“We have had a dramatic increase in the nation’s Sentinel/Guide population. I’m not ashamed to tell you, this is bothering a lot of people.” The President settles on one of the matching couches in the center of the room. “What can you tell me?”
“That they are right to be bothered and should probably be afraid.” Ellison settles himself and his guide on the opposite couch. Other than an aide or two and some security they are alone with the President. “We saw similar increases in our population before and during both World Wars. It’s hard to be sure because most of the information we currently have was collected after each war but we believe the onlinings started months ahead of any actual attacks. They then accelerated in various countries as they attacked or were attacked.”
“The difference, of course, is that this is not just the principal countries in a war.” Blair puts it. “From what we can tell this is uniform across the globe. It’s so wide scale and abrupt that many have noticed it, not just heads of state.
“It’s hard to track the numbers on a global scale because not everyone will give us their exact statistics or even the same statistics over time,” Blair continues. “But when we do a country-by-country study it looks like it started in July.”
The President’s head pops up at that. “July? When did we send the First Expedition? Wasn’t that June?”
Is this what the onset of Schizophrenia feels like?
He can’t sleep. He can’t focus. He should have gone to a hospital two days ago for the headache. His sense of reality is strange.
There is no way he can actually be feeling Rossi’s love for his ex-wife Carolyn. In Spencer’s own heart. As if it is his feelings for Carolyn. He hasn’t even met Carolyn!
There is no way he can feel intersecting emotional layers going back and forth between and connecting Hotch and JJ. He can only assume it is their bond and he wants to poke at it, to explore it but that’s not even possible. Won’t be even if he really is feeling what he thinks he’s feeling.
Not that he can be feeling what he thinks he’s feeling, hence schizophrenia.
Oh, god, he can’t breathe. What in the –
“Spence.” A warm hand lands on his shoulder. He can breathe. He can breathe. Big chocolate brown eyes swim into focus. “Come on, pretty boy, we need to get you to the Center.”
As soon as the door closes behind Reid and Morgan, everyone starts talking at once. Some of them are very not happy.
Reid-Morgan? JJ shakes her head. The weight on her chest lessens the further Derek gets Spence from her and the office. Spencer’s distress is extreme and his projection intense. It’s almost shocking that none of the mundanes on the team are showing any signs of headache.
Spencer is not the guide JJ would have picked for Morgan. Mostly because Morgan had never showed any interest in males. Then again, Morgan has never kept the company of the same woman for what JJ would consider a long-term arrangement and he has always been very attentive with Spence. Gentle, really, so maybe it does make sense.
“That is enough.” Hotch breaks through the noise. “Coming online this late in life is painful. If Reid and Morgan do bond that is a private matter and none of us have any say in it or any right to information about it. JJ?”
Fort Benning, Georgia
Two hours before the team is scheduled to roll out for a big series of ops in Bolivia, the Pooch goes to wake Cougar so the guy can catch shower and check his pack.
Cougar isn’t actually asleep. Well, he might be but the Pooch would be intensely surprised if he is.
The team’s sniper is whimpering under his breath and his sheets are damp. Maybe bloody? Pooch pulls the top sheet off his teammate looking for a wound, but most of the skin that Pooch finds is raw. Cougar is so hot that he’s practically baking with fever but Pooch doesn’t think he’s sweating.
Cougar needs Medical. Now.
Pooch reaches across Cougar’s body to grab his wrist and pull him up along Pooch’s body for transport but as soon as he touches the smaller man Cougar starts fighting him. It’s weak and ineffectual which is more than a little damaging to Pooch’s worldview because Cougar is normally a complete and total badass in a cowboy hat.
“No! No, no, no, no.” Cougar keeps repeating himself even after the Pooch releases his wrist and steps back.
He moves to the door and looks down the hallway. “Clay, I need you in here.”
Their commanding officer takes one look at Cougar and says, “We have to get him to Medical.” Before Pooch can say anything, Clay is at the bed and taking hold of Cougar.
Distantly, the Pooch can hear the sound of a door being broken down. Big hands break into his mental fog and push both Pooch and Clay out of the way. Jensen appears out of nowhere and kneels beside Cougar’s bed.
“Hey, Cougs. Cougar. Carlos. Carlos, man, focus. I need you to focus on me, buddy.” The Pooch has heard Jake Jensen’s voice in a lot of situations. Hell, they all have, the boy never shuts up, but it has never sounded like this.
It doesn’t actually sound different. His pitch hasn’t changed or anything. His voice is just steadier than Pooch has ever heard it, more compelling. He can’t take his eyes off of Jake and the Pooch is not even the one the techie is talking to.
The team stands spellbound as Jensen gets Cougar to settle and starts working the sniper though breathing exercises.
Cougar snakes a hand up so slowly Pooch misses it until the sniper latches on to Jensen just above the techie’s bright green soul-cover.
Jensen’s the only one of them that wears a soul-cover out of uniform. He’s the only one that has to. Pooch glances over to Clay and sees the same shock and surprise shining in his CO’s eyes despite the man’s usually stoic face.
“Clay,” Jake’s voice breaks the quiet tension building in the room.
“Jensen.” Clay keeps his voice so soft it’s barely more than a breath in difference to the team’s brand new sentinel.
“Cougar and I aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Right.” Clay pulls out his phone and moves to leave the room. Probably the apartment entirely, just in case.
“Roque, I need you to hit the store for me.” The Pooch turns to see a shell-shocked looking demolitions expert standing in the doorway, nodding like Pooch’s bobble-headed dash dog. “We need cotton balls and apple cider vinegar. Raw, organic and unfiltered apple cider vinegar. It’ll be chunky. Go to a specialty store.”
Roque turns muttering something about a ‘hippie store’ and leaves the apartment.
“What can I do, Jake?” The Pooch asks, keeping his voice low despite the fact that he knows it’s probably pointless.
“Oatmeal bath. Get the boring stuff from the kitchen. A cup of oatmeal in a coffee filter, tie the filter good. Drop it in a hot water bath. Milk in with the water but only if it’s organic.”
“Hot water? Jake?”
“It has to steep.”
Jake has had a mountain lion on his wrist for longer than he can remember, but every single mountain lion sentinel he’d ever met had a different animal on theirs, not a single one of them had his raven.
The moment he’d seen Carlos Alvarez and heard someone call him ‘Cougar’, Jake had known down to his toes that Cougar was a true name. He’d known in that very moment that he’d just met his sentinel. Their immediate, intense and unlikely friendship had just sealed the deal so far as Jake cared.
But Cougar wasn’t online, so Jake couldn’t make his feelings known. He’d accepted that a lifetime of friendship was the best he was ever going to get from Cougar.
Only now, Christmas has come early. For Jake, at least.
For Cougar it’s probably more like Thanksgiving. Alvarez Family Thanksgivings are painful, loud and exhausting.
A lot like Cougar’s life has been from the moment he started spiking, if you ask Jake.
Stripping Cougar for the first time had been a lot less fun than Jake had expected and a lot more single-player than he’d imagined. Carrying the smaller man to the much-cooled bath had been incredibly frustrating on levels but watching his sentinel relax into the water made Jake feel powerful.
The apple cider vinegar is doing good things for his sentinel, too. Seeing the sentinel’s skin react positively to the dabbing treatment is pretty fucking cool. ACV relieves the itching caused by his severe skin reaction and helps prevent possible infections with its natural antiseptic qualities. Thank you, guide school.
Now, it’s the moment of truth. He’s treated Cougar’s rash everywhere (yes, everywhere!) else and it is time for his right arm. Judging from the condition of the now peacefully sleeping man’s left hand and forearm had been, his right is going to be bad.
But looking at someone’s soulmark? Without their express permission? That’s a violation of the other person’s privacy. A gross violation, like borderline abuse.
Normally Jake isn’t bothered one way or another about someone else’s privacy because hello? Hacker! But this is not something he is willing to do to his own sentinel.
At the same time, though Jake can’t just leave Cougar’s right arm untreated. He huffs at himself. He really has no choice.
He takes a deep breath, steadies himself and treats the back of the hand and forearm in question thoroughly before he finally has nothing else left to do and has to flip it over.
A sob escapes him at the sight of his little raven sitting smack dab in the middle of his best friend’s wrist. He stifles his reaction as best he can but the damage is already done.
Cougar rolls his head toward Jake and opens his eyes to mere slits. “Jake?” The concern in the seldom-heard voice shakes Jake to his core.
With surprising strength considering his state, Cougar pulls Jake right onto the bed and into his arms. Cougar snuffles his nose back and forth in the crook of Jake’s neck in that this-is-my-guide, possessive/content sentinel way that Jake has seen but actually never experienced.
Cougar’s contented sigh tickles across Jake’s throat and the sentinel settles back into a deep sleep.
Jake grins. For once, he doesn’t feel the need to break the silence. It’s too fucking perfect and too unexpected, he’s so grateful for it and so exhausted. It’s seeping right into his bones. Probably coming from his sentinel.
His! What an amazing word.
Jake tangles his fingers into Carlos’s long, wet hair and follows his sentinel into sleep.
The Bolivia op they have been planning for months is blown. They can’t complete the job without their sniper and their sniper is going approximately nowhere.
Not that anyone on the team is comfortable leaving him unguarded in his current condition.
Clay is entirely certain that if he even tries to get Jensen to leave Cougar’s side the man will do something court-martial-able.
Assuming Cougar doesn’t kill Clay first, of course.
The Losers are officially home to a bonded pair. Outstanding!
With the suddenness of a cork escaping an agitated bottle of champagne, knowledge and emotion flood Sherlock’s brain.
Things he knew but never understood about his yellow-haired flat mate shuffle in Sherlock’s mind like a deck of cards and resettle in a brand new order, for once forming a clear image of his companion.
Oh, the things that he didn’t know he didn’t know until this very moment.
Concerned gray eyes peer down at him. Careful fingers on his left wrist measure his pulse, blood pressure and temperature the way only sentinel-doctors can.
Sherlock turns his other wrist over. There is a mark on his skin. It has the color and texture of freckles but behaves like a line drawing. The face of a lion is formed in a minimalist style.
“You’re saying spirit animals are significant?” The questioner looks between them trying to watch them both. “I thought it was just a way to help matches happen.”
“It is and it does,” Ellison confirms to the sitting President of the United States while attempting to stare down his guide.
Blair just raises both of his eyebrows in challenge right back at his sentinel. “We don’t usually talk about this with anyone outside of our community, sir.”
“I can keep a secret, Blair.” Henry Hayes didn’t bother to try to hide his amusement at their display.
Blair wiggles his eyebrows at his sentinel who eventually just huffs and nods. Blair grins.
“We don’t have it down to a science but observation dictates that spirit guides are a direct reflection of their sentinel or guide. No matter how much you wouldn’t expect it, Raccoon and Raven guides -and Fox Guides!- love games and puzzles, knowledge. Bird of prey guides are particularly fierce, territorial and surprisingly sneaky. Wolf Guides are leaders, especially war leaders, and form very strong family groups.”
“And sentinel leaders?”
“The majority of Alpha Sentinels in the United States – and the world – are big cats. That’s why sentinel groups are generally referred to as ‘prides’. A lion, tiger or jaguar spirit guide denotes alpha potential.”
“What about guides? Can’t they have big cat spirit animals?”
“Once upon a time, I would have said no. That other than birds of prey and wolves, guides don’t get actively predatory spirit guides. However, there was one guide I met recently that had a jaguar spirit guide and her soulmark was a bird of prey.”
“Well, we’ll never know what it would have meant. By the time she agreed to a genetic search, her sentinel was already on Atlantis and she died in the events surrounding the Hale House Fire. I think it would have been a fascinating role reversal.”
Dreams are plaguing him. Not just dreams, visions. They follow him when he is awake, too.
He dreams of space and flying, fires and death. The death of entire worlds. Even when he’s awake figures march behind his eyelids, pale and alien. Frightening creatures with long, white hair and cruel, sharp-toothed smiles.
Not all of the dreams are bad, though. Some of them are hot and heavy in very good ways.
Actually the ones that rock his world the most aren’t the violent ones or the sexual ones but the intimate ones. He dreams of cuddling and talking, just being familiar in ways he’s never gotten used to.
A flip of blonde hair that he remembers but can’t place. Laughter. A warm smile he’s only seen in a dream. These things haunt him when he’s awake and alone.
“Ryan?” The voice from his dream calls. Is this a new symptom? Auditory hallucinations?
Steady hands pull his shoulders back, up and away from the desk. When did he put his head down? Why did he put his head down? He can’t remember.
“Ryan?” The voice calls again.
Maybe it is real. He looks up to get a good view of his rescuer.
“Calleigh?” He can feel her concern pressing against his mind. It’s warm and gentle but sincere. “Is this real?” He needs to know, to be sure.
She hugs him.
An animal has been following him for the last three days.
It’s small and stocky. Sort of like a bear but the head and tail are wrong. The size of a medium dog but the feet and ears are wrong. It’s mostly black with a thick, pale stripe starting right about its front shoulders and going back across its butt and tail.
According to Google, it’s a wolverine. Not the comic book character, an actual Gulo gulo. Not a creature that hangs out in Northern Washington state very often.
It’s not real. It can’t be. It has no problem keeping up with him, even when he’s using motorized transportation. It walks right through people and walls and tables and things, like a ghost. It’s not physical so it’s not dangerous, right?
Oh, so wrong.
Steve Ellison was tired of being followed.
Whatever this creature is, it has to want something, right? Something from him? Why else would it keep his company for so long?
Because hallucinations are always reasonable.
He’d called it over to him. Middle of the week, middle of the day, during his only meeting free hour, he’d gotten the creature’s attention and enticed it closer. It hadn’t been hard. The creature had come to him easily, almost eagerly.
Steve should have known.
As soon as he touches that warm, dry fur that he knows doesn’t actually exist, his world tilts right off of its axis.
The sound is actually the worst part because for a long time there is nothing, he’s alone in the world and it’s peaceful. As soon as he gets used to that the sound is back on louder than ever after its absence.
He can hear heels clacking on a hard floor. The only level that is not all carpet is the main floor. How could he be hearing something from 12 floors away?
He can feel the muscles in his stomach contract violently. Dry heaving, fun. He must be panicking. Nothing feels quite real.
He can hear arguing. Two women, right outside his office. The door opens. A hand cups his cheek. He looks up into clear blue eyes and he has a foundation again. The world is back in order but it’s a new order.
He pulls her close, his nose going to the crook of her neck. Her hair feels amazing against his skin. Her smell is the most perfect thing –
“Mr. Ellison!” Marge, his secretary, is the biggest stuff shirt on the entire planet. “This is highly irregular! Release her-”
He growls and pulls the guide behind him. If anyone even thinks about taking her from him, he will gut them and he will enjoy it! This old bat needs to back the fuck off.
Words. The best voice he has ever heard comes from behind him. He turns to his guide.
Her eyes are warm and happy. It’s stupid and romantic but all he wants is to make her eyes look like that forever.
She slips her hand into his and squeezes. His world stabilizes further.
He blinks. His guide is the front desk secretary. He’s not even sure of her name. Something Brams. She came all the way to the top of the building and bullied her way past Marge to save him. Wow.
Now he gets it. Finally, he knows why Jim clings to that little curly-haired hippie witch doctor.
“Marry me.” The words are stupid and impulsive. He really needs to think-!
His grin is going to crack his face. His bottom jaw will snap off all together and then where will he be?
Happier than he’s ever been, that’s where he’ll be.