The only warning Blair gets of the other Alpha Guide’s presence is the ripple of sentinel posture correction that flows down the hall before the elevator doors even open. Blair looks up just as Patrick Sheppard steps out of the elevator car with his sentinel at his side and several members of their family group behind him.
Patrick Sheppard is a tall, proud man with sharp green eyes and an aggressive baring. Just about as different from Blair as any guide Blair has ever met. If Blair’s aura is a comforting breeze on a warm day, then Patrick’s is an icy blast before a winter deluge. The man is pissed and he’s got to be hurting, even if none of it is leaking through his shields.
Patrick Sheppard has a reputation for being a hard ass. This reputation is earned. He sets expectations high and expects them to be met. They are.
Patrick Sheppard has a reputation for being intimidating. This reputation isn’t earned, mostly because it isn’t actually worked for. He just realizes the power of silence and a certain, well maintained and repeated posture.
His son, John, learned this lesson early. The only one of his sons to get it so far. John’s tactics are more along the lines of a gentle grin-and-slouch combination that make others want to give him whatever it is that he wants. Patrick’s consists of The Sheppard Chin of Epic Stubbornness™, squared shoulders, and letting his victim stew until they overcome and prove the worth of their continued existence.
It takes a stout person to stand in Patrick Sheppard’s face and tell him something he doesn’t want to hear. Blair squares his shoulders, keeps his sigh strictly internal, and approaches the other pair.
“Our betas brought us up to speed on the situation.”
Blair can see their family group Betas DiNozzo-David over Gibb’s shoulder, so Sheppard can’t be referring to them, “How is Jareau-Hotchner?”
The new pair will be the alphas-in-waiting for Sheppard-Gibbs Eastern Seaboard territory once they’ve settled and are stepping into beta position for that territory for the time being.
“Better than can be expected six months out from the murder of his ex-wife and a feral onlining. I’m almost certain she’s pregnant already but Jethro won’t confirm or deny it for me.” Patrick grins at his sentinel for a second but sobers quickly. “We aren’t going to fight you on your chosen investigators, but Gibbs’ guys are going to tag along and we want our medical examiner to handle the bodies.”
“Only the Hale bodies,” Blair counters
“The Hales and he’s free to assist, if asked.”
Blair shakes his head. “I can only authorize his assistance on sentinels and guides through the Center.”
“Accepted, but if the locals request his help and expertise,” Patrick allows his sentence to trail off.
“As long as they request his help, we will stay out of it. Is he ready go get started? I can have someone walk him down.” Blair glances over his shoulder to his sentinel.
Jim orders a pair to break off from the wall they are holding up and approach the doctor in question. Blair manages to not roll his eyes at the use of Army Commando Finger Signals but he does share a significant look with Sheppard while the voluntold pair gets the medical examiner moving.
The significant eye contact changes gears as Emma Hale clicks by in a pair of heels she must have borrowed at the same time as the scrubs she’s wearing. She looks ragged. Frazzled. Nearing the end of her rope. Her hair and nails are a painful looking mess but at least she’s found a belt to hold her string of smartphones in a quick draw fashion.
The young woman is trailed by a doctor, two nurses and a gaggle of orderlies. She’s talking about something that she is obviously not happy about, but they don’t manage to catch much of the conversation before she turns the corner behind Blair.
It’s Patrick’s turn to glance significantly at the people behind him. Patrick’s youngest child and only daughter, Olivia, breaks formation with her newly bonded sentinel, Paula Cassidy, at her side.
Once they round the corner Blair speaks again. “The sentinel running the Hale scene should be relieved soon, if you wanted,” Blair isn’t 100% sure who breaks off from the Sheppard-Gibbs group at that. Whoever it is they are flying solo and would have to be a sentinel within Patrick’s immediate family. That makes it Gibbs’s boy, Liam. “We should be able walk it tomorrow.”
“Jethro and I will be included.”
“You can come with us to the scene but the investigation belongs to Special Agent Don Eppes. He will decide who walks the scene.” Sheppard’s frown turns disgruntled. Blair interrupts him before he can do more than open his mouth. “But I have something else I could use your help with right now.”
He turns and leads his sentinel and the other bonded pair to the right at the same junction where Emma, Olivia and Paula took a left. They stop outside of an empathically shielded single-occupant room.
Patrick peeks through the door’s wire and glass window. “That’s Kate Argent.”
Blair nods. “She was found on the first floor of the Hale House along with her mother, Victoria. I want you to scan them both. Victoria is in another part of the building.”
Patrick nods, pushes open the door and freezes. Gibbs plasters himself to his guide’s back so quickly that it’s surprising neither of them fall and get injured. Gibbs wraps his right hand around Patrick’s right wrist and runs his fingers over the other man’s lion soulmark.
“Wow.” Patrick manages to choke out as his brain reboots.
Blair nods grimly. “And that’s in a drugged sleep. It’s going to be bad when she wakes up.”
“Death would be kinder.”
Two sentinels and two guides enter the shielded area. Patrick raises both hands and holds them in the air above the young woman’s sternum. Not touching her, just floating above even her aura.
“Her empathic channels are abraded.”
“Abraded?” Patrick sounds incredulous. “I think you mean torn all to hell. I’ve never seen damage like this.”
“I’ll show you something else you’ve probably never seen.” Blair flicks the sheet off of Kate Argent’s right wrist. Both Sheppard and Gibbs rear back like they’ve been struck.
“But-. She’s-.” If the senior Sheppard guide gets any whiter he’ll be a ghost. The older man manages to clear his throat and frown himself into an at least temporarily improved state of mind. “Where’s her soulmark?”
Blair can only shake his head. “She had it when she was seen at the Center in August. But with soul-covers it’s hard to tell when it could have left her.”
“Left her. Her spirit guide left her? You’re right, I’ve never seen that before. I’ve never even heard of it. I don’t even know what that means. She’s going to go dormant?”
Blair nods. “She can’t actively project right now, which could be from the damage, but her channels are closing. They’re already smaller than they were an hour ago.”
“And her mother?”
“A mundane, but,” Blair hesitates and then shakes his head. Patrick’s findings will either reflect his own or they won’t. “We need to verify death of personality in Victoria Argent.”
“If this,” Patrick Sheppard pauses with a frown and starts again. “If what happened to Kate happened in the House and whatever it is destroyed a mundane’s mind-”
Blair feels himself nodding again. “It would have affected everyone, anyone close enough. One way or another.”
Right after breakfast the next morning, Sandburg-Ellison descend on their group room with three worn looking parents in tow.
“We have a lot to cover but once we do, you guys can get out of here.” The cheers that echo in the room are not at all forced. “Let’s start with the least personal; your Pride. Kali Asan and Jennifer Blake came down from Washington with us. They were betas in the Spokane Pride and were already moving down here for positions in your local Center. Jim and I would like to recommend that you take them as your personal Betas. I have personnel jackets from their previous Prides for you to review but, in short, they have been bonded almost 20 years, they are well trained and they’re popular in the community. Having people like them behind you to back your plays and give you ideas can only help you.
“Alternatively, Sheppard-Gibbs wants you to consider taking Sheppard-Rabb as your betas. They don’t have experience with officially being betas but they have been Sheppard-Gibbs right hand for years and lawyers always come in handy to Pride leadership. Plus,” Blair glances at Derek so quickly Stiles almost misses it. “They’re family.”
Stiles just nods, not sure what else to do. Should he even be making this decision? Do they have to make a decision at all? Bigger Prides usually have multiple beta pairs. Different pairs to fill different roles.
“Next, I think we all know that completing sexual bonds within your pairings would be inappropriate and possibly dangerous right now. You’re all hurting.”
A flash of an image through Stiles’s mind makes him stare at his sentinel. Gold walls, fire light and pain. What the actual fuck?
“You’re all healing and most of you fall under Center Age Restrictions so platonic bonding ceremonies are in your futures, assuming you all still feel you have made the correct connections and want to move forward as bonded pairs.”
Both sentinels glare at Blair like he’s threatened to take their guides away, but Stiles and Kira relax. Both reactions are what he expected. Knowing your country’s alpha will back your play takes a lot of the pressure off.
Blair turns to focus on the parents in the room. “We recommend and request that your children move into pre-bonding dorms. They’re chaperoned and sentinel-friendly. Similar to college dorms, but larger. This will allow your children to sleep beside their bondmate and watch out for each other at the same time. The majority of pairs delaying or avoiding a sexual bond stay in these or similar accommodations.”
“And that will be until the end of the school year?” Dad asks.
Wait, what? “End of the year? Dad! I’m 18 in April!”
“And the school year ends in May.” Dad shoots back.
“It’s only another month, Stiles,” Blair tries to soothe. “And 18 would not be a good idea. Sexual bonding will drive Derek to be more primal, more territorial and possibly militant for the first several months.”
Stiles frowns in his sentinel’s general direction. The guy fucking shrugs. “Can’t really be sure until after. Bonding could make my inner-sentinel more needy and more primal or it could reassure my sentinel, get you more freedom.” And be more fun. Derek didn’t say the words but Stiles is certain he heard them.
“Speaking as a fellow Wolf bonded to a fellow Jaguar,” Blair cuts in. “Less primal is not a realistic expectation.”
Explanations that Stiles doesn’t follow and don’t really make sense are thrown around and somehow, he and Kira end up sitting with Blair in chairs by the windows. Blair pulls the occupant curtain forward, but doesn’t close it, to give them as much privacy as they can get in a room filled with sentinels within a hospital full of sentinels. Ellison pulls Derek, Scott and their parents to the opposite wall.
Jim watches his guide move the curtain and snorts. Blair might need to have a private discussion with his little guides about the things coming their way bonding- and education-wise but that has to be balanced with the level of separation pre-bonding sentinels can tolerate.
The curtain is the compromise. That, and the sentinels remaining within the room, physically between their guides and the rest of the world. The curtain provides an emotional sense of privacy but isn’t a real physical barrier that can impede the sentinels in their duty.
Jim turns to the three concerned parents and holds out a file folder. Melissa McCall takes it from him and snaps it open. Both fathers immediately lean in and start trying to read over her shoulders.
Jim clears his throat and waits as the two younger sentinels pull their attention away from the curtain. “I don’t like the genetic matching. It’s unnatural. As far as I’m concerned when a sentinel chooses his guide and the guide chooses him return, that’s it. It’s done.”
“But?” The older one, Derek, asks angrily. Eyebrows drawn down.
“But my guide felt biological confirmation of your choices would help the community – and your guides’ parents – accept your choices.”
The upward flick of the furry caterpillars masquerading as eyebrows on Derek’s forehead translates into a demanding but silent “And?”
“Congratulations, perfect matches all around.”
Ellison turns to the more nervous father first. “Your daughter’s place within the Pride is guaranteed. It would take a lot to get Scott and Stiles into separate Prides and since Stiles is the local alpha, she’s in.”
The Alpha Sentinel of the United States looks to the younger sentinel next. “She’s interested. She’s willing. She’s both physically and emotionally injured. She’s been through a lot since her onlining, including a kidnapping and the Fire. Take it slow. If you think that maybe, kind of, in anyway, you might be rushing her even a little bit, slow down.”
Mission accomplished Jim turns to the whispers behind the curtain. He can see the two younger sentinels share a shrug and turn their attention back to the curtain, too.
Stiles watches the eye-fucking when there should be privacy-making going on at the curtain with (probably not empathically) quiet amusement. It’s like a peek of what he and Derek could be in 20 years and it’s pretty great.
“I get the feeling we are going to be visiting often. Three Jaguar Sentinels in one place? All alphas? Talk about intense.”
The two younger guides exchange speaking looks and something inside Blair unclenches a little.
Blair hasn’t yet had time to see Kira and Stiles interact much and that has to change. He needs to know how they get along. Once they’re fully bonded to their sentinels they’ll basically be in-laws. Possibly live-in in-laws and possibly for a very long time. What kind of nightmare would that be if they can’t or won’t be friends?
Blair isn’t actually sure if Kira won or lost their little eyebrow argument when she asks, “Does having the same spirit animal mean something?”
“It’s a familial bond. Jim, Derek and Scott are spirit-family. Brothers in every way but blood, from the moment they met.” Blair let them digest that for a moment. “I’ve reviewed your files. You both display a good range of abilities and a strong grasp on their utilization so I just want to talk to you about some additional educational opportunities available to -and some might say required of- you.”
“The Alpha guide – an Alpha guide? – any and every Alpha guide, has extended responsibilities to the Pride because of our abilities. We can do things other guides can’t and that connects us to the mysticism, some say magic, of our kind in unique ways. We are keepers of history and lore, and leaders on a number of various levels.
“That said, there are four distinct classes or lines of thinking to ‘guide magic’. Each guide can choose one and every alpha guide must choose one. Patrick Sheppard is a Druid, that’s the class that comes from northwestern Europe. I am a Shaman, that’s the ancestral American way. There is also the Wenwet or Egyptian school – which I think would be a good fit for you, Stiles. And the Kannushi or Asian school – which I actually don’t want you to pursue, Kira. I think you would find yourself more suited to the Druid path.
“I brought some reading material to give you both more detailed information but I need to be clear that we do not discuss these things with mundanes. No matter how closely related we are. In fact, as far as they are concerned, the books I am about to give you don’t actually exist. Let’s keep it that way.”
Once the curtain is drawn away and Scott and Kira drag their parents off for packing and moving, Sandburg-Ellison sits back down with Stilinski-Hale and the Sherriff.
“The team we have investigating the fire hates me right now because I won’t let them interview you.” Ellison gives Derek a mean smile full of teeth. “So, while they are listening, tell me about Kate.”
“I met Kate in August.” Derek begins. “Her family is new to the area and the Center wanted to try something. I’ve been on the ‘fragile’ list for a while now but I couldn’t tolerate any of my conservators for very long and the Center wanted to try something new.”
“Why couldn’t you tolerate the Center’s conservators?”
“They were wrong. Wrong smell. Wrong touch. Wrong sound. And they kept,” Derek glances at his guide, obviously a little embarrassed. “They kept pushing for sex. They made me uncomfortable so they were of no use to me.”
“But Kate was different.”
“Right. Kate’s a Jaguar Guide, which I’d never heard of before. She never pushed for sex. We didn’t think of each other that way. We were able to form a strong, platonic work bond.”
“How has she been recently? Have you noted any changes in her mood or behavior that you can share with us?”
“I haven’t seen her in three weeks. Since I informed her I found my guide. But you mean before that?”
“About a month ago she became upset about something. Hurt. Angry. She didn’t want to talk about it and wouldn’t go to the Center with it.”
“She wouldn’t talk to you about it? Not at all?”
“Any sentinel-enhanced guesses?”
Derek is quiet for a moment before nodding to himself. “Something to do with her family.”