Title: Seeing Clear
Fandom/Genre: Criminal Minds/NCIS, Sentinel Fusion
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/female Spencer Reid
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Canon-typical violence (so, serial killers, dismembered corpses, sexual violence, psychopathy, drug use, epic character angst – all that fun stuff), sexual content (possibly) and swearing: seriously, more swearing than sex – I swear way more than I sex, especially in 15,000 words. Also, this is genderbent, always-a-different-sex. Not your thing? Shoo.
Word Count: 15 334
Spencer Reid lives in fear in meeting her mother’s fate — having her brilliant mind turn on her. She buries that fear in her books and her work, but it continues to prey on her. When she begins to feel things that make no sense, Spencer’s fears seem to be coming true. Until David Rossi, newly returned to the FBI, gives her an answer she never expected.
Tony DiNozzo was a good cop, not because he’s a Sentinel, but because it was who he was. Key word — was. A second career-ending injury cost him his badge, but his senses are unaffected — however often some buff young sentinel looks at him and sees a cripple. Tony knows who he is, and the assumption that he’s dormant might annoy him, but it changes nothing.
A Sentinel who knows himself inside and out. A Guide who has always been afraid to look inward. And plenty of well-meaning friends to meddle in their lives. What could go wrong?
Background/Story Notes: This was originally written for and posted as part of the Rough Trade Little Black Dress Challenge in July 2016. Because any fandom can be Sentinelized.
Sometime in early season 3, Tony DiNozzo loses an eye during an apprehension. Since everyone expects a Sentinel who loses a sensory organ to go dormant, NCIS processes his retirement and pension before he’s even gotten out of the hospital. Because it’s not like he can do other things — like his job, or training at FLETC, or search and rescue, or evidence processing or. . . But he’s not bitter or anything. Also, could everyone stop looking at him like he’s a) a cripple and b) dormant or broken as a Sentinel. If one more young Sentinel of Guide who thinks that the people portrayed in movies or TV are accurate representations of ‘normal’ sentinels looks at him with pity and asks how long he’s been dormant. . .
Right. Alpha Sentinel with a noticeable physical disability means he needs a lot of patience.
Fortunately, Tony has already lost a career once and has already learned not to put all his eggs in one basket. He has a trust fund, a pension, insurance payments and worker’s compensation, excellent investments, and an understanding that if he tries to lead a life of leisure he’ll lose his mind in a week. Luckily, he also has a master’s degree and credits towards his PhD.
Spencer — who is a girl in this because I am OCD and have not yet burned myself out on genderbending fan fiction, and because a girl with 3 PhDs and a badge makes my feminist muse chortle — has been coming online for years and never knew it. Because when you graduate high school at 13, you end up missing the testing they do for S&G genes at fifteen and can then go a decade without suspecting that the odd sensations and disconnected emotions you experience is because you’re a Guide and not sliding slowly into insanity. That would have been nice to know. Also, how did she get 3 PhDs, study sociology and psychology, become an agent and a profiler and read 20 000 words a minute and not take any classes in Sentinel and Guide Studies? That would be helpful, surely.
So Spencer transfers from the Philosophy classes she’s taking into Sentinel and Guide Studies at Georgetown, and finds a very interesting professor. . .
“You wanted to see me?” Spencer asked from Rossi’s doorway.
Hotch and Rossi were sharing a drink, and the older profiler rose to pour a third. “Come and sit, Reid.” Hotch told her calmly.
Hands fluttering with nerves, she did as asked. Whatever was going on, it was informal; Hotch used his office or the round table room to give reprimands, and there was never alcohol involved.
Rossi passed her a glass — real crystal, she noted — of blended scotch, then sat on the sofa next to her. Spencer noted that he gave her enough personal space as to not crowd her and, that by sitting along side her instead of Hotch, he was placing himself on her side.
“I’ve always known there was something going on with you, Spencer,” Hotch started, gently. “Jason made it clear early on that you were his protege, and you never gave me any indication you wanted to challenge that, so I’ve never pushed the issue. But since Dave came back to the unit he’s been leaning on me to say something.”
“I — what?”
Rossi leaned back, watching her with those dark, knowing eyes that often drove her to babbling. “You feel things you don’t understand. You understand emotions intellectually, but you struggle to process your own, partly because they often feel out of place or without context, don’t they? That’s why you so often fall back on the quantitative.”
The ice in her glass rattled violently. “I. . . I’m not mentally ill. I’m not,” she managed. Terrified.
Afraid, as ever, that she was.
Hotch muttered a curse. “I though that might be the problem.”
Rossi caught her wrist, shocking her. When she automatically tried to retreat, he held on firmly. “Deep breath, kid — and another.” Spencer breathed as ordered, and her racing pulse settled, if not her thoughts. Rossi squeezed gently. “Better. Now, let me. . .” He closed his eyes.
Spencer was aware of. . . something. Like a change in barometric pressure or air temperature. Her inner ears felt as if they were depressurized — reflexively, she yawned to equalize them. And then, as if suddenly freed of chronic pain she wasn’t even aware of, she felt. . . nothing.
There was no pushing sense of other, no unexplained emotions or too intense feelings. No anger even when she was happy, or sadness when she should feel content.
Just Spencer, alone inside her own head. Confused, a little frightened, a lot relieved.
Hotch offered her a clean handkerchief. Suddenly aware of her damp cheeks, she wiped her face hurriedly.
“You aren’t ill, Spencer,” her boss told her gently. “You’re a Guide, and you’re coming online.”
Six weeks after Hotch and Rossi had shaken her world and reordered the pieces, Spencer sat in the front row of Sentinel and Guide Studies 101 at Georgetown.
Of course, once she’d dealt with the initial shock of both being freed of near-constant empathic feedback from those around her and absolute proof that she was not suffering a slow slid into mental illness, her first impulse had been research.
Amused and pleased with her typical — for her — reaction, Hotch and Rossi had supplied her with all their own books and texts in SG Studies. Rossi had provided all his books, including the very out-of-date ones from his time in the Marines and college. Intellectually she had known that, like women and minorities, guides had been underappreciated, overlooked, occasionally stigmatized, and legally discriminated against in the past. It was one thing to know this, and another to understand that someone she knew and respected had been taught that he was less or at least different than others in his own formal education. Morgan, of course, had suffered from racial discrimination in the post-civil rights era, but in a very real way Dave had as well. Spencer had always respected the profiler and agent; that he’d become both at all was all the more impressive.
Of course, all this lead to her throwing herself into a new field of study, frustrated with herself for never taking a class in SG Studies, even during her Sociology training. In hindsight, it was very foolish and left her with only the standard education about sentinels and guides that law enforcement training provided, which was specific to dealing with colleagues, witnesses, and victims who were one of the two.
Spencer had studied science and math as a way to make logical sense of the world. She’d studied psychology to understand the human mind, whose frailties had shaped much of her life, and sociology to understand people in an intellectual way since she’d never managed to fit in amongst them. Now, faced with new questions about herself, answers to questions she hadn’t know to ask, she followed her own pattern and attempted to learn about herself in a new way.
The Dean of Georgetown had been happy enough to change her current course load from philosophy to SG Studies, but had been concerned when she refused to test out of the 100-level courses. As this was an entirely new field to her, Spencer felt that attending the introductory level class would ensure a full experience. Ultimately, they had agreed that she would audit the 101 class and test out when she felt she’d gotten everything out of the lecture experience.
“I’ll be sure to notify Dr DiNozzo of your audit. You may be right, Spencer, you could learn a great deal from him, as a Guide if not a student.”
Surrounded by a lecture hall full of chattering undergrads, Spencer felt the pressure of so many emotions pressing against her rudimentary shielding. Breathing steadily and tapping a logarithmic pattern against her knee, Spencer visualized her empathic mindscape, which she had only a limited awareness of as a latent-not-quite-online guide.
There were a number of absent or blank spaces in the room, emotions ebbing around those anchored points. Unsurprised at the number of guides and sentinels in this class, Spencer followed Rossi’s instructions on shoring up her shields. When the room fell into silence, she opened her eyes to find the professor leaning against the lectern.
He was symmetrically structured in a manner humans were subconsciously sexually attracted to, with an athletic build that demonstrated a pronounced shoulder-to-hip ratio. The only thing that marred the display of virile alpha maleness was the black eyepatch on the left side of his face. Far more interesting was his presence to her budding guide senses. There was a steadiness about him, and he felt like Dave and Hotch than the students in the room; deeper and richer.
Spencer set aside those thoughts for later, to mull over at leisure.
The only thing worse than drawing the short straw and ending up with an intro class was when that course was SG Studies.
Save him from baby Sentinels and Guides — and mundanes who thought a few movies taught them what a sentinel or a guide was. These kids were worse than probie agents and rookie cops and, unfortunately, assigning PT wasn’t an option.
Sighing internally, Tony leaned back and waited for the room to quiet, dialling up his hearing as it did.
“Alright, kids, this is Sentinel and Guide Studies 101. If you are not enrolled in this class, there’s the door.” No one left. Pity.
He tapped his laptop, lighting up the large screen behind him. “A few things first. Write down the information on the screen. Office hours, contact info, the syllabus webpage. You come to me in a month and complain about not knowing any of this and you will get absolutely no sympathy.”
“Secondly, this is Sentinel and Guide Studies. It is not, ever, Sentinel Studies.” Several people straightened up throughout the room. Judging by the near-universal smiles, most of them were guides. “If you want to shorten what is, admittedly, a mouthful, you can use SG Studies or S and G Studies. The academic abbreviation is SGSTD. Do not leave out the Guide aspect; no one appreciates being a second though.”
Tony spent fifty minutes cramming the typical first day necessities into 200 heads along with a basic introduction to SG Studies. Tony was aware of everything in his classroom; the pitying looks from several young guides and sentinels, the kid in the back texting constantly, and the woman in front who hadn’t written a single note but paid more attention to the material than anyone in the room.
Every screen he showed was examined intensely; when he spoke he watched him with laser focus, often tapping fingers together or against her knee. She was older than many of the other students but only barely, awkward and too-long limbed, and uniquely beautiful.
Finally he brought the lecture to a close. Sighing softly, Tony uttered the most dreaded of words. “Any questions?”
“How long have you been dormant?” Pretty, blonde, and oozing sympathy. Thank god he had shed the charming playboy act years before.
“You mean, how long have I been missing an eye?” Tony asked flatly. A number of faces looked ashamed and several heartbeats spiked, but there were plenty who looked like a crowd of rubberneckers at a crime scene. “Five years. I’ve been a sentinel for twelve — or my whole life, depending on the school of thought you subscribe to.”
“She means —”
“I know what she means,” he cut off the buff young sentinel. “I have advanced degrees in SG Studies, Criminal Justice, Forensic Psychology and rude questions. The latter is bestowed when you suffer a serious, visible and permanent physical injury.” The kid tried to posture, shoulders back and puffing out his chest to appear intimidating, but Tony just stared him down, unimpressed. “The answer is that I’m not dormant.”
“But you’re —”
“Crippled? No, I’m not.”
“Sentinels with physical defects are dormant,” another tried.
“Actually, that’s a misperception,” the woman who could only be Doctor Reid spoke up. “Latent sentinels who suffer from serious physical or psychological trauma or illness are unlikely to come online, and are often labelled as dormant. Sentinels who are online when they they suffer trauma commonly see a reduction, but not a loss, of their sensory acuity. However, as this doesn’t happen with all sentinels, an emerging theory is that sentinels who — for example — lose a limb in combat are actually subconsciously dialling down their own senses from a perceived loss of self due to the societal constraints and expectations sentinels face.”
Several people stared at her, flustering the agent. Tony stepped in. “What Dr Reid is saying is that once your senses are on — they stay on. Sentinels whose senses reduce in function are perceived as ‘going dormant’ but we know that in many societies both past and present, that loss never occurs. Also, the degree of loss varies between individual, and some lose none of their sensory acuity. Plenty of researchers are now looking at our culture’s perception and image of sentinels as a significant factor. People see sentinels as one thing — strong, aggressive, territorial, tribal protectors who are driven to serve society in law enforcement and military roles.”
“Later in this course you’ll learn that this stereotype is a very modern idea, largely unique to Western European inspired societies. The stereotypical Sentinel is a pervasive idea that permeates our culture. Even sentinels absorb and internalize this image. Like anyone who loses a limb — or, say, an eye — they wonder if they’re whole. That sense of loss may contribute to a loss of senses. They feel like less of a sentinel.”
“So, you haven’t lost any acuity?” An intense kid in the back called out. Tony was getting a sentinel vibe from him, but he sat alone and wasn’t a ‘typical’ sentinel.
“No, in fact my hearing accuracy tests two points higher than it averaged before. My vision tests the same except in depth perception; however, in real world tests I can use other senses, like hearing, to compensate.”
Several of the bright young things looked mulish, so he drove the point home. “The majority of modern cases of true dormancy and sensory loss are not physical — they’re mental. PTSD causes sensory loss as much as permanent physical injury; chronic illness or childhood diseases are the most common cause of sentinels remaining latent. True dormancy, not the label we slap on people, is almost always a genetic or developmental issue, like Downs Syndrome or Autism, or the result of severe mental or personality disorders. I arrested a dormant sentinel once,” Tony reminisced. “A sociopath and a murderer, and completely dormant. His lack wasn’t physical; you can’t see a lack of empathy.”
“Alright, that’s it for the day,” he closed his laptop. “I’ll see you all on Thursday.”
In the usual chaotic exodus, he made eye contact with Dr Reid and indicated for her to stay.
He answered a few questions — sensible ones, thankfully — while packing up his laptop and notes as the room cleared and Dr Reid made her way over to him.
“I’m a little curious, Doctor, about why you’d bother with a 100-level course. Someone with such a demanding job, three PhDs, and an eidetic memory can surely make better use of her time i a high level class. I doubt you have much spare time, and you’ve obviously gotten ahead on the material.”
“My only experience with sentinels and guides is in law enforcement and I’ve never studied within this field. It seemed prudent to at least attend the introductory courses.”
That was logical, but. . .“You’re going to be painfully bored, doctor, but more than that, SG Studies 101 is more about breaking down perceptions than anything else. Unlike sociology or the other social sciences, everyone thinks they know about sentinels and guides.”
The agent fidgeted with her satchel strap. “Is it always like this? Or just for you?”
Tony knew his laugh was a little bitter. “I certainly get the worst — usually from sentinels and guides instead of mundanes — but yes, generally. Most of these kids are painfully young; first or second year students. Those who are online at this age are. . . well, they think youth and health mean everything and they aren’t far removed from the social hierarchy of high school.”
He could see her eyes lose focus as she turned inward, processing. Without touching her, Tony guided – hah! – the young genius from the lecture hall. Apparently used to being herded, she walked along while still thinking.
“I had. . . trouble,” she decided, “at the Centre when I first went for intake. The Guide Coordinator might as well have been speaking in tongues, and my requests for clarification or empirical data were answered with things like ‘emotional processing’ and ‘empathic resistance’ and plenty of other things that I remember but still don’t understand,” Dr Reid complained. “Dave — Agent Rossi — finally had enough and summoned the local Alpha Guide to process me.”
“Even experienced members of our community get trapped in that kind of thinking. Emerging guides are ‘supposed to’ act a certain way or be a certain type.”
“I heard her ask Dave what was wrong with me,” she murmured. “I can’t even be a normal guide.”
Tony snorted, earning a surprised look. “Normal? Those foolish little idiots in class are ‘normal’ — and they’re the minority in our community, which is a good thing for all of us. ‘Normal’ guides aren’t responsive in the field; they offer pity instead of empathy. How much use do you think that coordinator would be with a feral sentinel? Or a guide who onlined tramatically? Do you think David Rossi fits the stereotype of a normal guide?”
Long, narrow hands fluttered and then went perfectly still. “No.”
“Of course not. Neither does Blair Sandburg, even though most people hold him up as the exemplar or a guide. Sandburg is empathic and spiritual, yes — and smart, adaptable, and unafraid of throwing his weight around when needed. There’s a reason guides like that coordinator tend to end up in administrative positions, Dr Reid; they need the structure and bureaucracy to function. Irregular hours and unusual circumstances fluster such people. You need to stop worrying about being a normal guide and start thinking about how to be you as a guide.”
“You know, the Dean said I could learn a lot from you, and not as a student.” She looked around, apparently surprised to find herself outside. “Where — ah.” Finding her direction, the agent started east towards the edge of campus.
“I’m well known for my stance on our community’s politics and culture, both on campus and in the local prides. We’re people who happen to be sentinels or guides — not the other way around.” Tony followed her lead. “Did you park on the east side?”
“Oh, no, I took the Metro. I’m meeting my team for dinner. But I should let you go.” The good doctor flushed. “You must have other things to do.”
Oddly reluctant to let her leave his sight, Tony explained, “I’m done for the day, actually, and I live in this direction.”
“You usually walk?”
“Except in winter; I can’t drive legally, or course.” He swallowed down that old bitterness.
Dr Reid might often miss social cues, but she was far from oblivious. She redirected. “Dave said the same thing — that I’ve always been a guide without knowing it, and coming online didn’t change who I am, merely added to the whole.”
“Rossi’s always been a smart man.”
“You sound like you know him.”
“I’ve read his work, obviously, but yes, we worked together briefly. He lent his expertise in preparing me for an undercover assignment.”
The profiler stopped and examined his face. “No one goes undercover long term with serial killers so. . . organized crime, cult or militia?”
He grinned. “Mafia, which I can’t talk about for any number of reasons. Though it is proof that stereotypes are pervasive — why else would Italian Americans always get tapped for the organized crime cases?”
“Rossi is an expert, but out of experience and self-preservation.”
Reid hummed softly. “I suppose I need to stop thinking about guides as guides, and see them as people who are guides. Then I won’t be surprised to stand out against them so much. I’m used to being an outlier.”
Tony could only imagine. He excelled at blending in, flying under the radar, while she never had. Of course, his current circumstances made hiding impossible and he’d had to redefine himself. Again.
Her name caught his attention; Tony focused his hearing, filtering out and extending until he found the source and tuned in. “Baltimore.”
Reid blinked. “Pardon?”
“Not you, Doctor; I was answering Agent Hotchner’s question.” He grinned at her baffled expression. “They can see us.”
Since it was such a pleasant late summer day, they had settled on the patio with beers while waiting for Reid to appear.
“Look, I’m just saying — ” Morgan was continuing an ongoing conversation.
“I know what you’re saying, Derek, and I disagree. Spencer’s business is her own and there’s no reason you need to know what’s going on.” Hotch’s stern face should have been enough to end any discussion.
“You and Rossi know,” Morgan persisted.
No one, Dave mused, could deny that Derek Morgan as a stubborn man. He’d decided that, since something was obviously going on with Reid, the whole team needed to know. No one else, including Garcia, agreed though they were curious; Morgan’s overprotectiveness towards the genius was running in overdrive. Dave would say that Morgan treated Spencer like a much younger sister — except that Morgan’s actual sisters would kick his ass if he tried to coddle them the way the man did Reid.
“And if Reid choses to tell you, you’ll know as well.” Hotch replied flatly. “Do not nag her, Morgan.”
“I never nag.” Morgan looked offended at the team’s laughter.
“Oh, my chocolate god, you make nagging a very loving artform,” Garcia giggled. “It’s adorable, when it doesn’t drive someone to contemplating your violent end.”
Derek grumbled. “I don’t nag, mama. I get concerned.”
The analyst and JJ rolled their eyes at each other. “Of course.”
“Hello, what’s that?” Emily asked abruptly.
At the end of the block, their youngest member had appeared. With company.
“Look, my doves, our genius found a friend!”
Dave narrowed his eyes, squinting. There was something familiar. . .
“Sit down, Morgan,” Aaron spoke firmly, not even looking at the man. Dave recognized the look on Aaron’s face.
“Yes. A seminar, I think. East coast.” The sentinel blinked, surprised. “Apparently, it was Baltimore. He’s a sentinel, as well, since he can hear us.”
Morgan did not look mollified.
Spencer abruptly turned to look towards the team — probably informed she’d been spotted by her companion. Garcia waved dramatically and the pair continued forward.
Abruptly, Dave recognized the sentinel. “Well, hell. Kid!”
Tony DiNozzo — older, sharper, no longer hiding the Alpha behind humour and, tragically, wearing an eye patch — wandered up to their table in Spencer’s wake. “Hey, old man. Stopped dying your hair, I see.”
Dave snorted while the younger agents chuckled. “Even more of a smartass, I see. Didn’t know that was possible.”
“You know me, I’m an overachiever.”
“Your something, alright. They told me you got out clean in Philly.” He nodded to the new accessory. “You didn’t get that from the op.”
DiNozzo brushed his fingers along the cloth patch. “No, this came later. DC, actually.”
“Damn, kid, I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “We all know what we sign up for when we pick up the badge, Rossi. I could have ended up with my photo and name on a wall somewhere, instead. Agent Hotchner.”
The sentinel’s shook hands with no sign of the posturing bullshit that younger or weaker sentinels were prone to. “It was Baltimore. Signature Behaviour in Serial Crime.”
“Yeah, I took three floaters in a row to get the nod from my lieutenant for that seminar. Worth it.”
Hotch smiled faintly. “I’m not sure six hours on a Saturday was worth three floaters in Baltimore in summertime.”
Tony laughed. “Hell, I was the squad rookie; I got all the floaters anyway.”
“Are water disposals better, or worse, for Sentinels?” Spencer asked. “Since you can dial down?”
“Both.” DiNozzo and Hotch replied immediately. When Spencer cocked her head, the clarified.
Hotch: “At the scene, you’re better off.”
“But you can smell the decomp for days after — clothes, skin, equipment, vehicle, colleagues. . .” DiNozzo made a face. “I miss many things about the job — that is not one of them.”
Morgan, oozing suspicion, asked, “You taking a class with Reid?”
“Dr DiNozzo is teaching my class,” Spencer corrected. “Though he’d prefer otherwise.”
“SG Studies 101.” DiNozzo sighed. “It’s not even my turn this semester. Lorne got a grant and vanished into Peru to do a field study with the Chopec.”
“Oh! Isn’t that the —”
“What’s wrong with the class?” Garcia wondered.
“200 college students who think the sentinels they see in the summer blockbusters are accurate representations.” He sighed, and Dave sympathized. Deeply. “Like people who watch CSI thinking they understand forensic procedure.” They all winced. “Then add the pity that 18 year olds feel for anyone not young and healthy. And the occasional idiot sentinel who thinks he needs to prove himself by challenging every other sentinel they meet. . .”
“Oh, Adonis, my deepest sympathy.”
Dave swallowed a laugh at DiNozzo’s expression. The kid eyed Garcia, then flashed the blinding smile Rossi remembered. “Interested in soothing my wounded feelings, Oh Goddess of the Bureau?”
Morgan bristled, again, but the tech laughed and patted DiNozzo’s arm. “I like you.”
“I’m a likable guy,” he agreed.
“Joining us, kid?”
“Thanks, Rossi, but I recognize team bonding when I see it, and I’ve got a million things to do. Dr Reid,” he turned to Spencer, “I’ll see you on Thursday, unless you come to your senses or someone dies a terrible, gruesome death.”
Reid examined him like a specimen. “You used inappropriate or dark humour to cope with the job, didn’t you?”
“Doctor, I still use them to cope with my job.” He offered her a card. “Call me if you get a case, and I can forward you the classwork and reading.”
“Thank you.” Dave watched in surprise as Spencer hesitated, then held out her hand.
She didn’t shake hands, not as long as she’d been in the Bureau, and rarely touched anyone. In fact it was this behaviour that had given him a huge clue towards her latent status; despite quoting statistics on germs when questioned, the genius showed no germaphobic tendencies.
The team gaped at Spencer, which was why only Dave — and Aaron, who probably heard Tony’s heartbeat spike — saw the former cop’s jaw drop and eyes dilate when he took Reid’s hand.
Spencer smiled brightly, oblivious to the sentinel’s gobsmacked micro expressions. “I’m not getting anything from skin contact now.”
“Wait, what?” the younger agents asked.
DiNozzo recovered quickly. “Empathic touch sensitivity?”
“I just. . . I never really liked touching people. By the time I was on my second PhD, I was finding excuses not to shake hands.” She frowned. “That was more than ten years ago; I couldn’t have been coming online all along.”
“Have you read McMaster’s dissertation on the emergence of sentinels and guides?” DiNozzo ignored the team’s surprise at Spencer’s confession.
“She believes that we come online in far more gradual stages than previously believed and that guides in particular are so difficult to quantify for most of their emergence that we’ve overlooked the majority of it. John Hopkins is conducting a 25 year study, taking regular CAT scans and MRIs of the brains of latent sentinels and guides from adolescence onward, looking for early signs of emergence and changes in the brain.”
The familiar, distant thinking look settled over Spencer’s face. She hummed. “Empathy is measured by the effect an empath can have on another. Sentinel senses are measured by quantified data comparisons.” She looked at Dave. “Do you think. . .?”
Looking thoughtful, she nodded. “McMaster?”
“Sophia McMaster, Columbia University.” DiNozzo smiled. “She’s a former student of Blair Sandburg.”
“I’ll see you soon, Dr Reid.” As he walked away, Dave met Aaron’s eyes. That had definitely been a promise.
Garcia poked Morgan before he could say something stupid. “Yum, yum, yum.”
“Hell, yes,” Emily agreed as she, JJ, and Garcia leaned over the railing to keep DiNozzo in sight. “Where did you find him, Reid, and are there any more like him there?”
Dave nearly laughed at Spencer’s expression. “The humanities wing of Georgetown University. I imagine there are several other SG Studies professors there.”
The ladies giggled, and Morgan huffed. “Wait a minute, girls —”
“Hush, my beloved, and let us bask a moment longer.”
Hotch murmured, “He can hear you.”
They smirked. JJ said cheerfully, “We aren’t saying anything he hasn’t heard before. Trust me.”
“Too bad someone else has dibs,” Emily sighed.
“Wait, dibs?” Spencer questioned. “Who has dibs on what?”
They all looked at each other. “Should we tell her?” Emily asked.
Garcia shook her head. “Way more fun to watch her figure it out herself.”
“Guys, what’s going on?”
JJ patted her shoulder. “If we have to explain it, you won’t understand.”
“Why am I always the last to know things?” She huffed and stole Emily’s beer. “You guys always do this to me.”
“We have to make up for not knowing how many kernels are on the average cob of corn,” Emily teased. “That was mine.”
Morgan opened his mouth. “Derek,” Hotch said, calmly. The agent scowled down the street after DiNozzo.
A guide coming online, an overprotective federal agent, and a sentinel hoving in the background and waiting for his newly-found guide to emerge. Dave flagged down a server. He needed another beer.
Tony came through the perpetually unlocked door, chilled six-pack in one hand and groceries in the other.
“Meat in ten,” Gibbs told him. “Fire needs a few more minutes.”
“Sounds good.” They worked together easily, years of familiarity and a strong Pride bond between them. Tony tucked the extra beer in the fridge and slid the pie from his local bakery in a low oven to warm. Gibbs plated the french potato salad he’d brought and prepared the steaks.
Tony said nothing throughout the soothing ritual of grilling; cowboy-style steaks and the sawdust scented basement had been his lifeline for months after his injury. Dinner á la Gibbs remained a regular part of their routine even after five years. He dialed up scent, enjoying the visceral reaction the smell of seared meat gave him, and dug in as soon as Gibbs plated up.
The steaks were gone before the beer; both sentinels were too high level to risk more than a couple of bottles in a sitting. Tony was forking up the last of his potato salad, pleased with the results of his new recipe, when Gibbs broke the silence. “Something wrong, Tony?”
“Should there be?”
Tony finished his food, stalling. “It’s Friday night; cowboy steak night.”
Gibbs gave him a Look. “Every other Friday. We had dinner last week. You only change your routine when something happens.”
He huffed. “Can we pretend otherwise? Also, screw you, I am not predictable.”
“You’re the least predictable person I know, but you’re a sentinel and you like routine. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want to talk.”
Since Gibbs was incapable of ignoring a problem — except his own emotional issues — that was absolutely true. “What does it say about me that my choice of sounding board is a functional mute?” Moodily, he took a long swallow of his beer. “I think I met a potentially compatible guide.”
“You meet your guide, and you didn’t open with that?”
He glared. “There’s no such thing as a ‘true’ or ‘one’ guide; that’s Hollywood bullshit and you know it. Sentinels and guides have compatible matches based on biology, genetics and psionic profiles. Personalities and lifestyles factor in the choosing of a bondmate. Higher level sentinels are rare and have fewer possible matches because similarly ranked guides are equally rare, which makes finding a guide more —”
“Fuck!” He chugged the last of his drink. “Fuck, yes, I found my guide. I can’t imagine anyone else fitting in that place in my life. Hell, I instinctively imprinted two senses on her during a handshake.”
Patiently weathering Tony’s temper, Gibbs asked, “Why are you drinking beer with an old Marine instead of with her?”
“She isn’t online yet — oh, also, she’s a student in one of my classes, ten years younger than me, and the smartest person either of us has ever met.” He slumped back on the sofa, arm over his eye. “I can hear you smirking.”
“You met a guide who leaves you unable to tell if you’re coming or going. Yeah, Tony, it’s a nice change of pace to see you completely stupid over a woman.”
“I don’t know what I want more — listen to her talk about something that excites her, or just crawl all over her. She does this thing with her hands. . .” Tony groaned. “I’m losing my mind, and it’s only been three days.”
“Smart, beautiful, and armed. Yeah, DiNozzo, you’re doomed.”
“Fuck you, Gibbs. . . how do you know she’s armed? Rossi,” he decided. “David Rossi called you, didn’t he?”
He heard Gibbs rise and open the fridge. A distinctive ‘pop’ and a cold bottle was pressed in his free hand. “He was just looking out for his team mate.”
“What’d you tell him?”
“Nothing he didn’t already know.” Not for nothing would Gibbs admit to telling Rossi that Tony DiNozzo was the best young agent, most capable sentinel, and finest man he’d ever known. The profiler had only hummed and said that he’d thought so. “So, what’re you going to do?”
After a long pause, Tony sat upright. “Be the best damn friend she’s got, wait for her to come online with baited breath, and take frequent cold showers.”
“Sounds about right,” Gibbs decided, and they clinked bottles.
One Month Later
The team was silent and tense when they entered the bullpen. Normally a short case was a good thing but this time there were too many questions and concerns. The plane ride had been quiet, with Rossi and Hotch sitting between Spencer and the rest of the team to block their questions. The lack of explanations was tangible.
On the walkway by the round table room, FBI Director Jack Fickler and Section Chief Erin Strauss stood waiting. “Agents Hotchner, Rossi; Dr Reid. Please join us.”
Spencer had spent very little time in the principal’s office in high school, but the feeling was probably reminiscent of what Morgan and Emily described from their adolescence. She followed Hotch, Rossi protectively at her back; behind them, she could hear Garcia join the team and a whispered debrief begin.
As soon as the door closed, Strauss started up. “Agent Hotchner, would you care to explain the complete —”
The Director cut her off, leaving her spluttering. “Doctor Reid, are you alright?”
Apparently, he didn’t believe her. “Rossi?”
“She’s fine, Jack, she just needs a little space and a chance to meditate properly.”
“Director, the Bureau was embarrassed under Agent Hotchner’s watch today. We need —”
He cut her a sharp look. “The BAU team closed a serial sexual homicide case inside of a single day. Sheriff Oxlade has already called my office to express his gratitude, and asked after Dr Reid’s health. That Agent Hotchner intimidates you as a sentinel and a subordinate has no bearing on this case or it’s events. No one is fooled when you try to push blame for things out his control onto him.”
Strauss went pale and flags of humiliation burned her cheeks. Spencer might have had some sympathy for the semi-public dressing down, but Strauss had tried repeatedly to break up the team and threatened Hotch’s career.
Finkler turned to her, dismissing Strauss. “Dr Reid, tell me what happened.”
Spencer was aware that Dave was buffering her and was grateful for it. “I had a minor empathic event that resulted in an unfortunate physical reaction. As a result, a member of the Twin Lake County Sheriff’s department was questioned and confessed to the rape, torture and murder of four women, and the rape and assault of three more.”
The Director nodded, then turned to Rossi. “Dave?”
“Reid has Empathy-Olfaction Synthesia.” Strauss looked confused, by Finkler only nodded. “She isn’t online yet, and her shielding is imperfect, so she picked up on the emotional projections of a deputy almost as soon as we hit the department. It made her violently ill, which led to the sheriff asking me to take to empathic tone of the building, which led to a thirty-two year old sexual sadist losing his shit over being confronted. He drew a gun, we arrested him, he confessed.”
Spencer fidgeted under the Section Chief’s incredulous stare. “She smelled a serial killer?”
“No, Erin, she had a sensory reaction to an emotion her empathy registered subconsciously. Dr Reid is a Guide, not a bloodhound.” Dave’s tone was razor sharp, and Strauss bristled.
“You have no business keeping the status of an online guide secret from the Bureau!”
“The FBI can’t force a sentinel or guide to use their abilities, or limit their use outside of federal ethical restrictions. Also, she’s registered as a latent with the Centre and the Bureau as of two months ago.”
“Dr Reid cannot be in the field if she’s on the cusp of coming online! What if she blows open during a case?”
“I’m a registered Conservator and I can handle it! Reid’s been coming online as long as she’s been with the FBI and it’s never affected her performance.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Enough.” Finkler sighed. “The two of you are like a pair of cats in sack. I’m going to send you to separate corners in minute — or possibly lock you in a closet together. Agent Hotchner, will the case hold up? Can anyone accuse Dr Reid of scanning Deputy —” he checked a file, “Franklin Milner without consent?”
“No, sir,” Hotch was calm and certain. “No one can stop guides from receiving projected emotions, and a guide in Reid’s position isn’t capable of the degree of shielding needed to prevent picking up stray emotions. Nor is Dr Reid capable of performing an empathic scan as yet. Besides, the arrest happened as a result of Milner’s actions. When his own sheriff — out of concern, not suspicion — asked Milner why he was so hostile and aggressive at our presence, he reacted violently and had to be subdued. That led to a search warrant and formal questioning, which led to evidence of his crimes and a confession.”
“Dr Reid, were you aware of your synesthesia?”
“Yes, but I was unaware of its specific nature until my latent status was made known to me.” Even Dave looked surprised. “I became aware of random scents several years ago, but their irregularity and my inability to connect them to a specific trigger made it difficult to confirm a specific diagnosis.” Translation: Spencer had thought she was going crazy. “Empathy-Olfactory Synesthesia, or EOS, is triggered not by my own emotions, but by the associations my mind has made between emotions I register from others and scents. Since my abilities are still erratic, it’s been very difficult to map the scents and associated emotions.”
“What did you smell today?”
Dave caught her shoulder as she shivered. “I. . . burning fish offal.”
Hotch hissed and helped Dave nudge her into a seat, then retrieved a water bottle. “You should have told me that, Reid. I could have briefed the Director without you.”
“Is there something I should know?” Finkle asked.
“Tobias Hankel, or his alter personalities, burned fish offal to ward of demonic spirits.”
“I see. Dr Reid, what does happiness smell like.”
Surprised by the question, Spencer set aside the water bottle. “Well, emotions are actually a very broad spectrum and a subjective experience, so there’s no one scent for an emotion. Though I have found that certain types of emotions share similar traits. Happiness and it’s variants usually smell like vanilla latte, maple syrup, shortbread, pie spice or cooked fruit. Occasionally brown sugar or fresh bread,” she added, tapping the table, “but that’s a more rare. My empathic scent map is still incomplete.” Spencer blinked. “Oh, you deliberately distracted me. Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome. Out of curiosity, are there any scents you haven’t put to an emotion yet?”
Since he looked honestly interested, she answered. “Citrus scents. I get them a lot, but I can’t seem to make the association. Grapefruit juice, orange peel, Key lime, lemon curd, or even yuzu.”
Hotch frowned slightly. “When did you last get one of those?”
“Um. . . oh! When Dave and I did an FBI recruitment speech at Howard last week. I got a lot of it then, and also the other night when we went to the bar as a team.”
Hotch and Rossi both began to smile. “When you were getting a second round from the bartender?”
“Yes — and when Morgan was talking to that DEA agent.”
Rossi laughed. “Lust.”
“Citrus is sexual attraction.” Hotch clarified.
She frowned. “No, I get it a lot, even when I’m not with the team.”
“The bartender was hitting on you, Reid.” She started tapping her fingers together. “People find you attractive.” Frowned. “Trust me, Reid, I can smell people’s reactions.”
“To the team.”
“Yes, and to you.”
“But. . .”
Rossi patted her shoulder. “No one is messing with you, kid. I was in that lecture hall last week — it wasn’t me that roomful of college kids was looking at.”
That. . . hmmm. This required further consideration.
“Well, as interesting as that is,” the Director interrupted — and Spencer didn’t need the scent of spearmint to tell her he was amused, “I’d like copies of your reports forwarded to my office when completed. Hotchner, I’d prefer the Reid be partnered with Rossi in the field or, failing that, with you. At least until she comes online.”
“Already done, sir.”
“Excellent. Strauss, you’re dismissed.” When she tried to speak, he just frowned at her.
Rossi hummed a recognizable tune from The Wizard of Oz as she left, earning a fulminating glare and a slammed door. Finkler sighed. “I swear to God, Dave, I will have you shot one day.”
Jack Finkler accepted a glass of Dave Rossi’s scotch. “How are you doing? Buffering an emerging guide can be a strain.”
“She’s surprisingly level, actually, recent events notwithstanding. I half thought she was coming online, then she bolted for a garbage can and booted instead.”
“Any friction on the team? Changing the dynamic can cause ripples, and you’re my best unit.”
Hotchner snorted, a surprisingly inelegant action for him. “Morgan has gotten even more overprotective.”
“Apparently. It doesn’t help that there’s already a sentinel on the radar.”
Jack smiled. “Does that have anything to do with the moves you’ve been making to clear the way for a civilian consultant?”
Rossi started laughing. “Really, Aaron?”
“Please, Dave, like you didn’t see that connection they made. Besides, DiNozzo is entirely too good an investigator to waste his experience. I can’t believe NCIS didn’t keep him on, if only to train new agents.”
“DiNozzo? Gibbs’ golden boy? Fornell spent years trying to recruit him. What happened?”
“Routine questioning turned into an armed situation. DiNozzo lost an eye.” Jack hissed. “NCIS had his papers processed before he was out of the hospital without even consulting him.”
“Wasn’t he a level nine?”
“Still is; the kid’s one of the regional alphas,” Dave said, calmly. “Finished his PhD, started teaching at Georgetown.”
He was silent as he mussed. A disabled man couldn’t be a full agent, but he could have limited field status pertaining to his sentinel abilities. Skilled trainers were always useful, and he remembered hearing scuttlebutt about interrogation skills. “Send me his file — I know you had it pulled, Hotchner — and the consultant paperwork. We’ll sit on it until the situation resolves. Unless you think Dr Reid might not come online for a long time?”
Dave shook his head. “The only thing stopping her was the fact that she was fighting against it. Now that she knows what’s happening? Three months, maybe less.”
“Reid’s never been behind the curve,” Hotchner said.
“Your mastery of the understatement is inspiring, Aaron.”
Spencer entered Tony’s lecture hall quietly, hoping not to draw attention. She had already tested out of the 101 class, along with a number of others that she had audited briefly. Although, she had stayed in Tony’s course for longer than expected. She enjoyed his lecture style and conversational tone; fortunately, they had met a number of times for coffee or dinner to talk. She intended to take one of his advanced courses next semester.
Tony made eye contact with her as she sat in the back, still lecturing. They were having dinner tonight, though this time he was cooking. Taste was his most difficult sense and the one he spiked on most often, which had happened twice in the last week. He didn’t want to risk a restaurant at this point, and Spencer wasn’t averse to letting him cook for her. Especially since he’d offered to teach her to make an authentic red sauce.
She focused on the real world, and found Tony standing still, head tilted and eyes closed. The noise in the hall began to rise.
“Did he zone?”
“Shit, what do we do?”
“How about you don’t all make a lot of noise while a sentinel is focused on sound?” a young sentinel near the back snapped. Spencer recognized him as a low income student on a Centre scholarship who had drawn Tony’s attention and interest.
“He’s zoned out; we should call the Centre Emergency Line,” someone else said, a little more quietly.
Annoyed, Spencer rose and moved towards the front. “He isn’t in a zone, he’s hyperfocused. Besides, most balanced sentinels can pull themselves out of a zone inside of five minutes without assistance.”
“Yeah, but he’s —”
She glared at the young sentinel in front, who often and laughingly tried to out-alpha her friend. “Dr DiNozzo spent seven years online in law enforcement without even temporary guides. He’s been in firefights without zoning and you think a classroom will cause him problems? Also, he is not and never will be damaged.” Ignoring him as she did with all idiots who weren’t armed, she approached Tony just as his spirit animal shimmered into view.
Xander growled at the shrieks that resulted, ears laid back and tail swishing. Spencer tasted the ginger and cider vinegar of the room’s fear, and spoke to the Puma concolor couguar who was the aggressive, territorial, solitary apex predator of her friend’s Sentinel soul. “Is he zoned, or just listening?”
Xander sat back on his haunches and huffed. “He listened too hard, didn’t he?” Another huff. “Can I touch him, or will that cause a negative reaction?” The feline leaned against Tony’s leg. “Alright then.”
Carefully, aware of the potential physical reaction of a law enforcement officer and alpha sentinel who was startled, Spencer reached out and touched his bare wrist. “Tony.”
He inhaled sharply, catching her hand and squeezing gently as his eyes opened. “Spencer.”
Xander smacked his leg. Hard.
“Demanding bastard.” He rubbed the tawny head. “Thanks, buddy. Now go away before you scare the kiddies even more.” That earned him another smack and and hissing growl before Xander turned to glare at the room. There was some very nervous fidgeting. “Xander.”
Tony was digging out his cell phone as Xander finally vanished. “Your spirit animal has a worse sense of humour than you do.”
“We’re both hilarious; I know you’re laughing inside.”
She was, actually, but would never admit it. “Who are you calling?”
“Campus Security — yes, this is Dr Tony DiNozzo. I need you to send a couple of officers to Dr Miles Abernathy’s office in Healy Hall. Because I’m on my way there now, and you probably want to detain him rather than letting me hit him until I feel better. Yeah, you do that. No, I don’t know his office number,” He rolled his eyes at Spencer. “Because I’m not in the same building and I’ve never met him. While you’re looking up his office, you can tell me his extension number. Yeah? Good. No, I’m not going to kill him, just make him question all his life choices. Then I guess you better hurry.”
He hung up and held up a hand to cut off his student’s questions while he tapped out a text message. “Eliana, my TA, should be here in ten minutes. Spencer, could you keep things going until then? I’ll meet you at my office within the hour.”
“Yes, of course. What did you hear?”
“Someone who needs their ass kicked, which I’m about to do. Thanks.” He smiled at her while he dialed again. “Dr Abernathy? Yeah, I know I’m interrupting, that’s the point.” He headed up the aisle. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’ve heard everything you’ve said in the last four minutes, and you’re going to explain everything to the security officers on their way. If you don’t, if you lie or try to cover your ass or blame that poor girl in your office, I’m going to beat you until I feel better about you. It’ll take a while. Also, if you ever try to coerce or blackmail someone into having sex with you again — I’m going to kill you. Understand? Good, now put that kid on the phone.” The door clicked behind him.
“What the fuck was that?” someone whispered.
“An abject lesson in protecting the tribe,” Spencer told the room. “Also, the reason trying to hurt someone under a sentinel’s protection is criminally stupid. Now, you were talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Burton Hierarchy of Instinctive Drives. Does anyone have any questions about either?”
Hotch stalked into the BAU bullpen, leaving a wake of confused and concerned agents in the halls. He’d been two floors away when he heard Spencer’s heartbeat spike; as the youngest member of the inner circle of his Pride and a guide coming online, he couldn’t help but keep an ear on her. The conversation he’d tuned in to had sent him back to the BAU, hoping to prevent an incident.
Raised voices drifted from the round table room. Garcia hovered nearby, torn between entering and offering privacy. The agents in the bullpen looked jumpy, glancing at the room and pretending to work.
“It’s none of your business!”
“Come on, Reid, you’re smarter than this!”
“Smart enough to know better than to listen to your arrogant, pushy, hypocritical —”
Aaron made it through the door and closed it firmly behind him. “Hey!”
Spencer was flushed and angry, hands moving aggressively. Morgan looked stubborn and uncompromising, arms crossed and looming over Reid as much as he could. Considering their similar height, it wasn’t much.
“Hotch, did you hear what he said?”
Reid rarely got angry. Excited, intense, focused; yes. Angry and furious; no. Her analytical mind lent itself to detachment. Now, however, the genius was about as enraged as Aaron had ever seen her.
“Yes, I did, and I’ll deal with it. You need to go see Dave.”
“Come on, Hotch, you know I’m right. That guy —”
“I know nothing of the kind,” he cut in as Spencer opened her mouth. “That’s enough, Morgan.”
“He’s using her! Have you heard about these dinners? You think he invites her over for a meal to talk about SG studies and criminology? C’mon!”
“Oh, yes, because the only reason anyone wants to spend any time with me is to use me for my brain or my body!” Spencer hissed. “I already know which one you want, since I don’t even register as an adult female to you!”
“Hey, I’m your friend! You need to listen to me, Reid —”
He heard Spencer’s heart rate spike again and, more importantly, could smell her stress hormones rising rapidly. “Morgan —”
“Stop trying to tell me what to do, Morgan.”
“I’m just trying to protect you!”
“Enough!” He pushed, using his spirit animal’s subvocalization to deepen his voice. Both his agents fell silent.
The door opened behind him. “Spencer, you’re with me.”
“Shut up, Morgan.”
Dave removed Spencer from the room, taking her into his own office and beginning the process of rebuilding her faltering shields. Certain she was in good hands — and that Dave would let her rant about her teammate until she calmed down — he withdrew his hearing.
Morgan was glowering at the table, stance full of aggression and fight. “Are you trying to cost Reid her field status?”
“What? No! How the hell would I manage that?”
“There are plenty of people in the administration with very old school opinions on guides and their place in the Bureau, Morgan. People are watching her, and there are any number who are looking for a reason to pull a female, unbonded guide from the field and put her somewhere that would benefit their careers or their opinions. Places like Cryptography, or White Collar Crimes.”
His “So?” was belligerent. “People have been trying to poach her from the start.”
“And if her shields fall in the middle of the bullpen, they’ll have a perfect reason to pull a potentially unstable guide from the field and the unit.” Aaron growled when Morgan said nothing. “You were projecting your temper on her, Morgan! Her shields were faltering under your temper and her own!”
“I didn’t want that to happen, but I need to make her listen!”
“No, you don’t. You need to leave it alone.”
“You don’t understand —”
“I understand that everything you object to in Tony DiNozzo is a trait you share with him!” Morgan looked away. “Abandonment issues, avoidance of commitment, workaholic, sexual promiscuity —”
“— dedication to public service, self-sacrificing, protective urges —”
“We aren’t the same, Hotch.”
“You’re similar. There are two problems with your resentment of DiNozzo, Morgan. Yes, resentment,” Aaron insisted. “It’s not his fault things are changing. Reid was always meant to come online, and that means she was always meant to find a sentinel.”
“You and Rossi aren’t bonded.”
“Dave’s sentinel died on the job, and I was reluctant to upset the balance of my marriage with a guide. Don’t think I don’t feel the lack in my life, especially now that Hayley has filed for divorce.”
“I’m sorry, man.”
“The second problem is that you’re working on old information. DiNozzo is a chameleon and he shed the skin you identify with and worry about when he lost his second career. The playboy persona your friends at Metro told you about has been gone for years.”
“People don’t change.”
“Of course they do. And there’s one more thing.”
Morgan sighed. “What?”
“He’s a sentinel, and she’s a guide. No one will ever be more dedicated to protecting Reid than he can be.”
“She doesn’t was to be protected.”
Aaron glared at his deliberately difficult agent. “She doesn’t want to be coddled and dictated to like child, Morgan, and even you shouldn’t be able to blame her for that. And, Morgan?”
The younger agent heard the threat in his tone, because he dropped his confrontational stance and asked, cautiously, “Yeah, Hotch?”
“If you ever deliberately start a fight with Reid in the office again, DiNozzo will have to get in line to kick your ass.”
Spencer finished the last of her coffee cake and pushed aside the plate. “You need to stop feeding me.”
Tony chuckled. “I’m sorry?”
“Not that I object to roast chicken or homemade macaroni and cheese or lasagna,” she continued, “or anything else you’ve cooked, but you shouldn’t feel obligated.”
“Spencer, no one makes me do anything I don’t want to.” He topped up their coffee cups and settled beside her at the breakfast bar. “What’s this about?”
“I work with a sentinel, you know.”
“I did note that, yes,” he smiled.
“So I know that feeding people is a big part of a sentinel’s instincts, even though many people would assume that a traditionally ‘nurturing’ action would belong to a guide.”
“Hotchner herds you all to lunch, doesn’t he?”
“Hotch is far more subtle than that usually, but there is always food and water available in any office we use, or in the vehicles and, yes, the occasional ‘stop working and eat, that’s an order’ during long cases, yes.” His amusement was mint on her tongue. “Like you’re any better.”
“No, I used to hold Gibbs’ coffee hostage until he ate actual food. More than one person thought I had a death wish, but he didn’t hold it against me. Usually,” Tony added.
“I know that I’m very thin, but I promise I’m actually within a healthy weight for my height, Tony.”
He looked surprised, then understanding. “I never assumed you were unable to feed yourself, or that you have an eating disorder, Spencer. Even if I couldn’t smell that you’re healthy. I just like to cook for other people instead of just myself.”
Spencer examined him carefully, his expression and the faint empathic impressions she was receiving. After a moment, she smiled. “I didn’t think so, but. . .”
“But you’ve had people assume.”
She sighed. “It’s been a week of assuming.”
He looked sympathetic. “How’s it going with Morgan?”
Tapping her fingers, Spencer shrugged. “We’re keeping it professional. He hasn’t said anything, but he seems upset that I haven’t forgiven him.”
“You aren’t obligated to forgive him, especially since he hasn’t actually apologized. Don’t let people do that to you, Spencer. Guides aren’t meant to be pushovers, who sublimate their own feelings to make other people feel better. He upset and offended you, and created a situation that caused you empathic distress. Even if he does apologize, you can accept without forgiving him until you actually feel forgiving.” He nudged her. “Your team is being supportive, I hope.”
“Yes. Garcia explained to him, in detail, why he was in the wrong. No one’s shunning him or acting unprofessionally, but they aren’t letting him act like he’s the victim.” She sighed. “I understand, you know. I know his background; he had a cousin who was stalked and disappeared without a trace. That and his father’s death and. . . other things,” Spencer added, thinking of Carl Buford. “I know Morgan has trust and abandonment issues. I just can’t be a surrogate for the people he feels like he failed to protect.”
“Morgan is entitled to his issues,” Tony agreed. “He’s used them to fuel his career and his drive for justice, which is admirable. He isn’t entitled to make his issues an issue for other people. He knows that; he just doesn’t want to admit he’s in the wrong.”
“That’s what Dave said.”
“Well, Rossi is usually right — just don’t tell him I said that,” he added, making her laugh.
They finished their coffee in silence before Tony asked a question. “Are you tapping a specific pattern? I can’t figure it out.”
Surprised, Spencer looked down at her left hand. “Oh, it’s a Fibonacci sequence.”
“Do you always tap mathematical patterns, or do you mix it up? And don’t tell me everything is numbers,” he added when she opened her mouth. “We’ve had that conversation. I mean. . . is it always a number sequence, or can it be a rhythmic pattern or a song measure.”
Spencer hummed. “Numerical, I think. I don’t actually read or play music, though I do understand the mathematical patterns inherent in music and sound. I’ve thought of learning but books are simpler than practical applications for me.”
Tony grinned, then abruptly tugged her from her seat. “No time like the present.”
“What? Wait —” she found herself pushed onto the bench of Tony’s piano, the fallboard lifted and a sentinel sitting beside her. “Now? Really?”
“Scared, Spencer?” She glared at him and his smirk. “Didn’t think so.”
He walked her through the basics — position and posture, scales, keys and chords — while she rattled off the history of the instrument once called a pianoforte and the mathematics behind the production of sound by vibration. Eventually, she was following his lead in a simple melody.
“It’s simpler and more complicated than I expected,” Spencer told him, playing the same melody as he began to improvise a harmony. “And I certainly can’t do that.”
“It’s just practice and experience.”
“And math,” he countered, adding a flourish.
“And showmanship,” she laughed at his exaggerated motions.
“Definitely a little of that. Add your left hand now.” When she did, he stopped playing, leaving her to play alone. “Congratulations, Spencer, you just learned to play the piano.”
She knew she was smiling as she played. After a moment, Tony picked up the melody again and led her in a new pattern.
Eventually she sat back, letting Tony take over and play far more complex classical compositions while she listened and thought about the fact that she could smell lemon zest.
“What are you thinking, Spencer,” he asked later.
She’d been debating bringing the topic up for weeks. “I smell lemon around you.”
He cocked his head. “How’s the scent mapping going?”
“Very well — Dave’s been helping me by identifying the predominant emotions nearby whenever I detect a new scent. It’s interesting, actually, because taste is so strongly linked to scent and there are some emotions that I actually taste rather than smell. I’ve found myself making an effort to make the team laugh, because amusement smells like various mints and I enjoy the taste a great deal.”
“I understand. You know I have the most trouble with taste.” She nodded. “It’s because my olfactory sense runs very high, just behind my hearing. I can taste certain primal scents, like aggression hormones and adrenaline, arousal and even blood. When my own adrenaline runs high those scents actually make my mouth water.”
“Well, chemically there’s very little difference between our body’s hormonal response to fear, aggression and sex,” she mused. “Does your reaction upset you?”
“It was very disconcerting at first, but I learned to deal with it.” His hands never faltered on the keys. “What does lemon correspond with?”
“Citrus scents are sexual attraction and desire.”
He nodded. “Makes sense. You’re very attractive.” He smiled at her expression. “Really, Spencer, did you expect me to deny it? Yes, absolutely, I find you attractive. You probably notice that the scent is an undertone that occasionally spikes, right?”
“Yes, actually. How do you know?”
“You’re sensing the emotion behind the physical reaction that I’m used to smelling. I can only imagine that the mental component of arousal follows the hormonal one.”
“Oh! That makes a lot of sense, actually.” She tapped knee for a moment. “I should ask Hotch to help me map scent as well as Dave and Garcia.”
“I spent a few afternoons in her office while she was working on multiple projects. Because we were alone, I could ask her what she was feeling each time a detected a new scent. For the record, frustration smells like strong coffee that’s been on a hotplate far too long; bitter and scorched.”
“I’m not surprised that frustration is associated with such a cop shop smell, actually. Scorched coffee and frustration are a huge part of long, difficult cases.” Tony let his hands rest lightly on the keys. “Does it bother you?”
“No, but I also didn’t realize you knew.”
“Spencer, I’m only half-blind.”
She blushed. “No, I know that attraction is usually subconscious and that I’m not ugly,” he snorted and Spencer ignored him, “but if you’re aware of it and still seek out my company —”
“If this is about what Morgan said —”
“No, I don’t believe Morgan is right. I know you experience a number of emotions around me, and attraction is only one. If Morgan was right, lemon would be prevalent along with pepper — boredom,” she clarified.
“Good, because if he had convinced you I’m trying to use you for sex I’d have to kick his ass.”
“Well he didn’t, so you don’t. My point is, if you find me attractive and you like my company, it puts our interactions in a different perspective.”
Tony gave her a quite version of his ridiculously attractive smile. “Are you asking me if we’ve been dating without you realizing it?”
“About time you noticed. Honestly, Spencer, you didn’t even notice me flirting with you. It was enough to damage a man’s ego.”
“That’s not a risk in your case,” she retorted. “Wait, flirting?”
“Huh.” Spencer frowned and rose from the bench. “That’s. . . hmmm.”
“Where are you going?”
“To make more coffee and think. Keep playing, I like it.”
“As you wish,” he laughed, beginning the first Goldberg Variation.
“I understand that movie reference, you know.”
He kept playing. “I know you do.”
Several days later, Tony was trying not to fidget in the NCIS elevator. He didn’t like being in this building; it brought back too many memories, good and bad, and was a reminder of his loss.
“Are you alright?” Spencer asked quietly.
“No, but I will be. I wish you’d stayed at my place, or gone home,” he told her.
“I could feel your distress at the thought of coming here. Besides, if I’d gone home I wouldn’t get any of the pot roast you made,” she told him cheerfully.
“Can’t let you go hungry,” he agreed. “Let’s get him and leave.” The elevator opened onto the main bullpen level.
“It’s very. . . orange,” Spencer decided.
Gibbs was glaring at the elevator. “DiNozzo.”
The older alpha growled. “Yates shouldn’t have called you.” The woman in question was sitting at the desk Tony once had. Yates gave a little wave, ignoring Gibbs’ glare. His former teammates looked awkward; McGee didn’t look at him, and Ziva was frowning.
“You haven’t left the office in three days, haven’t eaten in ten hours, and only slept three of the last twenty-four hours. The case you’ve been working doesn’t warrant this kind of response, Gibbs, and you know it.”
Spencer wandered over the Cassie’s desk. “May I?” Bemused, the SFA rose and let Spencer sit. She looked around a moment. “Ah, I see. Between you and Gibbs, you would have had a sightline on every inch of the floor, all the exits and the windows.”
“That was the idea,” Gibbs told her, tone softening slightly. Spencer’s age and apparent vulnerability would strike a chord with the father, while her intelligence and resilience kept her from touching on Gibbs’ loss and grief. That and the fact that a sentinel would always feel protective of a guide meant that Gibbs was reigning in his temper and aggression.
“I apologize for taking over your desk, Agent.”
“Not at all. Cassie Yates,” the agent offered her hand, looking bemused but not offended when Spencer waved.
“Dr Spencer Reid. I’m sorry, I don’t usually shake hands.”
“Why would you not wish to shake someone’s hand,” Ziva demanded abruptly.
Spencer eyed the woman critically. “Not that I need to justify my choices about my body,” Cassie grinned, “but I’m somewhat touch sensitive and I don’t have full control of my empathic abilities currently. I wouldn’t wish to infringe on SFA Yates’ privacy with my imperfect shields.” Dismissing Ziva, Spencer asked him, “Why don’t the various agencies use the same position titles and abbreviations?”
“Because that would be both logical and efficient and you work for the federal government,” Tony answered immediately, making Gibbs snort.
“How typical that Tony would find a guide who is as deficient as he is as a sentinel,” Ziva said in a falsely cheerful tone.
Both Gibbs and Tony snarled at her. That she had the audacity to look surprised and offended only pissed Tony off further. Yates sighed. “For god’s sake, David, don’t insult a guide in the presence of a pair of alpha sentinels. For that matter, don’t insult a sentinel in front of someone who’s obviously his friend and who can rearrange your brain on you. I thought Mossad taught you survival skills.”
“Mossad training is the best in the world,” Ziva snapped.
“Did you fail it?” Spencer asked absently, wandering over to Gibbs. “Hello Gibbs. Or do you prefer Jethro?”
“Either,” the marine told her as Ziva surged out of her seat. McGee flinched back from the movement. The probie was still intimidated by his teammate.
“I have never failed any part of my training — unlike you, who cannot shield properly. No Mossad guide would be allowed in the field without perfect shields. Proof the FBI is for incompetents,” she gestured at Spencer’s displayed badge.
“Oh, I’m not online yet,” Tony’s guide said absently. “Though I’m surprised that Mossad has any guides in service — assassination and spying is outside the moral instincts of most sentinels and guides.”
Ziva hissed a breath but fell silent under the weight of two sentinel glares.
“Why are you here, Tony,” McGee managed.
The voice of his old probie was painful. “Cassie called me about Gibbs.”
“But you don’t even work for him anymore.”
He growled. “I was retired from NCIS, McIdiot, not from my friendship with Gibbs. What’s the matter?” he asked his old boss. “You’ve been running hot for three days and I can smell your adrenaline. You’ve been working smuggling case and already closed it.”
Gibbs growled again, then stopped when Spencer stepped closer to him, tilting her head. Reluctantly, the older agent said, “My spirit animal’s been in and out since the crime scene.”
“Shit.” That wasn’t good. Either there was far more to the case then realized, something bad was coming, or Gibbs had picked up on something subconsciously. The last time this had happened, Tony and Gibbs spent weeks on edge because Chip was in the building stalking him. The time before that, someone had been casing the Navy Yard in the hope of setting off a bomb.
As if summoned, Gibbs’ honey badger spirit animal appeared by his desk, grumbling. Spencer was immediately distracted, examining him.
“I do not understand the problem.” Ziva stated. “The case is solved.”
Cassie was at her computer. “I’ll check with the base MPs and see if there’s been any unusual activity near the crime scene, Boss. And go over the case files — once all the reports are in,” she glared at her subordinates, “and in English.”
“Is she still pulling that shit?” Tony asked. Ziva’s passive-aggressive report writing had been his bane as a SFA.
“When she thinks she can get away with it.”
He glared at the woman. In the wake of his injury — just six months after Kate’s death — the team dynamic had broke down but, really, it had been faltering since Ziva was wedged into their team. McGee felt both guilty and like people blamed him for Tony’s injury, which led to his passive-aggressive anger at Tony. Ziva considered Tony even more useless and refused to believe his senses hadn’t shut down. Abby seemed to blame Tony for the changes to the team even though he’d been the one injured and hadn’t left by choice. Moreover, Gibbs had focused a lot of attention on Tony for months, helping him recover and adjust. The team wanted to move on and pretend it had never happened, and Gibbs hadn’t been on board.
This was why Tony hated to be here. He wanted to go, but he couldn’t just leave Gibbs. You could take the SFA out of the field, but you couldn’t take the instinct to provide backup out of the retired senior agent.
“Right, Cassie is going to do all of that; McGee is going to make sure that NCIS is aware there might be a problem and check with the rest of the agency sentinels. You,” he pointed at Gibbs, “are coming with me. You are going to eat, sleep at least eight hours, and then check in with the Centre and the Prides to see if anyone else has reported the same problem. I swear, Gibbs,” he growled when the stubborn bastard started to argue, “that I will knock your stubborn ass out and carry you from the building.”
“We don’t take orders from you any more, Tony.”
“McGee, you didn’t take orders from me when I was your superior. Do your job, then go home.”
“Perhaps if you had not been incompetent,” Ziva began.
“Are you always this angry?” Spencer asked her from her spot, crouched by Semper. “Doesn’t it give you a headache? Just being near you is giving me one.” Ziva sneered. “It’s not even useful anger — that smells like cordite and steel. You smell. . . burnt and bitter.” Spencer blinked and flinched back.
Instantly, Tony was there, looming over Ziva, who jerked back in surprise. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he snarled. “I know Mossad trained you to overwhelm a guide by projecting. If you try that with her I will throw you through the fucking window.”
He could smell the faintest hint of fear under her ramping aggression. “You are nothing more than a teacher of schoolchildren; a broken sentinel. What can you do?”
From the mezzanine, a new voice spoke up. “I wasn’t aware that a tenured professor at an internationally respected university ranked with kindergarten teachers.”
“Dr DiNozzo.” Leon Vance came down the stairs. “I see you came to retrieve Gibbs. Please, keep him from the office until noon tomorrow; he’s made two probies, a TAD and a janitor cry today. Officer David,” he turned to his agent, “it’s illegal to deliberately overwhelm a guide’s shields. Doing so would mean a black mark from the Centre, potential jail time and would certainly result in termination.”
“I did no such thing; Tony’s damaged guide is simply fragile.”
“Dr Reid is a federal agent and a profiler for the country’s most elite unit, David. Also, DiNozzo could boot you off the roof just for speaking rudely to her, and there’s nothing anyone could do about it; not even Gibbs would try to stop him. Sit down and complete your reports.”
Tony didn’t know much about Vance; he’d never worked for or with him, and Gibbs’ opinion of anyone who told him what to do could be. . . interesting. But, he did know that the man had excellent taste in women as he was acquainted with Jackie Vance.
“Gibbs, get out of my building until you settle down or we have something to work with.”
“Leon —” Spencer reached out and caught the edge of Gibbs’ sleeve.
“Tony made pot roast for dinner and I’m actually quite hungry. You are too; I can feel it.” Gibbs followed Spencer’s tugging, unable to resist as she drew him from his chair. He paused to snag his gun and badge. “Agent Yates seems very competent, I’m certain she’ll have something to work with by tomorrow, though of course she’ll go home to sleep shortly. Lack of sleep contributes to more accidents than alcohol,” she rambled on, taking a baffled and amused marine towards the elevator, spirit animal wandering peacefully behind. “Your car is safe here, right? You definitely can’t drive until you get some sleep. Have you had Tony’s pot roast?” The elevator closed behind them.
Vance snorted and shifted his toothpick. “I don’t suppose the BAU is willing to lose her, but damn if I couldn’t use someone so good at wrangling Gibbs.”
“You should put a Guide in the bullpen.”
“Tried that — he intimidated the hell out of the poor kid without even trying.” Vance shook his head. “Go feed and water the beast, Doctor. I’ll get some people to look into what might be putting Gibbs on edge.”
He nodded at the director and headed out to retrieve his guide and packmate, leaving his former team behind without a glance.
Spencer woke to the scent of concern, affection and exasperation. The emotions behind them were stronger and clearer than anything she’d previously felt. Spencer wasn’t just aware of her companion’s identity based on his empathic impression, but because she could feel/smell his entire emotional landscape.
Automatically, her eidetic memory imprinted the unique fingerprint of David Rossi’s mind and empathy. She opened her eyes.
“Life is never boring around you, kiddo.”
“That’s one way of putting it.” She found the older profiler settled in a chair beside her bed. He looked tired. “Congratulations, kid, you stopped a pedophile from escaping custody, came online, and made sure everyone in Quantico knows it. Also, could you refrain from distracting people by being taken hostage?”
Rapidly assessing, Spencer recalled the last thing she could remember before waking. She’d been at Quantico, doing consultations. . . right, a so-called witness in another team’s case, trying to make a break for it; Spencer getting between him and the stairwell, deliberately drawing his focus. A knife at her throat. Talking him down, despite the overwhelming sense of disgust and corruption that physical contact gave her.
A flash of tawny golden fur and spots and then darkness.
“I was on the phone with Tony.”
“Oh, I know,” Dave told her dryly. “He showed up ten minutes after we got you to the local Centre. Nothing like a pacing alpha sentinel to stress things out.”
He sighed and patted her hand. “Stop that; you didn’t do anything wrong. Well, the part where you deliberately drew a fleeing suspect’s attention to you probably counts. There was no way he could have gotten out of the building, kid. You didn’t need to distract him.”
“The longer he ran, the greater the chance of escape or injury. Though, I would have reconsidered if I’d know he was a pedophile.” She shivered. “I felt. . .”
“Shh, kid, deep breath. Good, now focus on your shield and follow the steps you’ve established.”
She did, effortlessly seeking and finding her empathic mindscape for the first time. Everything Rossi had taught her made perfect sense now that she could see what he’d described. The weak spots in her shielding were immediately apparent, as was the sticky foreign residue that clung darkly to her.
Spencer set about repairing the damage, able to see and react in realtime to the effect of her actions. As she worked, a quiet rumble — much like a purr or a growl — echoed quietly in her head.
Xander rumbled contentedly, curled around a pretty serval. Tony wanted to resent his spirit animal for his calm, but it was hard to blame the furry bastard — he had exactly what they both wanted. Their Guide.
He paced the waiting room again, aware that Spencer was waking. Though he couldn’t hear into the isolation room, the serval had begun to stir and shift. “Gonna get a face full of claws, pal,” Tony told the cougar. “I doubt she expects a furry blanket when she wakes.”
Xander swished his tail and purred. Yeah, Tony knew Spencer would be irritated that he hadn’t told her, but he couldn’t regret the chance to know and be known by his guide before instinct took over. He’d just have to work for forgiveness.
“It’s been a day — should it take this long for her to wake up?” The bubbly tech asked worriedly. “Is something wrong?”
“Spencer is powerful — an alpha in her own right — and the circumstances of her coming online were difficult.” Blair Sandburg explained. “Not as traumatic as some, and she was fortunate to have been well prepared, but the effect of having physical contact with a disturbed mind just as she emerged. . .” The Alpha Guide and modern expert in Sentinel and Guide Studies shrugged. “Her mind will take the opportunity to rest and heal as much as possible, and that’s for the best.”
Sandburg and Ellison had been in New York when every sentinel and guide in the Quantico complex felt a guide come online in distress. They’d been at the door inside three hours — fortunately before Tony, Aaron or Dave did bodily harm to a couple of the idiots who ran this place. The shaman had immediately overruled everyone, installed Rossi in Spencer’s room, sicced his amused sentinel on Tony, and spent ten hours tearing through the Centre. Tony wasn’t sure if he’d fired people or just guilted them into resigning, but the entire leadership of the building had changed in a single day.
“This Centre serves a military base and the FBI Academy and Quantico offices,” he’d explained while inhaling coffee and a muffin. “It needs to function well and be staffed by people who can understand unusual circumstances. Also, stupidity is contagious, and I wouldn’t want those who protect us to be infected.”
Spencer’s team had yet to leave, taking turns napping and fetching coffee; Gibbs had shown up at one point with food, glaring at Tony until he’d eaten, then patted him on the back and vanished. Ellison had pointedly told his guide that he could never call Jim uncommunicative again.
There was a snarl and a thud, followed by Garcia’s shriek and laughter. Tony turned to find that the serval had woken and was standing, arched and puffed up, over Xander. The cougar seemed unperturbed, rolling onto his back and offering his belly to the other cat.
“You’re shameless, Xander,” he told his spirit animal. “Honestly.”
Spencer’s serval hissed at Xander, then stalked over to Tony, pointedly turning her back on the cougar and rubbing against Tony’s legs. Xander slunk after her, making plaintive noises and repeatedly putting himself in her line of sight, only to be snubbed. The room laughed at the sight.
Blair made a humming noise and wandered from the room. Ellison looked amused and followed his guide. After a moment, the serval rubbed against Tony one last time and stalked away, cougar slinking in her wake.
“Does that mean. . .?”
Hotchner answered Prentiss. “She’s awake.”
“Oh thank you great universe,” Garcia sighed and slumped back in her seat as her team relaxed by degrees. “How long do you think it will be before we can see her?”
“It depends on how fast she gets control and how long it takes her to be assessed.”
Prentiss looked over at Tony and he knew he was about to get shit. “So, are you going to have to beg like that to get her attention?”
He glared at her, mostly amused. “No idea. Maybe.”
“Can we watch? Because that? Was hilarious.”
He smirked. “Kinky, Agent Prentiss.” Morgan huffed. “Seriously, man, you need to suck it up.”
“I don’t like you.”
“Fortunately, Spencer does.”
She opened her eyes, aware of a strange guide in the room. She wasn’t expecting Blair Sandburg. “I read your books and papers.”
The older guide smiled. “Really? What did you think?”
“You favour an intuitive approach to social science research rather than a more clinical one, but your work is scientifically sound and lacking the bias many would expect of a guide researching his own community. You don’t shy away from the more spiritual aspects of sentinels and guides and their abilities, which is something that many do. I can see why much of your work has mainstream appeal; you have a very literary and narrative style of writing.”
“Translation; she likes it,” Dave told him, making Sandburg laugh.
“I’d love to say the same, but I haven’t had the chance yet and, unfortunately your doctoral dissertations are likely beyond me. However, I have a degree in psychology and a strong interest in abnormal psychology so I look forward to reading your work in criminal profiling.”
“I hope you find it interesting or at least useful. How long have I been asleep?”
“Only a day.”
She’d been concerned it was longer, considering his presence. “Is something wrong? Were you called because of a problem?”
“Not at all — Jim and I were nearby and decided to be nosy. Don’t let him tell you it was all me,” he added cheerfully. “He’s twice as nosy as I am.” Dave made a choking noise. “Hey, no comments from the peanut gallery.”
“So, what now? I was so focused on the process of coming online that I neglected to plan for the aftermath.”
Dr Sandburg smiled. “Most of us do, actually. I’m going to do a brief empathic assessment to make sure your shields are stable, then we’re going to move you from isolation into one of the Centre’s suites.”
Spencer nodded. “That’s reasonable.” And blinked at the feline that appeared through the door, followed soon after by Xander. “Leptailurus serval.”
The cat leapt onto her bed and proceeded to drape herself over Spencer’s lap.
“I. . . have no idea what to do about this.”
Both guides laughed. “Naming her wouldn’t be amiss,” she was told.
“Kempe.” Her spirit animal rumbled approvingly, then hissed at Xander, who was shamelessly trying to win her attention. “Should I even ask why Xander is here?”
The cougar butted his head against Spencer’s hand, rumbling when she petted him. Kempe turned her head away. She was aware of something inside her opening up at the contact with Tony’s spirit animal and sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised he didn’t tell me about this; not after the stealth dating thing.”
He knew when they moved her because the scent of his Guide suddenly filled the air. Conversation cut off abruptly as a growl cut through the room. Tony was barely aware that the noise was coming from him.
“Is something wrong?” Jareau asked him quietly.
He breathed, trying to regain control. You’re a man, DiNozzo, not your spirit animal. Though that was less true than most mundanes could ever understand. “No, but they’ve moved Spencer.”
“You can smell that?”
“Isolation is sealed off from the rest of the building. Even the air systems are filtered separately. Her scent just hit the air, so she’s out of the isolation area.”
Hotch settled beside him discreetly as his team went back to talking and teasing each other. “How are your levels?”
“Good; it’s my instincts that are the problem.”
“Spencer rarely loses her temper, so she probably won’t be angry with you for not telling her you’re compatible.”
He snorted. “Subtle, Hotch.”
Tony grinned. “I figured she’d give me that look — the one where she’s assessing whether you have the intelligence to breathe on your own — and snark at me. When she realized we were dating —”
“That statement doesn’t surprise me, though it probably should.”
“— her response was to make coffee.”
“That definitely doesn’t surprise me.”
Twenty minutes later they moved en masse to a different area of the Centre. As Tony followed the scent of his guide, he dialed up hearing to catch a hint of her voice.
“— fascinating. Almost ten percent of Guides have some kind of synesthesia but each experience is unique. Are you aware of the work they’re doing at John Hopkins?”
“Yes, I’ve already agreed to some brain scans for the comparative study.”
Tony leaned against the wall outside Spencer’s room and listened to his guide’s enthusiastic chatter.
Spencer hesitated at the door, grateful that neither of the other guides said anything. For a long moment she assessed all the variables she could see; mind sorting through possibilities and outcomes until the pieces came together in an image that made perfect sense. Breathing in, she opened the door.
Garcia immediately beamed and waved, while Emily and JJ showed more restraint but equal affection. Hotch didn’t smile, but the lines around his eyes softened and the set of his shoulders relaxed. Morgan was propping up the wall and carefully examined her before offering a tentative smile.
Spencer knew their affection, concern, respect and love. She could smell it, taste it, feel it. The part of her not assessing and cataloguing the input was nearly overwhelmed by it. Carefully, she strengthened her shielding until the feelings of her friends — her Pride — were subdued and distant.
“Are you okay, Spencer? All the genius intact and functioning at full capacity?”
“110 percent, Garcia.”
The analyst beamed brilliantly. “Of course you are; Spencer Reid is made of genius and awesome.”
“Are you going to hide around the corner, Tony?”
He shifted into view, watching her and not speaking. Kempe pushed past her to rub against his legs. Spencer felt Xander lean against her thigh.
Her sentinel laughed roughly. “You are never predictable, Spencer.”
“That’s all you have to say?” She demanded, examining him carefully. He looked a little edgy and raw, but in control. “First stealth dating, then you decided to just not mention that we’re compatible?”
“’Hello Dr Reid, it seems I’ve imprinted on you. Despite the fact that you didn’t know you were latent until a month ago and you haven’t come online yet, would you like to get all primal with me?’ Yeah, Spencer, that’s very appealing.”
Her female teammates laughed and Dave muttered something about deserving each other. Spencer frowned. “How long are you going to stand over there?”
He moved slowly towards her. “You sure, Spencer? You can still tell me where to go.”
“You have a PhD; I know you’re smarter than this.”
“Please, we both know any number of people with PhDs who can’t find their own ass with a flashlight and a map.” He came to a stop in front of her, inhaling sharply. “Last chance.”
Huffing, she reached out and hugged her idiot sentinel.
He shuddered and enfolded her in his own arms. Her shields opened for him and she felt their empathic mindscapes brush edges and begin to blend. Tony pressed his face to her neck and breathed deeply. “Guide.”
“Idiot Sentinel.” He laughed silently. Over his shoulder, she could see her team beaming — except for Morgan, who was frowning. Their eyes met, and the other profiler nodded, frown fading.
“Dave, could you call the Dean at Georgetown and make sure Tony’s classes are covered? And Gibbs, as well, so he can check on his apartment. Hotch —”
Tony huffed and began herding her back into the suite. “Hotch, Dave, Blair and Jim are perfectly capable of taking care of things, Spencer. Seriously, turn off your brain for a moment.
“Have you met me?” The door closed on the sound of her family laughing.
Two Weeks Later
“You’re here! Of course you’re here, that was the plan but something might have come up or your hunka burning sentinel might not have let you out of his sight and oh my gosh I need to stop talking but you’re here and you’re back and I missed you and can I please hug you? Is that okay, because you were getting pretty good with us touching you but you’re bonded now and maybe —”
The bubbly tech inhaled sharply. “Right, breathing good.”
Spencer smiled at her friends, who were laying in wait at her desk. “I have no objections to being hugged.”
This led to a round of embraces — Garcia returned twice — and warm welcomes. It was the first time Spencer had set foot in the BAU since she came online.
“You look good, Spence. Really good,” JJ remarked.
“I’ve become aware of how much undiagnosed empathy was affecting my sleeping habits. Being able to shield fully and being bonded has made sleep far more restful.”
“And all the extra exercise is probably helping,” Emily smirked.
“Tony has yet to convince me that running is a necessary part of a daily routine.” She paused. “Unless you were talking about sex, in which case yes, that helps.”
“How about we don’t go there,” Morgan sighed as the rest of the team laughed.
“You are the last person here who can claim prudishness, my treasure,” he was told firmly.
“Alright everyone, let’s let Reid settle in. Morgan, Prentiss, you owe me reports.”
When she saw her desk, Spencer blinked. The whole thing was festooned with balloons and ribbons. “Garcia?”
“I might have gotten a little excited.”
Besides the balloons, there was an arrangement of bright gerbera daisies, a large takeout cup, and a pot of herbs.
“The flowers are from Emily, and the drink is JJ — vanilla latte, because that’s what happiness smells like,” Garcia told her as she removed some of the balloon from the chair. “The herbs were delivered this morning.”
There was lemon verbena, mint, and sage in a purple pot. “They’re from Tony.”
“Why herbs, though?” Emily asked. “Why not flowers?”
“Many cut flowers don’t actually have a fragrance; that’s usually the result of hybridization. After all, insects don’t have a sense of smell.”
“So, instead of sending a message with flowers, he sent you one with scents?”
Spencer crushed a mint leaf, enjoying the immediate burst of scent. “Mint is laughter and sage is contentment.”
“And lemon verbena?”
“It smells like lemon, which is sexual attraction.” Garcia laughed.
Later, when she’d caught up on the backlog of consultations, Hotch came over to hand her an envelope. “What’s this?”
There were two wallets inside. One was Spencer’s new badge and identification bearing a winged circle in gold to show she was a bonded guide. The second wallet was a consultant badge made out for Anthony DiNozzo and marked with a sentinel’s winged sword, also in gold.
“Ready to get back to work?”
She looked up and saw JJ and Garcia heading into the round table room. A new case.