Aaron hunched over his desk, the files spread out in front of him no longer his focus as he wished he could reach inside his skull and dig out the headache that had been plaguing him for days. Generally speaking, Sentinels didn’t get headaches. Unless they were an Alpha Prime, unbonded, and reaching the end of their ability to function without a Guide.
Five years. Sometimes less. And Hotch came online violently four and a half years ago when his wife, Haley, and their young son, Jack, were broadsided by a tractor-trailer on their way home from the grocery store. The driver’d had a heart attack, and Hotch’s family died instantly.
Unit Chief Aaron Hotchner of the BAU was thankfully in the office when the accident had occurred, and his onlining exploded with no warning. The death of his family ripping through his mind had sent him instantly into a feral state. It had taken SSAs Matt Simmons, David Rossi, and Luke Alvez to hold him down while SSA Dr. Spencer Reid had frantically called the Quantico branch of the Washington, DC, S/G Center to get help.
If the unit chief had been alone when he’d gone feral, he could have caused severe injuries to anyone getting in his way as he desperately searched for his family. Or he could’ve gone into hyper sensory collapse.
The feral drive would have pushed the new Sentinel into using every sense available to him to find his family till it pushed him over the edge. Even long time Sentinels are vulnerable to the dangers inherent in hyper sensory collapse. A newly online Sentinel with no idea of control wouldn’t stand a chance.
It had taken Aaron two weeks in a center isolation unit to come down from the feral episode and gain some very rudimentary control over his senses. While the actual feral break was brought under control in a couple of days, the wild grief kept slamming him randomly whenever the Guide counselors tried to lead him through any amount of actual training. It was a seriously godawful time to try to teach a new Sentinel any amount of control.
It took focus and concentration for a new Sentinel to learn control of their various abilities. Focus and concentration required calmness, a peace of mind that allows you to ignore distractions more easily. But how does someone find any calmness when death is the only focus you’ve got? When the raw hole left by the loss of your family is that focus then everything else becomes the distraction.
The trick became helping Aaron through the worst of his grieving while at the same time trying to sneak in enough gradual training to keep the vicious cycle from spinning out of control.
Four months for Aaron to get through the worst of his grief plus gain a solid grasp on his senses. An additional two months gave him the fine tuning, if you will, to allow him to return to work and take up his position as unit chief.
Six months for Aaron to get a solid grip on his Sentinel abilities. Followed by four years of Unit Four of the BAU having the highest ranking in the FBI as well as the best solve/closure rate of any alphabet agency on the west coast. And now it would appear that the sensory collapse Hotch had dodged when he came online was making a comeback.
No one could tell him for sure what to expect if he didn’t find a Guide soon. Other than he would probably die. But whether it would be by hyper sensory collapse – zoning on all of his senses at once – or whether everything would shut down in hypo sensory collapse was anyone’s guess.
The problem was that being an Alpha Prime limited his Guide options. Alpha Prime Sentinels were not that common, and unfortunately, neither were Alpha Prime Guides. And despite a four year standing search, it wasn’t looking promising.
Aaron pushed aside the concerns he could do nothing about and tried to focus on relaxing enough to hopefully do something about his headache. He pulled in a deep breath and after letting it out slowly, he refocused on the paperwork in front of him.
It was 7 am on a Tuesday morning and it was starting out just like yesterday did for the Major Case Response Team in the NCIS Navy Yard. Already boring and foreshadowing a really crappy day in a string of crappy days.
They’d had an unbelievable two days of no cases, almost unheard of for the team that caught all the big ones. Although a quiet on-shift weekend was nice. But add that to an unsatisfactory ending to their last case and Gibbs was on the warpath. And without a specific focus for his anger, his near constant growling was especially grating. How do you satisfy the needs of someone who can’t clarify their needs?
When Special Agent in Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs barked at the team for results, there was always a direction to go, a result to shoot for. It may take time to reach, digging to find. But they knew what was expected. This… This was random, aimless. There were no results to get, no direction to go.
And that’s how Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, Jr., the team’s senior field agent, knew it was going to be another crappy day. Then there was the headache that kept threatening to be a big part of this day. And let’s not forget the odd swim-y sensation that further messed with his concentration.
Both the headache and the odd lack of focus had started yesterday at the end of the second day of Gibbs’ temper, which was already turning into another person in the bullpen. Tony had tried to shake it off by going for a run after Gibbs had cut them loose from the office. Running had become Tony’s way to deal with all kinds of stresses starting back in his college days, and sometimes their schedule didn’t allow him to indulge as much as he’d like. And on a day like today, indulgence didn’t appear to be the operative word of the day.
After a soothing hot shower and the delivery of his favorite extra sausage, cheese, and pepperoni pizza, he’d settled down to watch his well-worn copy of Casablanca. He was hopeful the pampering would clear up the crappy way he’d felt when he’d left work.
Until the team got a new callout, they were all on cold cases, again. Tony pulled the folder from the top of the pile on his desk and flipped it open, trying to ignore the disappointment that his shitty workday cure from the previous evening hadn’t worked. Not-quite headache still hovering in the background: check. Odd swim-y sensation, like an overabundance of cotton wool filling his brain: check.
Cold cases were the team’s go-to when they were twiddling their thumbs, which, granted, didn’t happen often. The team’s probie, Agent Ziva David – the newest member of the team and ex-Mossad officer – growled over every cold case file she had to look through. Agent Timothy McGee, the junior agent, would probably be more comfortable down in Cybercrime than out in the field chasing terrorists with guns, despite his deep desire to be a field agent. So naturally he always complained there had to be something more important he could be doing. Because he was determined to prove that the MCRT needed his skills.
Tony fought to ignore them both as he dug into the case in front of him. Not technically a cold case, the team hadn’t made any headway on it since they caught the case two and a half months ago. So it was pushed to the back burner and was worked on at every available opportunity. Today was the opportunity.
Tony enjoyed cold cases from time to time. He had a knack for puzzles. He liked shuffling through scattered facts, pieces laid out like a jumbled jigsaw picture. There was a jolt of excitement to being able to pick out those one or two random pieces of info that suddenly tied everything together. Leading to that specific picture that put an end to the mystery. Tony sincerely hoped this would be one of the lucky files. Because he seriously needed something to shake his head loose from whatever was messing with his equilibrium. He kept reading.
Guides. Three Guides. All gone and despite the desperate search, not a trace found.
The sick twisting in Tony’s gut refocused him on thoughts he’d rather leave unexamined. He wasn’t oblivious to the fact that in other circumstances, he could have been one of the Guides who disappeared. The other circumstances, of course, being he’d have to have been online first. Aside from that, he was of the same age group, the same general overall appearance, the same background as the missing Guides.
Tony scanned through what little information they’d been able to gather surrounding each disappearance. Point one: none of the Guides were bonded. That actually made sense because let’s face it. No Sentinel was going to give up on searching for his or her missing Guide. Any bonded Sentinel would have gotten permission for a Hunt, which wouldn’t have stopped until the Sentinel had found the guilty party and executed him.
A slight shiver rippled through DiNozzo at the thought of someone caring enough for a partner they would go to those lengths. What would that feel like? He pushed the thought away and kept reading.
All three Guides had been male, gay, and Navy petty officers. While it was true that gender played no part in who your bond partner would turn out to be, until that point these Guides preferred male sex partners. They’d also all had a run in or two with members of a local hate group called Naturally Human.
Tony grimaced. The group was one of the newer hate groups on the current scene. They’d started out as your basic, every day gang of bullies, throwing their weight around with anyone who didn’t fit their view of what the world should be. A general nuisance with the local LEOs. But it hadn’t taken them long to start drawing stronger attention, more concern for their tactics.
Things were becoming apparent that these guys believed if you were different in any way from them, you weren’t fit to walk the earth. They believed enhancements were unnatural and so was what they considered to be sexual deviance. Women were created to be with men, so that was the accepted norm. If you didn’t fall in line with that, they were quite happy to point it out to you. Radically.
So were these Guides grabbed because they were gay or because they were Guides? Or both? And would finding that out help discover who’d grabbed them? Was it the Naturally Human group or was someone else on the scene?
By lunch time, Tony had several pages of notes on the case and a couple of leads he wanted to follow up on. Gibbs had grabbed his lunch on his last coffee run and had just returned to his desk.
“Hey, boss,” Tony called as Gibbs set his two extra coffees on the corner of his desk. “I’ve got a couple of leads on this case I’m going over here that I want to check out.”
“Anything look good?” Gibbs asked briefly as he turned his computer back on.
“Mmm, maybe.” Tony wiggled his head back and forth, face scrunched up slightly. “There’s a relatively new hate group out there that looks to have a possible connection to my three vics. I’d like to poke around a bit, see what I can find.”
“Are you actually going to talk to them? Need to take backup?” Gibbs shot him a questioning look.
Tony shook his head. “Nah, just gonna nose around for now, check with some of the detectives involved. I want to see if I can get something more solid on the group’s background before actually tackling them. They appear to be increasing their presence, and I need a clearer picture of the direction they’re taking before deciding on my direction.”
Gibbs nodded and waved a hand in Tony’s direction. “Grab your lunch while you’re out there.”
“Thanks, boss. If I can connect with the guys I want to talk to, I shouldn’t be any longer than a couple of hours.”
After shutting down his computer, he grabbed his badge and gun from his desk. As he slung his backpack over his shoulder, he ignored the bitchy look Ziva shot him and the grouchy look cramping McGee’s face as he headed for the elevator.
Tony settled in on the sunny patio at his favorite local bistro and took a big bite out of his meatball and mozza sub. He flipped open his small black notebook, a holdover from his days as a cop, and skimmed over the notes he’d taken when he’d spoken to the LEOs involved in his cold case.
Lt. John Baker, a friend of Tony’s with the Metro PD, was the initial lead on the case before the Navy connection with the Guides lost them the jurisdiction. He’d also handled several run-ins with the Naturally Human group. Combine that with the details gained before NCIS got involved, and the lieutenant was able to give Tony some pointed insight into the group’s mindset.
“They’re turning out to be more than just the local bully club, Tony,” Baker said, pulling out the file he had on the missing Guides. “I’m sure you’ve seen this since we copied over everything we had when NCIS took over. But I’ve got something here that was turned in by a neighbor who’d been away at the time of the disappearances.
“The last Guide taken, Richard Watson, got this card from one of the Naturally Human assholes during one of their regular harassments. He showed it to his neighbor, one of his poker buddies, asked if he knew anything about what it might mean. The buddy took it, saying he’d check into it. When he got back home and found out what had happened, he brought it into the precinct, not knowing we’d already turned everything over to you guys. Not sure if it was sent to you or not, but it was sent to the S/G Center.”
He laid the file on the desk and flipped open the cover. Tony quirked an eyebrow at Baker, who just tipped his head and waved his hand at the file. Tony reached for the card laying on the top of the pages, tipping it under the light to get a better look at it.
“We’ve found them at a few of the group’s more recent public interactions,” Baker added snidely.
It was a square of card stock, medium weight like any typical birthday or Christmas card sold anywhere, plain white. But this one had a graphic of the Vitruvian Man on the face of it; the symbol of humanity. A nude male, double arms and legs spread, one set spread wide in an X shape, the other with legs together and arms stretched out in a T shape.
“Interesting calling card,” Tony murmured with a glance at Baker. “And not what I would have expected from a group of bigoted thugs.”
“Agreed.” Baker nodded. “But apparently their credo is to take back power for those considered ‘naturally human’.”
Tony snorted in disbelief. “So who exactly falls under that requirement?”
“Well, let’s see.” Baker propped a hip on the corner of his desk. “No enhanced humans. Hence, the attacks on Guides. And no gays.”
Tony’s eyebrows shot up, his unspoken question on how that related to being naturally human evident. Baker smirked, shaking his head in disgust.
“Apparently, sexual deviance – according to their mission statement – detracts from a person’s humanity.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Tony burst out.
Baker shrugged with a snicker. “Men and women were created to be together,” he continued with mildly veiled sarcasm. “Stepping off that path apparently means stepping out of humanity. This also very conveniently ties together both sides of that case, justifying the attacks on Guides and increasing their threat level.
“Some of the other cases involving them show their escalation. They started out with property destruction and escalated to minor physical assaults. The beatings we’ve seen prior to the missing Guides backed that escalation, but we’ve never had anyone completely disappear before. And while the past cases were bad enough, the jump in the threat profile is too sudden and too high and makes no immediate sense.”
Tony latched onto the shift in focus instantly. “Immediate sense?”
Baker slid off his desk and crossed to a filing cabinet. He returned to his desk to dump a stack of about 20 files in front of Tony. “These cover the last two months dealing with these assholes. Several members already in jail on property damage charges, a few waiting court cases on assault beefs, three or four we couldn’t tag due to witnesses suddenly forgetting things. This,” he dropped his hand on the Tony’s missing Guides case, “is the only one high profile enough to scare the shit out of a lot of people. Most of them in the DC Sentinel/Guide Center, although that fear is starting to seep out into the community as well.”
“So what’s the consensus here?” Tony asked. “Is the general opinion that these are low level bottom feeders who aren’t capable of something beyond the immediate use of their fists and therefore not involved in the disappearances? Who else is out there capable of this, and why now? Or are you thinking something’s changed within the group structure? Someone with a different agenda who stepped in to direct weak minds who’re only interested in kicking around anyone different?”
Baker was silent for a moment then sucked in a deep breath before flipping his gaze back to Tony. “I don’t know, Tone, but I’ve got a rock in my gut that I swear grew with each one of those three Guides’ disappearances. It makes sense, your theory, but I’ve got nothing to back it with. Surveillance, interrogations, random rousting… nothing solid shows up beyond that damn card.”
The two men fell silent as Tony flipped through some of the other files, getting a feel for how the Naturally Human group worked. He had to agree with John Baker. Though dangerous and violent, the group came across as a band of thugs. Bullies who liked to use their fists to enforce their world view. But the smarts needed to enact the three kidnappings, to finesse the complete disappearance of three men operating under military restrictions of movement, fell far beyond the scope of Naturally Human.
Someone else was directing this operation. And right now, Tony wasn’t sure how to track down who it was. But he had the distinct feeling it wasn’t over yet.
Tony flipped his notebook closed as he swallowed the last bite of his lunch. He pressed his hand against his stomach, wondering if his buddy’s gut rock was contagious. While he definitely got some insight into the workings of Naturally Human, it sadly didn’t give him any belief in the new successful direction he’d been hoping for when he’d left the bullpen.
He rubbed his forehead, realizing the headache he’d lost track of while at Metro PD was still hanging on. He stood up, reaching for his backpack, then had to grab the edge of the table as that swim-y sensation hit him again, harder than it had previously. It took several minutes before the floaty dizziness settled enough for him to step away from the table.
As he swung his backpack up onto his shoulder, he realized the waitress was approaching him, a look of concern on her face. Tony flashed her a smile, though not quite up to his 1,000 watt standard, and waved a hand at her. She stopped, not looking convinced he was all right, but she let him go.
Tony walked down the street to the parking lot where he’d left his car and dropped his head back against the headrest once he was settled behind the wheel. A few deep breaths, closed eyes, and some serious concentration and Tony reached for the key, ready to head back to the Yard.
SSA David Rossi was in the chair in front of Aaron Hotchner’s desk, his forehead creased in a deep frown. “You still got that headache, Hotch?”
Hotchner’s face did some complicated dance that ended with a vague shrug and hand wave.
Dave snorted sharply and tilted his head. “What exactly does that mean in English, please?”
“I don’t still have it, Dave. It comes and goes. It was gone before and now it’s back again.”
Rossi shook his head but stayed silent. Really, what was there to say? Hotch was doing everything he could to fix it, which merely meant waiting and hoping for a call from the S/G Center about a match. Beyond that, there was nothing to do. There were suppressants out there for Sentinels who needed to shut things down in a variety of circumstances. But those weren’t a solution nor even an option in this case. Not for an Alpha Prime as far along the road as Hotchner.
Before Dave could respond to the comment, Aaron’s phone rang.
“SSA Aaron Hotchner,” he answered firmly, his raised eyebrow bringing Rossi upright in his chair. “Yes, of course, Chief Strauss, tomorrow afternoon would be fine. Provided we don’t get a case… I see… Yes, is anyone else required to be there?… Fine, tomorrow at 2 pm.”
He hung up and looked at Rossi. “Chief Strauss, as you heard. I’ve got an appointment with Secretary of Defense Jack O’Neill tomorrow at 2 pm.”
“What the hell’s going on, Aaron? Is anyone else supposed to be at this meeting?” The surprise was evident in Rossi’s voice.
“Just me for now. Apparently this has something to do with the disappearance of three naval Guides.”
“Navy Guides?” Rossi echoed. “Doesn’t that fall under NCIS’ jurisdiction?”
“It does and they have the case. Unfortunately, it’s a recent case that’s showed no movement but which NCIS is re-examining. But due to my status as an Alpha Prime and the chief of a unit that does criminal profiles, the SecDef wants to… pick my brains,” he finished, his tone a cross between lofty and slightly confused.
Dave’s eyebrow went up again and Aaron snickered. “SecDef’s words, through Strauss, not mine.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” Dave murmured, contemplation strong on his face. “Do you think they’ve got a suspect they want assessed? I mean, I know the SecDef is an Alpha Sentinel himself, but let’s face it. The Secretary of Defense isn’t directly involved in local law enforcement nor in the S/G Center’s hierarchy either. How could he possibly be tied to any kind of investigation involving Guides’ disappearances?”
Hotch raised his hands in acknowledgment of his own confusion. “I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.”
Tony strode through the opening elevator doors throwing smiles at the group waiting to board. Another brief flash of light-headedness washed through him as he dropped his backpack behind his desk, which Gibbs’ sharp tone did nothing to alleviate.
“Yeah, boss?” Tony straightened, unobtrusively grabbing the edge of his desk to steady himself.
“You got another call from the S/G Center. They want you in for a checkup.”
“What? No way. It’s only once a year,” Tony whined. “I was just there like nine months ago. I’ve still got time.”
Gibbs shot him a glare. “I’m aware of that. But they’re insisting. Something to do with your levels and their need to keep an eye on that for your safety.”
“My safety? What the hell do my levels – which don’t really matter since I’m not online anyway – have to do with my safety?” Tony complained strongly.
“Maybe it has to do with the missing Guides’ case you are working on, Tony,” Ziva pointed out. “I am sure they are concerned about that and how it might affect other Guides.”
“And yet again, I say,” he snapped, his sharp gaze flashing to Ziva, “what does that have anything to do with a latent Guide? One who is probably not coming online anytime soon. Or later, if it comes to it.”
“It doesn’t matter, DiNozzo,” Gibbs cut in with a growl. “Get your ass in gear, get it over with. You’re already working on a case, and if we get a callout you’ll be working on that, not messing around with the S/G Center. Just keep in mind the unofficial rule about not coming online.”
“What?” Tony frowned at the ex-marine, a step out of focus.
“Remember, DiNozzo, the MCRT has no enhanced team members.”
“Boss, you’re a Sentinel,” McGee’s face paled as he dared to speak up. “That’s enhanced.” His shiver was very noticeable at Gibbs’ glare.
“I’m not a team member, McGee, I’m the team lead.” He turned back to Tony. “Just remember to fight any urges they might start in you during whatever testing they do. You’re right, you probably won’t come online anymore, but there’s no reason to allow any hope to mess with your…” he waved his hand vaguely, “genetic makeup.”
Tony’s face was a clear picture of shocked disbelief at the sheer ridiculousness of that statement. How the hell was he supposed to stop coming online if his body decided hey, it’s finally time, buckle up for the ride? He snagged his backpack and turned back to the elevator.
Tony didn’t get it. He knew Gibbs was fairly open-minded. And being a Sentinel himself, how the hell could he be so dead set against any enhanced on the team?
He could understand no Sentinels. Despite being only a mid-level Sentinel – a Level 5 on the scale of 1 through 10 – if a lower level Sentinel dared to question Gibbs about anything, it no doubt would be taken as a challenge of his authority. And for sure he’d never accept a higher level Sentinel. Gibbs might only be a Level 5 but his attitude was a 10 all the way.
Before the elevator door closed, Tony caught a quick look at Gibbs who was focused on some paperwork on his desk, his usual scowl firmly in place. He pushed the button for the ground floor letting his thoughts drift back to a conversation he’d had with Ducky a couple of years ago.
He’d brought up his confusion over Gibbs’ iron stance on this issue. Ducky had suggested that possibly Shannon had been a Guide — Gibbs’ Guide, actually — and he couldn’t bear to be reminded of what he’d lost. Or maybe that Shannon hadn’t been a Guide, and Gibbs couldn’t stand the thought of being around someone who could provide more than his beloved wife had been able to.
Tony wasn’t sure it made a difference which possibility was the truth.
Tony stepped outside, pausing to take a deep breath hoping to shake off the sense of the absurd Gibbs’ comments had carried. He headed to the parking lot, climbing back into the car he’d just left barely 15 minutes ago. Once on his way down the street, his thoughts jumped between the conversation he’d had with Lt. John Baker that morning and the ridiculous one that had just taken place in the bullpen.
His brain felt like it had been invaded by hamsters running on a wheel. He pulled up to a red light and huffed another deep breath, rubbing his face hard and trying to pull his scattered brain cells together in one place. The light changed and he pulled around the corner and into the closest parking lot to his destination.
Parking was premium in this area of town, and Tony still had a couple or three blocks to walk yet. As he passed the pentagonal shape of the Pentagon, Tony realized the DC S/G Center was almost next door, something he’d never paid any attention to in the past. He huffed a small snicker, the thought occurring to him that his brain cells were still scattered in all directions since he’d returned from lunch. He shook his head, and a moment later his amusement was driven out by the gun shoved into his side.
“Just keep moving and stay quiet, and nobody on the street gets hurt,” the low harsh voice snarled in his ear.
All Tony’s scattered brain cells pulled together in an instant, giving him an almost preternatural focus. His assailant was tucked close enough behind him he couldn’t risk a look to try to identify him, not with the click of the hammer on an obvious .38 stuck into his side. Tony knew he couldn’t let himself be taken from the street, but the crowds prevented him trying to fight back here in the open.
Tony’s sharpened focus spotted the upcoming opening to a set of stairs going down to a possible private entrance to the building, and he immediately knew this might be his only opportunity. As they moved alongside the opening, Tony dropped his stance slightly and drove his shoulder into his kidnapper’s side. The steps were just beyond them. He pushed hard on his feet, sending them both off balance and down the steps.
The man yelled as Tony’s body slammed into his as they fell. Unfortunately, the pair tumbled at the same time, and this time it was Tony who yelled as the concrete step edge caught him across the ribs. Tony felt something give, heard the snap, but he couldn’t allow himself to react. If he didn’t hold onto his slight edge in this battle, a broken rib might the least of his worries.
Tony could only pray that if the rib had broken in the right spot – or the wrong spot, depending on your viewpoint – it wouldn’t puncture a lung while he fought to take possession of the gun in his assailant’s hand. He bucked up against the man’s weight trying to hold him down then fought to draw a breath as his chest seized up.
The next thing Tony became aware of was straddling the man, both of them still fighting for the gun. A shot rang out and Tony drove his head forward, connecting with the man’s forehead. His attacker’s head bounced off the concrete under him, and his hold on the weapon slackened slightly, no doubt stunned by the blow.
Tony’s lack of oxygen was becoming apparent as his own consciousness swam dizzily, but he managed to bring the gun in close. In the struggle, the weapon twisted and the next shot flew past the side of Tony’s head close enough to shave hair.
Tony’s focus suddenly narrowed down laser tight, his vision also narrowing to a pinpoint on the gun gripped between two sets of hands. In between one breath and the next, that focus exploded. Where his situational awareness a second ago had encompassed only the body under him, their hands sweat slick around the gun they fought over, and the chest pain threatening to drop him like a train wreck, in the next instant Tony knew everything.
The people on the street behind him were screaming, yelling for help. Tony was nearly overwhelmed by feelings, thoughts, voices filling his head… fear, anger, confusion, horror of encroaching death –
Dear god, he was online. As his eyes connected with the man beneath him, he saw the acknowledgment in that wild stare. In that instant, he knew his attacker meant to finish him. Though he was obviously supposed to capture Tony, something visible on the new Guide’s face told him that would no longer be possible.
Tony felt him wrenching the gun lower. He fought to breathe as he struggled to tighten his grip on the gun, to control the direction of the barrel. As the external sounds swelled and the internal emotions by-passed them, the trigger was depressed.
And everything stopped.
Aaron Hotchner ran lightly up the Pentagon steps on his way to his meeting with the Secretary of Defense when he felt a slight wave of… something pass through him. Some… feeling… he couldn’t explain. He paused at the top of the staircase and looked around. He couldn’t pinpoint what was happening but something definitely was. It was like a stirring of anticipation, but in this case it didn’t give him a good feeling about it.
Then he caught a scattering of raised voices to the right of the bottom of the staircase, some growing in volume. Despite there not being anything to lead him to believe this was something requiring his attention, the unsettled feeling within him grew to the extent he couldn’t ignore it.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, the voices became yelling followed by a gunshot. Amid the now screams and milling, agitated bodies, Hotchner pushed his way through the crowd. Sentinel hearing automatically raised, he heard the scuffle of two people fighting up ahead. The smell of gunpowder mixed with the stink of fear and rising panic was growing stronger. Before he could push his way through the thickening crowd of panicky people, he heard a second shot, and a couple of seconds later his head was instantly filled with Guide!
With a need born of panic, aided by Sentinel strength, Hotchner shoved his way through the crowd. He reached the stairs as the newly forged psionic pathways in his Guide blasted through his mind, carrying everything the man was feeling, which included everything everyone was feeling. And as he took his first step down the staircase, intent on shredding the man trying to kill his Guide, he felt his Guide disappear as the final shot rang out.