Second Family, Whole Heart – Chapter One

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Chapter One:

Guide Lt. Commander Eric Blackburn sat at his desk in his office at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia watching the Team Leader of Bravo Team pace in front of his desk. Thus far, the Master Chief had been tight-lipped on why he requested the meeting, and Eric was trying to be patient. Sentinel Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Jason Hayes was the best of the best. The team he and his 2IC Guide Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Ray Perry had put together was the best group of SEALs that Eric had ever seen. Being the Navy’s top Tier One SEAL Team wasn’t easy to achieve let alone to hold the title for as long as that team had.

Jason Hayes was loved by his teammates and hated by most everyone else. He was a passionate, no-nonsense man who demanded the near-impossible from his team every day but would scorch the earth for any of them if they needed it. He wasn’t an easy leader by any stretch of the imagination. He held his men to what appeared to be nearly impossible standards. His need for control over his team’s lives far exceeded what any other team required, but at the same time, he considered every man his family and treated them as such. There was also the fact that for every impossibly high standard he held his team to, the standards he demanded of himself were doubly high.

Sometimes Eric wondered if Bravo Team was the top team through Jason’s sheer will and determination alone. He also knew that all of it came with a price. It was one which the Sentinel, father, husband, and son was more than willing to pay. Not only that but he expected everyone on his team to be willing to pay the same price. With the current version of the SEAL team, it seemed that he’d finally found a combination that was. Recently though, Eric had begun to wonder if the price that Jason was paying was too high.

He was single and living alone after his wife and childhood best friend divorced him. He’d recently lost a member of his team and close friend in Nate Massey aka Bravo Four, and another close friend and a fellow SEAL Team Leader Steve Porter when Echo team was ambushed and killed. There was a long list of people Jason kept on his phone of friends he’d lost. Eric hated that Jason tortured himself with it, but he understood. They all had their own way of ensuring they remembered their fallen brothers.

Jason’s entire life was his team to the point where when he wasn’t with them or wrapped up in a team matter, he at times seemed lost. More than once, Eric worried that the breakup of Jason’s marriage might be the thing that pushed him over the edge and into a downward spiral he wouldn’t be able to recover from. To say the always laser-focused Team Leader had been even more locked in on his target was an understatement.

While things with his team were finally settling down after officially drafting the rookie Guide Special Warfare Operator Second Class Clay Spencer, the fact that Spencer was a perfect match for Bravo Three Special Warfare Operator First Class Sonny Quinn was no guarantee that the rookie would get drafted onto the team. The two had at the time not bonded yet. It also hadn’t helped that initially Sonny and Clay were like oil and water. Eventually though Sonny warmed to Clay letting him underneath the Texan’s hard shell, and Clay lost enough of his cocky mask, at least with the team, that they were able to see the person beneath the façade. While the team had always been close, the addition of Clay had created a new dynamic. This newly found harmony within the team might be the only thing that was keeping Jason from slipping into that spiral.

Despite Clay’s propensity to push Jason, Eric could also see how much the rookie looked up to the Master Chief and could see an almost father & son relationship developing between the two. If there was anyone who needed that connection to someone, it was Clay. While the rest of the Navy thought Ash Spencer was something of a legend to be admired and in awe over, at least before he sold them all out to make money with his books, Bravo Team thought nothing good of the former SEAL. The longer they knew the son the lower their opinion of the father got.

Clay was as stubborn as Jason and determined to prove that his worth as a SEAL was not determined by anything other than his own abilities. Not his father, not his Guide status, which was actually looked at as a disadvantage by many who still saw Guides as too weak for the SEALs, and certainly not the fact that his perfect match was already a Tier One Navy SEAL. Bravo team’s rookie had a cocky and smug shell that he’d wrapped himself in so tightly that Eric doubted that anyone but Jason Hayes had a chance of busting through it to bring out the SEAL Eric believed Clay could be.

Eric couldn’t help but admit though, at least to himself,  that he had a soft spot for the young man, remembering an adorable curly blond haired, blue eyed toddler running around team gatherings back in the day. It hadn’t been often, because Ash hadn’t been any better of a father then than he was now. When he found out Ash’s kid was on Green Team, Eric had been instantly curious to see how the kid he remembered had turned out.

When Adam grouched about Clay acting like a know it all and worrying that the Teams wouldn’t see the kid’s potential, Eric had almost immediately given up hope Jason would take him. He already hated Ash. Then the kid caught Ray’s eye, and Eric let himself hope again. When the decision had been made to draft the kid, Eric promised himself that he would do everything within his power to help the kid succeed.

Despite how well things were going with Clay though, Eric was pulled back to his concern over Jason’s mental wellness, especially after the divorce from Alana six months prior. The constant back and forth pacing in front of his desk wasn’t helping calm his concerns any that was for sure. Neither was the rubbing of his leg as he paced, a more recent sign Jason was agitated. “Jason, what’s going on? I know you didn’t come to my office to pace a hole in my floor.”

Eric knew that people said he let Jason do whatever the hell he wanted, and he supposed to a certain extent that was true. The thing was though that he knew Jason would listen when it was really needed. The rest of the time, Eric was willing to give someone with Jason’s level of success a little extra slack. Leaning forward and resting his elbows on his desk, Eric watched Jason stop pacing and sit heavily in one of the chairs in front of his desk.

“I know I should have notified you first. I mean if one of the guys had pulled this shit and not called me first, I’d have had their head. Fuck what the Sentinel and Guide Center said. They’d be running hills till the puked, and then I’d make them run more once they were spewing all over the place. I just, I was thinking about it last night and Alana’s been all over me about it, and even Emma’s started harping on it, and I got to thinking about it last night and once I started I just couldn’t stop and I know I should have called you first but…”

“For fuck sake, Jason, breathe,” Eric interrupted cutting the Master Chief off as he wondered if the man was having some kind of mental break. Jason was known for an occasional emotional outburst, but endless nervous rambles weren’t the norm. Once Jason had taken a few deep breaths running his hands over his face in obvious frustration, Eric prodded him to try again.

“Now, what the hell is going on? I’m not you. I have no interest in making you run hills, especially if it has something to do with the Sentinel and Guide center. Just tell me what you did. What’s going on, Jase.”

Eric watched Jason take another deep breath before trying again. “I uhh, I called my coordinator at the Military Sentinel and Guide Center in DC and told them I wanted to do a Guide search. They uhh, it seems they already had a name. They’d run a search for him awhile back, I guess around the time Alana decided to divorce me and my name came up. Since I still had my status listed as a hard not interested, they didn’t bother contacting me. Guess none of his other matches worked out though so… Apparently, he’ll be here sometime today to talk.”

“Here as in Virginia? I mean, it isn’t like he can get on base unless he’s got the right clearance. I can’t just let anyone on base, not even for you. I mean, if this is what you want, I fully support you. You know I’ve thought you should have done this way back when you and Alana got separated. It’s not like you’ll be the only person on the team with a civilian Guide.”

“Oh, he’s not a civilian,” Jason corrected after rubbing a hand over his mouth nervously then folding his hands in his lap tight enough that Eric could see his knuckles turning white. “He’s in the Navy, Naval Intelligence specifically. He said he already has access to the base. He uhh, he’s the same rank as you, Lt. Commander. Said he knew you, kinda.”

Eric narrowed his eyes as he mentally flipped through all of the unbonded Naval Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Commanders that he knew and there was only one name who came to mind. He was almost afraid to hope that it was the same person, because if it were, Bravo couldn’t have asked for a better match for Jason, at least not as far as Eric was concerned. “You talking about Lt. Com. Paddington?”

“Yeah, Guide Lt. Com. Antony Sheppard Paddington,” Jason agreed, and Eric watched him unclench his hands and force them to lay flat on the top of his legs. “Look, I know I should have called you first. I just, I made up my mind and I didn’t wanna stop to talk to anyone about it or I was afraid I’d change my mind, and…”

Eric held up a hand before Jason could start another ramble. “Jason, you know I don’t care about that, or you should. I don’t care who is first unless you’re dying or neck-deep in trouble. You’re notifying me now. That’s all I care about. I gotta tell you, you couldn’t have made a better choice though. I don’t always agree with the Center’s idea of a Perfect Match, but in this case, they nailed it.”

“Yeah?” Jason asked leaning forward, resting his elbows on the arm of the chair. “So, you do know him?”

“Know a little,” Eric confirmed as he relaxed in his own chair and drained his now cold coffee making a face before continuing. “Good man from what I know of him. He really will be a perfect match, Jase. Real smart and has a natural instinct for Intelligence work. He has a bit more field experience than most Intelligence Officers. You know the Navy hates letting them out of their little bubbles. From what I understand though his whole family serves or has served so he doesn’t tolerate that whole delicate flower bullshit any more than he is forced to. You umm, you do know he is one of The Sheppards though, right?”

“The Sheppards?” Jason parroted cocking his head to one side, and Eric huffed.

“Patrick Sheppard? Sheppard Industries? The youngest, Aiden, is the 2IC on Delta Team? About to be promoted to Team Lead in a couple weeks officially when Jordan retires? Ring any bells, Hayes?”

“Oh, huh, yeah,” Jason cocked his head to one side and Eric could practically see him flipping through the teams then team members’ names before the younger man nodded. “Yeah, guess I never thought about it. Didn’t know it was that big a deal. I mean I could practically see your verbal capital letters there. Capitol T, capitol S. The Sheppards. You know I don’t care about that shit. I care if Tony’s gonna fit on the team. I care if he’s gonna get along with the boys, and understands I have no intention of giving up Bravo Team.”

Eric opened his mouth and shut it then ran a hand over his eyes before resting his hand over his mouth as he stared at his Master Chief. “You do understand he’s technically your superior officer, right? You can’t just order him around. Hell, even if he wasn’t, he’s your Guide Jason. He isn’t a possession. You can’t just expect him to concede to your will just because he’s a Guide and you’re the Sentinel.”

Jason scowled angrily, but Eric wasn’t going to give and eventually Hayes rolled his eyes. “It isn’t like that. I just… I told him right off when I found out what he did that I wasn’t giving up Bravo Team. Said that I would rather continue to go without a Guide than give them up. He said it wasn’t a big deal. He didn’t have a problem with joining Bravo Team as a dedicated Intelligence Officer as long as you were cool with it.”

Eric lifted an eyebrow and Jason just gave a shrug to the silent disbelief. “Yeah, I was surprised. That’s why I brought it up right away. Said something about needing a change of scenery and wanting to be closer to his brother which makes more sense now that I know Sheppard is his brother. Look, Eric, you should know I’d never treat my Guide like he’s a mindless thing. I don’t want some… slave with no will of his own. I just. Damnit, I worked hard to get here, and I don’t want to give up my team.”

Eric held up his hands feeling guilty. “I know, Jase. I’m sorry I said it. I didn’t mean it like that. I just want this to go as smoothly for you as possible.  You may have everyone else fooled all these years with your ‘I am perfectly content’ bullshit, but I’m not one of them. Loving Alana has nothing to do with Guide Longing. One doesn’t cancel out the other. You may have learned to cope without one, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t want one.”

“Yeah,” Jason agreed then repeated himself before continuing. “Yeah, but at the time I thought that I had a responsibility. I mean, it’s the way I was raised. You get a girl pregnant and you get married no matter what, and it wasn’t like I didn’t love Alana. She’d been my best friend my whole life, and I’d just come online. Seemed like my friendship with her should override some unknown person I’d never met. All that stuff they told me about Sentinels and Guides seemed like just a bunch of bullshit when my best friend was pregnant and scared and I thought I was in love. Hell, I was in love just, wasn’t…”

Eric watches Jason shake his head and frowns. “No one is saying you did the wrong thing by marrying Alana. You have two wonderful kids, and you two were married a long time. Just ‘cause it ended doesn’t mean it was wrong. I’m the last person to throw stones about that. It isn’t like I married my Guide either. Never even found him or her. Hell, there’s a shit load of people around here that would kill for a relationship like you had. Shit, Betty would have my ass if I don’t try and steer you in the right direction.”

Jason grinned at the comment, and Eric knew it was because he’d spoken the truth. “That’s because your wife is a formidable woman, sir. For the record, I appreciate the advice. God only knows I’ll need it at some point. To be honest, I think that right now I’d agree to just about anything. I mean, knowing that not only do I have a match, a Perfect Match, but a Perfect Match that is nearly a flawless fit with my life is just… I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop Eric. I don’t even know what to tell the guys. I mean, shit, he even said he’d be happy to mentor Davis when she gets done kicking ass in Officer Candidate School.”

“Just how long did you talk?” Eric asked sounding amused and Jason huffed.

“Not long. He called me this morning after the Center called him. We decided unless something goes horribly wrong when we meet tomorrow then we’re going with it. I know you aren’t supposed to be able to tell anything over the phone, but it feels right. So, we agreed to do it. Then we just talked about the important stuff. Team, jobs, his family. You know, the basics.”

Eric couldn’t help but smile at the statement and waved Jason off ordering him to go fill in the team. “Go tell the rest of Bravo and then get out of here. I am sure you are itching to talk to Alana and the kids. I’ll get your paperwork submitted for the standard 90 days. If something changes or you need longer than that then just let me know.”

Eric watched Jason narrow his eyes at him as he stood holding the doorknob. “Just make sure you don’t spin them up with Charlie team. Beau’s not getting near my boys again. Alpha only! I don’t trust anyone else.”

“Someday you’ll remember which one of us is the boss, and it will be a glorious day.”

Jason made a face then flashed a shit-eating grin before he turned to leave. “Pfft! Nah. I just like to let you think you’re running things. See you later, Eric. Thanks for the talk.”

After the door closed, Eric took a moment to shake his head and grin, then picked up his phone to call Betty. Formidable didn’t even begin to describe his wife. If she wasn’t the first to know, Eric would be spending all night on that crappy couch in the basement that he swore she kept around just for when she was pissed at him. To hell with regulations, Betty was gonna be notification #1 no matter what the Navy wanted.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Guide Lt. Commander Antony Sheppard Paddington, born Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Jr, carefully ended the call from the DC Military Sentinel and Guide Center and set the cell face down on the table. Feeling a little dazed, he chewed on a piece of bacon, barely tasting the crunchy goodness as he tried to process the call he’d just had.

“Son, is everything ok?”

Lifting his eyes, it took Tony a minute to remember that he was at the condo that he occasionally shared with his father when the man was in DC. When Tony was six years old, his father Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Sr killed Tony’s mother in a fit of rage at a vacation house they’d been renting. Patrick had been nearby and being the strongest Sentinel in the area, had been called to please come help.

By the time the local Sentinel and Guide reps had gotten there, Tony had thoroughly attached himself to Patrick and Patrick’s then 10-year-old son John to the point that it was determined detrimental to the young Guide’s health to separate him from the family he’d apparently chosen. Even though he already had a 2-year-old at home that he was raising without the boy’s mother, it hadn’t even occurred to Patrick to say no.

Despite Patrick swearing that he’d never marry again, having lost one wife to death and the other to divorce when they couldn’t agree on how to handle the unexpected pregnancy that led to Aiden, none of the family had missed how his latest “temporary Guide” had been around for nearly a decade.

Tony actually really liked Guide Caroline Schmidt and hoped that eventually, his father pulled his head out of his ass and at least publicly stopped calling her temporary. The one time he’d tried to address his concerns, though, Caroline had quickly interjected and politely told him that he was interfering in something that was not his business. So, since he knew how to take a hint, Tony and the rest of his brothers had decided to let things be.

“Tony?” Her quiet voice inquired, and he found himself turning his attention toward her before the reality of the call he’d just had hit him. Letting the smile come, Tony graced Caroline with one of his megawatt smiles as he leaped from his chair and danced around the dining room in his socks fist-pumping and cheering. Eventually, he returned to his seat, a smile still on his face, and his father looking at him with an amused yet indulgent smile of his own.

“Good news then?” Patrick asked and Tony laughed and wanted to bound up and go hug the man but thought he might be pushing things.

“That! Was the Military Sentinel and Guide Center in DC. You know, the one that handles or coordinates mostly all issues with military Sentinels and Guides on the East Coast? Apparently…”

Tony stopped to laugh happily again and eat some of his eggs before he continued not wanting his breakfast to be completely cold by the time that he got around to eating it. “Apparently, one of my matches from the last round has changed his mind.”

“Oh, Antony! That is good news. Do you know which one?” Patrick set down his morning paper and leaned forward toward his son, his smile reflecting his understanding of his son’s sudden exuberance.

“Yes, and that’s the best part! It’s the one they teased me with that said it would be the best match of all the Perfect Matches but was a hard No Contact/No Interest. I’m allowed to tell you his name now that he’s expressed interest. It’s Sentinel Master Chief Jason Hayes and he works out of Little Creek where Aiden is!”

“Oh, Tony that is wonderful!” When Caroline stood and got up to give him a hug, Tony accepted with a happy laugh and beamed at his father who was smiling and shaking his head with pride and disbelief.

“You know, one of these days I will learn to stop doubting you when you tell me not to interfere in things because they will work out just as they should,” Patrick conceded before draining his coffee cup.

“Does this mean you’ll leave Commander Thatcher alone?” Tony asked hopeful but should have known better. His father might at times be able to admit to his occasional overbearing nature and his habit to stick his nose in his son’s lives whether they want him there or not. It did not mean it would ever change though. Tony might have been only 10 when Senior killed his mother, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t remember all of the things the drunken conman put him and his mother through.

“Oh, absolutely not,” Patrick said confirming Tony’s suspicions. “I’m ruining that man’s career. He chased one of my boys out of his dream job for no reason other than he thinks a Guide is too delicate and too simple to be able to what he’d been successfully doing for over a decade. The man is a bigoted ass and I intend to make sure he can’t ruin the career of someone who might not have a man of my weight behind him to ensure it doesn’t happen.”

Tony just grinned at his father over the rim of his orange juice glass not having expected anything different. “Alright, I can’t argue with that. Rumor has it that I’m not the first Guide that he’s chased out, but I would like to be the last. Fortunately for me, Guide Captain Rabb will be more than happy to let me move off his ship and to Little Creek. I was honest with him when they put me on his ship that if I found a Sentinel I would most likely be going wherever they were based.”

“Rabb is a good man,” Caroline agreed. Being the daughter of Sentinel Ret. Admiral Kaelan Schmidt, who was rumored to be in the running for the next Secretary of the Navy when the current SecNav retired, she had knowledge of quite a few of the current higher-ranking members of the Navy.

“That I will agree with completely,” Tony said happily still bouncing in his seat earning an indulgent chuckle from his father. When his phone pinged, Tony flipped it over and smiled big again seeing the Center Rep had sent him Hayes’ contact information.

“May I be excused? The Center just sent me a phone number for Master Chief Hayes. I would like to go call him and then Aiden before he gets too into his day. If the conversation goes well, I’ll probably head down to Little Creek today so Hayes and I can talk face to face.”

“Of course,” Patrick said as he picked his paper back up. “Please, tell your brother I said hello, and Tony, I am very happy for you. I know how long you have wanted this. Make sure Master Chief Hayes knows that he is getting not just you, but the whole of the Sheppard family behind him.”

“Will do, pops,” Tony agreed as he stood. “Caroline, it was nice seeing you again. Try and keep him out of trouble, huh?”

Caroline laughed as she picked up her fork to finish her own breakfast. “It’s a tough job, Antony, but I try my best. Good luck with your Sentinel. I look forward to meeting him.”

Tony offered her a quick thanks and then hurried out to make the call. Deciding that the balcony off of his bedroom was as good as any, Tony settled on the metal padded chair letting his thumb hover over the send button. His nerves were suddenly kicking up over what could be the most important phone call of his life. Forcing himself to take a deep breath, Tony hit send and waited for his possibly, hopefully soon to be, Sentinel to pick up.

“Hayes,” a man answered quickly and sharply, and Tony couldn’t help but grin. Just the sound of the man’s voice made him shiver.

“Sentinel Master Chief Jason Hayes?” Tony asked wanting to make sure he had the correct man with the last name Hayes and that the Center hadn’t accidentally given him the number of another man with the last name of Hayes.

“Yeah, who’s asking?”

“This would be Guide Lt. Commander Antony Paddington of Naval Intelligence,” Tony offered, giving his name and position with his name. “The Center called me a little bit ago and said you’d changed your mind about our matching. They said I could call you at this number. I thought we should talk, although I am willing to come down there so we can do it face to face.”

“Oh, yes,” Jason replied back sounding suddenly nervous and caught off guard, and Tony hoped that the man wasn’t having a chance of heart. Hearing the background noise getting quieter, Tony waited quietly until the other man spoke again.  “Sorry, was in the kitchen with the kids. I needed to move to somewhere quieter. I did. Change my mind that is. I hope… I’m sorry I made you wait. I just, things are complicated.”

“I’m, well I don’t know about happy to wait, but I understand. They said that you were married so I get it. I’m not interested in breaking up anyone’s marriage. I assume though something changed?”

Tony could hear Hayes moving around in whatever room he was in and stayed quiet when the SEAL didn’t immediately answer. “Yeah, Alana and I had been separated for quite a while, but she, we decided to divorce a while back. I’ll be honest, we’re still friends. I’ve known her my whole life. She isn’t one of those crazy ex-wives. I mean, I still live in the house. At least for now, I mean. I keep meaning to find my own place, but I’m not really in town enough…

“Look, I don’t want to come off as one of those asshole overbearing Sentinels who are just gonna demand things all the time. I think though it’s only fair that I let you know a few things that I just can’t compromise on. If you’re ok with them, then I’d love for you to come down so we can meet in person.”

“Lay it on me,” Tony requested wishing he’d brought a cup of coffee with him when he came up to his room. Standing, he moved to the small refrigerator he kept stocked with drinks and pulled out a bottle of juice. It wasn’t coffee but the sugar would help.

“So, like I said Alana is still in my life. I’ve known her since I was 9. I don’t want her to go away. I love her, just…. I can see now we didn’t love each other the right way, ya know? She’s still my best friend outside the team though and the mother of my kids. I don’t want to have one of those post-marriage relationships where we yell at each other all the time and insult one another.”

“I am perfectly fine with that,” Tony agreed thinking of Patrick’s relationship with his second wife Jordan, Aiden’s mother, whom he was still friendly with. “My father has a similar relationship with his second wife. They are still very much friends even if they realized that they weren’t really suited for each other because of their drastic difference of opinion on children. What else?”

“Ok, umm, my kids,” Jason continued and to Tony, it sounded like he was running his hand over his mouth or some part of his face. He couldn’t help but picture it and smile as he waited. “I know I’m not like father of the year. I’m gone too much, and when I am here, I’m more distracted than I should be. I love my kids more than anything though and I need to know you’re on board with them being a part of our lives. They’re older if that helps. Emma is a Junior in High School and Mikey is twelve. I need them to be part of my life, our lives.”

“As I said before, Master Chief, I have no interest in splitting up your family, which includes your relationship with your children. I won’t lie. I am glad to hear they’re older. I can deal with that. Little kids and I don’t mix. I’ve never longed for children myself, but my brother David’s oldest child is the same age as your son. It’s a fun age. When I have time, I help Lily-Ann with basketball. What else?”

“This feels too easy so far,” Jason muttered, and Tony wondered if he’d meant to say that out loud. “The biggest thing is my team. I can’t, I won’t give up Bravo Team, Lt. Commander Paddington. I’d rather continue on without a Guide than give up my team. I’ve busted my ass to get where I am and as my ex-wife will attest, they are my life. I love my job. I live for my job. It doesn’t matter to me if we’re deployed or here at home. If they need me, then I’m there. I keep track of them at all times. I’m invested in their lives not just in the field but as a whole. I need you to know that I’m not willing to change that. If you can’t handle my commitment to my team then I… I can’t do this no matter how much I want to.

“I get you’re a higher rank and you worked hard too. I just, I won’t compromise on Bravo Team. I can’t. When they said you were in Naval Intelligence, I was hoping there was a chance you would understand, but I can’t take a chance. I need to know you get it. I’m not asking you to leave the Navy or quit your career or any such bullshit. I’d be happy to have you assigned to Bravo as our Intelligence Office. I don’t know what to do about Davis, I want to keep her on the team, and she’s going through OTS right now. I just need to know you understand what my team means to me. I can’t be pulled in two directions all the time anymore. It’s too mentally exhausting.”

Tony chuckled softly as he sat down on the bed and couldn’t help but smile. “My brother is a SEAL, Master Chief. My other brother is a Major in the Air Force. My oldest brother and my father both served in the Navy. I get it. I’m not asking you to give up your team. I could actually use a chance of scenery and my youngest brother is on one of the teams there.

“I’m more than willing to come to you and I can assure you my boss will be thrilled to see me take what they’ll view as a step backward in my career. As long as your boss doesn’t mind having someone of his equal rank around, I’d be thrilled to be assigned as an Intelligence Officer for your team directly. I’d even be happy to mentor Davis once she graduates if she gets assigned to Little Creek. She can still work with the team and not be assigned directly to them.

“The change of scenery sounds like a story I need to hear,” Jason said sounding curious. “I’d appreciate your help with Davis. She’s worked her ass off to get where she is, and I want her to succeed. She’s one of mine no matter what the Navy says. Why don’t you come down and we’ll talk? I’d offer a place to stay but like I said I haven’t even managed to find my own yet.”

Tony chuckled and hearing a knock on the door turned to see Patrick standing there. Holding up a finger he turned his attention back to the call. “Don’t sweat it. I can stay with my brother. His place is huge, and I know he won’t mind. I will send you a text once I get ready to get on the road. I’m in DC so depending on traffic I will be there sometime this afternoon. I’ll call you then if it’s ok, Master Chief?”

“Sounds perfect,” Jason breathed sounding relieved. “You should probably call me Jason when we’re not working, Lt. Commander Paddington.”

“Then you should call me Tony. I will see you later, Jason.” Hanging up, Tony stood and turned to look at his father who was leaning against the door jamb.

“I am sorry, Antony, I did not mean to interrupt your conversation with your Sentinel.”

“Not mine just yet, and it’s ok. We were wrapping up. Got the important stuff out of the way. I’m gonna head down there as soon as I can get packed and we’re gonna talk more.”

“I thought you would,” Patrick said stepping into the room, and Tony went over giving his father a hug. Technically, he’d never been adopted. He hadn’t wanted it, but it didn’t change that in his heart, Patrick Sheppard was his father, David, John, and Aiden were his brothers, and that was all that mattered to any of them.

“If I can help in any way, please let me know. I know I’ve been retired for quite some time, but I still have plenty of sway.”

Tony bit his lip as he considered his current situation. While he was more than happy to and preferred to, fight his own battles, he wasn’t stupid about it. He knew when he’d need help and knew that the situation that he was currently in would get ugly if he didn’t get some help.

Since it was his current CO that was the issue, Tony knew he’d need help outside of his chain of command. “Can you make sure that Thatcher can’t interfere? I’m gonna push to be assigned to Bravo Team as their Intelligence Officer, which means when the team is on a mission or deployed, I will be going with them. I mean, I’d be going anyway if Jason and I bond, but this way I’ll have an actual reason for being there and legally able and expected to help. I just, Pops, Commander Thatcher’s gonna try and get that stopped. I can’t give this up.”

“And you won’t,” Patrick said giving his son a kiss on his forehead before pulling back. “You leave that asshole to me. He’s going to be too busy trying to save his own career, which he will fail to do, by the way, to interfere in your career move. Call your brother, and then drive safely. I assume you’ll be staying with him at the beach house?”

Tony confirmed he would and after chatting with his father turned his attention to packing after he dialed his brother Aiden.


“Jesus, do all you SEAL guys answer the phone the same way? Have you ever heard of a polite greeting? Don’t you think something like, Hello, this is Aiden Sheppard, supreme asshole and fluffy hair king titleholder. How may I assist you today?” Tony could hear noise in the background suggesting his brother was somewhere on base. Maybe in the team cage room because while he heard noise, it wasn’t enough to suggest he was in the galley.

“Jesus, you’re such a prick. I can’t believe dad didn’t give you back years ago.” Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Aiden Rudolph Sheppard shot back happily. “What’s up? Do I need to seek out something private? I’m in the cage room right now.”

“Nah, just don’t say names. I don’t want this to get out before he’s ready for it. I doubt his team knows yet.” Tony cautioned and could practically see his brother’s face scrunching up in confusion.

“OK whatever that means Captain Cryptic.”

“It’s Lt. Commander, bitch. I have no desire to be that high, and if Thatcher has his way, I won’t.” Tony shot back and then winced as his brother was more than aware of his struggle with Commander Reggie Thatcher.

“That asshole. One of these days he’s gonna come up missing, and I’m not gonna mind in the least.”

Tony heard someone in the background yell something about no plotting murder if everyone couldn’t help, which got an immediate reply from Aiden that they could make it a team bonding excursion. He then waited through a round of who are you talking to’s and then replied to the hellos from Aiden’s various team members. Once things had quieted down, he continued with why he’d called.

“Look, I just wanted to make sure you knew I’d probably be at the house when you got home tonight.”

“You’re comin’ to see me?” Aiden asked happily, and Tony grinned as he started packing the things, he’d been tossing on the bed neatly in the suitcase and duffle bag he was taking with him.

“Yes and no. I um, I got a call this morning from the Center. Aiden, I found him. One of my matches changed their mind. The Match changed his mind. So, I’m coming down so we can talk and make sure it’s the real deal.”

“Holy fuck! Tone, that’s… wait. You’re coming here? He’s based at Little Creek? Is he a SEAL?”

Tony laughed at Aiden’s rapid-fire questions and the shouts and demands for details from the rest of his team. “Yes, I’m coming there. Yes, he’s based in Little Creek, and yes, he’s a SEAL. Seriously, Aid. You gotta not say his name. His team is really tight with yours from what you’ve said, and I don’t wanna fuck this up.”

“I swear,” Aiden promised after telling the guys to shut it, and something in his tone must have told them he was serious because they immediately shut up. “Who. Give me names, Paddington.”

“Master Chief Jason Hayes,” Tony immediately offered with another huge smile. Just saying his Sentinel’s name made him feel warm and safe inside.

“Holy fuck,” Aiden swore, and Tony heard a warning of watch out before another muttered fuck from his brother.

“You ok?”

“Yeah, missed my damned chair when I went to sit down. Seriously, Tone. I mean… You aren’t’ yanking my chain? Hold on, I gotta get somewhere private. Cause my head is gonna explode.”

Tony waited while Aiden explained to his situation to Master Chief Lynden Jordan. He then heard a series of doors opening and slamming shut before all of the background noise was gone completely.

“OK, I’m in Lt. Commander Lopez’s office. He was on his way to a meeting and said I could use it. What the fuck, Tony. Seriously? Hayes is your Sentinel? That’s awesome. We don’t work with them a lot. They work with Alpha more often, but it’s not unheard of. Charlie Team and Bravo don’t get along well, so they usually put either us, Alpha or well, used to be Echo before what happened. These days it’s mostly us or Alpha. Jesus, this is… It couldn’t work out better.

“I know Jason has a reputation for being a hardass and a dick, but that’s just people who hate he’s better than them or aren’t willing to tow his line. Yeah, he’s hard on his team, but he gets results. He’s always willing to give me advice if I ask and honestly, I’d like to pattern my team after his. Jordan and I have already been working in that direction. Fuck, Tone! You’re gonna be here!”

Tony laughed happily again as he ignored his now packed bags and sat down on the bed. “I am. I mean it’s not finished yet, but I have a good feeling. Look umm, how would you feel about Jason living at the house with us? I mean, I know he and I have things to talk about but he’s still living at his ex-wife’s place and fuck knows we have plenty of room.”

“Dude, like you have to ask,” Aiden muttered, “I’d be thrilled.”

“Like I said he’s been really helpful. It’ll just give me more time to pick his brain. I know he and Lynden are tight. I think they went thru BUDs together. I can’t even, I’m so happy for you, Tone. What about Commander Thatchole?”

Tony snorted at the nickname. He loved all of his brothers, but probably because there were less than 2 yrs. separating them, he and Aiden had been the closest. “I finally gave in and told Pops he could have his way with him. I mean when it was just me it was one thing, but now there’s Jason and his team involved. I don’t know Bravo team’s makeup, but chances are they have at least one Guide. I’m not letting Thatcher interfere with them.”

“Well, if dad is on the job no worries then. Thatchole is about to be too busy watching his own asshole to worry about you or anyone else. I will keep my lips zipped until you give me the OK. You have my word. I gotta go we got shit to do, but I will see you tonight.”

Tony wished his brother goodbye and then took a moment to reflect on his morning. Looking at the clock by the bed, he realized that it had been less than 2 hours since he’d gotten up to have breakfast. In that time, he’d found out he had a Sentinel pairing and begun a possible path to bonding. He couldn’t help but think about what it was like being that little 10 yr. old who thought he had no one. Now, he had one family firmly at his back in the Sheppards and was on the verge of being enfolded into another in the Bravo Team. The world was a weird and wonderful place sometimes. Tony just tried to laugh and hold on. So far, that had worked out pretty well if the current status of his life was any indication. He was a long way from being Anthony D. DiNozzo, Jr., and he thought that just might be the best part of it all.

Read Chapter Two

I write fanfiction for fun. It’s a hobby and a stress relief. I refuse to angst over my writing. What you see is what you get. Errors, plot holes, and all. Thank you for reading my story!

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