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When Fate Steps In

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Chapter One


Patrick Sheppard sat up in bed in the very early hours of the morning trying to decide what woke him up. There was some urge crawling just underneath his skin demanding that he check to see if the children were ok. He resisted only a moment before getting out of bed and heading to the door. Before he could leave the room however, he heard his wife Jordan call out behind him.

“Something’s wrong, Patrick,” She called from her side of the bed, and Patrick paused to look back at her.

“You, too?” He asked as he finished crossing to the doorway and stopped there to look back at her doubting his actions before setting off again. As he was opening the doorway to Aiden’s room, he couldn’t help chiding himself for what he knew was a fruitless endeavor. Aiden was their youngest boy who was not quite four years old and the only child he shared with his second wife. Being a Sentinel, and a fairly strong one at that, Patrick didn’t need to leave the comfort of his bed to sense if his children were safe. However, he’d learned early in his time as a parent, back when his first wife Emma was still alive, that some things couldn’t be soothed using his enhanced senses. Some things like worrying about his boys he just needed to see for himself.

After ensuring that Aiden and David, his eldest son who was 12, were both ok, Patrick headed to the last bedroom holding his middle son John, who was 10. Before he reached the door though, John opened it, causing Patrick to stop in the middle of the hall. “What’s wrong, dad? I can hear someone crying. You have to help them.”

Patrick loved and worried about all of his children equally, or at least tried to. John though, he worried about a little more than the others. David was just beginning to present signs that he would be an above average level Guide. John though, despite being two years younger than his older brother, was already online and dealing with senses that would make him a High Level Alpha Sentinel if he ever found his true mate. Even without his Guide, John was a force to be reckoned with. His protective instincts were almost always higher than normal.

Most Sentinels and Guides started to show signs that they would present as a Sentinel or Guide between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and then came online fully sometime between the ages of twenty and twenty-five baring something traumatic happening or them finding a match. John, however, had been pulled online when he and a friend got lost in an abandoned and long forgotten cave when John was just eight years old. Having another Sentinel, and one who would someday be stronger than Patrick was himself, had been a stressful period that caused a slight friction between father and son that Patrick wondered if it would ever be healed.

The Alpha Primes of the East Coast had both come to see Patrick and Jordan, and let them both know that most young Sentinels that came online in such a traumatic circumstance tended to be more protective of their family members. They also assured them that the friction between father and son would settle when John eventually found a mate. When the Alpha Prime Guide admitted that finding his True Mate would help him settle even more, Patrick had reorganized Sheppard Industries to start a whole new division for research into Sentinels and Guides to resolve a number of problems including a way to find at the least compatible mates.

“I’ll stay and guard the family,” John insisted, and Patrick barely held back his sigh. Instead he gave his middle son a nod after receiving confirmation from John’s conservator, who had joined them, that he would help as well. Patrick then turned and headed back to the bedroom spotting the doors to the balcony doors open once he was there. Heading that way he found Jordan standing outside with her hands curled tightly around the railing.

Without the barrier of the Sentinel grade doors blocking out the noise from the world around then, it was easy for Patrick to hear the hysterical cries and pleas for help coming from the neighbor next door. “It’s little Anthony, Patrick,” Jordan said unnecessarily. “Something terrible must have happened. Jesus, what has that man done to his child?”

Without pausing to speak, Patrick immediately turned and headed to his gun safe, taking out his gun and its holster. Barely taking the time to dress, Patrick quickly headed downstairs to the car he’d left parked in the driveway the night before. Having heard Jordan following him, Patrick gave his wife a smile of gratitude knowing that whatever was going on, she would be needed.

Jordan Sheppard had been working at the Sentinel and Guide Center as a therapist since they bonded, and if what Patrick suspected was happening, they would need her. While the idea of any child in danger was enough to push his protective instincts, the pull to get to the DiNozzo mansion was so strong that suggested something else was going on. He supposed that it could be Claire using her Guide gifts to call out for help for herself and/or her child, but that wasn’t what Patrick’s gut was telling him. Everything inside of him told him that he needed to get to little Anthony as quickly as possible. The only reason that would be happening was if the child had come online at least partially and was calling out for help using Guide gifts.

“Bring him here, Dad,” John insisted standing in the doorway next to the conservator that stayed with them to help John when needed. Patrick met Jordan’s eyes across the top of the car then turned his gaze to his middle son.

“I’ll take care of him, dad. He can stay in my room and we’ll be best friends and I’ll protect him until he can find his own Sentinel. Just bring him here. That man has hurt him enough. I don’t know what’s happening, but Anthony’s finally asking for help. Promise you’ll bring him back with you!”

“You have my word, John,” Patrick promised before he climbed into the car, “that boy is coming home with me one way or the other.”


~*~ ~*~ ~*~


When they reached the DiNozzo mansion, Patrick was out of the car and around the front almost before Jordan was completely out of the vehicle. “Patrick wait,” she called forcing him to stop. No matter how much urgency he felt to get to the child that seemed to be calling to him, it couldn’t overpower the full bond between himself and his Guide.

Jordan Michelle Sheppard, formerly Chegwidden, was Patrick’s second wife, and nearly a perfect match for him. Her family and Patrick’s have had summer homes on the shore in Long Island New York since Patrick was a child. By the time that Jordan came online as a Guide, Patrick and Emma had already been together and married. It wasn’t until after Emma was killed that Patrick realized he’d not seen Jordan for years let alone question why.

Patrick and Emma had been together since they were teenagers. Even though they had not been fully compatible, Patrick had adored her, and when the Navy pushed him to find a more compatible Guide, he left the service to join Sheppard Industries instead. When she was killed in a car accident, Patrick wanted to curl up and die, but knew his children needed him. Then as the months went by, he realized that there was something else pulling at him.

At first, he scorned the thought of replacing his beloved wife with anyone else and wouldn’t even see the people from the local Pride about it, let alone anyone the Sentinel and Guide Center. If his father, Thomas David Sheppard, hadn’t pulled him aside to have a frank conversation with him about what both he and Jordan’s father, Jethro Rudolph Chegwidden, had known for years, Patrick wasn’t sure how long it would have taken him to see to reason through his grief.

Fortunately for him, Jordan was a loving and patient woman and allowed him and the boys time to grieve his Emma before they began to take steps toward their own bond. It was a little over a year past Emma’s death before they started the process, and nearly two years after Emma’s death before they married. Things hadn’t been easy, but Patrick believed they would have been much worse if his new Guide didn’t also have a Doctorate in Child Psychology and therefore well aware of what was going through his sons’ minds.

By the time Jordan became pregnant with Aiden, the four of them felt like a family, and by the time Aiden was two both John and David were calling Jo mom. David had taken a little longer to do so than John had most likely due to both being the older one as well as the one who was closer to her. Neither Patrick or Jordan had ever insisted on the boys calling Jo mom or mother, and Patrick thought because of it that hearing them address her that way the first time was sweeter and more meaningful.

Back in the late sixties and early seventies, there were much different thoughts about how things should be handled. It wasn’t unusual for people to assume and even be outraged if you didn’t immediately abandon any spouse or children who had yet to present their traits if you found your perfect match. Patrick always wondered, if the two families hadn’t known each other so well and for so long, if he still would have been granted the latitude he was. Knowing what he did about his father, Patrick doubted it, but he also had reason to hope that his mother would have made him see to reason.

Adjusting to having a nearly perfect match in a Guide had taken longer than it would have if Patrick had bonded to Jordan before Emma. For awhile it was quite a large mind fuck inside his head as the part of himself that was so loyal to Emma warred with the part of himself that wanted that near perfect match in Jordan so badly. That was another reason why they’d taken their time with their bond, despite it being another thing that was very much unheard of back then.

Fortunately, now eight years after Emma’s death and six years since his marriage to Jordan, things were starting to change when he came to handing situations like finding your Guide or Sentinel after marrying someone else and what to do with any existing children. Despite the good it was doing; Patrick was always a little embarrassed that his own situation had been one of a handful of high profile relationships that had spurned the change.

Along with his own situation, one of the Kennedy clan had gone through something similar to him almost at the same time as Patrick did. Then not a year later one of the distantly related members of the royal family in England also found themselves going through it. They were followed by a high-profile family in Japan a roughly three years after Emma died that sealed the notion that things had to change. Because so much attention was given to the subject for so long, the World Sentinel and Guide Council had finally gotten together with the United Nations and come up with worldwide guidelines on how to handle various situations with Sentinels and Guides.

Nearly four years had gone by since the new laws had gone into place, and worldwide views had begun to shift. While not everyone was a Sentinel and Guide, they certainly weren’t rare prior to the changes. With Jordan’s position at the local Sentinel and Guide center, Patrick was, at times, privy to information that didn’t make it out into the general public. Thus, he was aware in the recent severe spike in Sentinels and Guides who were coming online in the last year or two and knew the new more humane laws were one of the suggested reasons for why it could be happening.

“You feel close to the edge,” Jordan murmured placing a hand on his arm pulling him out of his head a little. “You need to try and pull yourself back from the edge. It isn’t going to help little Anthony if you go feral. Can you tell if Anthony Senior is here?”

Focusing his senses on the immediate area, Patrick spent several minutes going over enough area to encompass the acreage that was the DiNozzo Estate before shaking his head. “I smell blood, quite a lot of it. Little Anthony’s cries are heard wrenching. I’m very concerned that I can only hear one heartbeat inside the house… Jordan I need to go in. I can’t stand out here any longer.”

A flash of headlights distracted them for a moment and they both turned their attention to the driveway behind them. Quickly, Patrick identified Jordan’s older brother AJ driving the vehicle. “It’s AJ. Tell him to come inside after filling him in on what little we know. I think one of us should wait here. I can already hear the sirens if I stretch my hearing a little, and I am guessing someone from the Center will be close behind given what we all must suspect. Hopefully, the local Primes will also be called in. I don’t want that boy to have to go through any more anguish because of those assholes.”

“It’s criminal what the former Primes allowed with a little or a lot of money changing hands,” Jordan agreed quietly pulling her hand from Patrick’s arm. She would easily be able to keep track of him inside the house. Their bond was more than strong enough to cover the distance, even with the size of the manor house.

“Sophia and Bruce McClellan might be young, but they aren’t going to take any shit either. Martin was telling me the other day when he heard we were coming up here for Spring Break how impressed he was with them already. Apparently, the old farts around here used to being in charge aren’t sure how to handle the notion that their new Prime Alpha Sentinel is not only barely forty years old but a woman to boot.”

“It’s what they get for being assholes,” Patrick murmured, but immediately stepped away when the sound of Anthony’s wails tugged at him despite his Guide’s bond shielding him.

“Go Patrick,” Jordan urged as she moved away to where her brother was climbing out of his car. “AJ will be right behind you.”

Not waiting for any further discussion, as he was already antsy over the time that felt like it had been waisted chatting, Patrick took off into the house. His gun in his hand just to be safe. He still didn’t hear or smell anyone but Anthony, but between the boy’s crying and the smell of the blood of someone he knew, Patrick wasn’t positive that he couldn’t have missed something.

While it was true that the smell of blood was one of the first things that they’d trained out of him responding to when he was in the Navy, there was a certain element of human nature that could never be completely overcome. While Patrick absolutely detested the smarmy asshole that was Anthony Senior, he struggled with his feelings about Claire caught between sympathy for her position, the aggravation at her refusal to do anything to correct it, and loathing for the harm he felt was being done to her child that Patrick and Jordan both adored.

Using the cries to guide him, Patrick hurried through the house needing to get to the bright but somewhat shy little boy who was friends with John. There was an intelligence in the little boy’s eyes that Patrick itched to see nurtured and also shadows that made him feel violent. It was indirectly little Anthony that had gotten the former Alpha Primes of New York State removed from their position already and would most likely see the removal of the East Coast Alpha Primes and the US Alpha Primes if the Sheppard’s and Chegwidden’s had anything to say about it.

Little Anthony’s situation along with questions as to why things were never looked into had started an investigation into what was going on in the state of New York that had uncovered a system of greed and bribery that was revolting. With the Former New York State Alpha Primes removed, the current East Coast Alpha Primes would most likely be forced to step down within the next six months if Patrick’s father was to be believed, and the guess was the US Alpha Primes would then follow within a year or two after that.

It was highly speculated who would take over if the US Alpha Primes stepped down, but Patrick knew who his money and influence would be backing. The youngest son of Ellison Engineering’s owner, Jim Ellison, was one of the strongest Alpha Primes Patrick had ever met. Patrick knew him more as an acquaintance than a friend. Their families were in the same financial and societal circles thanks to both of their father’s immense wealth, but they hadn’t had much contact over the years.

Patrick had only met Jim’s Guide Blair once, but had heard a great deal of good things about not only Blair but also the things they were accomplishing on the west coast. It had been quite the scandal when they were appointed to the position given that they were basically the same age as Patrick and Jordan. Traditionally, positions of such rank even within the Sentinel and Guide community in America were held by much older couples. It had become apparent to Patrick and those that he considered confidants and friends that things within the American S&G community needed to change though.

Finding himself stepping into the ballroom that Patrick had always found pretentious and out of place in the home, it was easy to find Claire DiNozzo and her son Anthony. Claire was lying face down in almost the very middle of the dance floor, and her only child was knelt down in a pool of her blood. His little fists were clutched into the back of her gown and he was so obviously hysterical and panicked that Patrick knew the little boy had no idea he was there. It was an image that Patrick knew would be with him until the day he died.

Hurrying across the floor in long strides, Patrick knelt down and wrapped his arms around the little boy trying to draw him away from his mother’s dead body. “Anthony, shh little one,” Patrick murmured as the boy fought him. When he sensed movement behind him, Patrick lost his grip on the boy just as he’d almost had him parted from his mother. Looking back, he saw AJ Chegwidden standing in the doorway with a man he wasn’t familiar with but guessed was one of the temporary Guides that the SEAL was often assigned by the Navy.

Patrick heard AJ keeping the Guide back and appreciated the assistance as he turned his attention back to little Anthony.  “Anthony, come on little one. You should not be here. Let Uncle Patty take you out of this house. I know you’re confused, but she’s gone. You cannot help her anymore.”

“Patty?” Anthony inquired finally pulling his eyes away from his mother’s dead body before flinging himself into Patrick’s arms. 

Closing his eyes briefly, Patrick stood with the child in his arms and turned away from the body of the woman who had causes him so many conflicted feelings. Despite that though, this was never the ending he wished for her, and he could only hope that the vile man she’d been married to met with a fiery and painful ending.

Heading to the doorway, Patrick let AJ usher them outside the room and heard the doors closing behind them as Anthony’s cries filled his ears. It was only the feel of the child in his arms that was keeping him from going completely feral and hunting down his bastard father. As much as the sound of his cries would normally be enough to send any Sentinel over the edge, the knowledge of the precious young life that he held in his arms kept him just far enough away from the edge. He had no idea how AJ was holding himself in check but guessed that it had something to do with his extensive SEAL training.

When he felt a bubble of protection going around both himself and the boy, Patrick knew that Jordan had arrived before he never heard her voice. “Patrick,” Jordan greeted quietly, her voice full of pain and edged with anger. It wasn’t until she was seated next to him with her arm around both him and Anthony that Patrick became aware again of his surroundings.

Blinking, Patrick looked around and realized that AJ had led them to the library, which was in another wing of the mansion, and saw that there had been more than just his Guide join them. The knowledge that AJ had been able to lead him so far though the mansion without him being aware of it told Patrick that he’d been much closer to that edge than he’d thought.

Patrick was surprised to see Sophia and Bruce McClellan standing next to AJ with a man and a woman he didn’t know slightly off to one side watching them suspiciously. Although he didn’t know why they were dressed up, he guessed it had something to do with why Claire had been in such a formal gown. Soon, Patrick noticed the badge hanging from the man’s breast pocket of his cheap suit that told him Patrick was a Detective, probably with the local police department.

“Jo?” Patrick asked as he shifted Anthony in his arms to a more comfortable position. The boy had gone completely quiet except for the occasional sound of sniffling or a hiccup.

“Patrick, you remember Sophia and Bruce, don’t you?” After Patrick nodded and offered a soft greeting, he let his wife continue the introductions.  “This is Detective Sentinel Williams from the Long Island PD, and with him is Guide Imogene Finley from the local Sentinel and Guide Center. Sophia and Bruce were nearby at a party when Bruce felt Anthony’s pull for help. Guide Finley works with the PD on cases that involve child Sentinels or Guides. The calls that came into the PD said a child Guide was calling for help empathically, so she came with him.”

“I am here to collect the boy,” Guide Finley said firmly and in a tone that made Patrick think of the nuns at his Catholic Private School he’d attended as a child. He couldn’t help but question who in their right mind would allow a woman who appeared to be so completely uptight and so absolutely unempathetic to work with children. Given that she was a Guide, he had to think that he was misjudging her somehow, but her words certainly weren’t helping achieve her goal.

“Over my…” Patrick started to say but managed to cut himself off before the words cold dead body could come out of his mouth. Pausing, he instinctively tightened his hold on the boy as he gathered himself letting his Guide soothe him before he spoke again.

“There isn’t a chance in hell that I will allow someone connected with the Center that, as far as I am concerned, is complicit in what happened here take this child.”

“You have no say,” Imogene started only to quickly be cut off by Alpha Prime Sentinel Sophia McClellan.

“I do believe Guide Finley that I have already made a decision about this outside. As I told you then, you are more than welcome to take your complaint up with the East Coast Alpha Primes, but given that they’re about to lose their positions because of what happened under their watch here, I highly doubt you’ll find much sympathy. I told you to leave once. This time I am going to have to insist that you leave us.”

No sooner had the words come out of her mouth than the doors to the library opened and a couple of men entered urging the aggravating woman out. Once things were calmed down again, Patrick shifted his sight to Bruce as the Guide came forward.

“Sentinel Sheppard, I need to read the boy,” Bruce advised carefully as he knelt in front of Patrick. “I don’t have to touch him. He’s young enough that I should be able to get the information I need to confirm my suspicions without it.”

Patrick looked to Jordan, trusting only her at the moment, knowing her time spent working with various S&G Centers would be useful in directing them through this.

“It’s ok, Patrick. Bruce and I are feeling something that he needs to confirm. If what we think happened has, then it will make it much more difficult for anyone to contest our taking Guardianship over Anthony.”

Patrick nodded his agreement and felt his wife loosen her shields and turned his attention to Sophia and AJ who had been standing quietly watching. “Does anyone know where that vile man is?” Patrick supposed he probably should have been more specific, but he hoped that given the situation everyone would know he was referring to Anthony Senior.

AJ nodded sharply and Patrick watched him share a quick look with Sophia before he spoke. “Dad has him. The… He ran off the road and hit that big rock at the edge of our property. I doubt he’ll make it, and I’m not sorry in the least. After smelling… After the scent coming from the ballroom, I can tell you that the… substance covering his shirt was not just his own.”

“Are you willing to give a statement to that fact,” Detective Sentinel Williams asked speaking for the first time, and AJ nodded sharply.

“More than. That man was an absolute bastard, and I only regret that this boy will have to go through his life without both of his parents.”

“We will do our best to make sure that he knows what it’s like to have the love of a family,” Patrick promised already making long term plans in his head. “I’m sure he’ll need his Uncle AJ around, too.”

AJ’s eyes got a little bigger at the thought, and Patrick wanted to roll his eyes at the SEAL. He was married to the man’s sister. If things went the way he wanted, and Patrick was willing to put all of his money and power behind getting his way, AJ and little Anthony would be family for a very long time. When Bruce stood and moved back to stand next to his wife and Sentinel, Patrick’s eyes shifted his way.

“The boy is definitely partly online as a Guide. I’m not sure why, but then we very rarely do know the way, but it seems that someone related to Patrick may be the reason the child’s being pulled online was stopped. There’s no way to tell right now which of the three most common ways of partial emergence as a Guide Anthony has, but it shouldn’t take long to tell.”

“I’d say we can rule out one already. As angry as we all are, he wouldn’t be so quiet of he was open to everyone,” Jordan offered, and Patrick tried to remember if he knew what they were talking about. Fortunately, his wife must have sensed the silent question and answered without him needing to voice his uncertainty.

“Most children who come partially online as a Guide emerge in one of three ways. The first and the absolute worst is that they are open to everyone they meet. Typically, this happens very extremely rarely and most often because of a child left in a traumatic situation for an extended period of time without getting any help. The second is that the child comes online and is laser focused on one specific person. This typically happens when there is only one person who responds that is suitable to make the child feel safe.

“That could happen, but I doubt it given that AJ was there so closely to you. We’ll know soon though because the first time you get too far from him, Anthony will be inconsolable. The last and the most common is the child being open to those closest to him. Typically, it’s family and close friends. Hopefully, that is the one that Anthony will develop. It’s the one easiest on not just those around him, but the one that causes the fewest issues in both the immediate time period and in the long term.”

“I apologize if I am remembering wrong, but the two of you have a son who is a fully online Sentinel, correct?” Bruce asked and Jordan quickly nodded her confirmation.

“He and Anthony, or Tony as John calls him, are even friends. They often play together when we are here at the beach house. John is very protective of his family, and before we left, he all but ordered his father and I to bring little Anthony back with us.”

“It’s my guess then that he’s the reason Anthony stopped coming online. Not that it matters, but it definitely helps your case.” Bruce offered looking toward his wife who nodded and then continued on where her husband had left off. 

“I’ll place a call to a judge who handles our urgent issues as soon as I get back home. Obviously, guardianship and such will be his decision and there will be things you need to do such as CPS visits, but I don’t expect he’ll have any unreasonable requests. Frankly speaking, I am of the opinion that the best thing that could happen to this child is for him to be taken away from the state of New York. While I can promise you there will be changes, I think he’ll be safer and will recover better away from this place.”

Patrick hummed and looked to Jordan as he pressed a kiss to the child’s cheek. “My mother-in-law has been wanting to sell the home here and get a beach house down in Galveston, Texas. I am guessing that she’s finally going to get her way.”

“While I hate to see your two families leave the area, I understand and would support your decision,” Sophia murmured as she seemed to study Anthony. “The only wish I have for the child at this point is that whomever he ends up with loves and protects him. I only met him once and I don’t think I’d ever seen a more solemn child in my life. I hope his future is filled with laughter and security. If there is anything Bruce or I can ever do for either of your families, please don’t hesitate to call.”

Not three days later, Patrick would be ushering his family onto a private plane so they could make their way back home to West Virginia ending their Spring Break vacation prematurely. Anthony’s guardianship was as settled as it could get pending only a visit from CPS that none of them were concerned about. Anthony, as most of them called him except for John who stubbornly stuck with Tony, was most often seen by John’s side. Bruce had suggested that this may actually be good in the end for both boys.

Both the Sheppard’s and the Chegwidden’s had already hired a realtor to put their family beach homes up for sale. There hadn’t been any questions of what was right once both family patriarchs were filled in on what happened. Little Anthony’s welfare was the thing they were concerned about. Patrick had a list of new things he needed to do. Amongst them was a call with Claire’s father. While Patrick and Jordan had been wrapping things up with Anthony, Thomas had gotten contact information and reached out to the Paddington patriarch to try and head off any potential conflicts over Anthony’s care.

Fortunately, it seemed that while they were infuriated over their sister and daughter’s death, from what Patrick’s father told him, they seemed to be directing their anger toward DiNozzo where it belonged instead of the Sheppards. Claire’s parents and older brother George would be arriving the next day to start the lengthy process of taking her body home, and also to see their grandson and nephew whom none of them had ever met.

Patrick was already aware that they’d promised not to make waves as long as they could be a part of the boy’s life, and neither he nor Jordan had any issues with it. They both felt that it would do Anthony good to have his mother’s family be a part of his life and was confident the adults could put their own needs aside long enough to make sure little Anthony was taken care of.

When he sat down in the private jet, Anthony immediately crawled into his lap, and Patrick wasn’t altogether surprised. Nor was he surprised when John sat down next to him instead of Jordan. It would take time for things to settle down, but they’d make it. Patrick would absolutely not allow anything else but the best for Anthony from this point forward in his life.


~*~ ~*~ ~*~


Two days later, Patrick was sitting in the library of his family’s estate watching the Paddington’s talk to little Anthony and John. “Tony,” Patrick corrected himself quietly. He was trying to get himself out of the habit of calling the child by his full first name as he tended to do with his other children. Patrick had noticed how the child flinched every time he heard the name and after discussing it with him was trying to remember to use the shortened version of his name.

The conversation about Tony’s name had come up when Jordan advised that she felt some mental upset every time the boy heard them call him Anthony, they made a more concerted effort to call the child by the name of his choosing after that. Not to mention that it left John much less growly when his new protectee was not being upset all the time by hearing his father’s name. The two boys had quickly formed a bond so strong that initially made them worry that Tony would focus all of his abilities toward John.

However, it had been David that noticed that Tony seemed to be unusually attuned to Aiden’s wants and needs. It wasn’t that Patrick had doubted his son, but the previous night he’d been just about to get out of bed to find out why Aiden was sounding upset over the baby monitor, when Patrick heard Tony and John going into Aiden’s room to take care of what was apparently a nightmare. While it was true that John was more protective of his younger sibling than most boys his age, this checking on Aiden in the middle of the night thing was not something he typically did.

Having two boys in the house so sensitive to the needs of their family members was something everyone was going to have to get used to. Patrick had already agreed to the family going through a handful of sessions at home with someone from the center to help them all adjust to the change that having a Partially Online Child Guide would bring in addition to their Online Child Sentinel. There was also the second conservator for Tony waiting to join the family along with one already in the household for John. Things were starting to feel crowded enough that Patrick and Jordan were already debating moving vs. adding onto the house.

“If you don’t stop trying to glare holes in the back of George Paddington’s head, our guests are going to think you have a problem with their presence,” Patrick heard his Guide whisper in his ear, and closed his eyes briefly releasing a soft sigh.

The family patriarch Jeffrey Robert Paddington and his second wife Emmeline Ann Paddington along with the couple’s eldest son Sentinel George Jeffrey Paddington and his wife Guide Olivia Helen Paddington had all come to meet Claire’s son. While Jeffrey and Margaret were both completely mundane, George Paddington was without question an Alpha Sentinel strong enough that it was making his own Sentinel twitch. 

Patrick didn’t know what George Paddington did for a living for sure, but if the man wasn’t working for British Intelligence in some fashion then Patrick would sell his company. The man had a way of looking at you that made you feel like he already knew all of your darkest and deepest secrets. To say it was unsettling was putting it mildly. Despite his wish for the two families to be united in doing whatever was best for Tony, Patrick would be more than happy when the man was out of his house and on his way back to England.

“I’m trying,” Patrick said forcing himself to turn his attention away from George and focused on his Guide to calm himself down. “It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with someone whose Sentinel was so much stronger than mine inside of my own home.”

“I know,” Jordan assured, and Patrick could feel her pushing calm his direction through their bond. “Things will be over soon now that the US Primes have requested that they fast track Claire’s autopsy and release of her body. Dying might be the best thing that shithead father of Tony’s ever did for him. According to Olivia, Paddington Manor is much larger than our home, plus she and George aren’t there fulltime. So, you and George won’t be on top of each other all the time. I think we’re going to have to make finding or building a new home a priority.”

“Agreed. I noticed that the estate next door is for sale, and I’ve had a long time offer to buy the property between us and the Gallagher estate. I was thinking of purchasing both then we could build a new much larger estate back in the trees between our property and the Forsyth’s. We can leave this for one of the boys to use when they grow up, and it would give us more room to build should any of the other boy want to live near as well.”

Jordan hummed as she smiled and turned toward her husband resting her body against his. “Planning on building your own Sheppard family compound, are you?”

Patrick smiled and kissed her cheek. When he heard Tony’s soft voice speak up finally and ask Jeffrey if they had any ponies, the Sentinel felt himself relax a little. Thus far, the boy had only talked willingly to John, and while he would speak if you asked him a question, mostly remained quiet otherwise. So, hearing him ask “Grandfather” if he had ponies that he and John could ride was the sweetest kind of music.

“He’ll be ok, Patrick,” Jordan soothed, and Patrick felt her hand squeeze his slightly. “All of this is normal for a child who has been through what he is. Don’t get me wrong. None of his recovery is going to be easy. I think the only reason he hasn’t had nightmares yet is because we keep letting him sleep with John at night. He trusts John absolutely to keep him safe. The Center thinks that the two of them have already developed a strong sibling type bond. They’ll confirm it when we take Tony in for his check-in next week. Dad says AJ’s been talking about law school and wanting to put people like Senior away the last day or two.”

Patrick chuckled quietly at the thought. “I think your brother would make one hell of a lawyer. If I was accused of something and saw him across the aisle in a courtroom I’d just confess every time. AJ is already a ruthless shark with what he’s been taught in the SEAL’s.  I shudder to think what law school will teach him on top of it.

“I’m going to do everything I can for this boy, Jordan. He will never know day when he isn’t as loved as the rest of our children. He’ll be protected and encouraged as we would our other three sons, and if I have my way the world will be his oyster. Whatever he wants to do with his life, I will make sure he has everything he needs to succeed at it. Whatever passions he has, I am going to encourage and admire. I may not be able to wrap him in cotton and keep him from ever getting hurt again, but I will do my damnedest to prevent what I can. If I could, I’d resurrect that sonofabitch just so I could kill him myself for what he’s put that child through.”

“I believe you, love, and you know I will do everything I can to help. Don’t look now, but I’d say George approves.”

Patrick looked from his wife to the Brit and when the Paddington heir gave him a ruthless smile with a nod of approval, Patrick returned both. He hoped that it meant the Paddington’s were on board with the plan. At some point, they’d have to decide what to do about the DiNozzo side of Tony’s family, but for now he was putting them off.

The Sheppard family lawyers had already been in contact with the DiNozzo family lawyers, and like the Paddington’s they at least seemed on board with not making waves when it came to Tony’s custody. There would be other things they needed to work out there, but a very large portion of the decisions would be based on what Tony wanted and could tolerate. The one time that Tony’s father had come up, the boy had such an extreme visceral reaction to it that it had taken John and the new conservator almost an hour to calm the little boy down.

Patrick had no idea what was going on with Anthony, Sr.’s body other than a brother who lived in New York City and worked as a butcher was dealing with it. Frankly, he didn’t really care as long as no one expected Tony to be forced to attend, and it seemed that no one did. Both Jordan and the S&G Center therapist assigned to Tony’s case had agreed it would be a very bad idea at this point to force Tony to attend the funeral.

In the reverse, they both agreed that it would be a very bad idea not to allow him to attend his mother’s. So, the Sheppard family would be going to England for the funeral, and staying with the Paddington’s at the family manor, which according to Olivia was more like a castle than traditional American estate.

“Patrick, look,” Jordan urged pulling Patrick out of his head, and he saw that Tony had climbed into Jeffrey’s lap as the older man did magic tricks with a coin. “It’s gonna be ok.”

“Yes, it is,” Patrick agreed, and let himself be reassured by simply watching his new son smile.


~*~ ~*~ ~*~


When he heard the door to his office at Sheppard Industries open, Patrick looked up from the files he was looking through. He was looking at candidates to head up the new divisions of Sheppard Industries he was developing to for a wide array of Sentinel and Guide issues. They would be dealing with everything from genetic research to research and development of child Sentinel and Guide related technology. They already had a smaller division, but with their current situation, Patrick was throwing everything he had into this portion of the company to help not just his sons but what appeared to be a growing portion of society.

It had been six months since the night that Anthony DiNozzo, Sr. murdered his wife in a drunken rage in the same room where their six-year-old son had been playing in a corner. When he found out that little Tony had been in the room and watched his father murder his mother, Patrick had become enraged enough that it had taken hours in the gym pounding on bags and anyone who would step into a ring with him to calm down. Had the bastard still been alive, he wouldn’t have survived Patrick finding out that information.

Seeing his wife walk into his office, Patrick closed the folder he’d been reviewing and stood to give his wife a kiss and a hug before leading her to the sitting area. “This is a pleasant surprise. I hope everything is ok.”

“Everything is fine,” Jordan assured as she settled onto the couch with Patrick sitting next to her. “Something came up in Tony’s therapy session today and I wanted to make sure you’d be home at a reasonable time. Tony’s therapist came to see me after it ended. It seems that Tony has made an important decision of some kind and wants to speak with us.”

“Does this have something to do with us adopting him and whatever he and John have been whispering about?”

“I think so,” Jordan confirmed as she rested against him. “Harold stressed to me again how important it will be for us not to be upset if Tony doesn’t want to be adopted. I told him that you and I had already thoroughly discussed all possible outcomes of that and were fine no matter what Tony decided. I reminded him that if we had our way this wouldn’t even be a discussion. It’s way too soon for that boy to have to be dealing with something like this. I am not happy that moron is trying to force this issue. The greedy prick.”

Patrick grunted his agreement and made a mental note to make some more calls about the East Coast Primes being removed from their position. Once things had settled down somewhat after the murder, some of the Primes’ DC friends had made noise about the couple being removed from office, which had delayed the changes both on the East Coast and for the US Primes that a lot of people wanted.

Then about two months ago the Paddington’s and the DiNozzo’s both decided to put money into trust for little Tony, making the child a very wealthy little boy in his own right. Suddenly, there had been questions about if Patrick and Jordan were really suitable to raise the child, and they needed to either adopt the boy or the East Coast Primes would take over his guardianship. It was completely unethical and illegal, and the Sheppard Family lawyers had assured the couple that they wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

Regardless, Patrick and Jordan had been forced to approach Tony with the option of them adopting him. Neither thought the time was right for that question, but both the lawyers and those at the local center thought they should at least ask and make Tony aware of what was going on. Needless to say, whatever progress they’d been making had crumbled and Tony had retreated once more as he tried to work through what he wanted.

They had both noticed, and been informed by the conservators, that there was a lot of time spent sometimes by just Tony and John and sometimes with David included whispering and plotting. Tony had, before this came up, just started feeling safe enough to sleep in his own bedroom, but the very day they’d approached him, the child had moved back into John’s bed at night. It was aggravating to say the least. Patrick had already made noise about the East Coast Primes being removed from their position one way or another, and he wasn’t the only one.

There had been many suggestions behind closed doors that if the couple wouldn’t step down, maybe someone just needed to take them out of the picture for good. What they were putting this boy through was so offensive that there were even wealthy mundane families that were suggesting they needed removed even if it required a bullet or two. Patrick’s father, Thomas, was so fed up with the whole situation, that he’d left a few days prior to meet the World Sentinel and Guide Council in person and demand that they take action.

They had all known that there were issues in the American Sentinel and Guide community leadership, but this whole situation had really put a spotlight on how high up the corruption ran. It hadn’t been until he started digging into data while developing this new portion of Sheppard Industries that Patrick became aware of how many fewer Sentinels and Guides were found in America as opposed to the rest of the world. There was such a large drop off in the US numbers compared to other countries, some considerably smaller than America, that Patrick didn’t know how someone had not lookrf into it sooner.

They were surely living in dark days for their community in America, but Patrick was determined to pull them out of the shadows if he had to do it himself. The good thing was that it seemed he wouldn’t have to. Apparently, the younger generations and the newer wealthy and powerful Sentinel and Guide families had finally determined that enough was enough and things were going to change, even if they had to take care of things themselves. It wouldn’t be the first time any of them had blood on their hands, and Patrick doubted that it would be the last.

“Whatever he decides will be fine, Jo. I have no interest in adopting the child against his will. In my heart, he’s my son regardless of whether we adopt him or we’re simply his guardians. I will protect that boy no matter what it takes. If all else, we can move to England. Jeffrey Paddington has already made quiet inquiries with his government in us being given sanctuary if needed. It is not just those of us here that are fed up with the Sentinel and Guide leadership in this country.”

“Mother told me that the new Texas Primes were put in place yesterday. She said that she heard some pretty disturbing rumors from her friends back home and was told by one of her college friends that they thought no one would ever find the bodies of the previous Primes. The news this morning had a segment saying the Illinois Primes abruptly stepped down last night and no one knows where they have gone. They still don’t know if the New Mexico Primes will live after they were attacked in their home, but they are already being replaced. Dark days indeed, Love.”

Patrick sighed and pulled his wife close as he rested his cheek against the top of her head. Tony’s story wasn’t the only disturbing one that had come out in the last six months, and things were getting so bad that Patrick wouldn’t be surprised if the World Council didn’t step in and just replace the majority the Primes from the US level all the way down. There were still some that could be trusted. Others had joined Patrick’s call for Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg to be made US Alpha Primes and there were states that had leadership doing things the correct way. Hawaii and Virginia in particular were shining stars in the otherwise bleak sky that was the US Sentinel and Guide community.

The next few years may be rough, but Patrick was determined to ensure that the world his children would be growing up in would be much better than what they currently had. If he had to get some blood on his hands to accomplish it, well then so be it. He’d killed men in the service and as far as he was concerned this was just a different war.

That night after dinner, Patrick was in his home office reviewing yet more files for prospective employees at SI when Jordan came in holding Tony’s hand. Immediately he closed the file and stood moving around from behind the desk. “Did you enjoy dinner, Tony? I know peas aren’t your favorite.”

Tony wrinkled his nose at the mention of the dreaded vegetable. “Is better than cooked carrots. Can we interrupt you Uncle Patty?”

Patrick smiled at Tony and motioned to the sitting area. “Of course, Tony. I can always find time for you and the boys. Is everything ok? I know things have been difficult lately.”

Patrick settled into a wingback leather chair with Jordan settling next to him and Tony alone on the couch, which puzzled Patrick until John and David came running in. Seeing his two older sons take up positions on either side of their new brother made Patrick feel like he was at least doing something right as a father. While it was still up in the air as to how Tony would be addressing Jordan, Patrick was more often than not called Uncle Patty, but David, John, and Aiden were already brothers.

“I’ve decided what I wanna do,” Tony started sounding nervous until David and John each took a hand. “I… I don’t wanna be ‘dopted. I don’t… I talked about it lots with John an’ David an’ Miss Annie an’ Dr. Nelson an’ I wanna keep living here, but I don’t… I don’t wanna be ‘dopted. If it’s ok, I’m gonna keep callin’ Uncle Patty Uncle and I’m gonna call Miss Jordan Aunt for now. Dr. Nelson says I can change my mind later down the road if I feel diffrent an’ it would be ok.”

“Of course, Tony,” Jordan assured with a soft smile. “I am more than happy to be Aunt and I think Patrick is happy to be Uncle. As long as you’re comfortable with it, then we don’t mind either way. I know that you’re struggling with the mom and dad thing more because of your mother. I want you to know that if you decide at some point you want to call Patrick dad, but you still want to call me Aunt I am perfectly ok with that. I will love you the same no matter what.”

Tony nodded and sniffled making Patrick want to go over and pull the little boy into his arms, but he knew that the child would prefer John’s comfort. He wasn’t surprised when John dropped Tony’s hand and wrapped a protective arm around his shoulders instead.

“Is there anything we can do for you, Tony? Anything else you need?” Patrick prompted, and watched Tony look first to John then David before looking back his way with a hesitant nod.

“I don’t wanna be Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, no more. I don’t… I don’t wanna have his name anymore.” The amount of hurt and pain in the word his when it came out of the child’s mouth made Patrick reach for his wife’s hand wishing she was closer. When her hand curled with his though he took what comfort he could.

“Then we’ll get it changed. Do you have something in mind?”

“I wanna be Antony Sheppard Paddington. Paddington is ‘cause that’s my mom’s name, and I still wanna be hers. I jus’ don’t wanna be his anymore. Sheppard cause you’re my new family. John an’ David says we’re family even if you don’t ‘dopt me. So, I wanna be Sheppard too. Antony ‘cause Mamma loved that movie an’ I still wanna be Tony. Mamma loved Cleopatra an Antony. She said they were romantical an’ so I wanna be Antony ‘cause I think she’d like it. So…. That’s the name I want. Antony Sheppard Paddington, but I still want people to call me Tony. If it’s ok?”

“Antony Sheppard Paddington sounds like a wonderful name, Tony,” Patrick assured with a smile. “I will call the lawyers in the morning to get the process started. Would it be ok if I came and hugged you?”

When Tony nodded, Patrick stood and crossed the short distance to the couch. Then once there, he knelt down and pulled the little boy into his arms, feeling him shaking. “John and David are absolutely correct, Tony. Whether we adopt you or just remain your guardians you are our son in our hearts, and we will love you the same either way. We know how much you love your Mamma and neither of us want to replace her in your heart or make you forget her. That’s why the new house will have a whole room just for her piano. We love you, Antony.”

When the little boy started crying, Patrick tightened his arms and let the tears fall as he rubbed the child’s back. If his own cheeks were wet by the time Tony was done, he wasn’t the least bit ashamed.


~*~ ~*~ ~*~


It was a warm fall afternoon and Patrick was sitting in his home office reviewing some proposals for new projects on his computer when he heard a knock on his door. Looking up, he saw his seventeen-year-old son standing in the doorway looking nervous. “Tony, come in,” Patrick invited as he saved and then closed the file he’d been reviewing.

“Sorry to interrupt, dad, but I’ve made my decision about college and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

There had been a lot of changes in the last decade plus since Tony’s mother was murdered. The family itself had gone through growing pains as everyone got used to not just a new person in the family, but the additional dynamic of having a Partially Online Guide in the home. In addition to that, there had been numerous changes in the American Sentinel and Guide community. Out of the Fifty State Primes, fifteen of the couples had ended up replaced. Along with that both the East and West Coast Primes had needed replaced. One due to corruption and the other when Jim and Blair had been made US Alpha Primes.

The Sentinel and Guide World Council had put the US on a probation that would be falling off at the end of the year. The unrest in the S&G community leadership had caused some issues between them and the mundane community and a spike in crimes against Sentinels and Guides that was still not quite settled down. The stain from the corruption was a public relations nightmare that they were slowly making headway on.

Fortunately, the mundane government hadn’t been that far removed from their own scandal thanks to President Nixon. So, while things had been bad, they certainly could have been worse. Both sides had learned a valuable lesson on the danger of putting the wrong people in a place of authority in a governing body.

Tony had healed slowly, but he had healed. The relationship between Tony and John remained strong despite the distance between them now with John being in the Air Force. Things had been rough for Tony when John first went to college, but he’d eventually found his footing. Patrick had eventually become dad instead of Uncle Patty. Jordan though was still Aunt, but Tony had acknowledged a couple years back that she was as closed to being a mother as anyone would be outside of his real mother would ever be.

Fortunately, Jordan was a loving and intelligent woman, who understood that Tony didn’t love her any less than the rest of her sons just because he called her Aunt instead of mom. She just didn’t quite hold the same place in his heart and soul as Claire did, and she was fine with that. Despite not seeing the horror that was the ballroom Claire died in, or hearing Antony’s cries when Patrick found him, there was more than one night in the weeks following the murder that the household was woken up by the sound of Tony’s heartbreaking cries and pleading for his mother.

Every time, they’d rush into John’s bedroom where Tony was staying to find the little boys wrapped around each other, and John looking almost devastated because he couldn’t make things better. There were still nights when Patrick’s sleep was broken by the heart wrenching sound that haunted his dreams.

The Paddingtons were a strong presence in Tony’s life, and every summer he spent at least a month with them, usually taking one of his brothers with him. There had even been a handful of Christmases where Patrick’s family had spent with the Paddington’s in the family estate in England. The DiNozzo’s however had quietly slipped into the background. While Tony did meet with his grandparents on that side a handful of times and had inherited more money when they died, for the most part he had very little connection with them, and everyone involved understood why.

Tony was a bright and highly inquisitive young man who loved puzzles and had a way of working through issues that at times left Patrick in awe. He was an incredibly talented pianist and had taken up photography filling the family home with gorgeous pictures. He also had a love of movies, especially old black and white ones thanks to memories of sharing them with Claire. There had never been a day when either Patrick or Jordan had regretted taking the little boy into their home, and over time he’d grown to become as much their son as the other three children.

“Once I made up my mind, I was excited and wanted to tell someone. So, I talked to Aunt Jordan yesterday, but you were in that meeting. I asked her not to say anything because I wanted to talk to you myself.”

“Of course, Antony. I understand. It’s a big decision. What have you decided on?”

“I want to go to Virginia Tech,” Tony confessed, bouncing his leg nervously from his seat in front of Patrick’s desk. “I’m going to enroll in the ROTC program and go into Naval Intelligence. Once I graduate with a degree in National Security and Foreign Affairs, I’ll have 13 weeks in Officer Candidate School and then 5 months in the Intelligence Training Program. Both the OFC and ITP are required for Naval Intelligence. What do you think?”

Patrick sat back in his chair with a smile that he hoped would reassure his son. “I think that’s a marvelous choice. I know AJ has been saying for a while that you’d be a natural at Naval Intelligence and I can’t say I disagree. I think you will do this family and this country proud.”

“Thanks, dad. I was… Well, I was a little worried you’d be disappointed that I’m not doing something closer to combat like David and John did.”

Patrick waived his hand in the air making a face. “I hope that I learned my lesson about trying to control what my sons do after that fiasco when John decided to go into the Marines instead of the Navy. You need to do what you feel is right. Honestly though, I really believe this is the perfect path for you, Antony. You have a unique way of seeing things that I think will be highly valuable in your chosen profession. Do your best. Be the honorable, intelligent, and responsible young man I know you are, and you will go far. Always remember that I love you and support you wherever life’s paths take you.”

The smile on Tony’s face told Patrick he’d done a much better job with Antony than he had with John. If it wasn’t for Tony and Jordan, Patrick knew he could have lost his son to his own stubborn need to control things. Fortunately, he’d learned a lesson, and was doing his best not to run his family like he did his company. Hopefully, by the time he had to go through this with Aiden, he’d be used to walking the line between guiding them into doing the right thing and giving them their freedom to make their own choices and mistakes.


~*~ ~*~ ~*~


Close to a decade later, and Patrick was standing in an airport waiting for his son step off the plane, worried about what was going on. “He’ll be ok, Patrick,” Jordan tried to reassure, and Patrick took a deep breath before looking her way.

“I hope so. Something big obviously happened. Tony loves what he does. He’d never leave active duty unless something has gone horribly wrong. There’s no way AJ doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“JAG isn’t the same as Naval Intelligence,” Jordan reminded with a huff and Patrick turned his head back to the gate as he saw people begin to come through. “Even if he did have access to the information though, which honestly, he probably does, there’s no way he can tell us. Sheppard Industries has enough government contracts that I know you understand confidentiality.”

Patrick frowned at Jordan for trying to insert common sense and reality into his aggravation and got an eyeroll in response. “Look, there he is now.”

Quickly, Patrick turned his attention back to the gate to see Tony making his way through the crowd as people parted like the waters of the red sea. Once he’d made his way through the throng of people, Patrick saw Bagheera next to him, and knew that whatever happened hadn’t been good. Antony’s spirit guide made its appearance sometime overnight that first night they brought Tony home, but hadn’t been a regular visitor until John went to college.

Up to that point, John and Antony spent as much time together as possible often roping David into their shenanigans or bringing Aiden along with them. When John went away to school though, Antony went through a period of about a year where he was quieter and more subdued than he had been since they’d first brought him home. Even though Aiden was closer in age to Tony, it was John who had always been his rock, and finding his footing without his brother and partner in crime had been hard for the younger boy.

During that time, they started noticing that Antony’s Spirit Guide was around more and more, especially if he was upset or aggravated, or struggling with some other strong emotion. It was a 50/50 situation if Partially Online Guides had access to their Spirit Guide or not, and it seemed to really just come down to the needs of the child. More than once in that first year John was away, either Patrick or Jordan had found Tony in his room or hiding in a nook in the house talking quietly to the jaguar cub.

“Antony,” Patrick greeted as his son reached the spot where he and Jordan were standing, and immediately, he wrapped his arms around the man who was as much a son as the three Patrick had helped to create.

“Dad,” Tony greeted burying his face in Patrick’s neck, and the older man just tightened his hold on his son.

“Aunt Jo,” Antony murmured pulling away from Patrick’s arms and moving into his Aunt’s.

“You know we’re here to listen to whatever you need to tell us, but we’re not going to bug you about it. Are we Patrick?”

Patrick huffed as Tony laughed and pulled back from Jordan’s hug. “There’s not much I can say anyway. Once we get home, I’ll tell you what I can.”

“I will do my best to contain myself, but I make no promises for your father,” Jordan teased, and Tony just laughed again, throwing an arm around her shoulders as Patrick led them towards Baggage Claims to get Tony’s things.

A little less than an hour later, Patrick, Jordan, and Tony were seated in the study in the family home. Bagheera had vanished sometime between leaving the airport and getting to the house, and Patrick hoped that meant his son felt better now that he was home.

“I have retired from active duty. I still have two years of reserves to do, but things came to a point that I just couldn’t pretend things were ok. Since the problem is higher on the totem pole than I am my options were limited. When I asked AJ for advice, this seemed to be the choice least likely to make waves and most likely to make me happy. Uncle AJ pointed out that I don’t have to stay in the Navy to do what I do, and he thought I’d have some real good options. He know what is going on and will do what he can and keep an eye on the rest.

“So, I know it’s like only June, but I’m gonna take some time off, if you guys don’t mind me hanging around. Then after the beginning of the year I’m gonna see where I can plant my feet next. This isn’t how I imagined that 2000 was going to go, but…” Tony trailed off offering a shrug as his eyes shifted back and forth between Patrick and Jordan.

“You know we support your decision, Antony,” Patrick murmured, burning to know what happened, but learned his lesson how well his children didn’t take his interference in their lives. Antony seemed to be mentally and physically alright, so Patrick really didn’t have a good reason for sticking his nose into Tony’s affairs. “If there’s anything Jordan and I can do though, you know you only have to ask.”

“Even if it’s only needing an ear to listen,” Jordan inserted quietly. “As much as we both know your father would move the world for all you boys and put all his money and influence behind ruining people, we both understand if you just need someone to talk to. It sounds though you have gotten help from the person best able to guide you through whatever is going on.”

“Thank you, Aunt Jo. I do know, and I appreciate it. Uncle AJ has really been a lifeline. I don’t know what the hell I woulda done if I didn’t have him to lean on. Believe me, we talked through every option and possibility, and this one seems to be the only one I can live with and still sleep at night. I’ll probably schedule a couple of visits with Dr. Hammond. Uncle AJ checked and said that he’s got a security clearance high enough I can talk openly with him. I just… I can’t have any more blood on my hands because pencil pushers and old fuckers don’t want to hear what I’m saying.”

“Whatever happened, it is not your fault,” Patrick said immediately, barely able to keep himself in his chair. “There is no doubt in my mind that you did everything that you could. You did your best, Antony. You always do your best, and that’s all that anyone can ask of you.”
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sleep at night. I just have to find a place to go where they’ll actually listen to what my intelligence says.”

“You will, Antony,” Patrick assured as he gave up and stood to go put an arm around his son. “I have no doubt that you’ll find a place where they’ll appreciate what you have to offer. Jordan and I both love you and support whatever path you choose to follow from here.”

“Thanks, dad,” Antony offered just before the cook called them to dinner. As he followed his family out of the study, Patrick promised himself that he would make sure wherever his son ended up, that he was appreciated. He simply wasn’t going to tolerate anything less.