A/N: Story is complete. Enjoy and drop me a note if you make it to the end!
The phone rang and David Sheppard stretched out his cramped shoulders briefly before tossing his pen aside and snatching for his cell phone. A smile crossed his lips as he read the caller ID. He quickly flipped open the phone and sank into the enormous leather chair, enjoying its soft comfort for the first time that evening.
"Hey, Julia," he said, the smile evident in the warmth of his tired voice.
"Hey yourself. Long day?" Julia's voice was equally warm and David chuckled, feeling the tension slide out of his shoulders and into the floor through the seat of the chair. He was going to have to marry this woman one of these days. The sound of her voice alone was enough to keep him going for hours.
"It's better now that you've called. How about your day? The meeting with the shareholders go as well as you hoped?"
Julia also chuckled, "As well as I expected, at least..." and they were soon lost in the chitchat of work and friends and that rare camaraderie of peers who all too often felt isolated by their positions of leadership.
At long last, Julia's tone grew teasing. "So, David. You've so far avoided my original question. How was your day? Have you finished all the probate inquiries for your father's will, yet?"
David sighed. "I just spent all evening on the paperwork for those assets that remained outside the trust. But I'm getting there. The Realtors called today. Dad's Palm Springs home sold, and they've got a buyer interested in the Ranch, but..."
"But you still haven't decided whether to sell or not," Julia stated softly.
"No. I know I should. My place is all I need right now. But the ranch -? Well, I grew up there. It's hard to let go, ya know?"
"I know. There's no rush to decide is there? You could keep it for a few years and see what happens. Who knows, your brother may want the place someday."
David snorted, "John take the Ranch? He hates the Ranch. Even in high school, he spent more time with his party friends than he did at home."
"And what normal teenager doesn't?" Julia's tone grew sharp, although David knew her well enough to hear the amusement still underlying her words. "He's still family, David. And people change."
"Not John. Not that much. But you're right. I don't have to decide right away."
"Have you heard from your brother lately?"
David paused. Since Dad's death, Julia had been hounding him to keep open the fragile communication John had initiated after the Wake. David grudgingly admitted that John seemed to be trying. But there could not be two people more different than David and John Sheppard - unless it had been John and Patrick Sheppard - and David was something at a loss as how to proceed. It wasn't like they could talk shop and watch the game together on Saturdays. Not when it took a week at best to relay even the simplest of messages through his command at Peterson Air Force Base. Emails seem to take almost as long, and had lately started taking even longer. He felt a familiar stab of annoyance. What communication they did have was mostly details dealing with Dad's estate, and John seemed to have no sense of urgency around the business David simply wanted done and over with.
"Not since he finally got back to me a month ago regarding the inheritance Dad left him. Even then, he pretty much just gave me the name and number of the Air Force accountants that manage retirement funds. Wherever he is, he's apparently too busy to take an active look at his own finances." David heard the bitterness creep into his voice, despite his best effort at suppressing it.
Julia only laughed. "Three months ago, you were worried that John would challenge the will and run off with half of your father's assets. Now you're complaining that he's not interested enough in your father's money?"
"Well, when you put it that way - "
"It sounds like you're the know-it-all big brother."
David cast about for an answer and it suddenly hit him with the force of a ton of bricks. "I - I just don't know who he is, Julia. I know nothing about what he does or where he does it. We were never close, even as kids. Part of that was because John and Dad were always at each other's throats, and I didn't know how to get involved without taking sides. But part of it -?" He stopped.
Julia finished his unspoken thought, "Part of it is that you have your father's habit of judging people by their accomplishments. And both you and your father decided long ago that your little brother couldn't possibly be doing anything worthy of the family name. Flying helicopters in Afghanistan doesn't meet the criteria."
Three months ago, David would have argued 'til he was blue in the face that John had left them. That his brother had severed the ties and abandoned the privileges of family. Today, the memory of John standing on his doorstep, of John sitting uncomfortably on his sofa and asking about Dad's last days haunted him. He still didn't know his brother. He still had no idea what John really did. But David was beginning to think that, just possibly, Julia could be right. Damn her. It did matter to him that he did know those things about his brother, and - maybe it shouldn't. He tried to muster an angry retort and only managed weary avoidance.
"I don't actually have any idea where John flies helicopters."
"You could ask him."
David thought about it. "I may do that."
Julia seemed satisfied at last and they spoke their farewells, with promises of a weekend together soon. When he flipped the phone closed, he sat for a long moment in the chair. Julia was brilliant, beautiful, the CEO of a company bigger than all his family businesses combined. They had joked about throwing their retirement party and wedding reception on the same day, because neither of them had enough time to be married as life was now. He'd seen what that kind of stress had done to John and Nancy. No, he wouldn't make his brother's mistake. For now, he was comfortable with his arrangement with Julia.
David heaved himself out of the chair, closed the laptop that sat glowing on top of the polished rosewood desk that had been his father's, and flipped out the desk lamp. Twenty minutes later, he was tugging the covers down on his bed when the house line rang. At this hour? Frowning, David quickly picked up the cordless unit resting on the bed stand. His pulse quickened as he imagined everything from hostile takeovers to a crash in the Asian stock market. The only news at 11:00 on a Tuesday night could be bad news.
"Is this David Patrick Sheppard?" the voice on the line queried after David's salutation.
"Yes, this is he..?"
"Please hold for General Landry."
David rolled his eyes. Military. That could only mean some long delayed message from John was finally working its way home. Although, he usually spoke to the AG staffers...
"David Sheppard?" Came another voice at last.
"My name is General Hank Landry. You are the blood brother of Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, is that correct?"
David was well versed in reading people, both on the phone and in person. General Landry immediately struck him as a powerful and confident person. David could feel his back go up, his competitive juices start flowing. "John is my brother, yes. But you wouldn't be calling me if you didn't already know that. May I ask what this is all about?"
"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news - "
"What's happened." David snapped, realizing that he was interrupting, but he couldn't stand the pandering, the delays. He felt his heart pounding with adrenaline, and it felt something like anger.
"Colonel Sheppard, your brother, has been severely injured in the line of duty. We... need you to come to the Cheyenne Mountain facility."
David just held the phone to his face. Every meeting he had scheduled over the next week flashed through his mind. He'd just suffered through his father's death, for God's sake! Did these people think he had time to run to his brother's side every time the kid got a scratch or broke an arm? John was tough, David was sure of that at least! He didn't need a big brother hovering. John hadn't needed anyone for more than 10 years.
"Yes. I'm still here."
"We need you to come soon."