The dream always starts out nice.
She is her spirit guide.
They are one and the same, powerful and primal. They run through a jungle she’s never seen. A jungle that doesn’t -couldn’t- exist in a real physical way on Earth, judging by the colors all around her.
A familiar bird, an African Hawk-Eagle, flies in from the stars. He recognizes her, greets her, courts her.
He does aerial displays to impress her but he never touches her.
The dream doesn’t always stay nice. Hasn’t for a while now.
He can’t touch her. He’s too far away.
Flames and smoke surround him. There are shouts and crying in the distance. Explosions.
Blood blooms on all-important breast feathers. The pain of it stabs in her chest.
He ages rapidly.
Feathers molt so quickly that they almost explode off of him. Flesh crumbles, drying and fading. A shrunken, unrecognizable husk remains where her most precious once lay.
The dream has gotten worse.
She’s no longer one with her spirit guide. They stare at each other from across a great divide.
The eyes of the beloved cat are filled with pain and betrayal as it looks from the body of their mate and through the flames to Kate.
“I do not know you.” the cat says. Something inside Kate snaps.
She is alone.
Kate has never been alone.
The Sentinel/Guide ‘floor’ at Beacon Hills County Memorial Hospital isn’t actually a floor. It’s a three-level out-building connected to BHMH by glassed covered walkways. It’s also the unit with the most extra shifts available and the smallest group of qualified personnel to fill them, since anyone working in the S-n-G unit has to be certified by the Center.
Melissa McCall was certified by the Center four years ago, not long after her one and only son came online.
Distress alarms on the Unbondeds’ floor are routine.
Entering a room two hours before the end of her shift on Christmas Eve and seeing a sentinel-orderly restraining a patient isn’t strictly unusual.
A guide fighting the orderly so fiercely that he calls for back up and floor security has to rush in is definitely a surprise.
Melissa moves to the bed, syringe at the ready-
Why is she on the floor? She tries to get up but pain shoots through her right arm. Her shoulder blade is burning. Why is her back wet?
No one around her is moving but she can hear people shouting in the distance. She’ll just rest here a minute.
Disoriented. She wakes up confused.
Agony. She’s in pain.
Hands. She’s being held down. Someone is holding her down.
Shadows all around. The shadows are holding her down. Caging her. Trapping her.
There are animal spirits like her all around her. All caged in and held back by the shadows. Trapped by the shadows. Why won’t they let her people go? Why won’t they let her go?
She needs a weapon.
She has to escape! She has to get free. She has to help her brothers.
Shadows get in her way. She cannot allow them to stay there.
One of her brothers breaks free of his chains. Finally!
He’s a guard dog, large and fierce, snarling and snapping. A raccoon is riding on his shoulders, confused and afraid but determined.
No! Shadows move to recapture them.
Pain! It burns. She is betrayed.
Alan Deaton stares at his red-covered hand with a great deal of fascination but absolutely no confusion. He’s been shot. He knows it. He is strangely comfortable with it, in fact.
He doesn’t know by whom but that doesn’t actually matter to him.
The bullet also entered his already damaged sentinel and that he doesn’t like at all.
His sentinel, Deucalion Lane, has already lost his vision thanks to the Hale Fire and has started the slow slide to dormancy. Now, the damaged sentinel is going to lose his life to some psychopath in a hospital.
Maybe it’s better this way. To die together. No ability loss. No soulbond failure. No insanity.
Deaton uses the last of his strength to make sure he falls across his sentinel.
Yeah, it’s better this way.
“Shots fired! I repeat, shots fired. Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital, Sentinel Unit. Second floor.” The Los Angeles Violent Crimes Squad was already on the ground, running. “Sentinels report one shooter, two weapons fired.”
Ian and Don take the front stairs. Colby and Charlie take the back.
They pause by the door. Charlie slides his hand into the center of Colby’s back and does his Professor X thing, sliding into the back of Colby’s mind to balance his senses.
“I can’t get anything from her. Her mind is chaotic.” Her? Colby’s never heard of a female mass shooter before. “She’s lost, Colbs. She doesn’t know where she is.”
They go in low. The smell of fresh blood is intense. People have collapsed and are bleeding all over the area. Several of them have succumbed to their wounds.
The shooter’s been through the area twice, circling the floor. Barefoot, based on the bloody footprints.
Kate Argent stands in the middle of the hallway like a very confused version of the Tomb Raider.
For a moment she freezes, face elated. Her hope and excitement smells out of place and completely profane in this hallway. Confusion and then anger flicker over her face. She raises the weapon in her left hand.
“I don’t care how pretty he is, there is no way being rejected by a sentinel she wasn’t fully bonded to caused this.” Only Don can manage that amazing combination of hopeful and derisive.
“Look, we know she was having family problems, she’s already emotionally unstable.” A team member Blair isn’t familiar with argues back. “Hale breaks up with her, ends their work bond and she destabilizes further.”
“So, she makes an incendiary device and goes to one of his family’s business weeks later? That doesn’t track, David.” Don glares around the circle of investigators before his eyes land on Blair. “What do you think?”
“What do I think?” Blair takes the time to look each of the team in the eye. “I think the only time I have seen, or even heard of, an online guide destabilizing this way is when their bonded sentinel was tortured.”
“She didn’t have a sentinel.” Colby Granger feels heartbroken to Blair. Of course he is, he has to be. Could anything be more devastating for a sentinel then to be forced to shoot a guide in self defense? Compound that with the inherent pride a sentinel would normally feel after successfully defending the tribe and his guide in any other situation? Talk about pain and confusion.
Blair is quiet for a long time, watching Charlie wrap himself tighter and tighter around his sentinel. “Do you know why we destabilize? When we’re online and alone for too long?”
Colby shakes his head.
“In actuality, no one does,” Blair begins.“The current theory is that the moment we come online we form a tether with our fated bondmate. It’s a tenuous connection. You can’t even call it a fledgling bond. Especially if your bondmate isn’t online, yet. But it’s still there and we still ache for it to be complete.
“We can make temporary stop-gaps while we search and wait. We can mate with a mundane or one of our own kind, if they’re compatible enough. We can form a Work Bond with one of our opposites, be it sentinel or guide. But these are just bandages. The tether is like a psychic wound. It’s still there, leaking and making you weak. It just keeps bleeding until the person intended to plug the hole, does.”
“Do you have any reports of a,” David checks his notes. “An African Hawk-Eagle Sentinel suffering any sort of abuse? In the last month?”
“No. Nothing has been reported to the Center, yet. I did contact the International Sentinel and Guide Association and they have agreed to reach out to their membership nations. They will contact your team if they find anything or when they are through.”
They’d known about the hospital shooting.
Of course, they had.
The local police AKA Stiles’s dad! had called Stiles to request the Center send experts to help out at the scene. The team Stiles sent had managed to clear and release quite a few people. Victims of both the shooting and the Fire. Those they could move to the Center, they did. Those that were too delicate to release or move had been given sentinel security that would remain on site until they were released or Stiles felt better about the situation.
At this point it really is a toss-up as to which would happen first.
What that sneaking sneak hadn’t mentioned to Stiles was that Momma McCall had been shot. He hadn’t let them know she was even injured until she was out of surgery and in a recovery room!
On the one hand, Stiles could appreciate his father reducing their stress by keeping them out of it. He can definitely see the wisdom in cutting at least two upset and anxious sentinels out of the pile. Especially strong ones like Derek and Scott, whose upset would drive other (see: calm) sentinels to respond. It just saved them all a great deal of stress.
But Stiles knew Scott wouldn’t, couldn’t see it that way. She’s his mom! It’s Scott’s job and his right to worry about and protect her. Just like it’s Stiles’s duty as Scott’s brother to have his back in all endeavors.
Or to at least get him to actually enter Melissa’s hospital room and see her rather than spend all of Christmas standing in the doorway and growling at each and every passerby.
Miranda Tate frowns at the sight before her. The one and only hospital in Beacon Hills County is swarming with activity.
It’s Christmas for fuck’s sake! Surely, this can’t still be from the Fire. That was almost six days ago!
Unless something else has happened? Miranda’s gut goes cold.
The local Center had informed her that this is where Peter Hale said he was headed; the jerk had taken his guide and left bonding isolation more than 24 hours before they were expected to.
They couldn’t have beaten Peter and his guide to the hospital, could they?
Miranda glances at her sentinel-son. He should be able to find his father.
Marcus’s nose flares as he scents the area. “They aren’t here, but there is something,” Marcus verbally trails off and leads them away from the Sentinel Unit.
They find their way into the main hospital, up two flights of stairs and into some sort of natal unit. Two women are sitting in a window seat holding a tiny bundle with very familiar blue eyes.
“All I’m saying is that if we can get a Hale or a Sheppard to donate, we should both take it.”
“No, we agreed last time. We are not using the same donor. What if they bond? They’d be siblings, like those two sisters in Texas. Or the brothers in New York. And, now, another pair of brothers in Kansas-”
“Does that really even matter? If we raise them together they will already be siblings emotionally, anyway. So what, if they are sentinels and guide and they come online and they bond, they will just end up with the most epic friendship ever. You are making a ton of false assumptions here. Are you going to flip out if Braeden ends up bonding with one of the twins?”
The darker female, a sentinel, snorts. “There is no way Braeden’s spirit animal is a bunny. Or an otter for that matter. She is way too aggressive-”
“What exactly is wrong with the ‘sisters from Texas’?” Miranda loves her guide-daughter. Malia is really quite aggressive, too.
The other female sentinel surges to her feet and places herself bodily between her guide and the smallest Hale and the Tates. A few absolutely not-discrete rounds of sniffing later and they have firmly come to an impasse.
The Judgment Friends are not willing to back down because they don’t know who the Tates are even if the sentinel can smell out their family relations. Including their link to the child the Friends are holding.
The Tate Family is not willing to back down because yes, Miranda and Marigold are the ‘two sisters from Texas.’ Half-sisters to be exact. Yes, they are bonded and yes, they really are just best friends. They have been through everything, every single day and every single upset, together and despite the assumptions of others they neither need, nor desire to have sex together.
“I don’t know, I think sisters are kinda hot.”
Unless they are sharing someone else, of course. “Peter.”
The rapscallion is grinning at them as the blue-eyed man behind him heartily rolls his eyes.
“Miranda and Marigold Tate, may I introduce you to my guide, Christopher Argent.” Peter holds his guide’s right wrist in his right hand and puts his other hand in the small of his guide’s back, presenting him to Miranda.
“Chris, please,” Blue Eyes requests.
Miranda is pleased to move into Christopher Argent’s personal space and sniff the skin above the crook of his neck. It’s a very old fashioned greeting between allied sentinels. A silent but public vow to protect each other’s guide.
“Peter Hale, Chris Argent.” Miranda responds, sliding her arm behind Mari to repeat the process. “My guide, Marigold Tate.”
Peter reciprocates the ritual greeting with Mari and looks around, eyes sparkling. “Last I heard the two of you were starting something interesting with a pair of brothers?”
“The Winchesters,” Miranda nods. “The younger one has finally come online as a guide, so our family group negotiations are on hold right now for their training and bonding but it will probably happen.” Peter’s already focused on taking in and cataloguing her children so she moves on. “Peter, this is Marcus and that’s Malia. We know you didn’t want to know if we conceived but we never lied to our children about their father and, after the fire, we had a hard time keeping them at home.”
“A sentinel boy and a guide girl? Damn, am I good!”
Miranda and Mari share an eye roll.
“But, you said,” Chris glares at his sentinel. “That business trip the week Allison was born.”
“Was really good business.” Peter gestures at his biological offspring. “And I told you I had no children that I knew of.” He turns to the Tates. “I was 20, stupid and angry, you really shouldn’t have taken anything I said seriously.”
“Where are you guys staying? How long are you staying? Have you met Jennifer Blake and Kali Asan?” Also known as the Judgment Friends. “They’ve been watching over young Michael for us.”
Peter is smug. The jerk. Miranda just knows he’s going to do everything he can to keep the two opposed bonded pairs in one room for no other reason than his own personal entertainment.
They get the child officially named –yes, Peter had actually intended to name the baby Michael. Where did you think the media got it from? The hospital leaked it, of course. – checked out, and were at the car. The men are strapping the baby into a car seat that they are still cheerfully arguing over when the FBI showed up.
“Sir, we’d like to ask you both a couple of questions.”
Peter tosses Miranda the keys, gives the group his address and makes a pointed gesture from his teenage children to the cargo area full of packaged baby gear. Miranda and Malia crawl into the over sized SUV with Blake-Asan and little Michael and take off with Marcus and Mari following in the Tates’ car.
Once they are gone, Peter, Chris and the FBI Agents make their way to one of the quiet conference rooms in the Sentinel Unit.
Guide Don Eppes flips on the white noise generators and formally requests that they consent to being questioned separately. Chris and Peter, of course, inform the Agents that they were too newly bonded to handle such a separation and that said Agents could kindly fuck off.
“Very well,” Don Eppes is completely unsurprised. “We’ll start with you. Peter, tell me the events of the Fire in your own words.”
“I remember hearing a sound like a soda can hitting a hard wood floor The building shakes. I need to get Emma and the little guide out. The guide’s father is terrified. He’s tries to hit me. Deucalion goes down the back stairs to check on the nursery. I take my group out the office entryway. I remember a young male sentinel tearing his way into the back yard and then nothing. I woke up alone in a bonding room with Chris.”
“Your siblings? Jason, Jacob and Ava?”
“They were upstairs, bitching about camping gear and dust. Sam was with them. Linda, Jacob’s wife was taking up lemonade and Jeremy, Ava’s guide, had gone to the store.”
“And the nursery?”
“Sophia was in the nursery with one employee, Julia Edwards. The kids were napping. Kate and Victoria were checking out the facilities since Michael would soon be using them.”
“What about Laura Hale?”
“She was outside, in the back yard, with her and Linda’s group. The older ones play outside while the younger ones nap. There are another two groups of older ones but they were at the museum with Sophia’s guide, Chloe, and four other employees. I can get you their names if you need them.”
Don nods, Peter’s story matches what others had told him. He doesn’t bring out a blueprint for the guy because he’d still been officially latent and any mapping he did would not be admissible. “I have questions now for your guide.”
Peter nods his consent.
Don looks at Chris.
Chris nods his consent.
“Have you heard any reports about the damage involved in the Hale House Fire?”
Both of the interviewees tense. Interesting.
“Nothing official. You want me to give you my opinion?”
“You are the Arms Dealer.”
Chris frowns at Eppes’ tone, “Argent Arms specializes in design, limited manufacture and, yes, sale of registered and legal ammunitions. We are federally licensed and work mostly in government contracts.”
Peter fights not to growl when Eppes’ attitude doesn’t seem to change.
“And if I give you pictures?” the other guide asks his.
“I will give you my opinion.”
Don pushes forward a file folder. The pictures are bad. Old, taken a long time after the damage was done. They’re gruesome, too. Some things just don’t need to have light cast directly on them.
“I think I know exactly what did this.” Chris flips one of the pictures around to get a different angle. “I have a pretty good idea, at least.”
At Don’s gesture, he continues.
“A friend of mine from college – Major Paul Davis, United States Air Force – contacted me about designing some weapons. Said his program needed something new.”
“For what purpose?”
Chris shakes his head. “You don’t have the clearance to know and I don’t have the clearance to tell you.”
“What can you tell me?”
“They wanted something with high damage potential over an extended amount of time. An anti-personnel weapon that can be safely carried in the field by a soldier and hand launched.” Chris turned a few choice photographs back to the federal agent. “My father was lead designer on the project. He decided to revisit the napalm bomb, to mate it with a fragmentation grenade.”
“And did Kate know about this weapon?”
“My entire immediate family did. Not a lot and definitely not who it was for but my father and I heatedly debated some of the details.”
“Did she have access to it?”
“No, absolutely not. Access on anything that experimental is limited to myself and the lead designer, in this case, my father.”
“Can you tell us about your relationship with Kate?”
Peter frowns at the FBI Agent, bothered by his word choice. Not your daughter, but Kate.
“We are very close, were very close. She was the most likely of my children to enter the family business. I tried to be her friend, to take and use her input as much as I could.”
“Has anything been different at home?”
“Kate had been very upset recently but she wouldn’t talk about it.”
“We’ve been told you had a fight with your father over Kate and you kicked him out of your residence. Can you tell us about that?”
“My father is a difficult man,” Chris began. “He’d said something to Kate that upset her a great deal. Since I couldn’t get her to talk about it, I confronted him. Gerard told me that he is the head of our family and nothing he does is any of my business. I informed him that it damn well is my business if he’s going to go around upsetting my daughter. That’s when he told me that she isn’t my daughter.”
“And how did you feel about to that?”
“It’s insane, of course! She was born of my wife! She looks just like me but with brown eyes. She is my daughter.”
Peter shifts around in his chair, uncomfortable. Chris’s eyes lock like lasers onto his sentinel.
“She wasn’t, Chris.” Peter was flaring his nostrils like that would help him remember scents and stopped with a frown. “There’s a genetic connection there but it’s not father-daughter.”
“Wha- what are you saying?”
Ian finally moves from his place along the wall behind Don and drops a folder on the table. “She’s your sister, not your daughter.”
Chris is pissed. Of course, he’s pissed. His father knocked up a minor; Chris’s high school girlfriend that Chris had never intended on marrying. Then he covered it up. They both had. They lied to him about it! They ruined all of his plans!
They had almost destroyed his relationship with his sentinel before it had even begun.
Gerard Argent should be in fucking jail.
“I thought you said you kicked Gerard out of here?”
The FBI Agents had given them a ride to the Argent’s place so that they could take a look at the devices.
“Yes.” Chris’s jaw is stiff, his spine even stiffer. “A month ago. He hasn’t lived here in three weeks.”
“He’s been here.” Peter advises Don and Ian. “Recently. At least twice within the last five days.”
Ian steps away to call in the crime scene techs. Don hands each of them a pair of gloves from a bag in his pocket and they all pull them on.
“We’ve made six prototypes of the device. Three sizes, two of each size.” Chris tells them as they make their way up the stairs to his office. “Only two people know which lock box they are in and the code to open it.”
Chris opens the correct cabinet and types the 20-digit code to open the lock box into its alphanumeric pad.
The box’s lid hisses as it pops out and Chris pushes it to one side. The middle-sized canisters are missing.
Both of them.