heard from them again.

Every day he worried about dormancy or sensory collapse or any number of other problems a sentinel who was unbonded as long as he had been might struggle with. Because of the nature of their work, it wasn’t like he could bring in an interim guide. He got help from Nate or Hardison from time to time, but it felt weird to him since they were both bonded. Still, more than once it had been Hardison’s voice over comms that had saved his ass and kept him from zoning.

He’d hit about as low as he’d ever been last night. His sensory dials were moving barely at all, like they’d been glued in place. If it was just the damn senses, last night he’d have welcomed dormancy. Given it a fucking engraved invitation and said adios to the painful life of an unbonded sentinel. But Eliot was also tired of being alone. He just needed a break between assignments and time to get himself under control again—both his senses and his emotions.

Now more than ever he wanted to get out of there and have some time to get himself re-centered. He’d been feeling oddly unsettled all night. He’d originally assumed it was fallout from the clusterfuck of their last assignment, but it kept getting worse, not better. He rubbed his stomach, wondering what had him so anxious.

“Is everything all right?” Sophie asked, watching him carefully.

“I guess. Just feeling like something’s… off.”

“Off how?”

“Not sure. Like something–”

The door to the backroom opened and Hardison stuck his head in. “We’ve got a problem.”

“Off like that,” Eliot shot back to Sophie, because of course there was a problem. When wasn’t there a problem? “What happened?” he asked Hardison just as Parker quietly entered, closing the door behind her. Nate drifted up from the steps leading down to the basement.

Hardison put his tablet on the table where everyone could see it. “This guy turned up a few minutes ago in a rental car. Wandered around for several minutes, stopped by Eliot’s car, walked around it a few times, dropped a duffel bag near the trunk, then propped his ass on the hood and stared right at my security camera.”

“Excuse me?” Eliot asked dangerously as Hardison zoomed in on the security feed. “Did you say he’s sitting on my car?”

“More like leaning,” Hardison clarified.

He focused his attention on the tablet as Hardison zoomed in. The man looked reasonably tall and had brown hair. He was wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and a white t-shirt. In the dark it was impossible to tell the shade of his hair or anything else about him other than he was really attractive. Eliot didn’t go for guys all that often, but this one tripped all his triggers.

Still, he wanted that ass off his car, no matter how fine it might be. “I got this,” he near-growled.

“Maybe someone else should handle this?” Nate suggested calmly.

“It’s my car, I’ll deal with it!” he said as he yanked the door open leading into the bar.

“Killing him for daring to put his ass on your baby is probably overreacting,” Hardison called out loudly as Eliot made it out the front door.

As soon as he hit the street, his senses seemed to go haywire for several seconds, dials rapidly slipping up and up and up, much higher than he’d let them be for a long time. It took a couple seconds for all the sensory data to filter through his mind but then he felt surrounded by guide in a way he never had before. All of his senses were straining for the man across the street with his ass on Eliot’s classic Challenger.

He took a deep breath, getting more of the most amazing scent. He was aware of the entire team coming out of the bar as he finally got his feet in motion and started walking slowly toward the man who was watching him intently. Green eyes met his gaze without hesitation, and Eliot knew this wasn’t just any guide. This was his guide.

Not even aware of continuing to move, he found himself about a foot from his guide, who was just watching him intently. “Where have you been?” Eliot asked roughly, feeling like he was going to shatter.

“Looking for you,” the guide replied softly.

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s a long story. You want it now?”

“Are you here to stay?”

His guide’s expression softened. “Yes,” he whispered.

“Explanations can wait.” He stepped closer until there were only a few inches between them. Lifting his hands, he waited for any objection before framing his guide’s face between his hands. The guide was about three inches taller but it was barely noticed. His whole body sizzled and his senses started dialing up again, trying to get a better fix on something that was too perfect to be real. He closed his eyes, trying to get steady his control, his focus on the scent of his guide and the feel of the warm skin under his fingertips.

“Relax,” the guide said on a breath. “Just stay with me and let me help.”

Suddenly, he was wrapped in the best thing he’d ever felt. It was warm and safe and everything he’d ever wanted. He’d had guides buffer him empathically before but it was nothing like this. This was perfection.

“I want to bond with you so badly,” Eliot said without thought. The need to have more of this, to crawl inside it and never leave nearly overwhelmed him.

“We can do that,” his guide whispered, and Eliot was ready to shove him in the car and get out of there.

“Eliot!” Nate called out, “we don’t know anything about him.”

He couldn’t look away from his guide, couldn’t stop touching him, but he managed to grind out, “Go away, Nate. This is none of your business.”

His guide was looking over Eliot’s shoulder at the rest of the team and he said whisper soft so that only the two sentinels would hear. “Anthony DiNozzo, Jr., Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Unit One.” He looked back into Eliot’s eyes. “Everyone calls me Tony.”

“Tony,” he repeated, stroking his thumbs over strong cheekbones. “Can we get out of here?”

“Yeah.”

Eliot had never wanted to kiss anyone so badly in his entire life, but he knew they needed to be alone first. Instead he pressed their foreheads together and took a few steadying breaths. “Okay, let’s get out of here.” He forced himself to let go then quickly unlocked the car and stowed the duffel bag in the trunk that was saturated in his guide’s scent.

“Eliot!” Hardison called out. “At least let us check up on him.”

“You do that,” Tony said. “And you call him if you find something. But unless you find out I’m a serial killer, you all stay away. Do not interfere with our bond. We’ve waited too long for it.”

In a few seconds, they were in the car, and Eliot was peeling away from the curb. He wasn’t sure what to say. He wanted to ask so much, but all he could think about was touching his guide again. Making sure he was real.

As if reading his mind, Tony reached out and covered Eliot’s hand where it rested on the gearshift.

“So… you’re Unit One?” Counterterrorism profiler would fit in with the team so well.

“Mm hm,” Tony hummed. “Before that, I was an agent with NCIS for four years and a cop for six.”

Eliot tightened his hold on the steering wheel. His guide was fucking perfect. How could this be? “How long have you been online?”

“Four years.”

Frowning, Eliot asked, “And how close a match are we?”

“Perfect,” Tony replied simply.

“I don’t understand,” he said carefully. “Why didn’t they call me?”

“You were marked in the sentinel registry as being dormant. They don’t run matches against dormant sentinels.”

Eliot chased that fact around in his head for several seconds. “How?”

“Don’t know yet. I was more focused on getting here once I figured out who you were.”

“And do you actually know who I am?”

“Morrow read me in, Eliot. I know everything.”

“That makes things… easier,” he replied vaguely, thoughts whirling.

“We don’t have to rush into bonding,” Tony said gently. “It feels like I’ve been looking for you forever, but we’ve got time.”

“I don’t…” he took a careful breath. “How were you looking for me?”

“From the moment I came online, I already knew you were out there. When person after person wound up not being you, I wasn’t sure what to do. I even had an international search run, but couldn’t find you.”

“So, how did you find me?”

“Let’s wait until we’re stopped.”

That was probably a good idea. He let silence reign but it wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, it felt very right. Tony’s hand continued to rest on top of Eliot’s, tracing small patterns around his knuckles.

It was only a few minutes before they pulled up in front of the brownstone Eliot owned. The top two floors desperately needed renovation but the lower floor was complete.

He turned in his seat and stared at his guide. “How’d you find me?”

Tony reached in his jacket pocket and produced a folded piece of paper, passing it over.

Eliot opened it to find a high-quality, very detailed pencil sketch of himself. He looked up sharply. “I don’t… what?”

“What was wrong last night?” Tony asked softly.

“Last night?”

“Something was bothering you. What was it?”

Eliot was floored, but he forced himself to focus on the situation. “It was a difficult retrieval. I can usually only use my senses to about a four on my dials without help.”

“And considering your level, that’s still a hell of a lot.”

He neither agreed nor disagreed. “I had to stretch my senses in a way I haven’t done in a very long time to ensure I was tracking the danger to Parker. I nearly zoned several times. If I had, she could have died.” He glanced away, feeling stuck in that moment of being convinced failure was a fraction of a second away.

“And?” Tony prompted.

“And it was just too much. I get like that every once in a blue moon. Where I’m tired of trying to be half a sentinel, tired of doing this on my own. It’s maudlin bullshit and I got over it.”

“Hey,” Tony chastised. “Don’t do that. If you hadn’t been feeling desperate, I’d have never been able to bridge the gap between us and finally dream about what you look like.”

“You drew this?”

“Yeah. And a friend helped me convert it to something viable enough to run through facial recognition. Got your Cole alias, which triggered the DHS’s goon squad into figuring out why I was accessing your cover. Morrow read me in a little while later. He’s expecting your call, so you can confirm everything I’ve told you.”

Eliot nodded, but before he could say anything, his guide pulled away and got out of the car. He quickly followed, letting Tony into the house. He reached for Tony and was gratified that his guide let himself be pulled close. Still, Tony was clearly holding himself back a bit.

“Call Morrow,” Tony insisted.

He was torn between common sense and wanting to trust his guide. He reluctantly left Tony in the entryway and ran upstairs where he had a burner phone. The number was easily dialed from memory. Tom Morrow readily confirmed Tony’s identity and the details of how he’d found Eliot. He even sent a picture of Tony to his phone so he could verify the right man was in his living room.

To be on the safe side, he also called the team’s handler and asked for an acknowledgment code for Anthony DiNozzo. When he got back the greenlight code, he hung up then pulled the battery and the sim out of the burner phone. It was garbage now. All three parts were dropped in the trash.

Downstairs, he found Tony wandering around the living room, just looking at various details. He had shucked his leather jacket and it was laying over the back of the couch. Eliot followed suit, dropping his jacket on top of Tony’s as he crossed the room, stopping mere inches from his guide, who was watching him closely.

Tony reached out and ran sensitive fingertips along Eliot’s jaw, and the sensation was like finally waking up to the real world. “I have to ask this,” his guide said carefully. “How much have you had to drink?”

Eliot nearly smiled, but just replied, “One shot of Scotch.” He desperately wanted to touch but kept his hands away from the temptation in front of him until he knew what was on his guide’s mind.

“Good.” Tony’s eyes seemed to drift over every inch of his face as if committing him to memory. There was something almost sentinel-like in the way he was cataloging Eliot, and it was kind of hot. “I want to kiss you so fucking bad.”

“I think you should get exactly what you want,” Eliot remarked more breathlessly than he’d have liked.

Tony’s lips twitched. “Do you feel it? The connection between us?”

“Yeah, yeah I do,” Eliot admitted. It had been so fast but adjusting to it had been the easiest thing Eliot had ever done.

“A preliminary bond has already settled,” Tony murmured as his fingertips ghosted over the very edge of Eliot’s lips.

“How?”

“I think I’ve been carrying a partial empathic bond to you since the day I came online. It’s how I always knew you were out there and wouldn’t even consider another sentinel.”

The mention of other sentinels caused Eliot to growl in annoyance.

“Shh… there was only ever you.” Those tormenting hands moved back into his hair, stroking over his ears, then down the back of his neck. “When your senses finally locked onto me out on the street, you accepted whatever it was I’ve been carrying around. It felt like coming home.”

“Yeah, it did,” he agreed, not able to come up with anything else to say.

“Because of the prelim connection, if you taste me, it’ll be the point of no return. We’ll have to complete the full bond.”

“And you want to wait?” It was probably a good idea. Get to know each other a little bit, make sure they could tolerate each other. Actually, that was all bullshit. There was no way anything could make him walk away from this.

“No, I don’t want to wait,” Tony said on a breath.

Eliot immediately curled one hand around Tony’s hip and the other slid around the back of his neck, pulling his guide down into a hungry kiss. With a groan, Tony opened his mouth for Eliot, and the taste of guide exploded across his senses.

He backed Tony up until they bumped the wall, uncaring of the things that fell on the floor, his entire focus on the sensory barrage from finally having all five senses filled with guide. Without conscious thought, he somehow had gotten them both out of their t-shirts and was exploring his guide’s throat when he came back to himself enough to know he needed more.

Pulling away, he grabbed Tony’s hand and hauled him down the hall to the bedroom. “I need to see all of you,” he murmured against Tony’s lips as he wrestled with the buttons on the guide’s jeans.

Tony moved back. At Eliot’s growl of displeasure, he smiled. “I’m not going anywhere.” Quickly, Tony got out of his shoes and pants then flipped the covers to the foot of the bed. He sprawled out on his back, large cock hard and eager. Crooking his finger at Eliot, he murmured, “Come claim your guide, Sentinel.”

Eliot barely remembered to get out of the rest of his clothes before moving to the foot of the bed. He leaned down and pressed his nose against an ankle then began scenting further up, crawling up his guide’s body as he went.

He imprinted four senses at the same time—scent, smell, sight, and sound—learning every part of his guide’s body. The sentinel in him was soothed by the guide’s eager acceptance and the empathic web he could feel being woven around him. He knew it was common for guides to have all their body hair removed and his guide was no different. The few times he’d been with a man in his life it hadn’t been this smooth feast of bare skin, so it was, in its way, something completely new for him.

Rolling his guide over, he worked methodically from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, finding himself distracted for a while with the firm buttocks. He managed to wring moans of pleasure from his guide.

He’d saved taste as separate from the other senses, knowing from the brief experience downstairs that it would be overwhelming. It was also something that was only for him. Other sentinels would smell his guide, hear his heartbeat and his voice, see his beautiful face, and take in his scent, but none of them would ever taste Tony. This was just for Eliot.

Once again, he lingered on the perfectly formed ass before moving up the strong back, getting twitches of pleasure for his efforts. When he maneuvered his guide onto his back again, he noticed the glazed eyes, the breathlessness, the precum at the tip of his cock. He swiped his tongue over it, the sweet, salty, bitter taste exploding across his tongue and nearly making him lose focus.

He somehow finished the final stage of the imprint, tasting every inch of Tony. Then nudging his guide’s legs apart, he braced himself on his arm and peered down into the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. “Guide,” he breathed, unable to form other words.

“Sentinel,” Tony replied, eyes locked on Eliot’s.

Keeping eye contact, he adjusted their positions, getting one of Tony’s legs over his shoulder, the other curled around his waist. He didn’t even look away when he used two fingers to stroke lube into his guide, and then coated his erection. He pressed the tip of his cock against Tony’s hole, holding there, just letting it be a sense of pressure as he took the leg from around his waist and pulled it too up over his shoulder.

Tony was breathing hard, cheeks flushed, hands fisted in the pillow under his head. It was the most beautiful thing Eliot had ever seen. He pushed forward a little, not enough to truly penetrate his guide, just to stretch a little. A ragged moan and muscle tremors were his reward. He pressed a little more, watching Tony’s eyes roll back. Another slight press and the head of his cock was part way in, and the squeeze was insane. There were more tremors in Tony’s limbs, but he was staying still, not rushing or trying to make it happen. As much as possible, he kept eye contact with Eliot and the bond between them grew with every passing second. He could feel Tony in every part of him.

Another slight press and he was holding himself with just the head of his dick squeezed by tight and heat and perfect.

“Eliot,” Tony whispered brokenly.

He surged forward to claim his guide’s mouth, his cock sliding smoothly in one press, all the way in until they were completely joined. He caught the gasps and groans in his mouth, tongue fucking his guide as he began to move his hips in a fast, driving rhythm.

As if freed from paralysis, Tony moved into every thrust, hands coming up to Eliot’s head, holding him in place for the kiss. Their tongues slid against each other, and Eliot felt the bond sort of snap into place, fully formed and solid. He could feel his guide in the core of his being. At the same moment, there was a flash in the room and he assumed their spirit animals had made an appearance, but all he could focus on was that he finally felt complete.

He kept the steady rhythm of his hips, deep thrusts into his guide’s pliant body. The orgasm was building between them. Tony was closer than he was, but considering the connection, he knew Tony would pull him over. Feeling someone else’s orgasm building was one of the most intimate experiences he’d ever had, and it was one he wanted to repeat every day of his life.

Strong hands clutched at him and his guide’s orgasms ripped through Eliot, drawing out his own climax in deep, shuddering waves.

When the feedback loop released them, Eliot was aware his arms were trembling and he was breathing like he’d run a marathon. Tony was in no better shape. He let the long, muscled legs slip from his shoulders and got a groan in response. Planning to collapse to the side, Tony interrupted his descent, pulling him down firmly on top of the guide’s body.

“I’m too heavy,” Eliot groused even as he relished being sprawled out over his guide.

“You’re fine. Just stay for a minute,” Tony whispered in his ear, fingers combing Eliot’s hair away from his face.

He slid his hands under Tony’s shoulder blades, holding tight, enjoying the sensation of the arms around him and body underneath him. His face was pressed into the side of Tony’s neck, breathing in his scent. “Last night,” he murmured against the warm skin, “I was wishing for you with everything that I am. I wanted you here.”

“I know,” Tony whispered. “I heard you.”

– – – –

Tony woke up to find himself wrapped around his sentinel and feeling content and settled in a way he hadn’t in a long time. There was a pleasant ache in the vicinity of his ass, due in no small part to his sentinel being clearly blessed in the dick department. He shuddered and tightened his hold at the memory of Eliot’s slow press into him.

His sentinel was radiating contentment and it was still dark out. He figured they’d only slept for a couple hours. Strangely, the world felt dramatically different, and he tried to pinpoint what was changed.

“You’re grabby when you’re asleep,” Eliot remarked idly as he ran his hands up and down Tony’s back.

“Not usually. Probably trying to make sure you can’t escape,” he murmured half-jokingly, finally clueing in to why the world felt odd.

“I’m not going anywhere.” Eliot pressed his lips against Tony’s temple. “I’m feeling something weird from you. Something wrong?”

“No. I’m good. Just noticing that everything is so much quieter.”

“Meaning?”

“You just get used to a lot of ambient empathic noise, especially in big cities. But since our bond settled, everything is quiet.”

“Mm.” He traced odd patterns on Tony’s skin, making him shiver. “My senses are better than they’ve been in a long time. This bonding stuff is all right.” A hand drifted down to Tony’s ass, cupping it and pulling Tony closer. “Was yesterday the first time you’ve connected with me that way?”

“No,” Tony admitted. “It happens fairly regularly but I’d usually just get the feeling you needed something. Needed me maybe.”

“It was always you,” Eliot whispered.

“What happened last night? Why was it worse than usual?” Tony asked cautiously.

“The situation wasn’t really any worse than any other. I just…” he trailed off and Tony could feel the hesitation to admit a weakness. That’s how he interpreted what he was getting over the bond, anyway. “I was just thinking last night that going dormant might not be such a bad thing.”

Tony pressed his forehead against Eliot’s shoulder and took a deep breath, praying for calm. “I wish the connection had been stronger and I’d seen you sooner.” He knew he’d done everything he could to find his sentinel, but he couldn’t help but feel like he should have been here before now so he could have prevented some of the pain Eliot went through.

Blair had always believed Tony when he’d said that his sentinel was out there, but mystical connections were a little too much voodoo for the S&G Center or the Council. Despite the huge mystical side to the whole issue of sentinels and guides—hello, spirit animals—they preferred to try to distil as much down to science as possible.

“Hey,” Eliot rolled them so he was perched above Tony. “You found me when someone was clearly trying to stop it.” He leaned down for a quick hard kiss that turned into a long, hard kiss followed by many more kisses. Then Eliot reached for the bottle of lube and Tony forgot about whatever he had planned to say or anything that might be wrong.

– – – –

“Oh my god, this is good,” Tony said happily as he bit into the frittata Eliot had set in front of him. “I’m definitely keeping you.” Tony was no slouch in the kitchen, but watching Eliot work with knives and cook was like watching art.

Eliot laughed. “It’s just a frittata. I’ll make you something really good for dinner.”

“Challenge accepted. I’ll make lunch then.”

“You cook?”

Tony shrugged one shoulder. “Some stuff.”

They talked idly for a few minutes, comparing notes about interests. Eliot played the guitar, and Tony played the piano. Their musical tastes, however, were quite different. But Tony was pretty flexible about what he listened to.

Wearing nothing but jeans, which was distracting as hell because Tony’s sentinel was smokin’ hot, Eliot leaned back against the kitchen counter and sipped his tea. Tony was already mourning his coffee. Not many sentinels appreciated the bitterness that was coffee and Eliot was no exception. Sure Tony could keep drinking it, but he wasn’t about to put anything in his mouth that might give Eliot sensory problems. He’d noticed that Eliot was particularly inclined to ground with taste, which was interesting and extremely intimate. Most sentinels grounded themselves with touch or hearing.

“Any idea who’s behind keeping us apart?” Eliot asked.

Tony poked at his breakfast for a few seconds then took another bite. He wished they had more time on this issue. He could make time by misleading Eliot, but he wasn’t about to set that precedent. He just wished they knew each other a little better so he’d know how this was going to fall out.

“I know who it was,” Tony said carefully.

Eliot slowly put his mug down and braced both hands behind him on the counter, peering at Tony intently. “You do?”

He nodded. “Figured it out last night.”

“Who? And why?” Anger radiated from Eliot, and Tony thought about soothing it, but he didn’t want to make a habit of running roughshod over his sentinel’s emotions.

“Let me ask you a question first. How is it going to affect you the next few days? We’re nesting. Unless our lives are in danger, which they aren’t, you’re not going to be able to leave. Do you want to know now, knowing that you won’t be able to do anything about it? Or do you want to know when our nesting period is nearing its end?”

Tony was gratified that Eliot gave the question serious consideration, but he eventually replied, “I want to know.”

“All right.” He opened his mouth and had barely gotten a sound out before Eliot held up a hand.

“Wait.” Eliot was watching Tony through narrowed eyes. “You’re really gonna tell me,” he said, seeming to be surprised.

“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Huh,” Eliot grunted, crossing his arms over his chest and staring off into the distance. Finally, he met Tony’s gaze. “Tell me later.”

“You know, you hanging around without a shirt is distracting as hell,” Tony remarked casually, redirecting the conversation to more interesting topics.

Eliot’s lips twitched. “Have you noticed what you’re not wearing?”

Tony got up and rounded the island, getting up in Eliot’s space. “You distracted?” he whispered against Eliot’s lips.

“Hell yeah.” His hands went to Tony’s fly and with one strategic tug, pulled all the buttons open. “But not as distracted as you’re about to be.”

Tony found shoved back against the island as Eliot dropped to his knees. He had Tony’s cock in his mouth a bare second later. Tony found he couldn’t even think anymore.

– – – –

It was early enough that the bar was completely empty when Eliot and Tony entered. The agreement was that they’d split up here and Eliot would wait for Tony until the right time, but instead, Eliot grabbed Tony’s hand.

“I think I should come with you,” Eliot said lowly.

Tony sighed. After four days of nesting, telling Eliot the truth had been just as hard as he’d imagined, but they’d dealt with the fallout, and Eliot had even been willing to let Tony help soothe the anger.

“An hour ago, you thought this was the best plan,” Tony reminded his sentinel. “If you’ve changed your mind, just come with me. But are you going to be able to keep your temper?”

“I’m not sure I want to keep my temper,” Eliot snapped then huffed and dragged his hand through his hair. “I’ll stay. For now,” he emphasized, pointing his finger at Tony.

He knew Eliot didn’t really worry about Tony getting hurt, but their bond was new and the empty years weren’t erased so easily. Especially the four years that had been completely unnecessary.

After dropping a kiss on Eliot’s lips, he slipped into the back then up to the apartment above the bar where Ford and Devereaux lived.

The door was opened before he even knocked, and Sophie Devereaux leaned against the doorjamb, giving Tony a once-over. “Good morning, Agent DiNozzo.”

Tony inclined his head in greeting.

“It’s curious that you’d grace us with your presence today. Neither of you have returned our calls, and now an alpha sentinel has entered my territory without any advance notice.”

Brows shooting up, Tony met the eyes of the sentinel. Her emotional tone was a little bit peeved, but nothing too catastrophic. She was obviously playing a role to try to put him off his game.

“Ms. Devereaux, you are not an alpha sentinel, therefore you do not have territory. In point of fact, Boston is Eliot’s territory now as I’m sure you’re well aware.”

“No one will ever tell me my own home not my territory!” she snapped. “And I’d prefer a call first.”

There was something incredibly disingenuous about the whole discussion, but he’d play along and see where she was leading. “You sure you want to draw battle lines over Eliot entering the bar where he supposedly works, which makes it part of his intimate territory, and is within his regional territory?”

She crossed her arms and started to reply, but a voice from within the apartment called out, “Let him in, Sophie. You’re not going to be able to prevent this. He can see right through you.”

The manipulative feel dropped from her emotional landscape, and she opened the door wider, gesturing for Tony to enter. He got that she was trying to protect her guide, but she wasn’t going to misdirect Tony. He had every reason to be pissed.

He found Nathan Ford sitting on the couch, sipping what he thought was probably Scotch at ten o’clock in the morning. Well, he’d be putting a stop to that!

“Give us a minute, Sophie,” Nate ordered, not looking up.

“I’m not sure about leaving you alone with him, Nate,” she said softly as she moved closer to him.

“He’s not going to do anything to me,” Ford replied, finally meeting Tony’s gaze.

Tony just raised an eyebrow.

Devereaux finally nodded but paused by Tony and whispered, “If you do anything to hurt him…” she let the threat dangle.

“I have a feeling the harm was done long before I got here.” He knew she was just trying to cover for her guide, support the home team and all, but he wasn’t feeling in a forgiving mood. “Instead of worrying about a conversation you know needs to happen, why don’t you figure out what you’re going to say to the sentinel sitting in the bar who thought he was your friend. Figure out how to explain why he suddenly needs an invite, because you know he heard every damn word.”

Her expression didn’t change, though her cheeks colored a little as she flipped her hair and headed for the door, but he could feel that she was hurting. And he wasn’t particularly inclined to care right now. No doubt Ford had filled her in on everything and as his sentinel, she didn’t have a lot of choice about what side she was on.

As soon as the door shut, he strode over to Ford and grabbed the drink from his hand, moving away to dump it in the sink.

“So it’s going to be that kind of conversation,” Ford remarked tiredly as he leaned back against the couch.

“You know exactly what kind of conversation this is going to be. And let me just say from the outset that you can’t manipulate me. So please don’t insult me by trying.”

“Everyone can be manipulated, kid,” Ford said cynically.

“I’ll concede the truth of that statement and amend mine to: there’s no way I won’t know if you’re trying to manipulate me.” Tony snapped his guide aura wide open and watched Ford flinch back.

“Touché,” he managed, looking a little shocked.

“So tell me why you did it? Why keep us apart?”

“You’re so sure it was me?” Ford probed.

“Oh please. While I was sitting out there waiting that first night, I was getting the emotional pulse of everyone inside the building. As soon as you realized I was a guide, guilt practically poured off of you. Hardison felt it for sure, and the other two had to smell it if they were paying even a little bit of attention. Eliot would surely have noticed the stench of guilt if he hadn’t been solely focused on me.”

When Ford didn’t say anything, Tony began to wander around the space, not touching anything but just laying the situation out. “I tried to figure out why you would do something like this. What would your motivation be for harming Eliot like that?”

“It was never my intention to harm him!” Ford denied.

“Interestingly, that’s mostly true,” Tony mused. He had this form of interrogation down to a science and had been brought in to question more than one terrorist because he was so good at it. “The thing is, Mr. Ford, you’re the last person who should be judging sentinel and guide matters.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ford bit out.

Tony stopped his circuit and met Ford’s hard stare. “You lost your son and that sucks.” He ignored the anger suddenly pouring off the man. “No one can know the pain you go through every day. But you’ve used that as a justification for sticking your head in the sand about a lot of things. Not the least of which is things related to sentinels and guides. You learned what you needed to get by, to manipulate a mark, and didn’t care about anything else.”

“You don’t know anything,” Ford snapped.

Ignoring that, Tony continued, “See, the thing is, I can’t figure out if you’re clueless or you just don’t care. If you’re clueless, you figured you and Ms. Devereaux did fine without bonds for a while—longer for Ms. Deveraux than you—so Eliot should be fine without a bond, too. On the other hand, if you’re cruel, you just didn’t care what your little game was doing to Eliot.” He returned the glare. “Which was it?”

“It was never my intention to hurt Eliot,” Ford said again.

“Clueless it is,” Tony retorted, feeling the truth in Ford’s statement. “You truly thought Ms. Devereaux’s past performance as a mid-high sentinel with the full resources of Interpol’s guide services was the same situation as a budding alpha completely isolated from aid. I’ll admit, that’s a degree of cluelessness I find shocking and negligent, but I’ll take it as an answer. What was your motivation? Did you think you were helping Eliot because all the bad matches were so hard on him? No, that’s not it.”

“Stop reading me. We don’t do that to each other,” Ford ordered irritably.

Tony stopped moving and blinked in astonishment. Then he started to laugh. When he’d gotten himself under control, he replied, “That was your biggest lie yet. You’ve been reading your team since the day you met them.” He waved off Ford when the man was clearly set to respond. “So if you weren’t doing it directly for Eliot’s benefit, why were you doing it? Hmmm.”

He cocked his head to the side and focused completely on Ford. “Was it for the team or for you? Ah. A little bit of both it is then. So you lost everything, and then one day, six months after your first job, you woke up and realized that somehow something good had happened to your life. You agreed to bond with Sentinel Devereaux and did everything in your power to make sure your new little surrogate family would stay whole. Were you worried that a guide would take Eliot away or that they wouldn’t fit in with your little crew?”

Ford wasn’t saying anything, but Tony didn’t need him to.

“I’ll take ‘mostly I was worried about Eliot leaving’ for 500, Alex.” Tony watched Ford carefully for several seconds. The man was pretty miserable at the moment, but there was also some persistent stubbornness.

“How was he harmed?” Ford asked tiredly.

Tony glared. “You put him in a position of having to choose between the team and getting the guide support he needed.”

“Hardison and I helped him whenever he needed it,” Ford retorted.

Tony’s eye twitched. “That’s pure ignorance. For starters, you’re bonded. Outside of an emergency, Eliot isn’t going to accept your help, which you have to know. Second, you aren’t strong enough to empathically buffer Eliot if his senses are out of control, and Hardison sure the hell isn’t.”

“We’d have taken care of him,” Ford insisted.

“I’m not sure why you’re so determined to believe that.” He took a careful breath. “Tell me this, how much of a factor was your fear that Eliot having a guide would topple your little fiefdom?”

Ford reared back in shock and it was genuine, but there was a thread of something that resonated, even if it was a surprise to the other guide.

“You guys can’t afford to interact too much with a real pride, so you formed your little makeshift unit here with you and Devereaux as the de facto leaders. But even unbonded Eliot is a stronger sentinel than either of the other two, so you’d have to know his guide would be as well. You’d be outranked. And if Eliot were an alpha? What would that do to your little setup?”

The other guide was shaking his head in denial, but the level of worry pouring off of him told Tony that he’d struck a nerve. Ford wasn’t certain if he’d been motivated by something as base as power.

Tony sighed. He knew what he needed to know except for one thing. “How’d you do it?”

“Does it matter?” Ford asked, feeling defeated to Tony’s empathic receptors.

“Yeah, it matters. Because you didn’t hack the sentinel registry on your own, and Eliot deserves to know if Hardison was in on this.”

“He wasn’t,” Ford stated emphatically. “No one knew but me. I told Sophie the morning after you showed up. And let me tell you, she was pissed.” He sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. “Eliot was originally registered under his real name when he came online while in the Army. The plan was to hack the registry, change Eliot to dormant and create a new profile for Marcus Taylor with Eliot’s biological data.

“We were six months in, and things had gelled—we were the perfect team. Everything was going well except for Eliot’s guide problems. Nearly every week he was meeting a new highly-incompatible guide, and the process was breaking him.” Ford glanced away. “I know how Hardison works. Whenever he hacks a system, he leaves a backdoor so he can get back in quickly if needed. When Eliot decided to switch his guide search to high-compatibility only, I wondered if he’d ever even get another match…”

When Ford didn’t say anything after several moments, Tony supplied. “And suddenly that seemed like a good idea?”

He nodded, staring at his hands. “I changed his status to dormant. I thought it would just be for a while, but then everything was fine. We were doing fine,” he insisted. Then he shrugged. “It became a habit.”

“Hurting him became a habit,” Tony retorted dryly.

“That’s not what I said,” Ford bit out, glaring at Tony.

“But it’s what happened.” Tony glanced away and rubbed his hand over his face. “You’re a selfish prick, Ford. The fact that you didn’t have malicious intent means nothing as far as I’m concerned. You put your own needs above his. And you’re so used to people emotionally pandering to you that you can’t even see how far over the line you are.”

Ford inferred exactly what Tony meant and his eyes lit with rage. “You don’t know anything.”

Tony ignored him and headed for the door. “I’m done here.”

“I want to talk to Eliot,” Ford called after him.

Tony paused. “If that’s what he wants, I’m not going to get in the way. But you damn well let him come to you.” He walked out the door. He could tell from the empathic signatures that Parker and Hardison were down in the bar with Eliot and Sophie.

When he reached the main level and slipped into the bar, he saw the younger pair sitting at a table looking worried and upset. Eliot was standing with his body angled away from Devereaux, his arms crossed over his chest, not meeting her gaze. His eyes fell on Tony the minute he entered the room and his expression softened fractionally.

She was speaking softly and intently to him, even though his body language screamed ‘go away’. “We can get past this, Eliot, I know we can. I have faith in you.”

“Hey!” Tony snapped out, getting her to turn and face him. “Do not pull that bullshit on him. It’s fucking abusive.”

He noted that Parker started to stand, but Hardison put a hand on her arm and shook his head.

“Excuse me? You don’t know anything about us. I’d never hurt Eliot,” Devereaux insisted hotly.

“Telling someone you have faith that they’ll get over it when they’ve clearly been wronged is emotionally abusive, manipulative garbage. He has every damn right to be angry, and he doesn’t have to get over it.”

Devereaux looked and felt startled, like she couldn’t imagine how someone could interpret her words like that. He got it though. Seasoned undercover agents were used to being manipulative to a degree that they stopped even noticing it. Their lives depended on it to some extent.

He moved to stand next to Eliot, waiting for the cue from his sentinel. This was Eliot’s show. Eliot met his eyes, searching for something, but Tony had no agenda. This ball was truly in his court.

“I’m takin’ Tony back to Virginia. I don’t know what we’re gonna do yet, but I’ll be in touch.” He took Tony’s arm and headed for the door.

“Eliot,” Parker said, shaking off her sentinel’s hand and getting to her feet. “Please don’t leave us.”

Eliot’s jaw muscles worked, but he didn’t look back. “I need time, Parker. Nate broke us.”

“But it can be fixed, right?” she asked desperately.

He turned his head but didn’t quite glance back. “I don’t know.”

When they were in the car, Eliot braced his hands on the steering wheel and took a steadying breath. Silence reigned for several minutes, and Tony let it be. He felt the moment when everything was shut away, almost like Eliot had locked up the situation to be dealt with some other time.

Eliot finally looked at him. “Instead of Virginia, how do you feel about Spain?”

“Paella!” Tony enthused.

“You think with your stomach,” Eliot groused.

“Pot, meet kettle,” he retorted.

Eliot snorted. After a couple miles, he asked, “By the way, how the hell did you know this was my car?”

“I’m never telling.”

“Tony!”

“That raspy, grumbly, growly thing isn’t going to work on me. I just find it hot. It won’t get you an answer, but it might get you a blowjob.”

Tony was rewarded with one of his sentinel’s very rare laughs.

– – – –

The music was soft and melodic and seemed to flow easier than it had in a long time. Finally being bonded had affected Tony in more ways that he had expected, and he enjoyed time at his piano even more now. He couldn’t have imagined that was even possible.

His sentinel was standing by him, listening, and Eliot felt more at peace than he had since Tony met him. The ten days in Spain had been good for him. Good for both of them, really. Tony hadn’t taken that long off work since he’d had the plague. They hadn’t set a deadline on their vacation but after ten days, they’d been ready to go home. To Tony’s home. For now anyway.

Arms slid around his waist and warm lips pressed against his neck causing him to nearly miss a couple notes.

“Thought you wanted me to play.”

“I do,” Eliot rumbled in his ear. “Can’t help that I find it hot.”

“Oh really?” he asked as he continued to play through Eliot unbuttoning the fly of jeans. “How hot?”

His sentinel pulled away and a second later, Eliot’s t-shirt landed in his lap. He looked and found his bare-chested sentinel backing up toward the bedroom, undoing his jeans. “Really hot.”

Tony abandoned the piano and readily gave chase. Within a minute, they were naked and Tony was flat on his back as Eliot straddled him. When Eliot reached for the lube and began stroking Tony’s cock, he groaned. One of the things he’d discovered during their time in Spain was that his sentinel did not like someone on top of him. So when he was in the mood to be fucked, Eliot climbed on and took Tony for an exceptional ride. And it truly was exceptional. Watching Eliot moving like that, taking the pleasure exactly how he wanted, was completely breathtaking.

He also always managed to draw it out until Tony was ready to lose his mind.

When Eliot was finished with the lube, he positioned himself and slowly began to sink down on Tony’s cock.

Tony fought the impulse to thrust up into that delicious heat and tightness and made himself stay still and let Eliot continue the torturously slow descent.

“God, you’re such a fucking tease,” Tony complained breathlessly when his cock was finally fully seated in his sentinel’s ass.

Eliot’s sensitive fingertips stroked over Tony’s chest, slipping repeatedly over his nipples until they were pinpoints of sharp sensation. “It’s only a tease if you don’t get off in the end. And you know how I love to get you off,” Eliot rasped as he lifted himself up then sank down sharply.

Tony gasped, head arching back. “Fuck, that’s good!” His mouth was suddenly claimed and a hand fisted in the short strands of his hair. He groaned into the kiss as his hands found their way to Eliot’s ass, squeezing and pulling, encouraging the sentinel to move.

Eliot straightened up, lips swollen from their kiss, eyes glazed over a bit. He braced his hands on his own thighs and began to move. No matter what Tony did, Eliot kept the pace slow. Too slow for either of them to come. Tony was enraptured watching his gorgeous sentinel take his pleasure.

Eventually, there was a change, as if Eliot were suddenly impatient to come. He sped up his movements, leaning down to kiss Tony again. Eliot’s impatience was Tony’s cue to get his hand on Eliot’s cock. He pumped the thick, hard flesh quickly, the bond telling him exactly what Eliot wanted. Tony was arching up, meeting Eliot’s down thrusts as he continued to stroke his sentinel’s cock. He could feel that Eliot’s orgasm was cresting, and when it hit, it immediately pulled Tony over. The experience was shattering, and the feedback loop in their bond took away all sense of time as they clung to each other, riding out the waves of sensations.

When they came back to themselves, Eliot pulled off of Tony’s cock, breathing hard as he collapsed to the side. “Damn,” he murmured, obviously boneless and all fucked out.

Since Eliot had done all the work, Tony got up to get a washcloth to clean them up. When he finally climbed back in bed, Eliot was his usual after-sex grabby and got Tony positioned exactly the way he wanted him, which was pretty much wrapped around the sentinel. And Tony was completely free of any ill will over the post-coital cuddling.

After a long while, and there may have been a nap in there, Eliot pressed a kiss to Tony’s head and softly said, “I talked to Morrow earlier while you were at the store.” The comment sounded absentminded as he drew patterns on Tony’s ass with his fingertips, but Tony could feel how invested Eliot was in the conversation.

“Oh?”

“Guess he and Nate have talked a few times about the situation and how to fix it. He wanted to know if there was anything I thought could be done to get the team back together.”

Tony propped his chin on Eliot’s chest and watched him carefully. “And? Just how broken is it in your mind?”

“I don’t know.” He glanced away and swallowed heavily. “Can’t say I don’t miss the team. But not sure I can ever forgive Nate.” He finally met Tony’s eyes. “I trusted him.”

“Fractured trust is a steep obstacle,” he agreed. “What is it they say? You can mend a broken mirror, but you’ll always see the cracks?”

Eliot grunted in acknowledgment. “That why you wouldn’t go back to NCIS when Gibbs asked after they put that spy in jail?”

Tony considered that for a few seconds. “While Gibbs allowing her on the team felt like a betrayal of Kate’s memory, ultimately I didn’t go back because I’d outgrown the box I had been in. I didn’t see a reason to go through the trials of forgiveness for something that didn’t even fit anymore.”

“But you wound up forgiving him anyway,” Eliot observed.

“Yeah. There’s nothing I can say to Gibbs or do to Gibbs that he isn’t already doing to himself. The truth about Shepard and Ziva David was worse than anything I could have devised. But forgiving someone I see maybe every four months isn’t the same as working with someone who betrayed me. And even if it was, you can’t compare our situations and benchmark what you should do by what I might do.”

Eliot’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

“Because comparative pain is bullshit. You are allowed to have your experience and handle it the way you want without the expectation of what someone else might do. There’s no methodology for figuring out how bad it was and deciding if you’re overreacting or not. As long as you’re not being manipulated into something, only you can decide if you want to put the energy into putting the mirror back together and deal with seeing those cracks for the rest of your life.”

“So if I wanted to get over it and go back, you’d be okay?” he asked carefully. “And if I decided to hold a grudge till my dying breath, that’d be fine?”

“Well, I don’t want you eaten up by resentment. That’s a shitty way to live. But go or stay is up to you. Though there is a third option.”

“And that is?”

“Don’t get over it and still go back. Make him work for it. You don’t have to be a beacon of forgiveness to have your team back. Nathan Ford can deal with you being pissed off for a while. And it might not be bad for the others to see you two working it out.”

Eliot’s lips twitched. “I could handle holding a grudge for a while.”

“I’m pretty sure you could hold a grudge for eternity if you so desired.”

“I admit it’s a little harder with you around.”

“Oh?”

Eliot twisted so Tony was on his back and he was braced on his arms above him. “Hard to be angry when someone makes you so happy.” Before Tony could reply, Eliot’s mouth claimed his and he forgot anything he might have planned to say.

– – – –

Tony was a good cook but Eliot was exceptional. About the only thing Tony did better was make pasta, and since Eliot wanted carbonara for the dinner they were making tonight for Penelope, Tony was in the kitchen getting ready to make bucatini—which was Eliot’s preferred pasta for that dish rather than the conventional spaghetti.

Eliot sat at the island watching him, something clearly on his mind. Tony’s patience was finally rewarded when Eliot said, “Morrow had a couple offers when I talked to him earlier.”

“I guess we got distracted by sex round two before you could get there,” he said with a grin.

“Don’t smile at me like that,” Elliot said pointing at Tony, “or we’ll be getting distracted with sex again.”

“That’s a lousy threat. You’re going to have to try harder.”

With a snort, Eliot resumed leaning on his elbows. “I think Morrow wants you in this unit pretty damn bad because he offered us a different team.” DHS did want Tony, but he thought Eliot was downplaying just how badly the DHS wanted to keep him from leaving. “Thing is, the new unit would include Parker and Hardison.”

“Oh?” Tony asked casually, seemingly focused on mixing the eggs into the flour.

“Hardison called Morrow directly and told him that if I left and went to another group, they’d want to join me.” Eliot’s surprise, pleasure, and unease about that came through loud and clear.

“What bothers you about that?”

Eliot was quiet for about a minute before saying, “Feels like I’m takin’ everything from Nate if I do that.” And how much Eliot still cared about Nathan Ford was loud and clear in that sentence.

Tony pointed a fork covered with drippy egg at Eliot. “I could give you a lot of platitudes about inappropriate guilt, or how you’re not responsible for their choices, or how Ford brought this on himself.”

“But?” Eliot prompted.

“But nothing. The guilt is inappropriate, you’re not responsible for their choices, and Ford brought this shit on himself.”

“You asshole,” Eliot huffed but his eyes were crinkled in amusement. “You said you could say that… so say something else.”

“Take Nate and Sophie, and Hardison and Parker out of the equation. What do you want to do, Eliot? Not just about this team, but with your life?”

Our life, Tony,” he stressed. “And that’s making it harder because it ain’t just my choice, but you won’t tell me what you want.”

“I told you I’d back your play.”

“And what if I want to back yours?” Eliot challenged.

“No.” Tony’s hands were full of dough so he couldn’t even give any emphasis. “I’m not the one who was betrayed. I’m not making this decision. I have veto rights, but that’s it.”

Eliot’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe you weren’t betrayed by Nate, but you were harmed by him. And we never seem to talk about that part of it.”

Tony froze for a second, letting that sink in. “Well, hell.” He blew out a breath. “I guess I won’t know how I feel about working for Ford until you make the choice. It’s too hard to say in the abstract. The thing is, it’s going to be easier for you to get over being angry than it will be for me, and that’s something we have to factor in.”

“How do you figure?”

“He’s a guide. Whether we like it or not, sentinels have a hard time staying angry with guides in the normal course of things. I am not so encumbered.”

Eliot looked like he was thinking that through. “You worried it might cause tension between you and me if I wasn’t so mad and you still were?”

“No. You’ll always choose me. I’m more worried about the opposite. That I’ll keep you riled up when you would have gotten past it if left to your own devices.”

“Sounds like a crap shoot and we won’t know unless we go back.”

Tony began kneading his pasta as he considered that. “You closer to making a decision, then?”

“Morrow had one other suggestion. Apparently, it came from Nate.”

Not even sure he wanted to hear this, Tony focused on kneading for several seconds. “All right. Hit me with it.”

“You take over the team.”

Tony froze, blinking at the counter before he lifted his gaze to meet Eliot’s. “What?”

“Nate would continue to plan the ops, but you’d take command of the team.” Eliot was trying not to give anything away, but Tony could tell this is what his sentinel wanted.

He kneaded a few more times before saying, “I need to think about it.”

– – – –

Eliot was making a show of listening to the mission brief but mostly he was watching Tony. No one else knew his guide the way Eliot did, so they couldn’t see that Tony was taking everything in but fundamentally disagreed with something that was being said.

This would be their third mission under the new organization of the team. Everyone was still adjusting, but it seemed like it would work. The first two missions were a cakewalk, but this mission to steal some plans from the Russian mob had a lot more depth and a lot more danger.

When they’d first come back to Boston, Eliot wasn’t even sure they’d make it past the first day. He’d needed to talk to Nate and clear the air then see how it went.

Talking hadn’t exactly happened, but there sure had been a lot of yelling. Mostly on Eliot’s side. Afterward, he’d needed two more days to calm down before deciding that he was actually ready to try.

The FBI wasn’t giving up on getting Tony back and bringing Eliot along for the ride. Morrow had managed to negotiate a détente by agreeing to let Tony and Eliot consult on special interrogations. Because apparently Tony was one of their better interrogators and they were peeved about losing him.

As Nate had suggested, Tony had taken command of the team. Tony was subtle about making sure people knew he was the boss. He didn’t beat them over the head with it, but he didn’t let shit slide either. Some of Nate and Sophie’s wilder plans got the eyebrow of doom from Tony, which Eliot had a really hard time not being excessively amused over.

Tony made a little noise in the back of his throat that had Eliot paying close attention. It meant a disagreement was coming. Eliot got up and grabbed a plate, setting it in front of Tony.

His guide shot him a quizzical look at the arrival of the pastry but smoothly said to Nate, “Your plan hinges on Sophie’s ability to appeal to Dimitri’s narcissism, but the mark isn’t a narcissist.”

“What?” Sophie exclaimed. “Are we reading the same bio? He has all the earmarks of a narcissist.”

“I’m not saying he doesn’t have narcissistic features, but you’re seeing narcissist because it works for your plan.”

“And what is it that you see?” Sophie challenged, but she looked thoughtful.

“I see borderline personality disorder, and this con isn’t going to fly. In this guy, I see extreme reactions, unpredictable anger, and, unfortunately, extreme boredom. The con is too risky because it’s more likely to appeal to his boredom than his narcissism.”

Eliot fought back a smile as Tony, Nate, and Sophie got into it, arguing about human psychology at a level that not only did he not understand, but he didn’t want to understand. Parker and Hardison were kicked back, watching with amusement, too.

When Nate and Sophie broke away to work on a new plan, Tony leaned into Eliot. “And what did I do to deserve this?” he asked of the chocolate on chocolate monstrosity Eliot had left for him.

Eliot mock-scowled at his guide. “Just eat your damn cupcake.”

“I love you, too,” Tony said whisper soft, and Eliot felt it down to his bones.

Some days he still wasn’t sure they could mend the fractures in the team, but days like today he saw something new. Something that could work better than what they had before.

The End

– – – –

Acronyms:

BAU – Behavioral Analysis Unit
DHS – Department of Homeland Security
FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigations
FR – Facial Recognition

Fictional Acronyms

S&G – Sentinel & Guide
SGC – Sentinel and Guide Center

Tony DiNozzo
Guide

Eliot Spencer
Sentinel

Nate Ford
Guide

Sophie Devereaux
Sentinel

Alec Hardison
Guide

Parker
Sentinel

46 comments

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  1. JadedMara17

    *flailz* aaaaaaaaaand there’s more!!! its like its my birthday or something!!! I always feel so repetitive when i review your work but i just adore it so much. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your passion with everyone!!!

  2. A_Boleyn

    Amazing story even on a reread. Elliot’s very forgiving to come back to Nate/Sophie and the team.

  3. ladyholder

    That is still a level of awesome that can’t be fully expressed

    Thank you,
    ~L

  4. savayblog

    Wow! Another posting! How great is that? Thanks for writing it and expanding my slash horizons. I’d really never pictured the two of them as a possible ‘thing’ till there was you. Color me surprised.

  5. Linda Millman

    Just saw that you had posted a new story and I couldn’t wait to read it. I loved it and am looking forward to rereading it after I get some sleep. I love the friendship Tony has with Penelope. I always love stories where Tony and Penelope become friends. Because she knows what it means to be a real friend, unlike certain people we could name. I found it funny how Tony was able to forgive Gibbs, as long it was about four months between seeing each other instead of everyday and no longer working together. So looking forward to reading what you post next. Love your stories and your writing

  6. rigger42

    There is something really satisfying about Tony schooling Nate Ford….

  7. Deirdre

    I loved this on Rough Trade, and enjoyed it even more this time round. No matter the plot or twist of the story, you always do a fantastic job of writing Tony. And, although I’m not a fan of Leverage and have only seen a few episodes, Eliot and the others are really in character from what I know of the show. It seems to me that they would behave in exactly this way in this situation, especially Nathan. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. bobdog54

    I am triply appreciative of this posting because of the busy day you have had just in this arena let alone any kind of real life!

    Thank you for theextra pieces for this story that I already enjoyed immensely. Nothing says love like a double chocolate cupcake! (I read a story of Kayla Shay’s tonight where she describes Sam of NCIS-LA as a “real special cupcake”, this is like an Easter egg or something.

    Liked this story before, like it even more now.

    thank you

  9. Vicki Thomas

    I love all your stories and I am going to miss you on the other site…but what makes your life happier and more comfortable is what matters most…

  10. Mary

    Loved again even in reread. Keep up the awesome work.

  11. graybastian

    Wonderful as always! But lets get down to brass tacks… Tony/Elliot… *fans self* Yowza! If I wasn’t already a faithful minion, I would be now. Thank you for sharing with us, Jilly!

  12. josgotglock

    Great story! I don’t know a whole lot about Leverage or Eliot Spencer, but you made it a great story just by adding a totally competent Tony DiNozzo!! Loved how smart and great he was in this and after I googled a image of Eliot all I can say is my thoughts had no problem imagining them together! Yum! Sorry to read about the issues with A03 this week. I’ll never understand reviewers who don’t appreciate the writer and just focus on why they’re unhappy. Go you! 🙂

  13. pfyre

    I love a competent DiNozzo. Thank you for this. I love the chemistry between Tony and Elliott.

  14. terrydeb

    I love love love this 🙂
    Tony/Eliot = Yummmm
    Thank you for sharing x

  15. Anita Yancey

    Awesome. Enjoyed.

  16. Twisted Sister

    As always you write the best Tony!

  17. Lee

    Tony DiNozzo and Eliot Spencer.

    Two of my favorites.

  18. tahoeturquoise

    You write stories about pairings that would never ever occur to me, and they are WONDERFUL! I just keep enjoying the way you challenge/expand my imagination. Thank you so much!

  19. flowerpotgirl

    Not seen Leverage but your skilled writing gave enough background for it to make sense without labouring the point. I love the sideswipes at Ziva etc.

  20. Eden

    Loved this, this time round as well, thanks for the great read!

  21. chanelblanc

    Gaah!!… I love it! OMG I need more Tony/Elliot in my life. This was amazing and wonderful. I love how Elliot, Hardison and Parker just sit back to watch the show… You combined two of my absokute favorite shows! And I love that they’re really part of DHS. *sigh* SO good! Thanks for sharing!!

  22. Janet

    Awesome Tony. Awesome Elliot. Wonderful Penelope. Your stories are all always wonderful and awesome. Thanks for sharing your writing.
    I enjoy Tony/Penelope friendship. Good to see someone really curb Nate’s excesses.

  23. AlisonK

    Thank you for posting this! I remember really enjoying it on RT and nothing has changed in that respect. I haven’t watched any Leverage for a while, but always liked it and your handling of the characters is, as always, extremely deft.

    I also very much appreciate what you have written for the characters on the question of forgiveness and emotional manipulation. I know all this stuff in my head but on the (thankfully rare) occasions when it has affected me personally I can struggle to articulate what it is I want to say about the right to have your own feelings, regardless of what others might think. You have put it all beautifully!

    Thanks again.

  24. sarimdragon3

    Hmm never thought I would like the pairing as much as I do now but the way u write just has a way of pulling u in and not letting you go until the end. ^_^ I can’t wait to read ur next pairing ^_^

  25. Cynthia Coe

    Charming! I loved Tony and Penelope’s interaction early on. And Tony/Eliot is just such a pretty picture, I was smiling all the way through. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  26. tidaof2

    Thank you for sharing this, loved it on rough trade, so glad to find it today.
    Your Tony are amazing.
    (Sorry for bad English)

  27. Lotr195

    I have never watched leverage, but your story makes me want to.
    Awesome story!

  28. sofie

    Thanks for sharing again, I enjoyed it very much.

  29. Kevin Jones

    LOL! Making Tony the new leader of the team was the best solution for everyone.

  30. angelcat70

    Hehe…Love your Tony – he truly is the littleblack dress of any fandom! Excellent story!

  31. anyamclerie

    Oh, goodness, I need to stop, but I’m hooked, in love, and completely addicted to this terrific story, Jilly. Fourth time reading, and really, I should be making dinner, but I’ve decided the family can totally order in whatever junk food they want, just so I can read again. For the record, I’ve never watched Leverage, but I love how you write Tony. No matter the storyline, universe, or reason, you just breathe beautiful life into the character!

  32. Sdani

    I’ve really enjoyed this story, these two would be quite interesting together! I love both of these shows and have never considered this pair. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Meggplant

    It’s my birthday today, and I got a story!!!!! *laughs* Well, if feels like I did. Thank you so much for this great gift, it was lovely to read! xx

    1. Jilly James

      Well, Happy Birthday! 🙂

  34. Alexi Cyn

    Thank you. Thank you for writing brilliant things I can get myself lost in so easily. This was a fun and hot read, and even though I don’t know the other characters, Google is my friend! 😀 And Oh YEAH!!! They would be hot like fire together!!! Thank you for giving me more lovely mind candy! 😀

  35. AmyCat

    *purrr* Another story! Only problem I foresee in this ‘Verse is, with BOTH Eliot and Tony cooking for ’em, everyone on the team is gonna end up gaining 20lbs.! 😸

    Seriously, though, I think Tony’s a PERFECT team leader, and the best one possible to keep Nate in line… and Nate REALLY needs someone to keep him in line! He can be a selfish, manipulative little shit, but Tony won’t stand for him doing that.

    I hope I’ve got things properly set up now to get notifications from here when you post new stuff, the way I had for AO3… As usual, I look forward to whatever comes next!

  36. BlackSonia

    Wow!!! First “If found, please return”, then “Di novo” and now this?!!! You are spoiling us 😉 Thank you many times specialy since you had to put up with all those crazy nut jobs posting unpleasant thinks to you when they should be greatfull!

  37. christella

    Wonderful story, love sentinel stories, really is the LBD of fiction. Again, another unusual pairing which works and is exceptionally HOT !!
    Thank you, reading your fiction gives me great pleasure.

  38. chrisking2005

    Still love this…. thank you so much.

  39. margueriteo

    This was awesome. Tony is the perfect LBD – he pairs nicely with almost anyone. This story had great characters, a little intrigue, and was very sexy and steamy, to boot. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Kelly

    Cute ending.

  41. Abdel Zuniga

    Wow! This was a really hot pairing. I liked that Tony was decisive in his reactions and had a good sense of self to not be pulled by the circumstances. No matter with who you are pairing Tony you always make it work. I look really forward to seeing another of your fantastic stories. Thank you for sharing this with us. 😍

  42. Rhianona

    Really like this. Love that Eliot and Tony were a team in making their decision whether to stay with the team or not. And I love that the Leverage team is actually an intelligence team. Awesome fic.

  43. volitina

    Leverage is such an underrated fandom, and this was a fantastic use of it. Love the crossover pairing. I’d never thought of Elliot and Tony before, but I sure will now!

  44. Victoria Gillilan

    I loved this! Wouldn’t mind seeing more of this pairing or more of this storyline. Leverage…mainly Eliot (my favorite character) doesn’t get enough credit! You did great!

  45. MonkeyMel

    Very good story.

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