Title: A Lion’s Roar
Fandom: NCIS, Numbers, SGA
Pairings: Tony/Ian, Jack/Daniel
Challenge: July 2020, Year of the Sentinel
Warnings: Canon Typical Bullshit
Word Count: 16,860
Summary: Tony had been shanghaied (did people get shanghaied now?) into becoming a Fed. It wasn’t bad, but he honestly felt like there should be something else he should be doing. But he soldiered on through FLETC, making sure that he left his mark on the place. New place, new job, new expectations and he had a broken give a fuck. Then everything went to shit when the prettiest man he’d ever seen was brought in to teach them sniping.
A/N: I couldn’t pull 20K out of this without some padding that I’ll pass on so I missed the goal on this one. Oh, well. It’s finished!
Tony was too busy typing to pay attention to the asshole he’d had to work the case with. Gibbs had skated far too close to the edge for him to be comfortable and he was making that utterly obvious in his report. There was no way he wanted to work with the cowboy again.
When a sheaf of paper hit his desk, he looked up to see Gibbs standing in front of him, looking smug. “Is that your report?”
“Nope. It’s your transfer packet. Already filled out and approved by your Captain,” Gibbs informed him. He started rocking back and forth on his feet and Tony could feel how smug he was. “You don’t have to thank me.”
“I’m not going to thank you,” Tony informed him with a low growl. He eyed the sheaf before he pushed it into his trash can. “I need your report. You have an hour to get it together before I’m checking out for the night. I suggest you find a desk and start typing.”
“Got you for that,” Gibbs said. He waved at the transfer packet. “Signed, sealed, and delivered.”
The look Tony gave him was very flat. “Given that I didn’t agree to that, I don’t see how you did.”
“Your Captain thought it was a good idea,” Gibbs said.
“Uh-huh. Start work on your report,” Tony directed as he saved his work. He got up and headed towards his Captain’s office. He had questions.
Opening the door, he stared at Frank. “What the fuck?”
Frank stared up at him before he leaned back in his chair. “I take it Gibbs has informed you that you’re going to become a Fed?”
“With gusto,” Tony snapped. “Answer the question.”
“The Mob is sniffing around you again, kid. You can’t stay here,” Frank said. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Disappearing into to masses of Feds is a good way to hide.”
“I have a deal with them,” Tony protested. “I was told they would be leaving me alone as long as I stayed out of their town and I have. The Don confirmed that when he went to jail. I’ve heard nothing about that changing.”
“You’ve done your part just fine, kid. You aren’t the issue,” Frank confirmed. “But one of the Don’s enemies has been nosing around and we can’t take the chance. For all the fact that Gibbs is an ass, I’ve never heard anything saying that he was less than honorable.”
“You expect me to be able to disappear from the Mob in a federal agency?” Tony asked. He needed confirmation that the insanity he was hearing was correct.
“Yeah,” Frank said with a nod.
“I’m going to kill that bastard in a week,” Tony warned as he ran his hands through his hair.
“Hell, kid. Just make sure that you’re officially a Fed first,” Frank advised. “I’m going to need you to do a handover of your cases though.”
“Cap, this was my only open case,” Tony admitted. “But that other item you wanted me to investigate has come up trumps.”
“I was really hoping that there was nothing there,” Frank groaned. “Get me the information and I’ll deal with it.”
“Do not let IA sweep this under the carpet,” Tony warned. “I’ve not gone any further than investigating, but I will not hesitate to file charges through the Center if they ignore things.”
“Got it,” Frank said with a nod. “Get me your information, your reports from your case, and get moving. Don’t kill Gibbs.”
“I make no promises,” Tony called on his way out. He stared at Gibbs as the older man pecked out his report at the desk the department was letting him use. “So. It looks like I’m going because I need to. I’m not working with you until I have the training to be a Fed.”
Gibbs looked up and raised an eyebrow. “I can train you.”
“There is no way in hell,” Tony told him with something that could maybe be called a smile. “I know better.”
“Fine. We’ll get you into FLETC and let you learn what you want. I’ll talk to my director to see about getting you assigned to me as my second.”
“You wish,” Tony muttered. “If I’m going to work with you, I’ll be your partner. There is no way on God’s green earth you’re going to be my boss.”
“Okay class,” their instructor called. He clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. “As you all know, your next class will be firearms. For those of you who are prior service, we’ll run you through an evaluation course to confirm your skill levels. For anyone who needs it, we’ll do classes.”
Tony raised a hand and stared at the instructor, attempting to judge his sincerity. “And for those of us who are still current in all of our qualifications?”
“DiNozzo, you still need to run the evals. Once we’ve got the official paperwork done, we’ll start finding the areas you need to fill in,” their instructor said.
“I look forward to the training, sir,” Tony said as he settled back in his chair.
“Okay, we’re going to hand back the last quiz, and then it’s off to the range. We have guest teachers for this phase. Each of our guest instructors are fully accredited federal agents or active-duty soldiers, and all of them come from different agencies and units. You will have a chance to discuss agencies with each instructor, but only after class is over for the day,” the instructor informed them.
“Sir,” one of his classmates waved a hand to attract attention. Tony glanced over and confirmed that it was Sacks. “Can we get a list of the types of shooting we’ll be learning?”
“Last I knew, Sacks, that information was listed in the syllabus,” Tony drawled. Sacks made him itch with his self-righteous attitude. He could also feel the edges of irritation every time someone proved Sacks wrong. So being the obliging sort, he did his best to provide the correct answers when Sacks needed correcting. It was a fun hobby.
“Even FLETC can change things, DiNozzo,” Sacks sneered.
“Sure, they can,” Tony agreed. “But the last change we had to our course schedule was announced in advance with paperwork handed out during class. This unit has remained unchanged on the schedule since the beginning.”
Sacks stared at him for several seconds before he turned to look at their instructor. “Sir?”
“Read your syllabus, Sacks,” their instructor called.
Tony suppressed a smile and flipped his notebook open to the first page. He’d printed off a copy of the syllabus off when he’d been sent it and had been following it ever since. His whole book was organized off it. He was going to work smarter, not harder.
“Suck up,” Sacks bitched as he flipped through the masses of paper he used to try and keep himself organized.
“Uh-huh,” Tony hummed as he tapped the names listed under the new unit as guest instructors. He raised his hand and waited until their instructor nodded at him. “Given that our guest instructors are current agents and soldiers, do we know if the names listed will be available?”
“So far, no one has caught a hot case, DiNozzo, but we do have substitutes,” he was told.
“Good to know,” Tony muttered. He pulled out a set of post-its and started jotting down names. He had some research to do when he got home.
Tony pulled his personal ear protection out of his shooting bag and offered them to the range master. He had a personal set because his hearing was too damn important to him to use the sets provided by his employers. While he wasn’t a sentinel, his hearing was above the human standard and he wanted to keep it that way.
“Looks good, DiNozzo. Do you need an inner ear set as well?” the Rangemaster asked.
“No, I’ve got my own,” Tony said. He held that set out as well. At her nod, he quickly slid them in and moved his jaw slightly, settling them into place. He could still hear conversations, but gunshots would be muffled. Hearing protection in place, he slid his safety glasses on to protect his vision.
“Why do you have your own gear?” Sacks asked as he opened a pack of the cheap orange earplugs the range supplied everyone who didn’t bring their own.
“Because I want to be able to hear without assistance when I retire,” Tony informed him.
“Smart choice, DiNozzo,” their instructor called.
There was a new flash of irritation from Sacks. “Why do you always have to show me up?”
“Sacks, I honestly could care less about you and your persecution complex,” Tony muttered as he waited for authorization to enter the range. “Stop being a whiney ass and pay attention.”
“Humph,” Sacks grunted before he shouldered his way past Tony to get ahead of him in line.
Tony rolled his eyes and let the man past. He wasn’t nearly as in need of validation as Sacks obviously was. When the range opened, he went to a lane and waited. When a range master stepped up to him and handed him a medium-sized hard case, he set it down on the shelf in front of him.
“Okay, start reviewing your kit,” the Rangemaster told him after he heard a loud tone come over the loudspeaker.
Permission given; Tony opened the case. He had at least three guns in the case, but they were all in pieces. He gave the range master a speaking glance over his shoulder. “You all are less funny than you think.”
“We’re hilarious, Guide DiNozzo,” the Rangemaster said with a smile. She waved a hand at the case. “Best get to assembling.”
“Do you do this to everyone that comes in with experience?” Tony grumbled as he started putting his guns for the day together. He glanced over at the Rangemaster and read her name on her uniform breast pocket. “Agent Beale?”
Beale gave him a sweet smile and said nothing. Tony could feel her amusement with him and he sighed as he let that question go. “What gave me away?”
“Why did I call you ‘Guide’ when you aren’t wearing your pin?” Beale asked. At his nod, she smiled. “You aren’t the only Guide in the area.”
Tony cocked an eye at her and nodded. She wasn’t a guide, but obviously, someone in the area was. “Okay then. As long as whoever it is, doesn’t have an issue with me flying under the radar?”
“Nope, you fly as you please. Just shoot as well as you can,” Beale directed.
“Thank you, Agent,” Tony said as he finished putting the second gun together. He picked up the parts for the third and smiled. He had a nine mil, a .45, and a .357. “My wrists are going to be getting a workout today.”
“They will indeed,” Beale confirmed with a smile. “We’ll drop ammunition off for each gun, and more as needed. You’ll shoot the mags through, with the targets provided. Each target will have the shooting directions listed on them. Read them, understand them, and follow them. If you miss or deviate from the listed directions, you’ll have points taken off your score. When you are given the ammunition, you’re to keep your mags on the table until you hear the tone, and then you’ll load and shoot. You can reload from your mags until you complete your designated target run. If that means you have ammunition left in the mag, pull it, pull the slide and set the gun down.”
Tony nodded and finished with the third gun. He carefully checked the box and confirmed that there were no excess parts before he set it on the floor. Tony stood aside and let Beale inspect his guns. She nodded once. “You’re good.”
“Thank you, Agent,” Tony said again as he leaned against the wall. Crossing his legs at his ankles, he settled in to wait. No one would come up behind him from the shooting range, and that left the lane side. Beale nodded once before she walked off. Tony could hear her start to talk to his neighbor. Tilting his head, he smiled. She was repeating what she’d done with him.
It took several minutes before another Rangemaster came by with his targets. Tony hung the first from the clips and studied the directions. His directions informed him that he needed to shoot a single bullet in the chest, left shoulder, head, right shoulder, and then gut with the 9mil at fifteen yards. Five bullets with a gun that normally shot fourteen.
While he was waiting on everyone else to get finished, he checked the rest of the pages. The targets were all the same, but the order for the shots changed with each page, along with the gun to be used. Tony placed the targets to the side and studied the one hanging. He would be able to see the target without issue, but better to be safe than sorry.
When Beale came by again, she handed him three magazines for each gun. Every single one was full. Tony took the ammunition with a smile and set everything up. As soon as he was satisfied everything was in place, he pushed the target out. As soon as he reached the desired distance, he stopped and let his hands fall. It took several minutes before everyone’s targets reached their designated distances. As soon as the last one swung into place, the tone sounded over the loudspeaker.
Tony’s hands moved without pause and he slapped the magazine for the 9mil into place and carefully took aim. He had trained himself to do a double-tap each time he had to pull the trigger, so it took concentration, but he fired one bullet each in the chest, left shoulder, head, right shoulder, and then gut of the target.
Test complete, he released the magazine and checked the slide for the gun, catching the last bullet as it came out. Tony laid the used magazine to the side with the last bullet before he pulled the target back to him and hung up the new one.
The next target was supposed to be further out. Tony sent it downrange and started waiting again. Patience was a virtue, and in this, he was going to be virtuous.
Tony waited patiently for the Rangemaster to drop off his case of firearms.
Firearm training had been going on for a month. He’d managed to continue to impress the Rangemasters with his progress each time they were allowed to shoot. He wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.
“Got your case!” Beale chirped as she dropped of his guns for the day.
“Do I want to know what you and your coworkers have in mind for me today?” Tony asked. He was vaguely amused at how much anticipation she was projecting. Whatever the Rangemasters had planned for the day, Beale was enjoying it.
Beale gave him a sunny smile. “We’re going old school.”
“Oh, fuck me,” Tony eyed the case with trepidation. “How old school are we talking about?”
“Do you feel lucky?” Beale asked as she walked pushed her cart to the next lane.
“Oh, my god,” Tony breathed. He recognized the quote. How could he not? Flipping open the lid of the case, he took in his guns for the day. All three were revolvers, but none of them were the one Dirty Harry had carried, but what he had was almost as bad. His first gun was a .38 snub-nosed revolver, the second was a .357 M&P with a 4” barrel and the final was a Colt Peacemaker.
Staring at the guns, he shook his head. What in the hell had he gotten into?
When Beale came back with his ammunition, he gave her a very speaking glance. “Given your quote, I was expecting a Smith & Wesson .44-cal revolver. I’m not sorry that I didn’t get one.”
“Eh. We do have one on-site, but the agent in charge wouldn’t let us do that,” Beale said as she handed him several boxes of ammunition. “We didn’t include any speed loaders though.”
“So what? You’re testing my ability to roll with the weird?” Tony asked as he accepted his ammunition and targets.
“Well, yes,” Beale confirmed. “And honestly, you never know if your agency will give you a modern gun or if they’ll stick you with a revolver.”
“I’m slated for NCIS,” Tony reminded her. “And the agent I who shanghaied me was using a standard 9mil.”
“While that may be the case, not everyone is that lucky,” Beale said with a shrug. “So, we’re going to test until you can’t shoot anymore.”
“Are you doing this to everyone?” Tony asked as he set everything down on the shelf.
“Your classmates will get to this point in a few weeks,” Beale informed him. “I expect that the bitching and moaning from some quarters will be epic.”
“I’m sorry in advance,” Tony said. He tilted his head towards the next lane. “Better get moving before there’s some griping.”
“Right,” Beale started to push her cart off with a smile. “Have fun!”
“Uh-huh,” Tony muttered as he turned back to the shelf and started prepping for his afternoon shooting. The first target was hung up and he studied his shoot order. Five shots, and six bullets. Well, he was in for a good afternoon.
“So, we’re going to go over our progress so far,” their instructor called as everyone settled into their desks.
“Sir,” Sacks raised a hand for attention. When the instructor nodded at him, he pressed on. “Will there be anything beyond the basic training for those of us doing well with the shooting?”
“Depending on your scores, additional training will be offered, Mr. Sacks. We’ll be going over scores with everyone,” the instructor explained.
“Yes, sir,” Sacks said, sitting back in his chair.
Tony kept an eye on the class as he organized the hardcopy prints of the pictures he’d taken on the range. It wasn’t always easy for him to bring home his targets when he went shooting, so he’d gotten into the habit of adding a camera to his shooting bag. That habit had allowed him to take pictures of all of his targets from the class. Add in one good quality printer at home and he had a good record of what he had been doing.
“Mr. DiNozzo,” the instructor called.
“Yes, sir,” Tony called. When he was waved forward, he closed up his notebook and headed over to get his progress report.
“You’re being listed as a crack shot,” the Rangemaster, Robinson, said when Tony had settled into his chair. “So far, you’ve passed on everything my people have thrown at you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Tony said. He let his hands rest on his notebook, trying to look relaxed. “It’s been interesting.”
“Be glad that I vetoed the flintlocks,” Robinson said with a smile.
“I would have flunked that one,” Tony admitted. “I understand the theory of them and have seen them fired, but I’ve never personally shot one.”
Robinson smiled at that. “Well, if you want, we can fix that. At any rate, we’ll be moving you out of this class and on to the sniper group. You’ll need to report in the morning to class. You’ll have time in there, learning the trade before you get on the range to shoot.”
“Sir, what will we be shooting?” Tony asked as he opened his notebook for a new page. Clicking his pen, he prepared to take notes.
“You’ll be learning a Barret .50-cal, and the M40,” Robinson informed him. “You’ll be learning with and without a spotter, plus windage, distance estimation, and long-distance shooting.”
Tony wrote everything down and nodded. “Sounds good. I’m looking forward to learning. May I ask who our instructor will be?”
Robinson hummed softly as he gazed at Tony. It took a moment, but Tony realized that he’d gotten no emotional impression of the man before then. Inspecting what he could see of the Rangemaster, Tony found the S&G badge embroidered black on black on his collar.
Relaxing his own shields, he allowed his welcome and acceptance of his fellow guide to color his emotional landscape. Robinson tilted his head in acknowledgment.
“Still want to know who’ll be teaching you?” Robinson asked.
“Yes, sir,” Tony confirmed.
“Agent Ian Edgerton. He’s currently number 3 in the world for snipers,” Robinson informed him. “He’s currently an active FBI agent that does Fugitive Retrieval. He’s also a Sentinel. There may be an additional instructor, but his team is in the field as of the update I had this morning, but Edgerton is certain. Will you be able to work with him?”
Tony took a deep breath. “I think so.”
Tony had his shooting bag in hand when Sack sidled up to him. “What do you want, Sacks?”
“Why are you doing something different?” Sacks asked. He sounded suspicious of something.
The urge to roll his eyes was strong and Tony barely suppressed the need. “Why do you care?”
“You’re nothing special, DiNozzo. Why are you trying to be different?” Sacks pressed.
“Pay attention to your own standings, Sacks. What I’m doing doesn’t concern you,” Tony reminded him.
Sacks looked like he was trying to “It does if it reflects badly on our class. You skiving off to do something that the rest of us aren’t allowed to do looks bad.”
“Last I knew, Sacks, you were a student, just like me,” Tony observed quietly. He raised an eyebrow at their instructor as he came to stand behind Sacks. “And not one of our instructors. Your opinion is unneeded.”
“I’m just concerned,” Sacks insisted.
“I’m glad to know that you’re so concerned for your fellow students,” their instructor announced. Tony suppressed his amusement at how the older man had caught Sacks out. He was deeply tired of Sacks’ passive-aggressive interest in his performance. “DiNozzo is correct, you need to concentrate on your own standing in the class, instead of trying to police anyone else’s. Don’t you need to get to the range?”
“Yes, Agent Harding,” Sacks muttered. He sounded sulky to Tony’s ear as he headed off.
“How long has he been doing that?” Harding asked as he walked with Tony as he headed for his car.
“Sir?” Tony asked. He was uncomfortable making any sort of complaint about a fellow student.
“Don’t give me that,” Harding admonished. “If he’s causing problems here, he could potentially cause problems on the job. We need to know that our recruits are able to work with everyone and do their jobs without rubbing everyone else raw or being inappropriately nosey.”
“You haven’t said anything about my habit of knowing what’s going on with everyone around me,” Tony observed.
“Are you planning on using your knowledge to force your coworkers to conform to some standard of behavior? Or are you just paying attention to what everyone is announcing?” Harding asked.
“I pay attention to everyone around me, but the only reason I’d use what I know is if it’s relevant to a work situation,” Tony said after several seconds thought. He wasn’t actually sure if his need to know everything about everyone around him was a part of his basic personality or him being a guide.
“Fair,” Harding allowed.
“How obvious have I been?” Tony asked carefully.
Harding shaded a glance at him and then smiled. “You’re no more obvious than any other born investigator. Especially ones who come in here with previous training.”
“Good to know,” Tony said with a sigh. “I’ll be heading out to the sniper range to start training.”
“I know, DiNozzo. I’m the one who signed off on the changes to your class schedule,” Harding reminded him. “Lemme tell you, Gibbs was less than pleased.”
“I don’t actually care how unhappy Gibbs is,” Tony muttered. He still hadn’t forgiven the NCIS agent for maneuvering him into becoming a Fed. Even if what he had been learning was rather fascinating.
“He’ll be heartbroken to know that,” Harding said with a smile.
“Eh,” Tony said. He opened his car up and placed his bag in the passenger seat. “When we get dismissed for the day, do I need to come back and check-in?”
“No, DiNozzo, you don’t. Head home and decompress,” Harding told him before clapping a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll need it.”
“Yes, sir,” Tony muttered before he slid into his car and headed off.
Tony slid into a chair in the sniper class and started setting up his desk for the day. He had a lot to learn about being a sniper. It was something that he’d never thought he’d have a chance to learn it from an actual professional. He’d shot rifles in the past, but nothing like what he was expecting to shoot in this class.
He was about to get his pen out when he paused. Tony swallowed heavily and breathed through his teeth as it felt like every nerve in his body lit up. It wasn’t quite pain, but it wasn’t pleasant either.
Glancing up, he froze in place. He’d looked up the class instructor, so he was aware of who he was looking at. But. He’d never, ever expected that he’d find his sentinel when he woke up that morning.
From the way Edgerton paused as he started to enter the room, he was just as aware of the existence of Tony. He leaned out of the doorway and said something to someone on the other side of the door. When he looked back in the classroom, he zeroed in on Tony.
Tony nodded carefully at Edgerton and returned the various bits and bobs from his bag to it. Zipping it up, he stood up and headed for the door. “Sentinel,” he murmured, voice soft enough that no one else would be able to hear.
“Guide,” Edgerton returned. He stared at Tony with hunger moving behind his eyes.
“We’re not doing anything here,” Tony informed him. “FLETC has their own suites and when I checked them out, they were clean, isolated, and close by.”
Edgerton nodded once. “Agreed.”
Walking out the classroom door, Tony noticed that there were several instructors gathering in the hallway, one of them a bonded sentinel. “Gentlemen, Sentinel Edgerton, and I will be unavailable for at least a week. We’re going to need to let FLETC know that I’m going to be out of class. And Sentinel Edgerton won’t be teaching the class.”
“And you are?” the other sentinel asked.
“Anthony DiNozzo, late of the Baltimore PD and currently slated to go to NCIS,” Tony replied promptly. “Also, it looks like I’m Agent Edgerton’s guide. Who are you?”
The other sentinel studied him for several seconds before he turned to look at Edgerton. “He’ll do.”
“Gee, thanks, Cougar. Your approval is what I always wanted,” Edgerton sniped. “Will you be able to teach the class by yourself or do you need someone to help?”
Tony filed the name away for later review as the other man shook his head. “I’ll be well enough. But I can ask for Jensen if I need more help.”
“Alright,” Edgerton said before he turned to look at Tony. “Do you have a car?”
“I do,” Tony confirmed. He looked at Cougar and raised an eyebrow. “Do you want me to call the Center or do you want to do it?”
“Given that I have no idea what their number is, you better,” Cougar said with a sigh.
“Alrighty then.” Tony reached into his jacket and pulled his phone out. “Edgerton, how are you with cell phones?”
“I use them all the time, so I’m good with them,” Edgerton said with a small smile.
“Good to know,” Tony said as he started to move through his phonebook. He had updated his phone with the S&G Center closest to FLETC when he had enrolled. Pressing send, he held the phone to his ear as more people appeared in the hallway. “Seriously?”
“Yes, Mr. DiNozzo. We need to determine what our next steps will be,” an older man announced.
From the subvocal growl Edgerton let out, he wasn’t happy with another person sticking his oar in their circumstances. “All yours,” Tony said as someone picked up.
“Sterling, Maryland Sentinel and Guide Center, Guide Hitchens speaking. How may I direct your call?” the voice on the other end of the call chirped. She sounded incredibly upbeat and chipper and Tony hated her immediately. From the way Edgerton rolled his eyes at the sound, he wasn’t thrilled with her either.
“Guide Hitchens, this is Guide DiNozzo, I’ve found my sentinel and I’m registering our intention to bond. Since both my sentinel and I are here for training, we’ll be settling our bond in a bonding suite here at FLETC,” Tony informed her.
“Guide DiNozzo, can I get your identification code?” Hitchens asked. Tony could hear her clicking away at a computer.
“Alpha, Delta, Delta, niner, forty-seven,” Tony recited. Hitchens typed the code in and Tony could hear her breathe in harshly. “Steady on, Guide.”
“Yes, sir,” Hitchens said with a gasp. “Are you sure you want to use the suite at FLETC?”
“Well, we’re not going to last in a car to drive out to you,” Tony explained carefully as he stared at Edgerton as he argued with the man who had interrupted him.
From the gulp Hitchens gave, she was still excited. “Yes, sir. We’ll send out an evaluation team in a week?”
Tony made a negative sound at that suggestion. “How about you wait for us to call? We’re going to be bonding soon and I have no idea of when we’ll be approachable.”
“Yes, sir,” Hutchens acquiesced. “If you’re sure.” She sounded like he’d taken away her puppy, and if Tony hadn’t known that she was obliged to ask, but not demand, he might have given in. As it was, he had a feeling that a week wasn’t going to be enough time for him to feel comfortable being around anyone once he and his sentinel bonded.
Signing off the call, Tony turned his attention back to the mess in the hall. He was happy to see that the door to the classroom had at least been closed. “What’s the issue?” he asked, cutting across the various conversations that were swirling around.
The unnamed older man turned to look at him. “You need to complete your class, Mr. DiNozzo.”
“And as I’ve told you, Mr. Aspen, he is my guide and we will be bonding,” Edgerton ground out between clenched teeth. “By both Federal and State law, you can’t deny us the right to bond.”
“If he goes with you, he won’t be able to take this class and will be disqualified from any further shooting courses,” Aspen informed him.
Tony stared at Aspen and raised an eyebrow at his action. “You’re going to try to deny me the option to make up the class after I bond with my Sentinel, why?”
“We can’t make exceptions for something as unnecessary as this,” Aspen sniffed.
“Uh-huh.” Tony shot a hand out to grip Edgerton’s arm. He could feel the heat of his sentinel’s body through the cloth, but the small barrier was providing the needed distance. Since they weren’t actually touching, their bond was still vague. “Cougar? Where is your guide?”
“Listening,” Cougar grunted. He was glaring like a pissed-off cat at Aspen. If Tony had to guess, the nickname was based on the man’s spirit animal.
“Good.” The smile that stretched across Tony’s face wasn’t pleasant. “Have him call the Director of FLETC. I want him to be aware that the head of the sniper school is trying to interfere in the bonding between a Sentinel and Guide. He can talk to Blair Sandburg about why FLETC is allowing this.”
“You don’t know Sandburg. You’re just a former cop from Baltimore,” Aspen protested.
Tony opened his phone and found the phone number he had for Blair. When he dialed it, he made sure that he was on speakerphone. “Sandburg!”
“Hey Blair,” Tony greeted him. His voice might be sunny, but he was pissed. This was not how he had expected his bonding to go.
“Tony? What’s got your knickers in a knot?” Blair asked. From the muffled giggle Edgerton let out, he hadn’t been expecting the Guide Prime for the country to use that phrase. “Oh, hell. You’ve got me on speakerphone, don’t you?”
“Yup!” Tony agreed. “I have an interfering busybody trying to say that I can’t bond with my sentinel.”
“Oh, my god! Who?” Blair asked. “Wait a second… Someone is trying to keep a sentinel and guide from bonding? Why? Is your sentinel incapacitated?”
“Nope,” Tony chirped. “He’s awake, aware, and keeping really remarkable control over himself.”
“How do I know you’re Blair Sandburg?” Aspen cut in.
Blair hummed a low tone briefly. “Is this the one, Tony?” Tony glared at Aspen and made an assenting noise. “Fantastic. Who are you?”
“Director Micah Aspen, Director of the Sniper School here at FLETC,” Aspen announced. “Mr. DiNozzo needs to complete the sniper unit he’s been enrolled in. If he misses this class, he will not be able to repeat it.”
“Seriously?” Blair sounded boggled.
“Seriously,” Tony confirmed.
“Dude, I am on this,” Blair sounded outraged. “Go bond with your sentinel. Speaking of, who is your sentinel, Tony?”
“Ian Edgerton,” Edgerton spoke up. “Nice to hear your voice, Blair.”
The laugh that echoed out from the speaker was deeply amused. “Oh, you two are well suited. Have fun, and stay hydrated!”
“Bye Blair,” Tony called as he closed his phone. He eyed Aspen and then glanced at Edgerton. “We’re leaving,” he declared when he got a nod from his sentinel. “You can expect a complaint to be filed from me, and from Blair.”
“And me,” Edgerton growled. He shrugged once to adjust Tony’s hand. “Let’s go. Cougar, deal with him.”
“Got it,” Cougar called.
Tony ignored the spluttering Aspen was doing as he led Edgerton out to his car. “You going to be okay?”
“Well that wasn’t something that I needed before we bonded, but we’ll deal,” Edgerton said as he stared at Tony’s car. “Nice.”
“Thanks,” Tony opened the door and unlocked the passenger one for his sentinel. When Edgerton settled into place, he started the car and turned to look at him. “So, we’ve gotten this far…”
“Let’s get a move on before anyone tries anything else,” Edgerton prompted. “Do I call you Anthony? Or Tony?”
“Call me Tony,” Tony confirmed. He raised an eyebrow at his sentinel. “Do you have a nickname? Or can I call you Ian?”
“Ian,” his sentinel agreed. “I don’t actually have a nickname that I use.”
“So, for both of us, our childhood nicknames are out of bounds unless explicitly allowed?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Ian agreed. He was breathing slightly deeper and there was a small hitch to the pattern. “Let’s get moving. I’m not going to bond in your car. Even if the back seat is the perfect size for parking.”
Tony started laughing and pulled out of his parking spot. Their bonding suite was only a few minutes away and his soul was stirring with impatience and anticipation. He had a sentinel. And he was beautiful.
“Do you have a ready bag?” Tony asked as they were coming up on the housing that was used for temporary residents of FLETC.
“I…” Ian paused and then nodded decisively. “Yeah, I need to get my bag from my room,” he said before directing Tony to the building he was staying in. When Tony parked the car, Ian turned in his seat. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but please lock the door after me.”
“I’ll do it,” Tony said. He eyed his sentinel and smiled with intent. “But we’re going to talk about what each of us is capable of because I won’t be told to stay in the truck.”
“I’m not sure I understand that reference, but I get the meaning,” Ian confirmed. “Yeah, we’ll need to talk about things over.”
“Better get your bags,” Tony urged.
“Right,” Ian sighed as he pushed the car door open. “Good thing I haven’t unpacked.”
Tony laughed softly as he leaned over to lock the door behind his sentinel. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he checked his messages. Hitchens had called ahead and informed whoever was in charge of FLETC’s bonding suites that one would be needed. He had their suite number and the keys would be waiting at the front desk in a basket. The attendant would stay away as a courtesy in case either of them was unable to tolerate anyone.
Blair was sending him occasional text messages detailing his irritation with Aspen and the admin of FLETC. The Alpha Guide Prime of the US was having a great deal of fun laying the law down for everyone. Tony fully expected that he’d soon be getting a snarky email or text message from Jim about Blair’s exploits.
Glancing up at the brush of intensity against his shields, he watched his sentinel walk out of his lodging. Ian walked like a predator, all prowl and glide. Whatever his spirit animal was, Tony was certain that the animal was just as much of a predator as their sentinel was. Leaning over, Tony unlocked the passenger side door and then popped the trunk. His ready bag was already in place, so he wouldn’t need to stop by his barracks room.
“Okay, I’ve got my gear,” Ian announced as he slid into the car. “I’ve got a call from Cougar that the class will be handled and Aspen is getting reamed out by Sandburg.”
“That last bit, I knew. Blair’s letting me know with text messages as he roasts Aspen for his attitude,” Tony shared as he headed out. “Hitchens has arranged our bonding suite. Apparently, it’s been fully stocked with the basics matching our preferences. She did confirm that includes lube.”
“Holy shit,” Ian muttered as he sat and blinked for several seconds. “Do you ever wonder what’s in our files at the S&C Centers?”
“Not really,” Tony admitted. “I’ve seen mine and you can certainly see your own if you request it. I’m sure they both contain our preferences for how we want to bond. And yeah, bonding suites have everything, from platonic to sexual bonds.”
“They still know too much,” Ian grumbled.
Tony laughed softly as he remembered the deeply intrusive questionnaire he’d filled out when he’d registered with the S&G Center. For the most part, the questionnaires were used when couples bonded at one of their mixers. Given that roughly 40% of sentinel and guide couples found their matches outside of the Centers, not everyone had reason to have their files used.
“Would you rather be going at this cold? Trying to figure out a safe place to bond and potentially no supplies?” Tony pressed. “Because I’d rather be able to walk into a bonding suite with everything we need and not have to worry about making it safe.”
“Oh, I’m still going to have to make sure that it’s safe,” Ian grumbled. “But yeah, I know in my head that the bonding suites that the Center is in charge of are safe, even if my instincts are telling me that I need to check things out for myself.”
“Okay,” Tony conceded. He had his own instinctual drives that he couldn’t suppress, so he wasn’t going to twit Ian for his. The car fell silent as Tony pulled into the parking lot of the building housing the bonding suites. “Nervous?” he asked as he turned the car off.
“Weirdly, no,” Ian said. “I know that we’re going to have time to get to know each other and the bonding will assist with that. I don’t actually have an issue with that. I’m just more concerned because I’m a grumpy solitary bastard most days, and sharing my life with anyone is going to be an experience.”
Tony laughed softly as he thought that over. He had to agree. The amount of sharing that was going to come from their bond was going to be incredible. “We’ll get through and figure out how to live with each other. That’s all we can do.”
“Well, sitting in the car isn’t going to get this process started. And I’m starting to feel the urge to throw you over my shoulder and find a room, so we need to get moving,” Ian waved a hand at the building before them.
“Then let’s get moving,” Tony agreed. He popped the trunk and got out of the car. Ian swiftly followed. Tony grabbed his go bag and hesitated over his shooting bag. He didn’t have a gun on him, but he did routinely carry a knife. He was armed enough for his instincts.
“I’m armed as well,” Ian murmured as he picked up his own bags. “Cougar has my guns, so I’m not worried about that.”
Tony nodded before he made sure to close and lock his car up. “Let’s get moving then.”
The walk up to the lobby was smooth. Tony kept an eye on the area around them and he couldn’t see or feel anyone in their area. He also noticed that his sentinel was…shorter than him. Interesting.
“What’s got you distracted?” Ian asked.
“I…I’ll tell you when we get into our room,” Tony hedged.
“Okay,” Ian agreed. He looked at the front desk and nodded at the basket sitting in the middle of the bare expanse. “Looks like they did exactly what they told you they would do.”
“Good,” Tony said as he started walking down the hallway towards the bonding suites. “Which one is ours?”
“Number three, it says,” Ian reported.
Tony hummed softly to himself as he entered their suite. They had a front sitting room arrangement with a table and chairs for two, a small fridge, glass dishes, and an electronic kettle. “I take it we both like tea?” Tony asked as he started opening all the cabinets to see what they had. The tea brands he liked were there along with sugar, what had to be Ian’s favorite was also stored and there was a pot of honey as well. The fridge even had cream. “Well, Hitchens is winning the award for getting shit done quickly.”
“Really? It’s the tea that got you?” Ian called from the bedroom area. “She’s winning my version of the award for what she did in here.”
“Oh?” Tony asked as he walked in. Ian was going through a basket that held toiletries and sundries. The bed looked like it was a Cal-king, the sheets seemed to be high-count linen and had several pillows.
“Yeah. This is great, but check out the bathroom,” Ian suggested. He left the basket and was unpacking one of his bags.
“Holy, shit,” Tony breathed as he took in the ensuite bathroom. There was a huge, walk-in shower with multiple heads and what looked like a waterfall arrangement. Next to that was a sunken bath that wouldn’t be out of place in a Turkish bath. There were the standard toilets and sinks, but even they were high end with a vanity table resting between the two sinks.
Ian stepped up to him and nudged his shoulder. “I don’t think I’ve seen the like outside of a movie or a high-end hotel.”
“Same,” Tony agreed. “We need to get clean. To get the outside world off of us.”
“There’s a hamper for our clothes,” Ian nodded at the basket sitting at the end of a sink.
“And we can set the basket outside the door so they can be washed as needed,” Tony mused. “Okay. Let’s get clean.”
Ian hummed softly as he started to strip out of his clothes. He chucked them all into the basket and set his shoes beside it before heading into the shower. “How hot do you like it?”
“Hot,” Tony admitted. “But if it spikes your sense of touch, set it to your preferred temp.”
“I’ve dealt with too many crappy water heaters not to relish an excellent one when I have access,” Ian confessed. He started turning on all the showerheads and stood in the middle of the spray. “God, this is great,” he sighed before turning to look at Tony. “Get in here. You’re going to love this.”
Tony quickly stripped his clothes off and stepped into the steamy little room. Maneuvering his way into the spray he moaned as he was pummeled by the spray from the showerheads. Tony let his head fall back and he could feel his muscles relax. “You were right. This is great.”
“Yeah,” Ian muttered before he went to the soap dispenser in the wall. Tony watched as he soaped himself up and found himself distracted from his own cleaning process as he kept an eye on Ian’s hands. His dick was starting to get interested in what was happening.
From the sharp glance Ian gave him, he could smell Tony’s interest. “I’m not going to lie; I like how you look.”
“Should we discuss how we want to bond?” Ian asked as he lathered up his hair.
Tony leaned over and pulled a measure of soap out. Silky smooth and completely unscented, the soap glided through his fingers as he started lathering up. From his feet up to his face, he hit every part in between and used the time to do a small inspection of his skin. Smooth and silky, Tony was pleased that he’d taken the time in college to get all of his body hair removed.
“Sorry,” Tony said as he stepped back into the spray of the showerheads. “We should. I’m…Ian, I’m a lion guide. There’s no way I can handle a platonic bond long term.”
“Oh, thank god,” Ian breathed before he walked into the spray and pressed a kiss to Tony’s lips. “My spirit animal is a grizzly. A platonic bond wouldn’t work for me either.”
“So, we’re going to go forward with a sexual bond?” Tony asked when Ian lifted his head.
Ian nodded. “Yes. But I think we can wait for a day? Use today to get to know each other? Talk?”
“I can do that,” Tony agreed with a mod. “Normally I’m the one who wants to talk.”
The shrug Ian gave matched the slightly sheepish feeling he was giving off. “I get that, but we’re… We’re going to be together for life and I think we’d be wise to get to know each other before we tie our souls together.”
Tony walked out of the ensuite and smiled as he watched Ian pouring water into the kettle. “I take it we’re having tea?”
“I wanted something to hold while we talked,” Ian admitted. He unwrapped a teabag and dropped it in a glass mug. “And they didn’t include beer.”
Laughing slightly, Tony shook his head. “I like beer as much as the next former frat brother, but I think it would be better if we were fully sober when we talk.”
“Being a grown-up, sucks sometimes,” Ian grumbled. He pulled his teabag out and poured some sugar in his cup. “How do you like yours?”
“Depending on the tea, I like mine plain, with sugar, or with cream and sugar. Rarely with lemon,” Tony explained as he put together his own cup of tea. “When I’m sick, I want it with whiskey.”
“So basically, you just like tea and will drink it every way you can get it?” Ian asked before he took a sip from his as he walked towards the couch.
“Except cold,” Tony said with a shudder. “I never learned how to appreciate that.”
“I grew up with it, but my parents used Lipton and we brewed sun tea,” Ian explained. “Sugar was the standard addition with lemon added when we felt fancy.”
“Please tell me there was ice in there too?” Tony asked as he pulled his own teabag out. He added his desired amount of sugar and took a sip. Humming softly, he added some cream before he went to sit in the chair across from Ian.
“Yeah,” Ian agreed. “So, how do you want to start this?”
“Basic backgrounds? Ages? That kind of thing? What we’re doing professionally?” Tony offered. At Ian’s nod, he shrugged. “So. Anthony Dominic DiNozzo Jr. Do not call me Junior. I’m 29, I went to Ohio State where I played varsity football and basketball. While there I got my BA in Phys Ed, Criminal Justice, and Sentinel Studies. Since then I’ve earned a BA in Psych and I’m earning my Masters in Criminal Justice. I’ve been in three police departments and made Detective in two.”
“Impressive,” Ian said as Tony wound down. “I went into the Army right out of high school and made it to E7 before I decided to get out and shifted to the Reserves. I’ve been working for the FBI for three years. While active duty, I managed to earn my degree in military history and I also got my BA in Criminal Justice. I’m still working on that, plus I went out and took the classes for EMT.”
“You were a sniper while active duty, weren’t you?” Tony asked before blowing on his tea to cool it slightly. “Is that where you met Cougar?”
Ian smiled as he tilted his head in agreement. “Caught that, huh? Yeah. We’ve been trading places in the ranks for the last five years. Neither of us really cares about our spot, but the competition is fun.”
“How did the both of you get sucked into teaching my class?”
“I’m actually with the FBI, so I can get assigned. Cougar’s last mission went sideways and they needed the downtime. He can teach while his guide does a job at an alternate location, so long as they stay in contact. They wear earbuds,” Ian explained. “He’s going to be unhappy about having to actually talk all day, but he can do it. And your classmates will get a quality education in sniping under his eye.”
“I’m sorry I’m missing it,” Tony said, regret moving through him before he let it go. “I’d love to learn from him in the future.”
“We’ll work it out,” Ian promised. He sipped at his tea for several seconds before he let it rest on his knee. “If you were in three different departments, was there an issue with any of them?”
“Eh,” Tony sighed. “The first one had an issue with people being honest. I know that there are people who join the police to get a license to bully, but the academy does try to train it out of you, all the while teaching you how to become a cop. Peoria was pretty decent at that, but one of the departments I was in, seemed to have lost sight of that. I wasn’t online at that point, but the levels of dishonesty were too much. I turned them in and left before I was…retaliated against.”
From the growl Tony could hear, Ian wasn’t happy at the thought of what that might have meant. Tony couldn’t blame him. He hadn’t been happy when he’d figured out that his coworkers were working out how to have him dealt with before the investigation had concluded. If he disliked Peoria, he was going to hate Philadelphia.
“I left there for Philly. Since I was the newest cop there and unknown to the city, I got tapped for an undercover op. I went undercover with the Mob,” Tony said, voice quiet and even. “It took a year, but the Mob boss is in jail, I came online, and I can’t go back to Philly.”
“Why aren’t you in Witness Protection?” Ian asked. Tony could feel the concern and confusion moving through the sentinel like a rushing river.
“The Don likes me. He thinks of me like a son and for the most part, leaves me alone. Some of his rivals though… They figure if they can take me out, the old man will be upset and lose control,” Tony explained. “I’m not going to go into hiding.”
Ian took a deep breath. “Do they know you’re a Guide?”
“Yup,” Tony said with a smile. “One reason the Don lets me be, but that was a reason for me to become a Fed. I worked well in Baltimore, but leaving might have been for the best. Given that I’m online, I notice when people around me start acting squirrely, so I investigated and turned it in. There will be some very unhappy former police officers soon. I don’t honestly care about them because being an honest cop is the baseline required to be a cop. If they can’t do that, they don’t deserve to be cops.”
“Well okay then,” Ian nodded once at that. “I can get behind that.”
Tony nodded once. He could not abide a corrupt cop. The feel of them grated against his empathy like fingernails down a chalkboard and the only way to deal with them was to get rid of them.
“So how did you decide to become a Fed?” Ian asked.
“Oh, Jesus,” Tony groaned as he thought of the clusterfuck that had been his last case in Baltimore. Taking a sip of his tea, he organized his thoughts before he explained the whole mess to Ian. As he wound down, he could feel his sentinel getting upset. “Don’t. It worked out. I highly doubt I would have met you anytime soon if I hadn’t gotten shanghaied.”
“Well, Gibbs and NCIS are going to have to do some fancy talking if they want me to transfer,” Ian growled. He set his empty cup on the coffee table and flexed his hands like he was stretching his fingers in preparation for something. “You do know that we’ll be headhunted, right?”
“Uhm? No? What do you mean?” Tony asked as he put his own cup down.
Ian leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “As an S&G pair, we’re going to be in deep demand. Once we register our partnership, there will all sorts of groups trying to get us to sign onto them.”
“So what? NCIS will no longer have any claim on me?” Tony questioned. He needed to know if he was going to be stuck working with Gibbs or not. Competent though the man might be, he was an ass and Tony had no urge to work with him.
“Not really,” Ian rocked a hand back and forth showing the situation was iffy. “While you were under contract with them as a prospective agent who happened to be a guide they had a hold on you. Now? You’re one half of an S&G pair. That’s going to hit the government boards like a bomb. Given your skill sets and mine… I have no idea who’s going to reach out to us.”
“I’m a cop. There have to be dozens like me,” Tony protested.
“Trained investigators, who’ve taken down the Mob? Who have been proven to be incorruptible? Who’re a Lion Guide? Tony, there’s hiding your light under a bushel and then there’s burying it in a pit,” Ian shook his head at him. “I’m in demand because I’m a sniper. I can track a person all over the country if needs be, and I can investigate. I’m not all that great at the investigation part because I don’t do it much, but I’m in demand as myself.”
“Add me in and we could be a force of nature,” Tony sighed. He leaned back into his chair and stared into the dregs of his tea. “I hate politics.”
“No one sane likes politics,” Ian said with sympathy. “But we can use it to our advantage.”
“So, more talking about ourselves, bonding, registering our bond, and then seeing who comes out of the woodwork to offer us a job?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Ian agreed before he grabbed his cup and got up. “But first, I want more tea.”
They talked for hours. Sometimes in spurts that went fast and smooth, words and ideas being exchanged without a hiccup until the subject they were talking about was exhausted. Movies, politics, social views, educations, sports, and more were gone over and Tony was happy to say that they met on a lot of levels. The differences were enough to add spice to their discussions and their sniping back and forth was good-natured.
The morning and afternoon passed without issue. Tony could feel the start of their bond, reaching out from them both. The edges of them felt like they were flirting with each other. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to last the night, sleeping beside Ian and not going any further. Neither of them was short enough to be able to sleep on the couch and the bed they had on offer was decadent in the extreme and he wasn’t going to give that up for the floor.
Lunch and dinner had been placed outside their room. He had to hand it to Hitchens, she was doing right by them. The teas were impressive to have gotten together in the time they had given her. The bathing supplies were all fairly standard so those had been a gimme. But their meals had been something else. Tony was definitely going to write a note of appreciation for Hitchens and her Center.
Their conversation had tapered off only a few minutes before and Tony found himself staring at Ian. Giving himself permission, he took in the features of his soon to be sentinel. While not as tall as himself, Ian was broad-shouldered, with muscles that moved smoothly under his skin. And he was able to see a lot of skin.
Neither of them had bothered to get dressed beyond past a set of gym shorts, so there was little left to the imagination. Ian had a few scars that he attributed to his tours in various war zones. Tony had his own scars, but thankfully he’d never been shot while on duty. A few slices from a gang member, but they had healed cleanly.
Like Tony, Ian had no body hair. He wasn’t sure if that was natural to him or if he’d had it removed. Either way, there were acres of tanned skin that Tony wanted to explore. No tattoos, but he hadn’t expected Ian to have any. It was a rare sentinel who got inked before they were bonded.
Unlike Tony, Ian’s hair was cut short and tight to his head. Tony’s was long enough to flop a bit and running his fingers through it was making it move all over the place. Ian kept following them and from the way, his fingers were twitching, he wanted to bury his fingers in Tony’s hair.
Thinning his shields, Tony tried to get a read on the room. Unlike Ian, he couldn’t smell emotions. His sentinel was oozing contentment, happiness, and want. There was hunger, but they had eaten less than an hour before, so Tony was sure the hunger wasn’t physical. Lust was also wrapped around the hunger and it ebbed and flowed with every movement Tony made.
“Do you want to wait?” Tony broke the silence.
“You know I don’t.” Ian stared at him, eyes level. “I wanted you the instant I sensed you. Seeing you was like getting kicked in the chest by a mule. I can almost feel you on the edges of my mind and I’m starting to burn with hunger for more.”
Tony stood up and held out a hand to Ian. “Bond with me, Sentinel.”
Ian’s eyes darkened and he rose to take Tony’s hand. It was the first time they had touched and it was electric. “I would bond with thee, Guide.”
Smiling, Tony drew his sentinel to him and bent his head slightly to kiss him. Ian lifted his face to meet him and they gently brushed their lips together. He didn’t press to move the kiss any deeper since they were leaning over the coffee table. Pulling back slightly, he smiled. “This would be better in the bedroom.”
“Okay,” Ian breathed before letting go of his hand reluctantly.
Walking side by side, they headed for the bedroom. Tony started to pull the pillows off the bed and piled them off to the side as Ian turned the bed down. Shucking his shorts off, he took a deep breath as he took in the rest of his sentinel’s form. His mouth watered as he took him in.
“Could you lay down?” Ian asked.
Tony nodded and climbed on the bed. “On my back? Or front?”
“Lie on your front, please,” Ian asked, voice raspy.
Humming softly, Tony laid down, carefully adjusting his cock so it wasn’t pinned uncomfortably. He let his arms fall to his sides and his face tilted to the right. He relaxed, turning over all control to Ian.
Ian’s hands cupped his feet and he twitched, giggling slightly as his sentinel’s fingers touched the skin of the arch of his feet. “You’re ticklish?”
“Yeah,” Tony sighed.
“I’ll respect that,” Ian promised before moving up to his ankles.
Tony relaxed into Ian’s hold and carefully relaxed his shields as his sentinel immersed himself in his body. The physical aspects of their bond started to come together from Ian’s side while he built his own on the psychic plane. As Ian mapped and memorized each part of him, Tony could feel the bond between them spinning stronger and stronger.
There was a snap inside of his head as Ian’s fingers moved through his hair. Tony could feel a purr rising from deep within him. He loved having his hair played with. “I’ll have to remember that you like this,” Ian whispered in his ear. “Could you turn over?”
Flipping on his back, Tony let his arms rest at his side and spread his legs to give Ian room. Ian’s fingers started with the top of his head and moved over his face to his neck. Staying relaxed and accepting of what Ian was doing was both the easiest thing he’d ever done and the hardest.
From the way their bond hummed back and forth between them, he was going exactly right. With every bit of skin Ian impressed, the bond on his side wrapped tighter around the tether that Tony had sent out. Ian didn’t stop until he pressed a kiss onto the tip of the smallest toe of his left foot.
Tony could feel Ian’s breath moving over his feet and he giggled softly. He tried to suppress his amusement, but with every brush of air over his skin, it built again. Laughter, sex, acceptance, and joy. Tony shared all of that and more with his sentinel through the bond being built between them.
“Do you want to go further?” Ian asked, voice soft.
“You avoided my dick like you didn’t want to impose,” Tony observed as he stared down his body and Ian. “Is your impression complete? Or do you need more?”
“I’ll always want more from you,” Ian promised as he moved between Tony’s legs. Ian leaned over and brushed his lips over the length of Tony’s cock. “But I’ll take nothing from you without your express permission.”
“Oh, god,” Tony prayed as he watched Ian slowly move around his cock and balls. “Yes, please.”
“Thank you, Tony,” Ian said before he ran the flat of his tongue up the length of Tony’s cock. When Ian pulled Tony’s cock into his mouth he hummed.
The gasp and moan that action pulled from Tony met in the middle and he curled up. When Ian’s hands clamped on his hips, he relaxed again on the bed. The orgasm he’d been ignoring burned at the base of his spine. He knew, deep in his soul that he couldn’t cum until Ian was deep within him.
“Ian,” Tony curled his hands in an effort to attract Ian’s attention. Drawing in a deep breath, he tried again. “Ian.”
Ian let Tony’s cock slide out of his mouth and leaned down to nuzzle at his balls. Tony thumped the back of his head against the bed as Ian’s breath raised goosebumps over his skin. “What do you want Tony?”
“I,” Tony’s breath hitched as he felt the tip of Ian’s tongue touch his inner thigh before Ian’s hands slid under his legs to push them out further. He felt deliciously exposed.
“Tony, tell me what you want,” Ian breathed as he turned his head to lick the other thigh.
“I want you to fuck me,” Tony panted out. He moaned as Ian’s fingers moved up to tickle the furled bud of his asshole. The nerves lit up and he could feel how empty he was. He wanted to feel Ian’s cock in him as much as he wanted his mind within him.
He opened his eyes when he felt the wet, slick glide of fingers moving over his asshole. Slowly, carefully, Ian pressed forward, spreading the lube over every inch. Tony concentrated on relaxing his muscles and moaned as Ian’s finger caught the rim of his hole. “Please now.”
“I’ve barely spread any lube on you,” Ian protested.
“So, put some more on and slick yourself up,” Tony directed. He lifted his legs to wrap them around Ian’s chest and pull him closer. When Ian leaned back, he paused and let his sentinel slick himself up with more lube and then use his went fingers to spread some more over Tony’s asshole. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”
When Ian leaned forward, he set his hands on either side of Tony’s chest and Tony wrapped his arms around Ian’s neck. Reaching down, he guided his cock to nestle the head against the furl of Tony’s ass. Pressing forward, Ian slowly pushed his cock into Tony’s body. Tony breathed through the press and burn, skin flushing with pleasure. Hissing out a breath, he pulled Ian in tighter. “Yes. This. More.”
“You are going to be a pushy bastard, aren’t you?” Ian laughed as he rolled his hips. Leaning further forward, he brushed a kiss over Tony’s lips. Running his tongue over the seam of his lips, he moaned when Tony parted his.
The moan Tony let loose was muffled by the kiss, and he didn’t care. He was surrounded by his sentinel and he was loving it. The taste of Ian exploded on his tongue and Tony let his duel with Ian’s, trading tastes back and forth.
When Ian lifted his head, he shifted again and rolled his hips as he thrust in. “You’ve let me into your body,” Ian panted as he slid out before he pushed back in and found Tony’s prostate. When Tony gasped, he grinned. “Now let me into your mind.”
Tony relaxed his shields as Ian slid into him again, and as his body drew his sentinel in, he allowed his mind to do the same. The bond that had been twining around their minds, bloomed with the pleasure they were feeling. Between one moment and the next, the edges that separated them disappeared. Tony was no longer alone in his mind. He could feel how Ian was nestled into him, filling all the empty places in his soul.
The pleasure in his mind was echoed in the pleasure of his body and Tony shuddered as his orgasm thundered through him. His pleasure was echoed in Ian and they traded it back and forth, drawing it out further and further. It felt like it went on forever until the echo’s slowly but surely wound down.
Opening his eyes, he took in the sight of his sentinel staring down at him. He could feel the love Ian had for him warming him deep within his mind. Tony smiled and sent a pulse of his own love down the bond they shared. “Sentinel.”
The smile Ian graced him with was breathtaking. “Guide.”
“You aren’t allowed to leave NCIS,” Gibbs growled over the phone.
Tony pulled the phone away from his ear to stare at the receiver. “What did you say?”
“I recruited you to NCIS, I say when you can leave it,” Gibbs declared. He sounded rather… smug and certain over the phone and Tony was absolutely certain that if he’d been standing in front of him, he’d be radiating the emotions on every station. “And I haven’t said that you can leave.”
“Well, I’ve unrecruited myself from NCIS and you can just deal with it as I walk out the door,” Tony snapped. He ran a line through NCIS on his list and followed it up by more until there was only a black blob on the page. “And you can tell your Director that your attitude has not only cost you me, but also my sentinel. I’d tell you to have a good day, Gibbs, but I’d be lying,” he said before closing the line without letting the man get another word in edgewise.
“So NCIS is off the list?” Ian asked from his spot on the couch. He had a book in hand and was reading it as Tony started calling around to everyone who needed to be informed of his change in status.
“Yes,” Tony hissed. He pulled his irritation in before his metaphorical tail started lashing. Since their bonding, he’d found that he identified more with his spirit animal than normal. While he wasn’t quite at the stage of sleeping twenty hours in a day, he was fully willing to laze all over Ian when he could. And his temper had both evened out and gotten shorter with anyone who fucked with him.
“Well, okay then,” Ian turned his attention back to his book. “Going to talk to Blair?”
“Yeah.” Tony got up and walked over to sit in Ian’s lap. He plucked the book out of Ian’s hands before he leaned forward to press a kiss on his lips. “Got any suggestions before I reach out to him?”
“Well, we can put our combined resume out on the boards and see who comes knocking,” Ian suggested. At the grimace Tony gave, he laughed. “Not too fond of that idea?”
“Headhunters are assholes and they make me itch,” Tony complained. He thought things over for several seconds before turning back to Ian. “What boards are you talking about?”
“There are boards for bonded pairs. Where the combined talents of the pairs can be taken into consideration and where both can hopefully find a job or set of jobs that work for them both. There are even boards for unbonded sentinels and guides,” Ian explained. “I take it you haven’t used them?”
“No, I got my job in Baltimore by the time-honored process of knowing someone who knows someone,” Tony admitted. “And I wasn’t actually working as a guide while I worked there. I was using my skills as an investigator more than my empathy.”
“I get that,” Ian said as he ran his hands up Tony’s thighs to cup his ass. “What’s got you worried?”
Tony paused as he marshaled his thoughts. “We’re stupidly powerful. Given that, who will come looking at us? Will they want us to go to war for them? Are we willing to go to war? You’ve been. I’ve guarded the home front. I’m not willing to take any Pride I’m part of to a war I can’t support.”
“Right,” Ian agreed as he clenched his hands-on Tony’s ass. “How about this… We’ll talk to Blair and see what he has. If he’s got nothing, we put the resumes up and clear anyone who looks our way through Blair?”
“Yeah,” Tony said before he pressed another kiss to Ian’s mouth. He got up and headed back to the table. Picking up his phone, he dialed Blair.
“Hey Blair,” Tony offered as he opened his laptop and pulled up his resume.
“Tony! How’re you two doing, man?” Blair switched gears from professional too warm in a heartbeat.
“We’re good. Starting to consider our place in the wider world,” Tony admitted. He pushed his laptop over to Ian for him to review.
Blair hummed a soft note before he said anything else. “What do you two want?”
“I’m going to put you on speakerphone,” Tony warned. He didn’t want Ian to worry about trying to listen through the small speaker when he could just make things easier. “I know I want to make a difference in the world, but you know what I am. I’m not going to be used. I won’t allow my sentinel to be used either. And with Ian’s skillsets, there are powers in the US that will want to absorb us and use us to make war. We’re not willing to go to war for bullshit reasons.”
From the way Blair was humming, he was thinking over what Tony was saying. After being friends with the Alpha Guide Prime of the US since he’d come online, Tony was well aware of all his habits.
“Tony, it’s Jim,” a new voice cut in.
“Hey Jim,” Tony greeted. “Ian’s here too.”
“He already said hello,” Jim said as he obviously leaned over Blair’s shoulder since it didn’t sound like Blair had switched his phone to the speaker function. Tony glanced over at Ian and shook his head at the smug smile his sentinel gave. “What’s else is the issue?”
“We haven’t been tested to confirm our new levels,” Tony explained. “I know I feel like I’m a hell of a lot stronger, with a deeper reach into the spirit realm.”
“I’m able to hear around the white noise generator that’s outside the suite,” Ian reported. “I can’t really test my sight for distance, but smell, taste, and touch are all ramped up.”
“You two need testing, even if the local Center isn’t the greatest choice for it,” Blair directed. “And Tony, I know I warned you years ago that being a Lion Guide could lead to some issues. You need to take that into consideration with your future employment.”
“What do you mean?” Ian asked sharply. He was staring hard at Tony, a demand for answers pulsing down their bond.
“Shit,” Blair cursed. “I’m sorry, man.”
“It had to come up and you know it,” Tony sighed. He ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. “I’m a Lion Guide, Ian. That means that I have the potential to be a shaman. I’m not right now, but if I walk the path, I’ll come out the other side one.”
“What do you mean ‘walk the path’? Ian asked. He sounded and felt suspicious.
“They mean that if Tony ever dies and comes back, he’ll be a shaman,” Jim explained, voice grim. “It’s something that you need to keep in mind.”
“Fuck,” Ian cursed.
“I don’t have any urge to find out,” Tony soothed. He wanted to thump Blair for his words. “And it’s not something that we need to worry about right now. But I’m not planning on living my life in fear of it either.”
“Right,” Ian took a deep breath and then let it out. “Jim, we need someplace to work that will challenge us, but not coddle us.”
“I… might have someplace that you can land at,” Jim mused. He sounded like he was thinking about something hard. “Blair, what do you think about contacting Jack and Daniel?”
“Huh,” Blair grunted softly as he thought things over. “They would be best, I think. Yes, there’s danger, but Jack and his people could use both of them and all their skills. And they would each have a chance to continue learning.”
“Would this ‘Jack’ be the Alpha of wherever you’re suggesting for us?” Tony asked.
“He is,” Jim confirmed. “He’s a Colonel in the Air Force, at a duty station I can’t discuss with you without you two signing an NDA that’s about two inches thick. His guide is a civilian and runs the civilian departments of their command. It’s a joint military and civilian command where the civilians are as respected as the military.”
“That sounds promising. But you aren’t going to give me last names so I can look them up, huh?” Tony asked with a laugh. At the assenting noise Blair gave, he sighed. “Okay, so what? Would Ian be reactivated?”
Ian flashed him a sharp look before staring at the phone. “It’s a good question, Jim. I got out three years ago. While I’m in the Reserves, I can get out at any point due to bonding. I stayed in to keep adding to my retirement, but selling my years in back to the government so it adds to my retirement as an FBI Agent wouldn’t actually bother me all that much.”
“And if you stayed in the Reserves you could get pulled for missions, despite your new job,” Jim mused. “Have they pulled you from your current job?”
“Yeah, I’ve been pulled before. Normally short-term jobs that where they need a sniper who can make the shot and all the active-duty ones are busy. The time they pull me for was added to my active duty totals,” Ian confessed. “But I’m bonded now. And I don’t want the military to pull me out and I put Tony in danger.”
“I can’t promise you that there won’t be danger with Jack and Daniel, but I can promise that the Pride you would be joining would support you 100%,” Jim promised. “And I know that Jack will fight to make sure that you stay with his command and don’t get poached.”
Tony glanced at Ian and sent a pulse of query down their bond. Ian waggled his head back and forth like he was ambivalent about the whole idea. Nodding, he sighed. “We’ll talk to them, guys. We won’t make a decision until we meet with them and can confirm if we can mesh. And if we’ll each have jobs.”
Jim grunted once. “We’ll get that started then.”
“But while we work to get that going, you two need to work with the Center out there on testing. You need to get some idea of what you two are capable of,” Blair directed.
Tony stuck his tongue out at the phone before giving in. “Fine.”
“Mr. DiNozzo, it’s nice to meet you,” Hitchens waved a hand at him as he sat down in a chair in her office. “I’m just going to lay this out. I have no idea how we’re going to be able to test you.”
“Good to be able to put a name to a face,” Tony said with a smile. “Sadly, I think you’re right. It’ll take a stronger guide than any of the ones attached to this Center to be able to help me get an update on my gifts.”
Hitchens nodded once. “I figured. But I certainly don’t want you to think we’re going to push you into anything. I know your sentinel has to go through his own testing, but even that, we’re not sure if we’re going to get the full depth of his gifts.”
Tony cocked his head to the side as he tuned into what Ian was dealing with. “He’s doing okay.”
“I’m sure,” Hitchens said with a nod. “What do you want from us?”
“Mostly, I want confirmation that our bond has settled correctly,” Tony admitted. “And Blair wanted us to at least try to get our levels tested.”
“I’m not nearly as strong as you. I can tell that just from your shields. I won’t be able to do even that,” Hitchens said after several moments thought. “I still think that you’re going to need someone stronger than we have to check you over.”
“We’ll be meeting up with Blair at a later date. I’ll have him check me out,” Tony promised. “And I’ll have him update my records.”
“Thank you,” Hitchens said. She seemed perturbed about something. “Okay, so Dr. Sandburg will do the final review on your gifts.” She looked down at her computer and sighed. “My sentinel just pinged me. He was able to confirm with Sentinel Edgerton that his gifts have expanded and he’s currently able to access up to 50% more than he had before, but he feels that he will have more access with practice.”
“What’s got you freaked out, Hitchens?” Tony asked as she sat and stared at him.
“We’re a small center,” Hitchens started. She ran a finger over the edge of her keyboard. “We mostly handle the trainee agents who might need some minor help as they go through the training process and the occasional bond. That’s what I thought when you called me. But you two…”
“Make you want to bare your throat?” Ian asked as he leaned against the door. “Especially to Tony?”
“Yeah,” Hitchens said with a sigh. “I’ve actually read what I can of your files and I know why, but it’s a bit startling to be faced with it.”
“We’re not going to take your place,” Ian promised. “I already informed your sentinel of that and he’s feeling a lot better about me roaming around without him trailing behind me.”
“Okay,” Hitchens blew out a deep breath. “Right. So. FLETC backed down after Dr. Sandburg dealt with the director. We’ve updated your records, and informed your employers. We’ve completed everything we can for you. The bonding suite will be yours until you’re ready to move to wherever you need to go next.”
Tony smiled at her for that. “Thank you. Blair offered to see about setting us up with a potential employer after we checked in here, so with the updates to our records, I think we can see about getting that started.”
“We have conference rooms that you can use. They’re private and we check on a daily basis to make sure that no one has bugged them,” Hitchens offered. She looked happy to be able to provide some kind of help to them.
“Okay. Lead the way to the conference room and I’ll call Blair,” Tony requested.
Hitchens nodded once before she closed down her computer. “Alright, gentlemen. Let’s get started.”
Tony settled into place at the conference room and pulled his phone out as Ian sat down across from him. Setting his phone in the center of the table, he dialed Blair, he leaned back in his chair. “Sandburg!”
“Hey, Blair,” Tony said. “We went through what we could of the testing the Center could do out here.”
“I take it the testing was minimal?” Blair asked.
“Blair, if I’d thinned my shields, I would have freaked out the guide here even more than I do now. She’s a nice lady, but I don’t think she got this job because she’s a super-strong guide. I think it’s because she can organize around an emerging sentinel or guide at the drop of a hat. She certainly took care of us with no warning.”
“You would be right,” Blair admitted. “I checked after the last time we talked.”
“You’ll need to be the one to test me, Blair. I can’t in good conscience do that to another guide. You’ll also need to confirm our bond settled correctly. How soon will you be here?”
“We’re in town, so I can do it,” Blair admitted. “And we’ve got Jack and Daniel with us.”
“Hitchens and her Sentinel have offered us up their conference room,” Ian said from his seat. “If you’re willing to show up?”
“I’ll even bring lunch,” Blair promised. “It won’t be Wonderburger though.”
“Thank God, I hate their food,” Ian said with satisfaction.
“Heathen,” Jim’s voice called from the phone right before it hung up.
Ian started laughing at that. Ellison’s love of that fast-food restaurant was well known and everyone knew that Blair did his best to limit his access to it. What was also well known was Blair’s habit of eating healthily. “I hope he brings something with meat.”
Tony snorted softly. “Jim won’t let him bring rabbit food.”
Ian tilted his head and smiled. “They’re here.”
“I hope that they brought real food, no flavored grease,” Tony said, winking at Ian to show he was kidding. Mostly. He actually liked junk food, but too much of it made him sluggish.
“You’re the one who told me you like hamburgers,” Ian reminded him.
“I do,” Tony confirmed. “And French fries, onion rings, burritos and nachos. And a whole bunch of other yummy things. But seriously, I like them to come from places where mass market isn’t the byword.”
“Thank you, Tony,” Blair called as he walked in. He was carrying a large basket along with a briefcase. “I’ve told Jim for years that I can make him perfectly good substitutes for the crappy mass-produced food.”
“It’s not that I have an issue with your food, Chief, I just occasionally want something that’s bad for me,” Jim said as he walked in. He had an insulated bag in his hand along with a briefcase.
“Did you two go grocery shopping for lunch?” Tony asked as he watched as Blair started to unpack their bags.
“No, we didn’t,” Jim said. He looked over at the other two people who’d walked in with him. “Daniel and Blair are the ones who went out. Jack and I are perfectly happy to eat from a mess.”
“Gross,” Tony muttered as he flipped on the white noise generator for the room. “Please tell me you don’t like MRE’s?”
The older of the two men with Jim opened his mouth and his companion slapped him in the stomach. “Jack, don’t even.”
“Danny,” Jack complained. He turned to look at Tony. “I hate them, honestly. While the developers try to make them taste okay, there’s always something off about them. You don’t get sick eating them, but they are not satisfying at all.”
“Fair,” Tony allowed. He turned to look at Blair and the spread he’d brought. “What did you bring?”
“A charcuterie board,” Blair said as he started opening packages. “I hate mass-produced food that’s cheap. The meat and cheese I’ve got here aren’t one-offs, but they are made with care. Same with the pickles. The rest of the food is of a good quality and shouldn’t set off any issues for any of the sentinels here. I also brought bottled water.”
“You are such a mother hen, Chief,” Jim said with a sigh. He handed out plates and glasses to each of them. “Okay, so let’s get the introductions out of the way.” He turned to the two men Tony didn’t know. “Alright, they basically already introduced themselves, but this is Colonel Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson,” Jim said, pointing at each man.
Blair took over and pointed at Tony and Ian. “Tony DiNozzo and Ian Edgerton.”
“Pleased to meet you both,” Daniel said. He looked back and forth between them and sighed. “What’s the issue you two are having?”
“Got that from our emotional state, huh?” Tony asked. He took Daniel’s actions as permission and dropped the outmost shield he had and took everyone in. Jim and Blair were amused by all of them and Jack and Daniel were earnest in their pursuit of their current mission. “Hoping that you win our hands, Colonel?”
“Call me Jack. And it would be nice, yes,” Jack admitted. He started filling his plate and nudged Daniel with an elbow. “Eat, Danny. I have coffee for you too.”
“I’m not that bad,” Daniel grumped as he waved a hand at Tony and Ian. “Come on you two, join in.”
Tony nodded once before he looked at Ian. “Are you good with this?”
“Hell, yes. I like lunches like this,” Ian admitted. “Almost anything beats diner food and that’s what I’ve been having a lot of lately.”
“What the hell, Ian?” Blair looked ready to protest on Ian’s behalf when Tony shook his head. “Oh?”
“Already dealt with,” Tony promised. “There are reasons why we’re putting ourselves out on the market.”
“Better food is a good reason,” Jack allowed. He reached into the messenger bag he’d carried in and pulled out a thermos that he handed over to Daniel. Only once his guide started on his own food did he take a bite of his food before he set it aside. “Should we do the NDA’s now? Or do you want to wait until after you eat?”
“I’m hungry and you’re holding my coffee hostage by talking, Jack. It can wait,” Daniel cut in.
“Okay, fine,” Jack allowed before he pulled his plate closer and started eating again. He glanced at his guide before he switched his gaze to Blair and then Tony. “How rude can I be?”
Tony sighed. He recognized part of what Jack was doing. “You’re going to stir shit up until you get a handle on us, aren’t you? And you think that we’ll fit whatever program you’ve got going and what to see what will make Ian lose his shit and if I’ll restrain him or egg him on. Right?”
Jack leaned back in his chair and eyed him closely. “Your thing is puzzles, isn’t it? The more complex, the better. You went into law enforcement for reasons that I don’t know, but I think you stayed because it feeds your need to know and to provide you with enough puzzles.”
“I feel rather seen,” Tony muttered as he picked over the food he’d piled on his plate. At Jack’s laugh, he sighed. “You’re an asshole.”
“Tony,” Ian hissed.
“I didn’t figure you as the one who would be the conformist,” Tony said with a questioning look at his sentinel. Reaching down the bond they shared, he tried to get some idea of what Ian was actually feeling. Most of what he was getting felt like caution along with wariness. Ah. He didn’t want to offend a potential employer and Tony was certain there was also the fact that Jack was a Colonel and Ian was enlisted. “Relax, Ian. Jack is testing me, not you.”
“He’s mostly right on that, Edgerton,” Jack confirmed without taking his eyes off Tony. “You’re a military-trained sentinel. I know the responses that have been trained into you, I know them because I have the same ones. Tony here, is a bit different. He’s a cop, he’s got FLETC training, and he’s a guide with a blanked-out spirit guide on the file I was offered. So was yours by the way.”
“No,” Blair cut in. “You’re not getting that until they sign on to your program.”
“Blair, what we are will weigh in on them offering us the contracts,” Tony reminded him. “Ian and I already confirmed that we’re okay with them knowing.”
“Tony,” Blair sounded perturbed.
Tony wasn’t going to check on him. He was as rather busy assessing Jack. From the way Ian was mentally flailing at the other end of their bond, he wasn’t happy with what Tony was doing, but he was still backing his play. “Mios.”
His lion faded in and sat down beside him. He was tall enough to easily see over the table. Mios sniffed at his plate and licked his chops before turning his attention to Jack.
“Impressive,” Jack said. He looked over at Ian and nodded as Arctos faded in. “No wonder you wanted to keep them quiet.”
“You named your spirit animal after an Egyptian god of war?” Daniel asked as he poured another cup of coffee from the thermos. Tony’s nose had told him that whatever the brew was, it was heavily spiked with espresso. He wasn’t going to ask for any of it.
“I did,” Tony confirmed. He ran a hand down Mios’ mane. “I’m a Lion Guide, Daniel. And we’re built for war. Naming my spirit animal after something benign would have been false advertising and for the people who know about him, they need to know that yes, I will go to war. I just want it to be for good and decent reasons, not because someone has a hardon for oil.”
“In my command, you wouldn’t be sent out to make war over oil,” Jack informed him quietly. “I can’t say that you won’t be sent out to make war, because that would be a lie. I’ve made war a number of times since I joined this command, and I can honestly say that I consider every instance to be just.”
Tony raised an eyebrow at Jack and turned to look at Daniel. “And do you consider the war you’ve waged just?”
“For the most part,” Daniel said before he made a slightly disgusted face. “I’m going to say that I didn’t come into our command with a lot of experience with war. I’ve worked around it, I’ve worked with the aftermath of it, but I hadn’t waged it.”
“And now?” Tony pressed.
Daniel reached out and ran his hand down a spot of air, and a wolf appeared under his palm. “Now, I have my pride to care for, my tribe to protect, and a lot more experience in what war actually means.”
The conversation tapered off for several minutes as everyone ate. The food Blair had gotten was good and Tony made mental notes on what his sentinel liked. Ploughman’s Lunches and charcuterie boards were easy enough to put together and they could be packed the night before. Ian was eating the stronger pickles that Blair had brought without an issue and he smiled as he got some lowkey proof that taste was going well for his sentinel.
“Why do I think I’ll be eating something like this a lot?” Ian leaned over and asked quietly.
“Maybe. But given that I don’t know what we’ll be doing, I can’t say,” Tony said with a shrug. “I like food and I like to cook. So, making food for us that doesn’t throw your senses off would be pretty simple.”
“I know where you’re coming from,” Blair said. He glared at Jim and waved a hand at him. “As much as this guy likes shitty fast food, he does better on food that comes out of our kitchen.”
“Prepared meats can cause issues,” Daniel observed. He eyed the meats Jack was eating and shrugged. “Small amounts, fine. Eating large amounts isn’t good for a mundane, let alone a sentinel.”
“Good thing I like cooking then,” Tony said. He watched as Ian flushed as he chewed on a bite of sausage. “You’re worth it, Sentinel mine.”
“I’ll enjoy everything you make,” Ian promised. He nudged Tony back. “Eat. We’ll need our energy to get through the NDA’s.”
“I hate to say it, but yeah, you will,” Jack admitted. He was eating heartily of the meal and obviously enjoying himself.
“Joy,” Tony muttered before he started cleaning his plate. He slowly sipped at his water and watched as Ian enjoyed the last of his meal. He was poking over what he’d learned of their possible bosses and trying to slot the information into the framework he had for people he met.
Daniel was just as much of a soldier as his sentinel was. He was intelligent, well-spoken, had strong moral convictions, and wasn’t afraid to pull his sentinel up by the short hairs. But he was also a guide. He exuded warmth, care, and comfort along with a healthy dose of sex. His sentinel was healthy, well balanced, and deadly.
Blair was his normal sweet self, while still managing to hide the hardcore predator that lived under his skin with the fluff of the hippy his mother had raised. Jim didn’t even bother to try.
Tony turned his attention to Jack and sipped his water slowly as he eyed O’Neill. The colonel was letting his hair silver and Tony couldn’t decide if it was genetics or the man was older than he had guessed. He was still actively getting into the field. He had an edge to him still that spoke to danger lived on a daily basis.
“Found out what you wanted?” O’Neill asked as he pushed his plate away.
“Mostly,” Tony confirmed. He hadn’t bothered to use any of guide abilities, just observation, and people skills. He was curious to know if his observations meshed with the reality of Jack and Daniel. “Want to pull out your NDA?”
Jack nodded once before reaching into the bag he’d brought in and pulling out two packets of paper. “Have a little right reading.”
The NDA was over an inch thick. “Light reading. Right,” Tony muttered before he snagged a pen from his own messenger bag. Flipping open the first page, he sighed at the small print. “I really hope that basket of yours has some vodka, Blair. I’m going to need it after this thing.”
“Sorry, Tony. No alcohol here,” Blair laughed. “But you still need to read and sign the whole thing.”
“Damn it,” Tony groused. He pulled a second pen out of the bag and handed it to Ian. “Let’s get started then.”
Tony reached the end of the NDA before his sentinel, but he wasn’t surprised. He read faster than Ian did and had worked his way through the document at all good speed. Holding his peace, he slowly ran his pen through his fingers as he thought over what he had read.
Almost fifteen minutes after he’d closed his own packet, Ian closed his. No one at the table spoke for several moments. Tony was still thinking.
“Nothing to say?” Jack asked after he had pulled the NDA’s to him and confirmed they were fully signed.
“Nothing intelligible,” Tony admitted. He laid his pen down and looked at Daniel. “The war you’ve waged has been both on Earth and off. Are you sure it’s been just?”
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed. “The war we fight it to make sure that humanity continues to live free on this planet and every planet that asks for our help. And eventually the whole galaxy. There are forces out there that want to wipe this planet out. To destroy it utterly and enslave its people. The beings that want to do it styled themselves as our gods when humanity was still trying to figure out how to make bronze. These beings still think they are gods and want humans to worship them.”
“I tend to kill them with prejudice,” Jack admitted. “They’re not amused that we keep proving their mortality.”
“Might be because you tell them how damn dumb you find them as you kill them, Jack,” Daniel sniped.
Jack huffed out a laugh. “No more than you do, guide.”
“Do these ‘gods’ understand what sentinels and guides are?” Ian asked. He ran a hand up the back of Tony’s neck and buried it in his hair.
Tony pushed reassurance down the link he had with Ian. What he got back was a complex mix of emotions that he could only describe as an eagerness to hunt. Well okay then. “And do they know what we can do?”
“Most of the human diaspora out there have had the sentinel and guide genetics breed out of them. There might be an isolated population or two that still have them, but I doubt it. The ‘gods’ don’t want anyone to know that they aren’t what they say they are,” Daniel admitted. “I’ve yet to meet a sentinel or a guide who can’t confirm if a people is infected.”
“So why us?” Ian asked. “You two can’t be the only sentinel or guide at your command.”
“We aren’t. But having a second strong pair in the Mountain could only be to our advantage. I’m thinking that if you do sign on, the two of you can do a lot of our S&R work, DiNozzo can do any investigating that we need, and Edgerton can train anyone who shows an aptitude in tracking and sniping,” Jack explained.
“Just search and rescue? Would we go out for anything else?” Ian asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” Jack said after several seconds thought. “We’re in need of someone to handle any investigations in the Mountain. S&R is a huge need at times. Most often for my team. It’s embarrassing. And currently, I’m the only trained sniper in the Mountain. I’m nowhere near Edgerton’s level, and we need him.”
“Okay,” Tony pushed his head back into Ian’s hand and looked at him. Jumping on the first job to come their way after they had placed themselves on the market might not be wise, but he wanted it. “Ian?”
“I can’t see how anyone can pass this by,” Ian muttered. He flexed his hand in Tony’s hair and smiled when Tony started to purr. “I think we should do this.”
“Me too,” Tony agreed. He turned back to Jack and Daniel. “Where do we sign?”
In the back of his mind, he could hear a lion’s roar of approval. They were going to war.