Antoni Ricci glared at the silver-haired man who sauntered into the bar like everyone knew his name. Though it seemed no one paid him any attention, every man at the table with Antoni was aware of every move. Enzo arched an eyebrow at Antoni, who gave him a minute head shake.
Sipping his whiskey, the stranger looked around the room until he got to the table containing Antoni, Enzo, and several other men. He sized up the men for several minutes before approaching their table.
"I'm looking for Enzo Russo."
"Why?" Antoni asked.
"To do a little business."
"We don't know you."
"I got your name from a friend of a friend."
Antoni's frown increased. "That sounds like something a cop says right before he arrests you."
The silver-haired man gave a frustrated huff, but he finally answered. "My name's Lee Jackson. A man named Danny Price gave me your name. Said there was a fat finder's fee in it for him if we do business."
"Describe him." Antoni snapped. Enzo laid a hand on his arm in an attempt to calm his associate.
"5'9", red hair â€¦"
Antoni felt sick, but knowing his life depended on what he did next, he looked at Enzo, who gave him a nod in the affirmative.
"I know of this Danny Price. He's my little extra insurance policy." With a nod, Antoni settled back in his seat. He would be chill until Enzo released him from his duties. "What is it you are looking for Lee Jackson?"
"Help cleaning up a sandy mess. I'm an Ex-Marine, served mostly in the Middle East. A lot of US dollars floating around over there and nobody's keeping records."
"A man of few words. I like that. Leave us your contact details. We'll check you out just to make sure you are not a cop as my associate intimated, then it's possible we can do business."
Pulling a card out of his pocket, Lee Jackson nodded his agreement and walked out of the bar.
Enzo's face lost its jovial expression. "It's time for me to call it an evening. My wife is an angel, but even I know not to make war in my own house." The other men chuckled their agreement. "Antoni." He patted the taller man's cheek. "Thank you for looking out for my welfare, but I will have my pet cop check out Jackson."
"Just doing my job, Boss."
"Go home, tomorrow will be busy if this Jackson character checks out."
"Might want to slip out through the basement in case anyone is staking out the place."
"Not just a pretty face." Enzo smirked at his other men.
Antoni remained at the table to finish his coffee as Enzo and his guards disappeared into the back. When he finished, he tipped the waitress and headed for the front door. While Lee Jackson screamed military, there was something not ringing quite true in his story. Antoni may be a latent Sentinel, but his hearing and eyesight had always been better than most. Jackson's voice and heartbeat showed signs of stress when he was telling Enzo his story. It would not surprise him to find the man sitting across the street when he headed to the parking lot.
Waiting until several other patrons walked out the door, his exceptional hearing catching the whir of a camera shutter. Keeping his face turned away from any of the cameras around the restaurant, Antoni made his way toward his car.
Fearing both the good guys and the bad guys, Antoni Ricci aka Detective Anthony DiNozzo, Jr., Baltimore Undercover Homicide, went to the apartment he was using as Antoni Ricci, mob enforcer, packed his belongings and moved deeper into the older side of Baltimore. Heading to a historic single stay hotel owned by an older couple Tony had helped as a patrol officer, he hoped to be able to get a room for a night or two. He'd kept up the acquaintance after he got promoted, often eating at the attached restaurant, run by the couple's son.
Conscious of the cameras, he slipped into the restaurant. Seeing his usual table by the kitchen open, he moved through the early dinner crowd to settle in the shadowed booth. When the family matriarch would have given him her usual greetings, he quickly shushed her and explained what he needed. With a fond pat on the shoulder, she disappeared into the kitchen. Appearing ten minutes later, she set dinner in front of the young man and slipped him a room key. Giving her a weary smile, he kissed the back of her hand while pressing several bills against her palm.
"You park your car with the family's." She said on her way back to the kitchen.
Grateful for such good friends, he finished his meal then disappeared out through the kitchen. A quick conversation on the hotel's payphone with Captain Harrelson let him know his ordeal was nearly over. Tony told him about the new player on the scene. Harrelson growled about other agencies trying to horn in on his cases. Tony's lips curled into a small smile as he hung up the phone. Moving his car off the street, he grabbed his duffel, computer bag, and headed to his room. Using skills learned with his friends in a coffee shop after his regular computer classes, he wiggled into the Baltimore Police database looking for evidence that showed any irregularities around his partner, Danny Price. Hearing his partner's name fall out of Lee Jackson's mouth had been a shock but getting confirmation from Enzo Russo that he was on the take had almost put him on his knees.
It took several hours, but sadly, he found plenty of damning evidence. He took screenshots of what he found to add to the rest of the evidence he was collecting for a corruption investigation into the department. Making sure he didn't leave any footprints in the BPD database, he shut down his work and settled down to sleep.
Knowing he was on his own, Tony had his knife within reach and his gun under his pillow. Though he dozed off to sleep, all his senses monitored the area around the hotel. They noted Senora Perez's family settle down for the night and the homeless man rummaging through the dumpster. The black leopard stretched across the foot of the bed kept watch over his charge.
Feeling more rested than he had since going undercover as Antoni Ricci, Tony left the hotel, keeping a constant watch for tails and avoiding surveillance cameras. He told Senora Perez he would back if it was safe. The woman patted his hand and said she'd keep him in her prayers.
Pulling up to Enzo's house, Tony relaxed a bit knowing the crime boss would be conducting business from his home office until lunchtime. He'd felt bad when the Captain from Major Crimes insisted this operation be kept secret, but now he would need to stay out of sight if Danny came by Enzo's bar and restaurant.
Another day of collecting evidence â€¦ Another night staying at Perez's was filled with nightmares of being betrayed by his partner and dying at Enzo's hand. His dreams and senses finally settled when the black leopard settled his head across his charge's legs.
The next day, Enzo called the number Lee Jackson had left. While they were making plans to meet, Tony was trying to guess which of the alphabets it was where Jackson worked. What Tony didn't realize was he was listening to both sides of the call until Enzo hung up and repeated the plans he'd made. The next thing he realized was he could hear ship's horns coming through Jackson's side of the call. He didn't hear any of the familiar sounds of the Baltimore Harbor, so he must be somewhere around DC.
The feel of claws piercing his thigh pulled Tony's attention away from the phone call. *What the hell â€¦* He looked down expecting to see his Armani suit pants ruined, but what he saw had him quickly searching the room to see if anyone else noticed the black cat with leopard markings peeking through the black hair. *Damn. He'd almost zoned causing his spirit guide to appear and pull him out. "Thanks â€¦ Faro."* A rub against his leg told him of the leopard's approval. He turned his attention back to Enzo, determined to finish the operation before worrying about anything having to do with his being a Sentinel.
Phone call finished, Enzo informed them Jackson would be meeting them at two o'clock at the restaurant before pulling Tony to the conference table to go over a list of people that needed Tony's special brand of persuasion in bringing their accounts current. Breathing a sigh of relief at being able to travel in his own car, Tony went to Enzo's restaurant to grab lunch before heading out on his rounds. There was a feeling niggling at the back of his neck that he needed to be out of the bar this afternoon.
Wanting to keep things light, Tony ordered the baked ziti and side salad. His hearing was catching the sounds of too many cars and people on the street for one o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, so he made an excuse about talking to Ernesto about his recipe for his ziti. He told the chef he was going to the basement for a bottle of wine but kept moving through the old rum runners tunnels until he got to where he parked his car, glad the area was full of noontime crowds. Tony was about to unlock his car when he caught sight of a head of silver hair moving away from the area. Since it seemed Captain Harrelson had made his move against Enzo, the least Tony could do was bring in an ex-Marine that stole from the government â€¦ If that was the truth and not a legend. Time to find out.
He took off after the older man.
Glad he was wearing jeans and one of his older sports coat, Tony showed he was still as good as his college days when he tackled Jackson making sure the man stayed pinned under his larger body. As he gathered his feet under him, he grabbed Jackson's hands and zipped tied them faster than a calf roper tying a calf.
"Stop, Police." Tony whispered in Jackson's ear before hauling him off the ground while reading him his Miranda rights and relieving him of his gun and knife. He escorted him back to his car and headed to the station.
"You're a cop?" Jackson scoffed.
"A detective with a badge and everything." Tony shoved him in the back seat and buckled his seat belt.
"You can cut me out of these zip cuffs â€˜cause I'm Special Agent Jethro Gibbs with NCIS."
"That's a new one. Can't say I've ever had someone use being a Navy cop to get released." Tony smirked. He could hear the truth in the man's words, but Tony was taking him in just for extra aggravation the man had caused.
At the station, he took Gibbs or Jackson, or whatever his name was in the entrance used by Undercovers to keep them out of sight of the people coming and going through the station.
"Hey, Cap, brought the new player. Says his name is Gibbs with NCIS." He pushed the man down in the nearest chair.
Captain Harrelson picked up a file from his desk. After reading for a minute he addressed his UC. "Cut him loose DiNozzo. He matches the picture in the file NCIS sent over."
Tony flipped open his knife and cut the zip cuffs. "Thank you for visiting beautiful Charm City. Come again soon. Tell all your friends what a wonderful time you had." He snarked as he handed the agent his weapons. "We done, Cap?"
"Get me your report and check your evidence with Mike."
Tony flashed him a movie star smile before heading to his own desk, glad he wasn't the one that would have to listen to Gibbs bitching about the PD snatching Enzo from under his nose. He stopped by Forensics to sign in his electronics and the video evidence he collected before heading to his desk.
"Hey, Partner. You back?" Danny came in carrying a cup of coffee.
"Yeah. Anything exciting happen while I was gone?" Tony booted up his computer while he watched his partner.
"Naw. Routine stuff that didn't amount to anything. They paired me with Jeff since his partner's on vacation. "So, what were you working on? Everything was real hush, hush around here."
Feeling Faro bump against his leg, Tony opened his hearing the way he taught himself when he was a child. He just hoped he could control his new senses as easily as he'd control the two he'd had since he was old enough to understand he had to look out for his mother.
"Just a little recon work for an operation. They needed my pretty face to blend in with other pretty faces." He heard Danny's heart rate drop and watched his entire body relax at Tony's answer. "I better get this report done if I want to get out of here at a decent hour."
"I've got a few of those myself." Danny logged onto the system where something he read caused him to pale.
"You okay?" Tony watched Danny closely.
"Yeah. Just caught off guard by something I read. Did you hear about the Enzo Rocco bust?"
"Rocco? No. Isn't he that loan shark Fraud's been after?"
"Seems they kicked him over to Major Crimes and they picked him up today."
"Lawyer'll probably have him out in an hour. He's made, so the Don won't like his guy spending too long with us. The Feds might find out and snatch our case." Tony grumbled as watched his partner relax then tense up again.
"SOP. Made guy gets popped for something, Feds come along and offer immunity and witness protection if they flip on their Don. You should watch the news once in a while." Tony teased.
"Moron." Danny threw a pen at him but relaxed again. "Small fish in a big pond. No reason for the Feds to nose around."
"If you're done angsting about someone else's case, I'm trying to get this finished."
"You've started believing the BS you got from hanging in all them pretty people clubs."
"That's why I keep you around." Tony threw the pen back at his partner and returned to his report. Looked like he wouldn't be breaking his two year record employment record at Baltimore.
At home, he pulled out a burner phone and called a number only he knew.
"You want to grab a bite?"
"Sure. We can catch up."
"Someplace quiet. It's been a hell of a week."
"I'll send you an address. See you at 8."
Tony memorized the address and destroyed the phone. Pulling another a new phone and a flash drive out of his safe, he left his apartment. Forty-five minutes later, he was pulling up in front of an older, but well-kept house in Crownsville, Maryland.
"Nice place, Tobias."
"I'm housesitting for a friend, so the neighbors are used to seeing me around. Come on in." Tony followed the older man through the door. "I ordered Chinese since I figured this was business."
"Yeah. I got a few different things." Tony sighed as he settled across the table from his friend, who also happened to be SSA Tobias Fornell, of the FBI, and the lead agent on Tony's second undercover assignment. He pulled the flash drive and a piece of paper from his pocket. "Evidence and the number for my new burner phone."
"That can wait until we eat. What else is going on? I could practically feel it over the phone."
"I came online a few days ago." Tony laid down his fork to rub his face.
"DiNozzo!" The shock kept him from teasing his young friend by mangling his last name. "What the hell?"
"Things were getting hairy. I found out Danny's in Enzo Rocco's pocket. Harrelson took him down earlier today. Needless to say, my partner's keeping his head down. He's not privy to either operation I've been working. I went to ground for a few days ago in case Danny saw me with Enzo."
"Damn. No wonder you came online. I'm sorry about your partner, Tony. What are you going to do? Come to work for me?" Fornell grinned.
"Good Gods, no. We'd be squabbling like an old married couple in a week, and I already know you're not my Guide."
"From the little bit I'm getting, you're waaayyy out of my league." The men went back to eating. "How's your control? I know there's no one in Maryland, DC or Virginia that would match your strength."
"I took some classes in college because I had two active senses." He snatched one of the cartons Tobias seemed to be hoarding. "I met another Fed on the Rocco operation. Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS." Tony laughed at the expression on Tobias' face. "From the look on your face, you know him?"
"He doesn't play well with others. What happened?"
"He tried to horn in our case, so I tackled him in an alley and arrested him."
Tobias began to laugh. "I wish I'd seen that."
"You know him?"
"I have the â€˜privilege' â€¦" Tobias made air quotes. "Of being the FBI liaison with NCIS because everyone else wants to shoot Gibbs. I go toe to toe with him then we solve the case."
Sitting in the living room with coffee, Tobias pushed aside the FBI agent and pulled out the Guide.
"How're your dials?"
"Better since they busted Enzo and I handed over that flash drive." He hid his expression behind his mug. "I'm going to stay at the PD until I decide where I'm going. Maybe try the West Coast. The East Coast has become a bit toxic for my taste."
"I know three agencies off the top of my head that would take you just for your undercover skills." Fornell hated the thought of his friend moving. "Have you talked to the S & G Center?"
"I mentioned the Center to Faro and he headbutted my knees out from under me."
"Spirit guide. He's a leopard, only he's black. He's kind of cool looking. He's been watching out for me."
"I'll make some phone calls. I have a few contacts out west."
â€˜Thanks, Tobias." He set his mug on the coffee table. "I really need to get home. The past three days have sucked and I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed."
"If you're still in Baltimore when The Powers decide to move on the corruption case, I'll give you a head's up."
"Thanks, Tobias." Tony hugged his friend. "I'll keep you posted on my plans." He patted the man on the back as he headed out the door.
Falling into bed, Tony was glad he didn't have to be back to work until Monday.
By Monday, Tony had his choices narrowed to three. He thought seriously about taking Tobias up on his offer, but as much as he liked Tobias, there was something about the FBI that rubbed him wrong. Houston and Denver had a few openings that were interesting, but it was the openings at the Cascade, Washington Police department that was really tickling his intuition.
~ Flashback ~
He'd put out some feelers out into the DiNozzo Network, but it was Special Agent Gibbs banging his way into the Homicide Division offices just as Tony finished his reports for Captain Harrelson.
He pointed at Tony, and in a voice that brooked no argument made an announcement. "I want you at NCIS 0800, Monday for a job." Announcement made he turned and stalked out the door.
"What the hell was that?" Danny looked at Tony.
"Gunnery Sargeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS."
"Why would he want to talk to you about a job?"
Tony shrugged and went back to clearing his cases in preparation for making his move. "I guess he liked the way I smiled when I tackled him." He quipped before logging off his computer, grabbing his sports coat off the back of his chair, and heading out the door. He'd turned up his hearing long enough the hear Danny ask the room in general, "Was it something I said?"
~ End Flashback ~
Along with looking for a new job, Tony and Faro spent his time off practicing control over his senses â€¦ All six of them. After trying to out-stubborn his spirit guide with a staring contest, he thumped his head on the coffee table and gave in. Just once it would be nice to be normal. Be a nice, normal five sense Sentinel, but noooo, he had to have six. He was thinking it was that same sense he'd been cursing, that told him to take Sentinel studies while he was healing from the injury that ended his athletic career. That secondary degree was the only reason he could do this without help from Tobias or going to the S & G Center.
It had been a quiet morning allowing Tony to finish clearing his paperwork. He only had a couple cases awaiting trial, but the Assistant DA handling them was trying to work plea deals with their attorneys. Danny had been his usual annoying self, and Tony had acted the same as he always did, not letting on he knew his partner was on the take or telling him that he was leaving. An irate Agent Gibbs had called, berating Tony for not making the trip to the Navy Yard.
The partners had shared a laugh when Tony informed Gibbs that the Baltimore PD's work schedule did not cater to the demands of NCIS. Gibbs had hung up. They had walked out of the station together for their lunch break, but Danny had begged off even after Tony offered to buy. Seeing the older man pull out his phone, Tony dialed up his hearing to catch the conversation and was relieved to hear the man making a date with his girlfriend. He turned his hearing down to normal and went to enjoy his lunch.
Walking back through the door after lunch, he was surprised at the smell of fear and the chaos that seemed to be running through the station. Dropping his extra cup of coffee with the desk Sargeant, he looked around the room.
"What's up, Sarge? The Mayor make a surprise visit?"
"Feds showed up looking for your partner."
"Yeah. Said they had some questions for him about a couple cases."
"I guess I better haul upstairs then." He gave the Sargeant his trademark grin and headed for the stairs.
Walking through the door, he saw Fornell and another agent standing behind a tech from IT going through Danny's computer.
"Detective DiNozzo, SSA Fornell, and Agent Sacks. We need to talk to you about your partner."
"I just saw him before we split up to go to lunch. He's okay, isn't he?"
"He's fine. We simply have a few questions, if you would step over to the conference room with me while Agent Sacks stays to collect the information off Detective Price's computer."
"Uh â€¦" Tony looked over at his Lieutenant. Getting a nod of approval, he turned back to Fornell. "Sure, Agent Fornell. Lead the way."
Once inside, Fornell pulled a small white noise generator out of his pocket while he fiddled with the camera to make it seem Tony was giving his on the record statement before he sat down across from his UC and friend.
"I hope you have an exit strategy. It's going to be ugly around here for months." Fornell turned so he could watch the squad room while they talked.
"I got with HR before I left on Friday. I'm scheduled to work this week and use my vacation to count toward the second."
"Picked a destination?"
"Yeah. My little extra something is nudging me toward Cascade, Washington PD."
"Yeah. What's special about Cascade?"
"I thought one of your degrees is Sentinel Studies."
"Damn. That's where the first S & G Center in the US started and home of the Alpha Prime pair." Tony rubbed a hand over his face, which would seem natural to finding out his partner was dirty. "It's been so long since I thought about that because I only had two senses I forgot about Cascade being at the epicenter."
"At least I know you'll be in good hands."
"You know I've been taking care of myself since I was eight."
"Then it's about time you had help." Fornell quipped.
"I'll send you my contact information when I get settled. You never know when you might need an undercover in Cascade."
"You never know when I might get on a plane and visit a friend."
"You're always welcome. You might even find your Sentinel in the big wide West."
"We'll get together before you leave."
The men shook hands and Tobias fiddled with the camera again while shutting off the white noise generator. Opening the door they both walked back toward Tony's desk where Agent Sacks was handed a flash drive by the IT tech. Before he could settle at his desk, his Lieutenant called him to his office.
"Did you know anything about this mess with Price?" Lieutenant Graves was not one to pussyfoot around a topic.
"No, Sir. I've been undercover on one case or another most of the year."
"Good to know. I got your Notice this morning. Anything I can do to talk you out of it?"
"No, Sir. It's time to give my legends and face a break from the East Coast. You can only go mob hunting for so long before someone questions why the families you work for seem to get popped."
Graves chuckled at his youngest Detective's sardonic assessment of his situation. "Headed to the Feds?"
"Headed west. See who might be looking for an investigator."
"Knowing your network of contacts, you won't be looking for long, DiNozzo."
"Hope you're right, Sir."
"Sorry about your partner, Kid. Good luck wherever you land."
Thanks, Lieu. You'll probably be getting calls before the months out asking about me."
Tony left the office feeling more settled about his decision to leave.
He spent the rest of the week running computer checks for the other detectives and looking for a place to live in Cascade. He found a brick warehouse the owner had converted to condos that caught his fancy. The fixtures were historic reproductions, but they added to the timeless feel of the building with balconies and open beams. His piano would fit perfectly in front of the balcony doors. Tony looked over to where Faro was sprawled on the sofa.
"What do you think? Is it perfect, or what?"
The cat rolled over on his, paws waving in the air, purring like a buzz saw. Taking that as a good sign, Tony called the realtor.
Believing the kind of phone call he got after hours was bad news, he smiled when he saw his property manager's number on the caller ID.
"Dana, how are you?"
"I'm good. I've got some good news. We sold another unit."
"Last one on the top floor."
"That's great. Who bought it?"
"A police detective from Baltimore. Said he was moving to Cascade for a change of scenery."
"You got a name for me?"
"Anthony DiNozzo, Jr."
"I'll get the crews in to get it ready. He wants to close ASAP. He did make a strange request."
"Oh, what's that?"
"He asked if the unit was â€˜Sentinel friendly'. He was thrilled when I said yes."
"Keep up the good work." He looked thoughtful when he hung up the phone.
"What's up?" His partner asked from where he was preparing dinner.
"Dana sold the unit next door."
"That's great news â€¦ Isn't it?"
"Yeah. Guy was a detective in Baltimore."
"Even better. Sounds like Cascade is getting a new detective. I'll have to stop by HR Monday and catch up on the gossip. What's his name?"
"Anthony DiNozzo, Jr. and he asked Dana if the unit was â€˜Sentinel friendly'." Lieutenant Detective James Ellison informed his partner and Guide, Dr. Blair Sandburg.
Blair made a quick stop in their home office for his laptop then logged in to the Sentinel and Guide National Database.
"We don't have a Sentinel by that name in the database. Why wouldn't he go to the Baltimore Center if he's online?"
"I don't know, but from what Dana said, he's interested in a quick close."
"I told you, you jinxed us the other day when you said things were too quiet."
The Alpha Prime Guide gave his Sentinel a backhanded smack against his chest before catching his lips in a quick kiss.
"I can't wait."
His classic Mustang was moving cross country with the rest of his possessions, so Tony pulled out of the hotel parking lot in what he called his winter car. The Dodge Durango SRT looked sharp and would be more comfortable driving the next four days than his classic. He thought about shipping both cars and flying into Seattle, but he might never get another chance to see this part of the country again.
Not wanting to rattle around the city after his apartment was cleared by the movers, he'd driven as far west as Pittsburgh before settling in a Sentinel friendly room for the night. The trip across America was spent learning to enjoy his senses as he stopped to hear and see things most of his fellow tourists would never experience. When he would begin to sink too far into his senses, Faro would appear and with a headbutt or swat of a big paw bring him back to Earth.
Checking into his hotel in Cascade, he was glad to have reached his destination. As much fun as he'd had on his road trip, he was glad to stop vibrating and to have the hum of the Durango's tires out of his ears. He was set to meet with Dana Marian at ten. His lawyer had called their west coast office, and arranged for one of their associates to assist Tony with the closing since a small portion of the funds would be coming out of one of his trust funds â€¦ The rest had come from the hazard pay from his last three police departments. Going undercover for the Feds did have its perks.
Dana was a well-built woman with dark silky hair and eyes so dark they appeared black. She was personable and professional. By lunchtime, he had possession of the keys to his new home and had called to inform the movers. By the weekend he should be settled in then he could begin exploring his new city.
Jim settled on the couch with a book, beer and Mariners game on the television. He'd been restless all day and had settled into a meditation with Blair without his usual complaints. Their time on the spiritual plane had been relaxing, extending to their return to the real world. The relaxation lasted until the top of the 4th inning. One minute the Alpha Prime Sentinel was enjoying his novel and the Mariners putting on a winning performance to being on alert. Another Prime had entered his territory.
"Jim?" Blair had felt his Sentinel's leg muscles tense from where they lay across his lap. He started to ask another question when he caught the sense of a young unbonded Prime. "Holy cow." He muttered.
Both men were surprised when their spirit guides appeared in the living seeming unconcerned about the new Sentinel in their territory. They were used to Sentinels and Guides coming and going to the Sentinel and Guide Center. None had caused the reaction this person did.
"Wonder if that's DiNozzo?" Jim pulled Blair close. Sounds of agreement came from both animals as they made themselves comfortable. "Having him next door is going to be interesting." The irony was heavy in his voice.
"I really want to ask him why he didn't go to the Center in Baltimore before leaving his territory?" Blair allowed his curiosity free rein to study the energy around the new Sentinel. Using his Shaman's gifts, he began to look deeper until a green-eyed, black leopard snarled in his face. "WOAH!" He pushed back into Jim's chest.
"Chief?" Muscular arms wrapped around Blair's chest.
The two men turned their attention to where a leopard that looked as though he rolled in black paint glared at the two men. Jim's jaguar stretched his neck until the two spirit guides bumped noses. Tired of the pussyfooting between the two Sentinels, Blair's wolf walked over and with a swipe of his long tongue gave his apology for his human's actions and welcomed the leopard to Cascade. The two cats exchanged head rubs before the leopard disappeared.
"Interesting." Blair muttered as he grabbed his tablet off the coffee table and began scribbling notes.
Feeling someone pushing against his shields, Tony was not surprised when Faro appeared next to him in the elevator. Letting himself in his room, he paused to brace one arm against the wall. This was getting a little ridiculous. He hadn't been in Cascade proper for twenty minutes and someone was trying to get in his business. He solidified his shields, so he could get settled in the room before sitting down to find out who was being a Nosy Nelson.
Before he could do that, Faro disappeared and the pressure against his shields stopped. "Thanks, Buddy." He stripped down and headed for the shower.
On the way out the door, Thursday, Jim, and Blair saw the super, George Reynolds, heading to the building's garages.
"Morning, George. What's happening this morning?" Jim asked. He owned the building but was pretty much hands off the day to day because of his job at Major Crimes and duties at the S & G Center.
"Mr. DiNozzo's moving in today. He paid for two garage spaces with his condo. I'm making sure everything's ready for him."
Jim nodded. Their accounts had gotten a healthy boost because DiNozzo bought the unit outright.
"Good job." Say hello to the Constance and tell her â€˜Thanks' for the pie. It was fantastic."
"I'll tell her." With a wave, George continued on his way.
That husband and wife had been an answer to Jim's prayers when he bought the building then realized with the hours he worked there was no way he could do all things he'd planned. With the cash from the sale to DiNozzo, he'd be able to give the couple a nice raise.
"Feeling jittery, territorial, like you want to hunt down the interloper to your tribe?" Blair was only half way teasing with his question.
"I'm fine Chief. Whatever the spirit guides did last night seemed to have smoothed things out."
"Good. Really good. I'm sure the tenants will appreciate the warehouse standing a few more days."
"Haha. We're all adults here. I've gotten used to Sentinels and Guides coming and going."
"Yeah, but this one isn't going. He's settling in for the long haul."
"Oh look. Moving vans, and a Dodge Durango with an incredibly good-looking Sentinel driving." Blair continued to tease his Sentinel.
"Look, Simon is off today to attend â€˜Career Day' at Daryl's school. Do not make me drag your ass to the Bonding Suite this morning when I'm standing in for the Captain." He growled at his Guide.
"I'll hold that thought until we get home."
"You do that, Chief." Jim bared his teeth.
Tony looked around his new home. The reality was even better than the pictures and videos Dana had sent. The soundproofing was a relief to his hearing, the balcony and skylight flooded the rooms with natural light, and the soapstone stove would be perfect on days he needed to drive out the chill. Today was warm and clear, so he had the balcony doors open to enjoy the sounds and smells of the neighborhood.
His cars were in his garages, his things settled in their new home, and his piano glowed in the evening sun. He took a deep breath and let it out, relaxing for the first time since Tobias had called for his help in gathering evidence of corruption in Tony's department. Remembering the menus that had been left on the kitchen counter, Tony realized he hadn't eaten since breakfast. Finding the menu for a Chinese restaurant a few doors down the street caught his attention. Looked like a good place to start.
Tony was playing Tetris on his new phone while he waited for his order when something pinged his sixth sense hard enough that his other senses went on alert. Visualizing his television remote, he began mentally clicking up the volume. When he got a clear sensory picture, he stopped. A very powerful Sentinel and Guide pairing had passed by the shop and were entering the warehouse where his condo was located. With a mental shrug, he went back to his game. He knew the North American Primes lived in Cascade, so he was bound to catch wind of them eventually â€¦ No pun intended.
With his senses still three notches higher than normal, the scents of the pair stopped at the condo next to his. Looking down at his smirking spirit guide, he locked the door behind him before heading to the kitchen for a beer.
"You planned this." He shook his finger at the leopard who flopped down in the evening sun flickering through the leaves of the tree offering a bit of shade to half his balcony.
Cleaning up the leftovers, Tony settled at his piano. Not giving a thought to the open doors of the balcony, he played while he turned over what he wanted to accomplish before he started contacting the law enforcement agencies in Cascade.
Seeing his partner standing at the balcony doors with his head cocked, Blair slid under the taller man's arm, so it rested across his shoulders.
"Not zoned, Chief. Just listening to our neighbor."
Opening the door, Blair heard the classical melody from next door. "What's he playing?"
"Mozart's Sonata No 16 in C Major." Blair hugged Jim with the arm he put around his waist. Even after all their time together, Jim still did things that surprised him. "Don't strain yourself, Sandburg. I grew up in a wealthy household that entertained other wealthy business people. I heard a lot of classical music, most of it wasn't too bad."
"He's very good."
The sonata switched out to something bluesy. Jim turned and pulled Blair into his arms as he began to dance him around the loft, right to the stairs and up to their bed.
Having mapped out the route for his usual weekend run of ten miles, he wasn't surprised when the familiar scent of his neighbor caused him to look to his left. A dark-haired man with pale blue eyes and built like a wet dream came toward him from an intersecting jogging path. Tony slowed to allow the other man to catch up.
"Anthony DiNozzo, Jr. I prefer Tony." They shook hands as they continued to run together.
"Glad to finally catch up with you."
"We're not going to do the whole Alpha Sentinel posturing thing because I moved into your territory, are we? I'm sure you did a background check on me before you allowed me to buy my condo."
If he blamed the flush on his face and neck on the exertion of his run, then no one was the wiser, and since the younger Sentinel felt like a fellow Prime, there was no need to posture. Besides, with the snark he was putting out, it probably wouldn't phase him.
"Yeah. Being a cop, you can never be too careful who moves into your building. You check in with the Center?"
Tony gave him his frat boy smile. "If you want to call it that. I didn't get a very good vibe from the people in Baltimore."
"I'll have to give the Prime in the area a call â€¦"
"Don't bother. The DC Prime and her Guide transferred to the FBI's Genocide and War Crimes Unit over a year ago."
Ellison frowned at the information. Looks like he and Blair were going to have to be more hands-on with the Centers, or at least have better communication with the regional Alphas.
"Thanks for the info. Blair and I will look into it."
"I figured you have your own team of investigators for troubleshooting the Centers and investigating Sentinel/Guide crimes."
"It's something Blair and I've talked about, but we've never had the time or money to get it off the ground."
"Would you want to be free from the government's fingers in your pie?"
"That would make Blair happiest." Jim smirked at Tony's disbelieving look. "His mother is a flower child. Spends all her time running from retreat to retreat trying to find her Zen."
"The reason he never went through the Academy?"
"Yeah, but being Shaman of the Great City, he doesn't need to carry a gun."
A half mile from home, the two men slowed to a walk to cool down.
"If you're serious about this idea of yours, we should get together and put some ideas on paper. I know some people and foundations that might be willing to help plus there's a Guide in DC that's a Unit Chief for the FBI that can get us an inside track to training."
"Come by tonight. I'll throw some steaks on the grill."
"Sounds great. Can I bring anything?"
"You got it. They doing any hiring at the Cascade PD?"
"All the time, but if it won't jam you up maybe wait until we talk this thing out with Blair."
"I can do that."
"If we don't see you at the Center later, come by around six."
"See you then."
As Tony showered and fixed breakfast, he thought about his conversation with Ellison. How their idea felt right. Sentinel and Guides would bring an understanding to investigations that mundanes couldn't. He made a few notes on his tablet while he finished his coffee then decided to take the Durango since it was a typical northwest late spring day complete with intermittent downpours.
"Can I help you, Sir?" The receptionist was a mid-level Guide that spoke in a practiced tone that was meant to put newly online Sentinels and Guides at ease.
"Yes. I need to register."
She looked up from where she was preparing to take notes. "As what?"
"A Sentinel." Tony frowned.
"Are you online?"
"For almost a month."
She gaped at him for several minutes until Faro appeared.
"Hey, Buddy." Tony stroked the silky head.
"Huh â€¦ Let me call someone to help you. What was your name, Sir?"
"DiNozzo â€¦ Sentinel Anthony DiNozzo, Jr."
"Have a seat and someone will with you momentarily."
Tony was making notes on his phone of some questions for after dinner when Faro made a chuff of welcome. He looked up to see Faro greeting Jim and Blair's spirit guides.
"You certainly got things stirred up in the back rooms." Jim chuckled while Blair watched the two Sentinels interact.
"I live to be a wild card."
"Oh, this is my Guide, Dr. Blair Sandburg. Chief â€¦ Tony DiNozzo, our new neighbor and guest for supper."
Blair was flummoxed. "When did you meet that you invited him to eat with us?"
"He runs. We met on the way back to the loft and got to talking about this and that."
"When were you going to inform me we're having a guest for supper."
"On the way home when I stopped at the butcher. We've got some good stuff we want to brainstorm with you."
"Yeah. Come on, Kid. Let's get you registered."
"You're not that much older than me, Old Man."
"I know. I saw your entire file. Impressive."
"Most of that file is classified." Tony frowned at his new friend.
"Captain, Army Rangers."
"Black ops? Still carry the clearance?"
"Yeah. I get pulled in once in a while on consults."
"I'd rather most of that file didn't go beyond your Guide. I left the East Coast to get away from the toxicity."
With the presence of Jim and a confused Blair, it didn't take long until they were at the testing part of Tony's intake.
"Do I have permission to scan you?" Blair asked. When Tony hesitated, Blair made to reassure him. "It won't be a deep scan. I just need to check your shields and the stability of your emotional landscape."
"Oh. Okay. What do I need to do? I mean I've got book knowledge of empathic scans by a Guide, just not practical experience."
"One of my degrees is in Sentinel/Guide Studies."
He glared at his Sentinel. "Later, Chief." Jim chuckled. "Do your scan."
"I need you to relax your shields, so I can get in and do the scan."
"Okay." Tony took a deep breath and tried to relax enough to let Blair do his scan. It took several tries before Bair was able to complete his scan.
"I can attest to your shields being stable and strong. Everything else seems good. How did you get your senses to stabilize without help from a Guide â€¦ Other than your book learning."
"I've always had my sight and hearing since I was a kid. After my mom's health started going downhill, I used it to keep track of her when my dad was away. After she died, I used them to survive when my dad sent me to boarding school. Faro's been a big help with the other four."
"Would Faro happen to be a black leopard?"
"I know. About five miles from the city limits sign. He orchestrated my move into your building, so it's good that you got the whole territory thing straight before I picked up my keys."
"We'll get you through the medical part of the program, while I'm getting your file set up in the database. We'll get you through the system as quick as we can, so you can enjoy the rest of your Saturday." Blair arched his eyebrows at Jim.
"I'll show you where to go while Sandburg does his thing."
Tony chuckled at the Prime couple's antics. "You two are soooo married."
"Just wait â€˜til you find your Guide. I'll get the last laugh." If Jim noticed Tony rub the middle of his chest, he didn't say anything, simply lead him to the medical wing of the Center.
Two months later, Tony had the makings of a team sitting on his desk. Every file folder contained the life story of a Sentinel or a Guide. The Council that consisted of the Primes from across the world were enamored with the idea of a team that would do criminal investigations, troubleshoot problems, and conduct audits of the Centers. The auditing was going to be a division all its own.
His head was still spinning at the speed which things were happening. Many of the same sources that funded the Centers were increasing their contributions to fund the expansion. While many Sentinels and Guides served in law, fire, rescue services and the military, the thought of another set of checks and balances on this special sector of humans would help relations with mundanes.
Jim, Blair, and Tony made a trip to the East Coast a week after Tony took the Prime pair's offer, where they poached a Director from NCIS, a forensic accountant, profiler, and field agent from the FBI. The DiNozzo Network had been hard at work that week. His network had netted them support personnel for Peter Burke's auditor division.
Peter and his Guide, Neal Caffrey, had already started an audit of Cascade Center since it was the premier S & G Center. Though their offices were in a building that butted up against the Center's campus, Tony could smell the nervousness coming from the Center's management offices. He smiled when he thought about Burke's wife, Elizabeth. She was a mundane married to Peter for ten years when Peter caught Neal and discovered the grifter was his Guide. The three had built a strong relationship, and Elizabeth had been thrilled to move away from New York City now that they had a newborn son.
Tony separated out the three files for the Investigations team and laid them to the side. Latent Guide, Tom Morrow from NCIS would be taking over the big chair overseeing their cases. It would be up to him to hire his Deputy. The move to the West Coast suited his wife since their son and daughter were attending college in California.
FBI Agent and profiler, Dr. Samantha Waters and her Sentinel, Agent Nick, call me â€˜Coop', Cooper would be working with Tony. They had been working a VICAP, and like the Burkes, Samantha and Nick wanted a better environment for Sam's daughter, Chloe. The deteriorating atmosphere in the VICAP office was becoming intolerable for the Sentinel/Guide pair. While everyone was getting moved, Tony had talked to Tobias about what classes he needed to attend at FLETC or the FBI Academy, so they could get recognition as national and international law enforcement. Fornell had laughed and sent him an email attachment. The Alpha pair for D.C. worked at the FBI and had worked up a program for Sentinels and Guides with and without law enforcement experience that would be working in Auditing and Investigations. By the time Tony hung up, he had promised to visit the FBI agent while he was at Quantico. After reading through the information, Tony thought it was a good thing he and Blair were pros at slaying the paperwork monsters, or they'd be drowning in forests of paper.
Anyone who'd known Tony would be surprised to see the new maturity in the young Sentinel. No longer feeling the need to hide behind his frat boy mask, Tony had bloomed into the natural leader he was meant to be. If Jim and Blair beamed like proud parents, Tony basked in the feelings of family and community he got from the Primes' pride.
Not to say there were no points of contention between the Primes and their heir apparent. Blair insisted Tony join them for their meditation sessions and testing his senses. Jim was just glad to have someone to share his misery in dealing with the spiritual side of being a Sentinel. Blair was glad to have someone he could talk with about the academic side. He used many of Tony's suggestions on the courses he took at OSU that would encourage a more equal relationship between Sentinels and Guides, teaching students that Guides weren't the damsels in distress media and books portrayed. He would often look at Blair in confusion when he claimed they didn't have any pull in the world of multimedia.
"You're not utilizing your resources." Tony pulled up the database from the Center. "Writer. Gamer. Do you know how many followers some of these online gamers pull? YouTube presence. Internet radio host. Producer. Actor." He pointed to names on the list. "And that's just the Cascade Center. Who're your geeks and PR people? Offer internships to the Communications Department at Rainier for your grunt work. Have a meeting with creative people to come up with stories, blog posts, etc., then turn the interns loose. It'll spiff up their resumes that they worked in the Public Relations department of the Center." Tony leaned back in his chair. "If it works out here, we implement it in the other Centers ... Right after they pass their audits."
Blair jumped up. "I need to call Lynne. She's the Communications Head and always complaining about finding placements for her students."
Jim caught Blair's arm as it flailed by his face. "Tomorrow, Chief. It's ten o'clock â€¦ PM." He chided.
"Oh." Blair blushed. He started to make notes then stopped. "Isn't that taking advantage of our Guides and Sentinels?"
Jim and Tony exchanged a look. "What is one of the imperatives we have?"
"Protect the Guide." The Sentinels said together chuckling. "Also, the Pride, the tribe, etc., etc. This will take care of that. Using their talents for the good of our community."
"I should have thought of that. I talk to these people every few days."
"You might have a thing or two on your mind." Jim soothed.
"Now you realize. I'm sure your brain is pumping out all kinds of ideas now."
"While I'm at Quantico, you might check with your contacts see what the rumor mill is pumping out in D.C., especially since we've poached four people from the FBI." Tony started for the door. "By the way, I'm taking my files to whittle them down in my spare time."
"You're not supposed to have spare time." Jim yelled as he went through the door.
After breakfast was served and cleared away on his crack of dawn flight, Tony settled in to read and take notes. By the time the plane touched down, he'd picked out two more people for the team, and was satisfied that was enough for now. After he got his rental car and was headed south to Quantico, he called Jim to let him know he'd arrived safely. Before he said his goodbyes to both men, he passed on the names of the two people he'd picked out of his stack.
"I figure this gives us time for a yay or nay, so we can get them scheduled for training, or I can go back to the pile if they say no."
"See you in six weeks."
His next call was to Fornell. They chatted until Tony pulled up to the gates to the FBI Academy. They made tentative arrangements to have dinner, barring cases, before he flew back to Cascade. Satisfied that he'd done all he could, he was cleared to enter the grounds of the FBI Academy.
He would never admit it, even under threat of torture, but Tony missed Cascade. There'd been a few stumbling blocks during the course, but he'd overcome those by sheer stubbornness. A lot of the specialty training was designed for partners, and with his past experience, Tony had trouble trusting someone at his back that wasn't from his new team. Even with the challenges, he managed to come out top of his class. He'd been thinking top five and would have dreaded showing up at home below the top ten.
Their last night in the area, everyone headed into town to celebrate graduating. His group had gone to a nice steakhouse while the rest had gravitated to the sports bar further up the road. All through dinner, there had been the most tantalizing scent that had nothing to do with his steak and baked potato. When he went to the men's room it was like the smell was all around him. It was a Guide â€¦ He would guess the man was his Guide. He committed the scent to memory hoping he could pick up the scent trail when they left the restaurant. He was disappointed when they stepped outside to find it raining. Disappointed, he returned to his room.
During his dinner with Fornell, the FBI agent offered to check the video from the restaurant's cameras.
"Wouldn't do any good, Tobias. I only have the scent. There would be no way to pick someone off a video. Add in the sheer number of military that goes in and out of the area, and it's a very small needle in a very big haystack."
"I'm sorry, Kid."
"Yeah, me, too." Tony leaned back taking a long pull off his beer. He was glad they were eating at his hotel's restaurant. "You know, Toby, you could run away with me to Cascade â€¦ Be Morrow's Second or Third â€¦" He drawled out to tease the man.
"A few more cases with Gibbs and I might take you up on it." The older man grumbled in his coffee cup.
"Seriously, Man, things are really coming together with the Cascade Pride and the Center now that we've got oversight."
"You left NCIS in such an uproar when you poached Morrow. Between Gibbs and SecNav, I'm not sure which one was more pissed. The new Director is by the book and takes no flak from Gibbs, plus he put an Agent in Charge back in place, which really chapped Gibbs' ass. He was so mad he actually brought a bottle of his rotgut to my place to bitch about it." Both men got a good laugh as Tony signed the bill.
About to part ways, Tony reached out to stop the older man. "I meant what I said. Would you like me to forward your name to Director Morrow?"
"I'll let you know, Kid." Fornell shook his hand and pulled him in for a quick hug. "Hope you find your guy."
Alone for the first time in six weeks, Tony settled down to meditate before heading off to bed. He would be flying to Miami in the morning to see what Detective Calleigh Duquesne, Sentinel, and CSI thought about moving to Cascade. Then it was off to Las Vegas to see if he could steal Guide, former Dallas cop, and CSI, Nicholas Stokes. He had a couple backups picked, but he had a good feeling about these two. His intuition and Faro said they'd be moving to Cascade, but you never knew what would throw a wrench in the works.
Horatio Caine was a mundane, but he had all the intensity of a Sentinel. Tony gave him an innocent smile as he waited for Calleigh, using the patience he learned undercover with the mob to outwait the concerned Lieutenant.
After introducing himself to the petite blonde, he asked if they could go somewhere out of the building. She led him to a coffee bar with just the right amount of ambient noise to keep nosy Sentinels from listening to their conversation.
"What can I do for you, Beta Prime DiNozzo?" Her Louisiana accent was soothing after a morning on an airplane.
"Tony, please. I look around for Jim when you say Prime." He teased. She waited until the waitress brought their drinks before expecting him to answer her question. "As you may have heard through the gossip train that runs through law enforcement, we're setting up an auditing and investigation teams to handle Sentinel/Guide cases. I've just finished six weeks training at the FBI Academy to go with my six years as a cop. We've got a good start on the auditing teams, but since I'm doing the legwork for the investigation team, it had to be put on hold until now."
So far, she was politely interested but was giving nothing away.
"So I don't waste any more of your time, I have a question for you, Detective Duquesne â€¦ Would you be interested in moving to Cascade, Washington and be on my team?"
Blue/green eyes blinked several times. "Ag â€¦ Tony, you have taken me quite by surprise, which is a hard thing to do. As a Southern girl born and bred, and who's fairly satisfied with my position â€¦ I'm flattered, but â€¦" She took several sips of her iced tea when a sleek ocelot appeared prim as you please sitting with her tail wrapped around her feet.
"Well hello, beautiful." Tony acknowledged the spirit guide.
"You can see her?" Curiosity lit up Calleigh's beautiful face.
"Yeah. I can see most everyone's. It's speculated when I bond, my territory will cover most of the planet. That's one of the reasons I feel right being on this team, and I don't seem to drive other Sentinels over the edge when I enter their territory."
"Oh. That would be useful. So, that would make your team your pride. That way we wouldn't upset the status quo during investigations."
"Reasonable assumption." Tony smiled at her slip of the tongue.
"Buy me lunch? I just realized I'm starved. I had court all morning."
"My pleasure, Milady."
After ordering, Calleigh's curiosity returned full force. "Tell me about the people you have so far."
He told her about the offices then the auditing team before telling her about Morrow, Dr. Waters, and Agent Cooper. "After I leave Miami, I'm stopping in Las Vegas to talk to Nicholas Stokes from the Crime Lab. Former cop, unbonded high order Guide, his specialty is hair and fiber analysis, and birds."
"We worked a case with Catherine Willows and Warrick Brown from Las Vegas. My Sentinel side didn't care for Catherine â€¦ Warrick was walking a narrow ledge when he was here. It might not be so bad with a fellow Southerner on the team." She rested her chin on her knuckles. "When do you need an answer?"
"The courses at the FBI Academy take six weeks unless you test out of a bunch. You could probably ship your things to Cascade, but take the course before you leave the East Coast, so â€¦ I'd need an answer by Thursday. Maybe do the course then do the move. The Center's paying for the movers, so they can do all the packing."
"Beauty and brains." Calleigh gave him a wide smile.
"Why thank you, Ms. Duquesne. If I could be so bold as to return the compliment without giving offense â€¦" Tony chuckled.
"Absolutely, Sir, but only here. I do have a certain reputation at the Lab."
"So, I understand. The team would be blessed to have you. Between you and Sam, Coop and I won't stand a chance â€¦ And Nick if he joins us."
Tony handed her his card and a sheet of paper as the waitress returned with his receipt. Walking back to the Miami-Dade Police Department, he stopped her at the curb.
"This is as far as I go. I got the impression your boss would just as soon shoot me as shake my hand."
"Horatio is very protective of his people, but even he can only do so much." She sighed the held out her hand. "Thank you for lunch." She smiled but seeing the curious glances from other officers returning from lunch, she didn't use his name or title. "I'll let you know something â€¦ Soon."
"Thank you, CSI Duquesne. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Hopefully, things will work out the way they should." He gave her a professional smile before releasing her hand. "Be safe, Calleigh." He added Sentinel soft.
"Have a safe trip home." He watched her until she was safely inside before heading to his rental car where he was met by Lieutenant Caine. "Can I help you, Lieutenant?"
"Just wondering at your business with my CSI, Mister â€¦"
"Sentinel â€¦ Beta Prime Sentinel Anthony DiNozzo, Jr. Not to be rude, Lieutenant, but the business was between myself and Sentinel Duquesne. It will be up to her if she wishes to tell you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other business to attend." He slid into his rental and left a flabbergasted red-head standing in the parking lot.
Horatio slid on his sunglasses, but when he turned to walk toward the building, he saw Calleigh waiting with her hands on her hips. He ducked his head knowing he was about to get the sharp side of her tongue for sticking his nose in her business. Time to pay the piper.
Knowing Stokes worked the graveyard shift, Tony checked into his hotel, got room service and a shower before calling Blair and grabbing a couple hours sleep. A few hours later, he drove to the Crime Lab. Nick was out on a case, so Tony left his contact information with the receptionist and headed back to the hotel. He stretched out on the bed and dozed until his phone buzzed with an unknown caller.
"Nick Stokes. I got a message you wanted to talk to me?"
"Yeah, but it should probably be on your time. Can I buy you breakfast? I'm staying at the Main Street Station near Fremont."
"Sure. There's a pretty good diner not too far from there. I'll pick you up out front about 8:30."
"Sounds good. I'll be wearing jeans, a green button-down, and a black leather jacket. 6'3" brown hair."
"I recognize your name from some scuttlebutt that filtered down from the Cascade Center. Is this S&G business or cop business?" Nick asked.
"Both." Tony chuckled.
"That doesn't sound ominous at all." Nick drawled.
"Don't worry, Nick, it'll be fun."
"Famous last words in Vegas."
Both men were laughing when they disconnected the call. Tony now had five hours before he met Nick, so he stripped down, set the alarm, and settled down for some decent sleep.
Empty plates shoved to the side, both men were relaxed, enjoying their coffee.
"Now that the important part of the morning is out of the way, why did you want to see me? I can't think of anything that's happened that would have the Center sending out the Beta Prime."
"Having trouble with the Center sticking their noses where they don't belong?" Tony gave him a mischievous smile.
"Yeah. Unbonded high-level Guide here." Nick waved his hand. "Not seeking an unbonded high-level Sentinel because I want it to happen au natural."
"Heard that." Tony imitated Nick's Texas drawl. He drew a breathtaking in the essence of Nick. "If you were mine, I wouldn't want to find out you'd â€˜settled' for second best. It wouldn't be healthy for your level of talent."
"We're close, but not quite. I guess you could relate, after all." He rubbed his hand over his hair.
"Sounds like the Las Vegas Center is due for an audit, and I have just the team." He sent a quick text to Peter.
"It'd be a blessing." Nick signaled for a fresh carafe of coffee.
"I'm going to lay something out for you, then ask you a question."
"The floor's yours, Hoss. Hit me."
Nick leaned back against the padded booth, all his Guide senses fixed on Tony. The more Tony talked, the more excited Nick became. This would be the perfect opportunity to combine his skills as a cop and as a CSI.
When Tony finished, he handed Nick a sheet of paper. "Question time. Will you move to Cascade and work with me?"
Nick read over the figures on the paper. "You betcha. Where do I sign?" Nick's smile made the waitress flush as she brought them fresh coffee.
"You have court, any cases you need to finish out?"
"You happen to catch me at a perfect time. I've got enough vacation accrued to cover my notice unless Gil gets pissy."
"Fair enough. Next question. There's a six-week course you'll need to take in Virginia at the FBI Academy. Do you want me to get you in the next class, or do you want to get moved first then go?"
"Move. I want to feel settled before being plunked down in the middle of a bunch of baby Feebs."
"Fair enough. Give me your email and I'll have a contract sent. Tony handed Nick a business card. The number is for the movers that have our national account and a good realtor in Cascade. Tell her what you want, and she'll hit the mark â€¦ Or be pretty damn close." He asked for the bill and called the team's HR person to give him Nick's information. "You should have your contract by the time you wake up."
"I'll drop you off and get after it." Nick's vibe was feeling so good, he had everyone around him smiling.
"Might want to tone down the feel-good before you have strangers going at it in the parking lot." Tony teased his new friend.
"Oops." He gave Tony an impish smile. "There hasn't been much to feel good about lately. Six weeks ago, my best friend was killed by the Undersheriff, who was a mole for a local crime boss."
"Oh, man. Sorry for your loss, Nick. I know what it's like to go mob hunting. Nasty business. Is the corruption through the whole department, or did it stop with the Undersheriff?"
"I don't know, but a lot of people are avoiding anyone they know are S and G.'
"Sounds like when I left Baltimore. Hard to believe it's been almost a year. Cascade's not perfect, but it's a lot better than where you are."
"It's amazing how having something good to look forward to changes your attitude."
"Let me know when you get to town. I've got an extra room until you get settled."
"Thanks, Man." Nick stopped in front of Tony's hotel.
The two men shook hands before Tony climbed out of the SUV. "Keep in touch, even if it's just to bitch about your old boss, your real estate agent or the movers."
"You flying out today?"
"Yeah. I'm heading to the airport as soon as I grab my bags."
"I can drop you. It's on my way."
"Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
"It's going to take a bit before I crash. I'll probably have time to get things rolling with HR."
"You'd save me time and money. Give me five."
While he waited for Tony, Nick called his friend, Glenda in HR. "Glenda, it's Nick. I need a favor â€¦" By the time Tony was putting his gear in the backseat, Nick had things arranged so tonight would be his last shift at the Las Vegas Crime Lab. Grissom was going to be pissed, but Nick's leaving would be fait accompli by the time the supervisor got to work.
Pulling into his driveway, Nick thought of one more person he needed to call.
"Hey, Tina. It's Nick." Warrick's divorce from Tina was longer than their marriage, but it wasn't in the Guide's or Nick's nature to abandon someone he considered family. Also, there was his godson, Eli, to consider.
"Hey, Nick. Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
Giving a soft chuckle he got back on track. "Something good came up today, and I can't go to sleep until I ask you a question â€¦"
Traffic was light at the airport and Tony breezed through security. Settled in a very Sentinel friendly lounge to wait for his flight. He was going back through his files to make sure of his second choices if Sentinel Duquesne said no. Stella Bonasera and Olivia Benson were his top contenders. Stella had the CSI training he was looking for, but he doubted Detective Benson would leave her Guide, ADA Alex Cabot. Before he could ponder any further, his phone rang with a Florida area code.
"Tony, it's Calleigh Duquesne."
"I take it you have an answer for me."
"I do. I talked it over with Reina, and she encouraged me to take your offer."
"You named your spirit guide, Queen. That's perfect." He chuckled.
"I would like to get settled in Cascade before attending the training course."
"That was the same answer Nick gave me. I look forward to working with both of you."
"Nick Stokes quit Las Vegas? I didn't think he'd ever leave his team."
"Warrick was murdered by the Undersheriff, who was working for the local crime boss. The corruption has him tense and unsettled."
"Catherine emailed me about Warrick's death, but she didn't give me any details. Nick was his best friend."
"What's your estimated arrival date?"
"Three weeks. I have court next week, and a case we just closed. I'll have to see if it's going to court or plead out."
"I'll have a contract emailed to your personal account along with the number for a local realtor and the movers we use."
"Thank you, Tony. I look forward to our new adventure."
"I'm glad you'll be taking the trip with us. Let me know if you have any problems. I can send the big guns to deal with it."
"I might be taking you up on your offer. Take care."
Knowing security would frown on him doing a Snoopy dance through the airport, Tony settled for mentally cheering his success. Before he could do more, the loudspeaker called his flight. The SGIS was coming together.
A tall man in the uniform of a Marine Master Sargeant leaned on his cane as he moved toward baggage claim. He stepped off to the side when his spirit guide, a large white wolf, appeared. He could feel someone he felt compelled to find. Man and wolf looked around the gate area until they saw the large black leopard following a man about his height with brown hair handing his boarding pass to the attendant. Though he only saw the man in profile, what he saw was handsome athletic, and wearing a badge clipped on his belt. As he disappeared down the tunnel to his plane, the best the Marine could do was take note that the plane was headed to Cascade.
Too exhausted from his injuries to chase down the man who might be his Sentinel, Guide Danny McCoy decided to continue with his plans to spend a few days with his dad. Instead of using his medical leave to hang with his childhood friends in Las Vegas, it looked like he would be traveling to Cascade to discover if that tall drink of water was meant for him.
Blair watched Jim pause, cock his head then smile. The Alpha Prime Guide had felt their Beta enter Cascade airspace the same time as Jim. It would be good to have the young Sentinel home. Jim had been surly with his training partner out of town. Blair never thought he'd see the day when Jim would accept a Sentinel as strong as Tony in his territory, but Tony with his affable nature wasn't interested in battling for top spot. He could lead, if necessary, but he was satisfied to work with for the good of the tribe in whatever capacity he was needed. Not sensing any sort of aggression from Tony, Jim had pulled the younger man into the Pride without prompting from Blair and began treating him like a younger brother. It didn't hurt that they'd bonded over basketball and beer.
Blair had been surprised at Tony's intellectual side and had started a campaign to get him to go back to get his master's degree. With Blair's luck, Tony would pick criminal psychology instead of Sentinel studies to do his graduate work. Blair was pulled out of his thoughts when Jim pulled into short-term parking at the airport. A lot had happened in the six weeks Tony had been gone. They had kept up-to-date on the phone, but they were both anxious to reconnect with their Beta.
Tony's trip was very successful but stepping out of the jetway to see Jim and Blair waiting for him, settled in his mind this was home, and these men were his family. Blair grabbed his computer bag after a hug then Jim grabbed his claim check for his luggage after his own hug.
"I know you want to get to your own space, but you can have dinner with us, so we can catch up. I stocked your fridge, so you have food for breakfast and we heard about the employment contracts you had George send, plus Jim is really settling in as Deputy Director, which gives me more time to get the problems fixed at the Center that Peter and Neal found â€¦"
"Chief, slow down and breathe." The Sentinels laughed at the exuberant Guide.
"Har Har." Blair joined in their humor.
"I don't have any place to be unless we have an out of town case."
"We got the offices and bullpen squared away. You sure you're okay with Coop being Senior Agent? I mean, you outrank him on a Sentinel level."
"Chain of command at work is different than ranking in the S and G world. I'll let you know if it begins to chafe, but I suspect that will be about the time we need to form a second team."
"Are you speculating or prognosticating?" Blair leaned up between the seats.
"Take your pick."
Blair sat back and was quiet the rest of the way home.
Jim grumbled about Tony's homecoming dinner being disgustingly healthy since it was Blair's night to cook, but Tony was grateful that it wasn't something from a restaurant or institutional cafeteria. The one exception was the pie from Galli's Bakery.
Tony was slumped in â€˜his' chair with a cup of herb tea on resting on his abdomen listening to Jim and Blair take turns filling him in on the things they didn't talk about over the phone.
"Simon didn't know whether to be mad or sad about Jim quitting. He has Taggert for backup when he wants a vacation, and he won't have to deal with the craziness that seems to follow Sentinels around. He was grumbling about their solve rate dropping, but Jim offered to help out if they got stumped on a case â€¦ In the name of inter-agency cooperation."
"You're just glad H will only be calling you Hair Boy on poker nights." Jim tugged one of Blair's curls. "I'm actually not minding the slower pace of being Deputy Director, though not crazy about meetings with stupid people."
"What about you, Blair? You miss the excitement of Major Crimes?"
"Not really. After Peter and Neal finished up their audit, there were problems only Jim and I could handle since we're the Alphas for Cascade as well as the Primes, at least until we get an Alpha pair who can take over."
Tony rubbed a hand over his face as though trying to make a decision. Jim and Blair exchanged a look.
"What's going on, Tony?" Jim finally asked.
"I kind of found my Guide." He finally blurted out.
"How do you kind of find your Guide?"
"The last night I was in Quantico, a group of us went to the local steakhouse. Something was tickling my sense of smell when I got out of the car then when I walked into the restaurant, it was everywhere. I search the entire restaurant. After we ate, I figured I could track him, but a storm rolled through while we were inside. Quantico's got Marines and Navy personnel out the wazoo."
"Yeah. I thought I felt something at the Vegas airport, but I was boarding and couldn't do anything about it." He took a long drink out of his mug. "On a lighter note, I think when Calleigh and Nick meet you might have your Alpha pair."
"Seriously. How do you know that? You trying to take my job?" Blair teased.
Tony gave a careless shrug. "It's something I've always been able to do. Seems to work best on high-level pairs. My percentage goes down level five and below." Seeing the time, Tony hefted himself out of his chair and washed his mug. "I'm headed to bed. I'll see you for our run in the morning â€¦" He pointed at Jim. "And I'll see you at the office." Tony pointed at Blair. "Unless you've started running with Jim, so he wouldn't be lonely while I was gone." Tony waggled his eyebrows at the Primes.
"Nope. I do other things to keep in shape â€¦ Like, get plenty of sleep."
"Hmmm. Is that what they're calling these days?" Tony snickered as he headed out the door.
As soon as the heavy door closed behind the younger Sentinel, Blair turned on Jim. "How are we going to help him find his Guide?"
"Not much we can do, Chief. You're not going to find a bigger haystack than the military to find a needle. If we're lucky, that ping he got in Las Vegas was his Guide, and if Tony's very lucky the Guide noticed which plane he got on."
"You're talking a lot of luck."
Danny McCoy loved his father, but a week of sharing a house with him reminded him why he'd spent the past ten years in the Marines. Having to deal with his emotions was like dodging IED's in the desert. He decided since Danny was injured he'd be leaving the Corps to work in the family construction company. When Danny informed him the only way he was leaving the Marines was if he found his Sentinel, his dad had gone ballistic.
It was that argument that found Danny sitting at the airport waiting for his flight to Cascade. His childhood friend, Mary, had dropped him off on her way to work at one of the big casinos. Away from the weight of his father's expectations, Danny's shoulders came down from around his ears, and he was able to draw a deep breath. He opened his eyes when he felt Reno's fur under his hand. By the time his flight was called, he was calm and his shields solid as he limped down the jetway.
Tony set his coffee on his desk then stowed his backpack against his file cabinet. After clearing a case the day before, the team would probably be sorting through case files sent to them by other agencies. Nick would be starting next week and Calleigh the two weeks after. He started patting his pockets for a flash drive that contained research he'd done at home the night before. Remembering he tossed it in the Durango's cup holder, he headed for the parking lot. The moment he stepped out the door, he caught a whiff of that tantalizing scent he'd smelled in Quantico. He piggybacked his sight on the scent until he saw the tall Marine walking through the doors of the S & G Center.
Getting a grip on the urge to run after the Marine, he took a deep breath and released it. Continuing to his car, he retrieved the flash drive before heading for the Center. Walking up to the receptionist, he saw brown eyes light up when the Marine saw Tony.
"Good morning, Amanda. Has Blair made it in yet?"
"No. He and Jim have a meeting with Agent In Charge of the Cascade Homeland Security office this morning. They're thinking of using the port as a training ground. Can I give him a message?"
"Yes. You can tell him and Jim I'm taking my Guide home to bond, so I'll be taking the rest of the week off."
"You mean â€¦" Her eyes went wide as they shifted to the Marine.
Giving her one of his smiles that caused everyone with a pulse to swoon, he turned to where the Marine had stood.
"Guide Master Sargent, I'm Anthony, call me Tony, DiNozzo, Jr. I'm Beta Prime Sentinel and an Agent at Sentinel/Guide Investigative Service. Would you come home with me and be my Guide?"
"Master Sargent Daniel McCoy, guerilla warfare, and counterintelligence, though I suspect the wounds I received on my last mission, will be my last mission. I imagine when I next see the docs they'll be giving me a medical discharge." Brown eyes met green. "I came here to find you after you got away from me in Vegas, so, yes, I'll go home with you to bond, Sentinel."
~ Finis ~