Title: If Found, Please Return
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: NCIS, Stargate: Atlantis
Genre/Themes: Drama, crossover, second chances, family
Relationship(s): This story is Tony-centric, and more gen than romantic. John/Rodney is the only pairing.
Content Rating: R for adult themes, language, and other warnings
Warnings: Canon-level violence, past kidnapping, references to child abuse, cases involving sexual abuse.
Summary: After Tony is cleared from the attempt by Chip to frame him for murder, his life takes an unexpected turn. The FBI discovers that Tony DiNozzo is the missing son of Patrick Sheppard — kidnapped from the hospital shortly after his birth.
Word Count: 55,392
Please see main page for author notes, acronyms, etc.
– – – –
Tobias Fornell tipped his head to the side trying to stretch out his neck. It was late and he wanted to go home. He was happy enough that Gibbs and his team had found the evidence to clear DiNozzo of a murder charge, but it didn’t lessen the paperwork Tobias had to do to close out their brief investigation into the supposed homicide of a legless Jane Doe.
He’d sent Sacks home after NCIS had found the torso of the supposed crime victim—in reality the victim of a car accident. Not because he didn’t need the help to close out the investigation, but he was damn tired of the bitching about DiNozzo. Yeah, DiNozzo was a pain the ass, but why would Sacks expect the man to be cooperative when he was being framed for murder?
The harmonica DiNozzo had handed off to him as he was released from holding caught his attention, and he found himself smiling. He had a soft spot for the irreverent, pain-in-the-butt NCIS agent, and he truly was happy they hadn’t had to take the investigation any further. He decided the paperwork was a small price to pay considering the good outcome.
A tap at his door interrupted his thoughts and he looked up to find the head of forensics in the doorway. “Agent Fornell, I need a minute.”
“It’s late, Anderson, can it wait? You should head home and get started on your weekend.”
“It’s about the investigation into Agent DiNozzo.”
Tobias shook his head. “There’s no investigation; check your email. NCIS found the body of the victim. She died in a car accident. Whole thing was an elaborate frame job.”
“I received that email. This is… something else,” the man hedged, looking uncharacteristically anxious.
Leaning back, he tossed his pen on the desk, and gestured to the visitor’s chair. “What’s on your mind?”
Anderson took the seat, a sheaf of papers clutched in his hands. “As per procedure with the Jane Doe, in addition to running her DNA through all databases, we ran a familial DNA search to cover all possible avenues in the hopes of getting an identification.”
“Did you get an ID on the Jane Doe?” Fornell asked, wondering if he was going to have more work to do passing things back to DC Metro.
“No, it’s not related to the Jane Doe. But there was a small mistake made. It’s not something I would typically bring to your attention, because it wouldn’t normally be an issue…” the man trailed off.
When it didn’t seem like he was going to continue, Fornell prompted, “What’s going on? What kind of mistake?”
“Agent DiNozzo’s DNA was sent through for a familial search as well, which should not have happened since his identity was never in question. It was a simple error. We ran the DNA of both blood samples.”
Fornell frowned. The cost of a search wasn’t worth this kind of drama, so there must have been something unexpected. “What was the hit?”
Anderson swallowed as he passed over the printouts. “I remember this case,” he said lowly.
A little afraid of what he was going to find, Tobias began to review the forensic report. “Oh, fucking hell,” he whispered when he saw the names of the familial DNA matches. Who didn’t remember the case?
Jonathan Sheppard had founded Sheppard Industries in the fifties and turned it into a multimillion dollar business by the mid-sixties—so it had been national news when his three-day-old grandson, his third grandchild from his only son Patrick, had vanished from the hospital. The FBI had immediately been called in, but there had never been even a hint of progress on the case in over thirty-two years. Until now.
Fornell looked up at Anderson. “You sure about the match?”
“Positive,” Anderson said firmly. “With both parents’ DNA, there’s no doubt that Patrick and Emma Sheppard are Anthony DiNozzo’s biological parents. The father had an old hair sample from the child, so there is a mitochondrial DNA profile for the Sheppard baby that was added to the missing persons’ database a couple years ago. It will take a couple days to get mitochondrial verification for DiNozzo since that has to be sent out, but there really is no question about the match.”
Tobias’ brain was spinning madly, trying to decide on the next course of action. He quickly pulled up DiNozzo’s info from his booking: date of birth was 9 June 1973. He flipped through the limited info Anderson had provided. The Sheppard baby was born on 12 June 1973. Whoever had taken baby-Sheppard, clearly a newborn, had just fudged the date of his birth by a few days.
“Did you tell anyone about this?” he asked sharply.
“No. Everyone else had gone home when the match came in. I sealed it immediately, but protocol dictates that I inform the head of this unit. He’s not here and you are. Plus, you know the… victim.”
Tobias rubbed his forehead, feeling a migraine and an extra long night coming on. “Just let me handle it. Go ahead and go home. I’ll let the SAC know and take care of reopening the case.”
Anderson nodded. “I did some quick checking. Sheppard Industries headquarters is in Virginia, and Patrick Sheppard appears to actually be in town. Here’s his office number.” He passed over a Post-it.
Tobias took the sticky paper, feeling like he was about to be bit by it. Patrick Sheppard had taken over Sheppard Industries after the death of his father in the early eighties. The company now had major contracts with the Department of Defense, and was based out of Crystal City, Virginia. He didn’t know much beyond that, but that was more than enough.
– – – –
Patrick accepted the glass of Scotch from George and leaned back in the chair. He had to appear before the IOA oversight committee on Monday and had spent most of the afternoon and into the evening in preparation with General Hammond.
“There are a few on the committee who have a vested interest in your predecessor,” George offered. “They’re going to pick apart anything you say, but there’s no doubt most of the committee will see that the BC-304 program was only back on track because we brought in Sheppard Industries.”
Patrick nodded and stared moodily into his Scotch, his thoughts not really on the committee review. Being brought in to build spaceships, real spaceships, had been a highlight of Patrick’s career. The original contractor had consistently been over-budget and behind schedule, and the SGC had to source someone else to finish the Daedalus.
However, finding out that his oldest son had left on a possible one-way trip with a high probability of fatality, and hadn’t even made an attempt at contact before he left, had cast a pall over everything. Patrick and David had managed the schedule on the Daedalus with an iron fist to make sure that ship was ready in time to launch to go to the aid of the Atlantis expedition. When the expedition had finally been able to make contact, it had become even more urgent to get the Daedalus ready. The ship had launched last night, and now it was just a waiting game to hear if his oldest was still alive. He supposed he should be grateful for the bureaucracy keeping him occupied while he waited for news.
“There’s no reason to believe that John is not still in good health,” George said with obvious care. They’d become something like friends over the last few months, and Hammond had been the one to deliver the news of John’s assignment.
Patrick nodded, the brief words of John’s video message rattling around in his head.
‘My only regret is leaving things between us as they were. I’m sorry, Dad.’
Sighing, he took a sip of his Scotch. “I always tried too hard to keep John close, and he was always trying just as hard to get away. I just never could have expected he’d go quite that far.” He shook his head, trying to push away the maudlin thoughts.
“How are your other boys?”
He huffed a little. “David is hard to read, but his attention has been absolute since we found out John was out there. His primary focus is on running JADEM Aeronautics, and, in theory, that leaves the rest of SI to me.”
“In theory?” George prompted.
“Since you told me about John, I’ve given JADEM everything I have; I had to be sure the Daedalus was ready on schedule. My COO for Sheppard Industries has taken the lion share of the day-to-day for SI.” Patrick sighed. “As for Matt… I think he’s angry, but he’s avoiding me under the guise of designing engines.”
“He’s quite the skilled engineer,” George offered.
Patrick inclined his head. Matt was a brilliant engineer and had been like a kid in a candy store when he found out he’d be working on spaceships. Then he’d found out about John and just seemed to shut down. His work was always exceptional, but Patrick hadn’t been successful at getting much else out of him for weeks now.
“While I was in Nevada last week, I barely got the boys to sit down for an hour for Thanksgiving dinner. They were working every day, and both have quarters on base if needed.” It was easier for Patrick to go to them than ask them to come home when every moment working on the Daedalus had been precious. With a sigh, he forced the thoughts of his fracturing family aside, and gave George an assessing look. “I know you didn’t ask me to stay to ask about the boys. So what’s going on?”
Hammond nodded and smiled faintly. “I wanted to personally let you know that I’m retiring. I’ll be working on transition with my replacement for the next six weeks.”
Blowing out a breath, Patrick took that in. George Hammond had been singularly easy to work with, and he hoped his successor would be at least tolerable. “I can’t say I’m not going to miss having you around, George, but I wish you well. I have no small amount of envy.” Patrick had considered retiring early a time or two, but, all things considered, he knew he wasn’t ready. “Are you able to say who will be replacing you, or will it be disclosed later?”
“Jack O’Neill,” George said succinctly.
Patrick froze and blinked repeatedly. He’d met O’Neill a few times. “Really?” It was an odd fit for O’Neill in Patrick’s opinion. And he was willing to admit that he was occasionally irrationally angry at O’Neill for sending John to the ass end of space.
“I can’t say that he’s enthusiastic about it, but he recognizes the importance of someone who has practical experience with the SGC being in charge of Homeworld Security. No doubt he’ll chafe at all the desk work, but I think he’ll do well. He always has.”
“Well, at least he won’t be obstructionist,” Patrick murmured as his cell phone vibrated sharply in his suit coat pocket. He set down his Scotch and quickly perused his messages. The text was from his secretary, who should have long been away from the office by now. He frowned as he re-read the limited information.
“Everything all right?” George asked.
“The FBI urgently wants to speak with me.” What in the world could that be about? It wasn’t uncommon for law enforcement agencies to request information for various reasons, but they usually didn’t go straight to Patrick, and certainly not late on a Friday evening.
“I can give you a few minutes’ privacy,” George offered politely, starting to get to his feet.
Patrick waved George back. “I’ll just point them at my General Counsel for whatever it is they’re trying to obtain. It’ll take just a moment.” He quickly dialed the number he’d been given.
“Fitzgerald,” a man answered tersely.
“This is Patrick Sheppard.”
“Dr. Sheppard, thank you for returning the call. I’m the Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division.”
That wasn’t at all what Patrick expected. “Whatever the issue, you’re going to need to talk SI’s General Counsel, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you.”
“Sir, this is not in regards to Sheppard Industries.”
“All right. I’m listening.” He couldn’t imagine what the FBI wanted with him personally, but he’d give the man a few minutes before sending him to the family lawyer.
“Perhaps we could meet in person?”
“Perhaps not, Assistant Director Fitzgerald. You can contact my family’s law firm for whatever it is that you need. If you have a pen, I’ll give you the number.”
There was a faint sound of frustration. “Sir, in the course of an investigation, a positive familial DNA match was made against you and your late wife. Based on the age of the man in question, the FBI is confident this is your son, Alexander Sheppard.”
The phone almost slipped out of his grasp, but he tightened his hand, hearing the plastic and metal creak. He couldn’t seem to draw a breath, and it felt like his life was suddenly tied to that phone.
“We are running a mitochondrial DNA profile against the profile from the baby hairs you provided, and should have that in a few days.”
“Is there any doubt about the match?” Patrick managed to get out.
“No, sir. With just a paternal sample, the match would be 97%, but since you were able to add your late wife’s profile, the match is conclusive. He is your son.”
They’d found Alex. After thirty-two years, his son had been found.
“Sir?” Fitzgerald prompted after the long silence.
“Where is he?” Patrick managed.
“We released him several hours ago.”
“Released him? Is he in trouble?” Patrick didn’t care, he just needed to know if he should get his son a lawyer.
“No, not anymore. It was… well, it’s rather complicated.”
“Uncomplicate it!” Patrick nearly yelled, aware that he was dangerously close to losing control of himself.
“Your son is a federal agent, and in the course of his career, he’s made a few enemies. Someone framed him for murder, and he was detained by the Bureau while the crime was investigated. But he was cleared and released.”
Patrick couldn’t really absorb the details about what his son did or what had happened. “Is he in danger?”
“Not as far as we know,” Fitzgerald said carefully.
“He works for you?”
“No. He’s with NCIS. That stands for–”
“I know what it stands for,” Patrick snapped. “Where?”
“What NCIS office?” Patrick gritted out, praying for patience.
“The Navy Yard,” Fitzgerald replied.
“Are you telling me my son is ten minutes away from me right now?”
“Yes, sir. An agent was dispatched to apprise him of the situation. As of approximately thirty minutes ago, he was still at the office.”
“I’m on my way.”
“Wait! We would like you to–”
Patrick hung up the phone and got to his feet, feeling completely off kilter. All he could think about was getting to his son. He was flashing back on that awful moment of finding out that Alex was missing: Emma’s sobs, his father’s rage and grief, and John and David’s confusion. Then there were weeks, months, and years of fruitless searching. Finally, the desolation of giving up.
George took him by the arm, and started leading him out of the large office. “I’ll drive you. Is it David or Matt?”
“Alex,” Patrick said shakily.
George flashed him a stunned look. “You definitely shouldn’t drive. Come on.”
– – – –
For all that he was relieved and grateful to no longer be facing a murder charge, Tony was also incredibly tired and just wanted to go home. He was so over this week. Ziva and McGee were taking care of booking Chippers, Ducky was giving Abby a check to make sure she hadn’t gotten hurt in her tussle with her would-be attacker, Gibbs was working on his report, and Tony was not involved. As Chip’s intended victim, he had to stay away from anything related to the case if they wanted a clean case for the DA. So he was going home, having something to eat, and sleeping until fucking Monday. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t dream about disembodied legs or dying of old age in a jail cell.
He had just grabbed his backpack when he heard the elevator ding. He looked up just as Fornell exited and headed right for Tony, his expression serious.
“No,” Tony said immediately. “Just no. I don’t care if you found a severed hand with my business card clutched in its rigor’d grip with the words ‘Tony did it’ scratched on the back. You’ll have to wait until Monday.”
Gibbs came out from behind his desk, meeting Fornell right in front of Tony. “Tobias?”
To Tony’s surprise, Fornell ignored Gibbs. “I need to speak with you privately, DiNozzo.”
Tony shook his head. “No. I’m done and I’m going home.” He hefted his backpack up and went to move around Fornell.
“I’ll take you into protective custody if I have to,” Fornell said in a tone that was almost gentle.
That brought Tony up short. “What the hell for?”
“Tobias, what’s going on?” Gibbs asked, stepping between him and Fornell.
“It’s private. I need to speak to DiNozzo urgently. I don’t want to have to detain him, but I will if he won’t give me fifteen minutes.”
Tony went back behind his desk and dropped his bag. Flopping into his chair, he spread he arms wide. “All right. Here I am. Who died?”
“Privately, DiNozzo,” Fornell stressed. “I don’t think you want to have this discussion in the bullpen.”
Tony was beginning to feel a little worried. The last few days had been more than enough to bring him close to his limit, and he was pretty damn sure he didn’t need whatever this was heaped on top. He got to his feet just as Ziva and McGee rounded the corner from dealing with Chip.
Ziva took in the situation quickly. “Another person has framed you for murder already? I told you no one liked you.” McGee snickered.
Before Tony could say anything, Gibbs snapped, “Hey!”
It wasn’t lost on Tony that they’d apologized to Gibbs and not to him. He had mixed feelings about his teammates at the moment. They’d both really pulled it out for him to solve the case and keep him from being tried for murder, but they’d picked some shitty times to get their jabs in over the course of the last couple days.
“The two of you go home,” Gibbs ordered. “This has nothing to do with you. Tony, you’re with us.”
Getting to his feet again, he followed Gibbs as he led them to a small conference room. As soon as they were inside, Fornell gave Gibbs an implacable look. “This is personal, Jethro. I need to speak with DiNozzo alone.”
What the fuck was going on? “Gibbs can stay,” Tony interjected, not prepared to go this alone.
Fornell nodded. “All right. But if you decide you want him to leave at any point, you just say so and he’s gone. He’s got no authority here.”
“What the hell, Tobias?” Gibbs asked incredulously.
“This isn’t about you, Jethro. If DiNozzo wants you gone, you’re gone. I asked someone else to come up to help explain some things… let me just tell him where we are.” He sent off a quick text, and Tony exchanged bemused looks with Gibbs.
“Can’t you just tell me what is going on?” Tony finally asked, feeling the weight of the last few days settle on him like lead.
“Just give it a minute. I’d prefer someone you trust explain the science of this to you.”
Tony’s brow furrowed. “The science of what? And who is this person?”
The conference room door opened, and Ducky stepped in. Last Tony had heard, Ducky was going to finish checking Abby over and then go home.
“Ducky? What’s going on?” Tony asked.
“I’m not sure, my dear boy. Agent Fornell asked if I would wait for him to arrive so I could explain some information he has to you.”
Fornell needed Ducky to explain something? Ducky? “Oh my god. Did you find some horrible disease or something? Is the plague back?”
“DiNozzo,” Gibbs said sharply, yet somehow it was also gentle.
“Right, Boss.” Tony cracked his neck, trying to get his bearings. “Hit me with it, Fornell.”
“This is actually Ms. Sciuto’s area, but I know Dr. Mallard can explain as well as she can, and he’s less… excitable.” Fornell blew out a breath and seemed to be trying to figure out what to say. “Do you want Dr. Mallard here for the entire explanation? I can ask him to step into the hall until we need his expertise.”
“Ducky can stay,” Tony said getting a little exasperated with the super-confidential tap dance going on.
Fornell nodded. “All right, then. Tell me, are you familiar with familial DNA searches?”
“Of course I am, Fornell,” Tony retorted with no small amount of annoyance. “I didn’t fall off the forensics cabbage truck yesterday.”
Ignoring the comment, Fornell continued. “When FBI investigates a case with a John or Jane Doe, if the initial CODIS search is negative, we’ll often run a familial search. Such was the case with the severed legs.”
“Don’t tell me you got a hit,” Tony retorted. “There’s no way Abby would have missed running a familial search. She didn’t get a hit until she went to the bone marrow donor registry.”
“No. Not on the Jane Doe. Our lab sent both yours and Jane Doe’s through for familial search. It was an error that the run was even requested, something that would never have been noticed under normal circumstances, except that it came back with a match. Against your DNA.”
“What?” That didn’t even make sense. “How could that– Wait. In what context?”
“Missing persons’ database. It’s a thirty-two-year-old cold case. Child abduction.”
Tony blinked, his mind oddly resistant to putting the pieces together. Gibbs’ hand settled on Tony’s forearm, grounding him and allowing his brain to get started again. “Are you saying you think I’m this missing kid?” It sounded so ridiculous Tony could barely get the words out.
“I know you are. Our lab ran the tests twice. The exemplar gives a match to your DNA profile, and that profile is a 99.92% match to the combined parental profile. We’re sending out for a mitochondrial DNA run to check against the child’s hairs, but that will take a few days, and no one has any doubt that this result is accurate.”
Tony could only stare. He wasn’t Anthony and Claire DiNozzo’s kid; he was adopted. Hell, that wasn’t even true. There’s no way he was legally adopted if he’d been abducted.
The word just rattled around in his brain like it didn’t belong there. What the hell was he supposed to do with this?
“Tony? Hey… look at me, Tony,” Gibbs ordered. He shifted his gaze to Gibbs and registered the concern. “Take a couple deep breaths.”
Tony followed orders and belatedly realized he must have been breathing funny, because he felt less drifty for just breathing. “This can’t be happening, Boss,” he finally whispered.
Gibbs’ expression softened briefly. “Stay focused on the problem. We’ll figure the rest out later. All right?”
“Yeah… yeah. I got it.” The implied offer of support helped. He looked over to find Ducky reviewing some papers Fornell had handed off.
“Ducky?” he prompted, wanting the opinion of someone he trusted more than Fornell.
Ducky looked up, his expression rather saddened. “I’m afraid these results are quite conclusive. You are the missing child of these poor people, Anthony.”
“Oh, hell,” he said softly on breath. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he tried to get his thoughts in order. “So whose kid am I?”
“I’m rather afraid that piece of information has been redacted from these reports,” Ducky replied as he showed a piece of paper with several heavy black lines.
Tony’s brows shot up. “Why?”
“That was just a precaution in case you didn’t want anyone to know,” Fornell replied.
He felt like he was about to step off a precipice, but he had no choice but to take that step. “I know Ducky and Gibbs will keep it quiet, so… who?”
Fornell actually looked uncomfortable. “Your mother died a long time ago. When familial DNA search capabilities were added, your father had her exhumed in an attempt to get viable DNA.” Fornell hesitated. “He was one of the first entries in the database. He’s never stopped hoping he’d find you.”
Tony didn’t know how to respond to that. This man he didn’t know was more invested in Tony than the man who raised him. It all felt incredibly weird and not a little uncomfortable. “Just tell me their names.”
Fornell was quiet for a long time, then finally replied, “Emma and Patrick Sheppard.”
“I’m sorry… what?” Tony asked his mind going blank.
“Are you referring to Dr. Patrick Sheppard of Sheppard Industries?” Ducky asked immediately.
“That’s the one,” Fornell confirmed.
“Tony’s the lost Sheppard baby?” Gibbs asked incredulously.
“No…” Tony shook his head. “That’s not possible. This is completely crazy.”
“The Bureau wants to keep this under wraps for as long as possible, but it will get out, and it will be a media circus.”
Tony was numb. He couldn’t even react. How could he even have a reasonable reaction to that news. The Sheppard baby kidnapping was one of the most famous child abductions in modern history.
“We plan to move on this quickly and go interview your– I mean, we’ll interview Anthony DiNozzo this weekend,” Fornell finished haltingly.
“I’m going,” Tony said with conviction. It was easier to focus on the tactical situation than think about what any of this could mean for him.
“No, you’re not,” three voices said in unison.
“Oh, I so am,” he bit out. “You think he’s going to admit anything to you? No. You don’t know my–” He broke off and took a breath. “You don’t know Senior. He’s a practiced conman, and you won’t get anything out of him. But he will talk to me.”
Fornell looked uncertain. “I’ll think about it. But I have to talk to my AD first and get his okay.”
“Well, you tell him he can approve me going with you, or you can find me in New York doing it anyway.” There was no one getting between him and confronting Senior. Who wasn’t really ‘Senior’ of anything. Tony took a steadying breath. “Unless there’s something else you need to tell me, I need to get out of here. I’m tired, and totally at my limit.”
“That’s fine. We’ll–”
A knock at the door interrupted whatever Fornell was going to say. Ziva stuck her head in and said, “There are two men looking for Agent Fornell.”
With a look of consternation, Fornell left the room at speed. Ziva glanced around, smirking Tony’s direction. “What did you do now, Tony?”
His hands clenched on the table.
“Thought I told you to go home, Ziver,” Gibbs ground out.
She looked startled. “We were waiting to see if everything was all right with Tony.”
“It was an order. And you’ll stay out of this situation with Tony. Am I clear?”
She left, and Tony got to his feet and went to the window. He stared out into the dark, the lights of the Navy Yard, and across the river into Anacostia keeping his attention. He could sense Gibbs come up behind him. “Tony–”
“DiNozzo,” Fornell interrupted, “I’m sorry to spring this on you, but Patrick Sheppard is here.”
Tony whipped around and smacked into Gibbs, who steadied Tony with a hand on his arm. Before he could get a word out, a tall man who Tony immediately recognized stepped in behind Fornell. His gaze snapped to Tony immediately and he looked so torn up that it made Tony’s breath catch.
“Oh god,” Sheppard breathed.
“We’ll give you a moment,” Fornell said stiltedly. Ducky quickly left, shooting Tony a supportive look as he passed. Gibbs seemed conflicted for some reason, but gave Tony a concerned glance then moved away, leaving Tony feeling vulnerable and bereft.
A moment later, the door closed, and Tony was alone with… his father.
The man took a few hesitant steps nearer, closing the distance between them. “You look like your mother. You and John and Matt all have her eyes,” he said as his gaze took in every inch of Tony’s face.
Tony’s hands curled into fists and he tried to figure out what to say. “I have two brothers?” he finally got out.
“Three. John, then David, you, and finally Matthew.”
He didn’t know what to say to that. He’d always been alone, and now he had an instant family complete with three siblings. “This doesn’t feel… real. I don’t have any idea what to say.” Tony was never at a loss for words, but now he was floundering.
“You don’t have to say anything.” Sheppard stepped closer so they were only a couple feet apart. “I never thought I’d find you, but I never stopped hoping. Never stopped praying that you were alive and safe somewhere.”
Tony was completely frozen as the older man moved a few inches closer and shakily reached out. He didn’t try to stop him or move away from the hand that tentatively landed on his shoulder then moved up to cup his face.
Patrick Sheppard’s eyes filled with tears. “My perfect son… I’ve missed you so much.”
He felt his throat get tight, and he didn’t know how to respond. “What was my name?” he found himself asking haltingly.
“Alex. We named you Alexander James Sheppard.” Abruptly, Patrick pulled Tony into a hug, holding on tightly. Though it felt incredibly weird and awkward to him, Tony surrendered to letting his father hold him. “I’m so relieved that you’ve been returned to me,” Patrick whispered.
– – – –
David pulled up in front of the house feeling more relaxed than he had in some time. He always worked hard, but he knew he’d been driving himself beyond his limits lately. Once the Daedalus had been completed, the exhaustion had come crashing down on him. Though he almost never took vacation days, he immediately scheduled a couple days off. After a day of sleep, he’d woken up this morning and impulsively decided to go hiking. Backpacking and hiking were passions of his, and he hadn’t had time for them in longer than he could remember.
Now it was late, he was covered in dirt and grime, and was the really good kind of tired. He’d even managed to not obsess about John while trekking through the desert.
He noted that Matt’s car was gone, which wasn’t really a surprise. Matt’s idea of downtime lately was hanging out with the Asgard and talking engine schematics. Although, he kind of hoped Matt was actually out getting laid or something. Like everyone else, Matt had been working way too much lately.
His father was still in DC preparing for the IOA committee review. Dave felt he should probably be present for that, but his dad had encouraged him to stay in Nevada and take a few days of downtime. Considering how much better he felt, he couldn’t say he regretted the decision.
After punching in the security code, he dropped his gear in one corner of the entryway—he’d deal with it later. The housekeeper wouldn’t mess with it—everyone knew Dave was very particular about his equipment. Right now, he just wanted a shower.
Thirty minutes later, he was clean and feeling the effects of the long hike in the form of a familiar soreness in his legs. Grabbing a beer, he went to his desk to check email. He wanted to be sure nothing had come up while he was gone, though his phone was free of any urgent texts.
He wound up getting easily pulled into work, and was halfway through his management team’s weekly reports when his cell phone rang. The display read, ‘Dad’. It was after one in the morning in DC, so why was his dad calling?
“Dad?” he answered quickly. “Is everything all right?”
“David…” his father’s voice trailed off, and caused David a spike of worry. “Is Matt home?”
“No, not yet. I had an email from him a couple hours ago saying that he was still working on his new design and would be home late. What’s going on?”
“I… hell, David, I’m not even sure how to say it.”
“Dad, what’s wrong?”
“We found Alex,” his father said simply.
Dave’s stomach tightened into knots and he felt an old dread rise up in him. “I thought we were past this. We agreed no more people claiming to be your son. I can’t deal with it anymore, Dad.” It had been nearly a decade since his father had entertained someone’s claim about being his lost son, and David thought those days were truly behind them. He hated how it stirred up old hurts just to always wind up being nothing. When DNA testing became more widely available, he thought this crap would stop. He couldn’t keep being pulled apart because some asshole wanted the Sheppard family money. And right now, with everything going on with John, it was just too much.
“The FBI found him, David. The DNA match was conclusive.” His father’s voice sounded somewhat tremulous.
The forgotten bottle slipped out of Dave’s hand and began spilling beer all over the floor. “What?” he croaked out.
“It was a fluke. His DNA was run by accident. Christ, David, he lives less than fifteen miles from the house.”
“I don’t… I don’t understand,” he managed to get out. His brain wasn’t even processing in the most minimal of ways.
“David, take a couple deep breaths. This is happening. It’s real… I promise.”
“Hold on a sec.” He set the phone down and did as instructed, trying to get his thoughts in some kind of coherent order. His memories of Alex were extremely hazy as to be almost non-existent. He was only two when Alex was born, and all he remembered was a vague image of sitting next to his mother in the hospital bed and being helped to hold the new baby. Alex had vanished the very next day.
He pulled his t-shirt off and dropped it over the spilled beer then picked up the phone again. “All right, tell me what happened.”
“First, check your email.”
A couple clicks and he was pulling up an entry on the Ohio State Alumni webpage. His breath caught in his throat. “Oh my god, he looks like mom.” His eyes started to sting and he rubbed at them furiously. “How?” Alex was living under the name Tony DiNozzo. And fuck it all if Dave didn’t remember Alex being in the Final Four when Dave was in grad school.
“He became a cop and then a federal agent—he’s with NCIS. Some enemy he made when he was a cop in Baltimore framed him for murder, and he was in FBI custody. They accidentally ran his DNA for a familial search instead of the supposed victim.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“No. He was cleared, and the guy who set it up was arrested.”
“Jesus, Dad…” What amounted to a wrong click of a mouse had found his brother. “Have you met him?”
“He’s asleep in one of the guest rooms.”
“Really?” Dave was oddly stunned by that. He’d talked to his father before he set out this morning, and now he had his long lost brother in the guest room.
“I’m not even sure it’s what he wanted. I can tell he’s feeling lost and more than a little bewildered, but I couldn’t imagine being parted from him after just finding him. I think it was simply compassion for me when he agreed to come here. And after the week he’s had, he just fell into bed and was out like a light.”
“And yet you’re already talking about his college days?” he asked, finding it odd that Alex’s alma mater would have been discussed in the midst of all that.
“Dad,” Dave said on a sigh, “what did you do?”
“After he fell asleep, I called Max and had him run a thorough background check.”
“I’m not trying to spy on him or anything, David. I just want to know everything about him—where he’s been, what he’s done—and I don’t want to overwhelm him with questions when he just had his world turned upside down. I needed to know.”
“All right, I get it. Look, I need to arrange for the jet to be ready in the morning. Matt and I will be there as soon as we can.”
“You might want to wait until Sunday.”
“What?” Dave asked incredulously. How could his father ask that?
“The FBI wants to get a jump on the investigation before word gets out that your brother was found. You know this is going to be a media nightmare. They want to move on this DiNozzo person first thing tomorrow.”
“What does that have to do with Matt and me coming home?” he demanded.
“Alex insisted on wearing a wire and going in to get the information himself. And where he goes, I go. We’re leaving for New York in a little over four hours.”
“That seems like a terrible idea,” Dave said, anxiety making his stomach flip over. “I don’t…”
“I know, David. We’re reacting like he could vanish again at any moment, and he’s just doing what he does every day.”
Dave rubbed at his eyes again. “You know I already hate that he’s in law enforcement.”
“Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know.”
“I can maybe be patient, but you know Matt won’t be.”
His dad sighed. “Just do your best to corral your brother. If you arrive before we get back from New York, it won’t be the worst thing.”
“Yeah, I’ll do my best.” Though, really, there was no corralling Mattie when he didn’t want to be corralled. He seemed even-tempered at first glance, but Mattie had a stubborn streak bigger than John’s, and that was saying something.
He talked to his dad for a couple more minutes then hung up. Briefly, he considered not telling Matt until tomorrow, but he knew his brother too well, and Matt would be furious for an age if Dave left him out of the loop.
After pressing Matt’s speed dial, he waited for his brother to pick up. Matt was sometimes hard to reach these days, and if he didn’t answer his phone, Dave would be off the hook for explaining things tonight.
He answered on the fifth ring. “What’s up, Dave?” he asked, sounding distracted.
“I need you to come home, Matt.”
“Everything okay? ‘Cause I’m kind of right in the middle of something.”
“Engine?” Dave guessed.
“Matt, listen, there’s always going to be a project pulling your attention. You need to come home. I have to talk to you.”
Matt made a little frustrated sound but muttered, “Yeah, okay. Give me a minute.” Then he hung up.
Dave wasn’t looking forward to this at all. For each of them, the loss of Alex had affected them in different ways. He, John, and Matt grew up with extremely over-protective parents. Dad and John fought hugely when John wanted to join the Air Force, because Dad didn’t want one of his sons in the military, taking the huge risks that went along with it. And for all that John had always chafed at Dad’s hovering, it hadn’t stopped him from hovering over Mattie. Actually, all of them hovered over Matt, who had been born three years after Alex’s disappearance. By the time Matt was old enough to understand about Alex, Dave had expected resentment, but Matt had instead taken the loss of his third older brother really hard, and had struggled with it just as much as any of them over the years.
Needing a distraction, he decided to get on with cleaning the spilled beer before Matt got home.
– – – –
Matt shut the car off and grabbed the pile of schematics he planned to work on over the weekend. With Dad back home in Virginia, he didn’t have any reason to avoid the house. He had his own condo in DC, but when they’d taken the gig at Area 51, his father had suggested they all share a house. At the time, it had seemed like a fine idea. Until he’d found out about John.
He was furious with John on a level he couldn’t even articulate. And since the big reveal, Dad was always trying to talk to him. So Matt had started avoiding the house. He was used to his father and brothers pushing his boundaries, they were all ridiculous when it came to trying to protect him, but he wasn’t ready to talk about John.
Finding out John had left without saying goodbye to him had filled Matt with an incredible sense of betrayal. In all the fights between John and Dad, Matt had always tried to be there for John, to try to get Dad to understand John’s point of view. Matt had always been on John’s side, and defended him even when it didn’t seem rational. Dave was more inclined to agree with Dad or just stay out of it. But Matt understood how stifling being in this family could be. He’d never doubted for a minute that his parents loved him, but the loss of Alex had changed them in ways that were sometimes tough to take.
So for John to go on a mission he knew he might not come back from, and not say a damn word, hurt Matt like nothing he’d experienced since he lost his mother. It was at times like these that he really missed her—she’d died when Matt was only seven, but he’d always been able to tell her his secrets. In his distorted childish memories, she always knew the perfect thing to say or do to make him feel better. And he was pretty damn sure she’d kick John’s ass for taking off that way.
He stared at the front door and really hoped this conversation wasn’t about John. Matt had found his dream job at twenty-nine, and all he could think about every day was getting John back. As mad as he was, he’d do anything to see John safely home—he just didn’t want to talk about it.
Steeling himself, he went inside and found Dave sitting on a barstool in the kitchen, picking at a fruit salad. Of all of them, Dave was the most conscientious eater, but even so, Matt couldn’t imagine a big bowl of fruit for a late-night snack.
“All right, what’s going on?” Matt asked, dropping his files and papers on the island.
Dave pointed at a barstool. “You’ll want to be sitting down.”
Matt’s brow furrowed. “Dad okay?”
“Yeah, Mattie. Everyone’s okay. Just sit.”
Feeling alarmed, Matt decided not to be a pain in the ass and took the seat. “You’re freaking me out, Dave.”
“I’ve got something to tell you, and you can’t go off half-cocked,” Dave said with a stern look.
“No promises. You know me too well to believe it anyway. Just tell me whatever the hell has got you so wound up.”
Dave huffed in obvious annoyance. “What I’m gonna tell you has been verified, okay? This is not a hoax, or a scam; it’s straight from the FBI.”
“Oh, like that’s not worrying. What the hell?” Dave shot him a glare and Matt subsided, making an impatient gesture.
“The FBI located Alex.”
Matt stared at his brother. He knew all those words individually, but he couldn’t make sense of them when put together. For several long beats he tried to get his brain working. “What?” he whispered.
“He’s an NCIS agent living in DC. He’s with Dad now.” When Matt didn’t reply, Dave prompted, “Mattie?”
His name finally got him moving. “I’ll pack my bag,” he said getting to his feet. “What time will the jet be ready?”
Matt froze in his path toward the hall door then slowly turned back to Dave. “Excuse me?”
“Dad asked us to wait.”
“What the hell, David! This is not just about Dad!” Alex was all of them. Every damn day for Matt’s entire life.
“I know, Matt. But do you want to hear the whole story, or do you just want to get angry?”
“Fuck you,” Matt said irritably as he slid back onto the barstool. “I hate it when you’re all rational and shit.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “All right. Go.”
Dave ran through everything he knew about the situation in DC, and Matt found himself making a face. “I don’t want him to go,” he finally said.
“I know, Mattie. But, like Dad pointed out, he does this for a living.”
“I’m not happy about that either,” Matt retorted, and he knew he was being petulant.
“Welcome to the club, kiddo.”
“Fuck!” Matt growled with frustration. “I won’t get on the plane tonight, but we’re leaving in the morning, and we’re going to be there when they get back from New York.”
“No, David! I’m going home in the morning to meet my brother. You can come with or I’ll ask the Asgard to beam me back.”
Dave gave him an exasperated look. “You know you can’t do that.”
“Yeah, well, I’m awesome and the Asgard love me, so you can compromise, or I’ll get home my own way.”
The glare would have probably worked on anyone who hadn’t been coddled by David their entire life. Finally, Dave threw up his hands. “I don’t know why I even bother.”
“Me either,” Matt replied tartly.
Dave just shook his head and got to his feet. “Come on, baby brother, I want to show you something.”
Matt readily followed Dave up to his office, taking note of the scent of hops in the air. “Why does it smell like beer in here?”
“Just sit down,” Dave groused, pointing at the desk chair.
Dave leaned over his shoulder and grabbed the mouse, bringing up a webpage. “That’s Alex.”
Matt bit his lip, suddenly overwhelmed. He was having a hard time seeing all of a sudden, but the image was firmly stuck in his brain. “How can he look that much like mom?” he whispered. “And John. He looks a lot like John, too.”
A warm hand settled on the back of Matt’s neck, squeezing reassuringly. “Dad said he has mom’s eyes, just like you and John.” The three of them had Mom’s green eyes, while David looked more like Dad with the squarer jaw and blue eyes. There’d always been something a little off in their family, for all that they were close and loved each other. Was it wrong to hope that Alex was that missing piece?
“Right now I hate you a little for not letting us beam straight home right this minute.”
“Me, too, kiddo.”
– – – –