See Chapter One for story content information.
Chapter Three: Coming Home
Tony headed down the steps of Patrick’s private jet chatting to Jack who was following behind him grumbling good-naturedly about the expense. He was in the middle of teasing Jack about being a grumpy ass when he looked to see who was meeting them and saw a familiar face leaning against a black full-sized pickup. Stunned to see the very much unexpected sight, he almost missed a step and ended up jumping down the last couple stairs. The second his feet hit the tarmac though he was off like a shot toward the sight for sore eyes.
Somewhere behind him, he could hear Aiden telling Jack to let them be and Spencer muttering something that sounded like Thank God as he then steered Jack toward the other SUV. Tony though was only vaguely aware of all of that. Stopping mere inches away from the man he’d missed like a limb, Tony checked him over to make sure he wasn’t missing anything important. Before he could finish though he found himself engulfed in a hug. “AJ, fuck. Missed you, man.”
“John,” Tony half whispered and half whimpered as he returned his brother and best friend’s hug. By the time he was ready to pull back Aiden and Spencer were there waiting for a hug from their brother, and Jack was waiting to assure him that he would be fine riding with the Baby Sheppard’s as the base had taken to calling Aiden and Spencer.
“You get this thing with John worked out, AJ,” Jack half ordered, but Tony forgave him because it was what he wanted anyway and knew the older man was used to being in charge. “I’ll deal.”
Not willing to argue when it was what he wanted, Tony patted Jack on the shoulder before heading to sit in the passenger’s seat of the truck after retrieving his bag and tossing it back into the bed. He knew better than to try and wrestle the keys away from John, and besides that, he was too distracted to drive. Eventually, John got into the truck after promising his brothers he’d spend some time with just the two of them before they each had to go back to their bases. Tony let the silence fill the cab for about the first 20 minutes of their drive, except for the sound of the radio turned to some classic rock station that John had turned on.
Eventually, though, he reached out and turned the sound down slightly and turned as much as he could to face his friend. “You gonna tell me why you’ve been avoiding me for a little over 17 years? Or do I even need to ask since I am sure this has something to do with Patrick.”
“You chose your side,” John shot back and from the expression on his face, Tony knew that this wasn’t the conversation his friend wanted to be having. As far as he was concerned though it was tough shit. He wasn’t gonna bring this crap to the house. He just hoped that John and Patrick had already worked through enough to call a truce. He let the silence sit heavy in the cab again as he gathered his thoughts and tried to decide how he was going to attack this issue.
“When I stepped foot on the Ohio State University campus, I never expected to see any of you again,” Tony finally admitted drawing a quick glare from John that was sharp enough to slice steel and mixed with a healthy dose of surprise. “I figured that I’d been given a good four years of respite from the crap that was my father, and at least I had the memories. The first Thanksgiving was awful. I was one of the only guys on either the football or basketball teams that either didn’t get to go home or didn’t have someone come visit.
“When it came time for Christmas break, I expected a lot of the same. Only, when I got back to my dorm room after my last final, one of Patrick’s security people was waiting for me outside of my door, looking out of place surrounded by a bunch of college guys. He advised me that Patrick sent him to make sure I got back home ok, and that was that. When I got to the Manor Aiden and Spencer hugged me and told me how much they missed me before Patrick took me up to his office. Then he told me that whatever bullshit was going on between him and you was just that, and didn’t have anything to do with me. I was told that I was as much his son as any of the other four of you, and he expected that I damned well better stay in touch, and come home for holidays as much as I could.”
Tony paused to look out the front window as he tried to swallow the lump in his throat. After all these years he still remembered how much that had meant to him and how nice Patrick was to him when he lost his shit and just cried in his arms. “I know you’re pissed, and I can understand why, but what did you want me to do, John?”
“It would be nice if you had remembered what a bastard he is and how much crap he put me through,” John snapped back and Tony forced himself not to speak until he could trust himself not to say things that he’d regret later.
“I get that your father isn’t a saint,” Tony said finally after turning back to sit properly in his seat. He wasn’t sure he could hold in the things that would turn this conversation ugly otherwise. “He’s like every other reach man I’ve ever met in my life. He thinks that his money can buy anything. He’s sacrificed too many moments chasing deals that he thought were more important at the time, and sometimes he forgets that his family aren’t his employees. He had your entire life figured out before you even came home from the hospital and resented the fuck out of you when you didn’t just tow the line. Mostly because he’d probably not had anyone who threw his own stubbornness back in his face like that before. However, what I also know is the difference between your father and mine.”
When John just shot him a heated glare, Tony felt himself relax a bit. It wasn’t accompanied by some smartass remark and took that as a sign that their friendship might still be salvageable after all the years they’d been apart. “Do you know the difference between your father and mine though?” He asked, but continued without waiting for a response.
“My father never liked me let alone wanted me. I was something that my mother was to keep out of his sight unless I could be useful. If I got in his way I was met with an insult or put down and the back of his hand across my face. Your father may not have agreed with your decisions but he never stopped loving you. Your mother and you boys are his entire world. As ruthless as he is in business, he’s even more so if someone hurts one of his sons. My father disowned me because he was embarrassed that I’d dared to remind him that he forgot me in a hotel when a business deal fell through. He sent me away from home 2 months after my mother died because he couldn’t stand the sight of me. He sent me to military school because he didn’t want to accept that maybe some of my attitude problems were his fault. Your father sent you to military school because even though he hated the idea of you being in the military, it was what you wanted.
“Did he hope you’d get over it? Of course, he did. He also had you home as much as he could justify it, and if taking me with you was the price he had to pay to get you there he never so much as blinked at the cost. My father was disgusted to hear that I was going into the Navy and tells all his rich friends what an embarrassment I am. The first time I got seriously hurt, he actually told my CO that I’d probably messed something up, and therefore deserved my injuries and too bad they hadn’t been worse. The first time you got seriously hurt… that time that your plane crashed when you were in Miramar? Your father canceled all of his appointments and spent a fucking month in a hotel room in San Diego even though he was too ashamed to go see you and you were too fucking pig-headed to admit you wanted to see him. He still wanted to be close to you though just in case and had the nurses call him when you were sleeping so that he could sneak in and see you without you knowing.”
Tony paused again to take a deep breath and settle his emotions before continuing. “Is your dad a bastard? Yes, he is. Hell, he still scares the crap out of me. I am terrified that I’m gonna walk through those doors in a little bit and he’s gonna tell me to turn right back around and not come back because Aiden and Spencer almost died on my watch. But, he and your brothers are the only fucking family I have, John. So, again, I ask what the fuck you expect me to do? Then or now? Was I supposed to be alone and miserable just because you want to be stubborn and cut off your nose to spite your face and mine too apparently? Was it a sin so bad that it deserved fucking seventeen years of shunning from my best motherfucking friend? Was it, John? You fucking prick.”
The quiet lay heavy in the truck as the vehicle sped down the road. It went on so long that Tony wasn’t sure his friend would speak again before they got to the house. When he finally did, he almost jumped from surprise. “Sometimes I’ll be laying on my cot in a tent somewhere or in my bunk on a ship sweating my ass off because it’s so hot, but all I can feel is cold because I’m so goddamned lonely. Sometimes I still turn wanting to tell you something and startle because you’re not standing there. Truth be told I knew that you’d go back or at least expected you to, and was pissed off before you even did it. I could write you a letter because I didn’t have to see your face, and if it was a good day I could even call. I knew though if I came to see you that I’d have to deal with all this crap and I just didn’t want to admit that maybe it was as much my fault as his. So, I took it out on you because you’re my best friend and sometimes I’m a major asshole.
“Honestly, dad was right. This thing between him and me is just that, and I should never have tried to put you in the middle. I knew dad saw you as one of his boys as much as he does David, Aiden, Spencer and myself. I knew your father was a bigger bastard than mine and you didn’t have anyone else. I just couldn’t get over my own hurt feelings because dad was a jackass and by the time I did I didn’t know how to make it right. I fucked up, AJ. I’m sorry.”
Not knowing how to respond, Tony just nodded and patted his friend’s shoulder as a signal that all was well. He just hoped that it was all over now and the family could heal. When they finally reached the manor, Tony hurried out of the truck and into the house knowing Jack was already there. As he stepped through the front door the butterflies fluttered in his stomach as always. He had long ago given up on hoping that someday he’d feel like he could come home without worrying that would be the time he wasn’t welcomed.
“Son,” Patrick greeted as he came down from upstairs, and Tony flashed a big smile as always. The older man always made sure to greet him with affection and a hug when he came home. Bastard that he might be, but Patrick had always been more patient with him than most times Tony felt he deserved.
“Thank you for getting him here,” Tony whispered in the older man’s ear only to get a pat on the back and a whispered of course in return. “You met Jack?” He asked as he stepped back when John came up behind him with the bags.
“I did,” Patrick admitted as the man in question appeared from the direction of the entertainment room with Aiden hot on his heels. Spencer followed not too long after from the library. Something he wasn’t even a little bit surprised about.
“He’s a good man,” Patrick offered as Jack moved to Tony’s side, and he could tell the older man meant it. “You have chosen well, son.”
Smiling shyly, he looked over to see Jack blushing faintly. It was a sight that he would always remember and draw up when the times got bad. Later that evening, David came in with his wife and their new baby, and the greetings would begin again. Tony would do his best to ease the hurt between the two eldest of Patrick’s sons, but Jack would, in the end, remind him that it was up to them to fix things between them. Eventually, John would be drawn into the SGC, unable to stay away now that he knew his friend and two of his brothers were there. Not long after that Atlantis would be found, Sheppard Industries would win a government contract to work on various projects for the SGC bringing his father and final brother into things.
At that moment though, all that mattered was that he had Jack, he had John back, and his chosen father still loved him. No one was cold anymore, as the family’s love had warmed them all. Tony would make sure that none of them were ever left out in the cold and alone again.