Disclaimer: NCIS does not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: Character-wise, I see this as taking place somewhere during Season Three, but it isn't associated with any particular episode.
"Mr. Hammon?" Tony extends a hand as he tries not to wince. "Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo."
The man shakes his hand wordlessly, and Tony has to resist the urge to shift his feet. God, he hates this. Dealing with victims' family members. No matter how many times he does it, it never gets any easier. Tears, shock, anger…the reactions vary, but the emotion is always the same. That horrible sense of loss, of wasted potential. The inability, at first, to really comprehend what it will mean for them, for their family.
Parents are the worst, he thinks. Not that he's in a position to know. It's not like he has kids, after all, and his own father probably wouldn't bother to show up at his funeral, if he were to be killed in the line. But still. There's something about the…unnaturalness of a parent outliving a child that gets him every time. The frustrated sense that that's not how it's supposed to work.
So even though he knows it's probably selfish of him, that the moment of discomfort he's feeling must be nothing in comparison to this man's pain, Tony finds himself wishing that this job had fallen to anyone but him.
At least this time, he hadn't had to be the one to actually break the news. That had fallen to the Marine's commanding officer. Tony just had to escort this guy down to autopsy to pick up his son's personal effects. It was one of the simplest assignments an agent could have. So why was it so hard?
"I'll escort you down," he tells the guy, realizing abruptly that he's been silent for a while now, probably staring blankly.
"Is this going to take long?" Hammon demands, and Tony has to remind himself that the man probably hadn't meant to be rude. That he probably wouldn't be feeling particularly courteous if his son had died, either.
So he keeps his voice calm as he tells him, "It shouldn't. If you'll follow me, I can get you your son's things."
With the awkward silence in the elevator, the ride down to Autopsy has never felt so long. Tony isn't used to being at a loss for words. But somehow, it doesn't seem like this guy is in the mood for his usual brand of humor. He considers offering some sort of condolence, but decides against it. What could he possibly say that would make any difference?
So Tony keeps his mouth shut, glancing at the man out of the corner of his eye. He takes in the expensive suit, gold Rolex, and immaculately groomed hair. Not at all what he was expecting from the father of an enlisted Marine. But then, of course, he should know better than to stereotype like that. Isn't he himself proof enough that family background isn't always the deciding factor in determining a person's choice of career? For all he knows, Lance Corporal Hammon had just been especially patriotic.
The elevator doors slide open. and still the man beside him shows no visible sign of grief. Tony figures the mask of indifference must be a coping mechanism. In a way, it comes as something of a relief. He doesn't do real well with emotions, after all. This has to be better than the guy bursting into tears or something. Still, though, there is something a little unnerving about the complete lack of emotion on his face.
Tony is relieved when they finally make it to autopsy. Ducky is much better at this kind of thing than he is. Sure enough, the medical examiner greets Hammon with solemn courtesy. "Mr. Hammon. I am terribly sorry for your loss."
The man gives a sharp nod. "Thank you," he responds, distantly polite.
"Your son was a fine Marine," Ducky continues, "and a credit to his unit."
At that, Hammon narrows his eyes disdainfully. "I always knew he would end up like this." Something about the disgust in the man's voice grates on Tony's nerves. He forces himself to calm down, taking a deep breath as the man continues, "He could have gone to college, made something of himself. He was accepted at Yale, you know. But no. He wanted to play G.I. Joe. He threw away his future and joined the Marines. And look where it got him."
Tony tries to quell the anger rising in his chest, reminding himself that grief makes people behave irrationally. But he can't stop his rising fury. The man's son is dead, and that's all he can think of to say? That the kid didn't live up to his expectations?
Feeling his fists clench, Tony grits his teeth and tells himself to keep it professional. That however angry this guy might make him, he needs to keep his cool. That Gibbs will kill him if he lashes out the way he wants so desperately to do. But damn it, the scorn in this jerk's voice is far, far too familiar for comfort.
It is Gibbs, not Ducky, who responds, and Tony swears that the room actually becomes colder. "Mr. Hammon. Your son died saving the lives of four other men. He was a hero. His sacrifice will not be forgotten."
Hammon just curls a lip. "Yes, and that's going to do him a lot of good now, isn't it," he responds, sarcasm coating his words. He sighs heavily. "Well, what did I expect? The boy always was a disappointment."
Tony's not sure what finally pushed him over the edge. He doesn't know whether it was the man's obvious scorn, or his complete lack of grief over his only son's death. Maybe it was that horrible tone of voice, somewhere between disgusted and dismissive, a tone Tony had heard so often from his own father that it almost makes him physically ill.
Whatever it had been, it's enough to make him lose what's left of his self-control. Before he quite knows what is happening, he has the guy pinned up against the wall. "You son of a bitch!"
"DiNozzo!" Tony hears his boss's voice from somewhere behind him, but it sounds distant to his ears. Any other time, that tone would have brought him up short. But now, Tony is far, far too angry to care. This bastard's son died a hero, and all he can do is huff about how he didn't live up to the family name!
"You absolute bastard!" Tony is shouting into Hammon's face, now. He pushes him against the wall again. "Your son is dead! Did you not get that part? Your son!" Even as angry as he is, Tony knows better than to hit the guy. Or at least, he thought he did. He's still feeling oddly detached from the scene that's unfolding. It's not until he feels Gibbs grabbing his arm that Tony even realizes that he's raised it.
Holding him tightly in a vice-like grip, Gibbs pulls him away from the man and growls into his face, "Special Agent DiNozzo. Wait for me in the hallway."
And just like that, Tony feels himself deflate. Even the anger leaves him as he finds himself staring back at his boss. "Boss, I…" Shit. Tony doesn't have a clue what to say. It's not like there's an explanation he can offer. There's no excuse Gibbs will accept for losing it like that.
In response, Gibbs says only one word, but it's enough to actually give Tony chills: "Out!" He jerks his head toward the door.
After one last moment of hesitation, Tony does as he is ordered.
Standing out in the hallway, Tony has to resist the temptation to pace. It's only been a few minutes, but he hates the waiting. It's a lot like being sent to the principal's office. Except that Gibbs is a whole lot scarier than his principals ever were.
Finally, after what seems like hours, Tony sees his boss coming through the sliding door. Without a word, Gibbs heads straight for the elevator, indicating with a crooked finger for Tony to follow.
Almost as soon as the elevator doors close, Gibbs cuts the power.
Tony looks up at his boss with badly-disguised apprehension, expecting a head slap of concussion-inducing strength. It doesn't come. Instead, Gibbs just glares at him. "You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking, DiNozzo?" he demands. "Or maybe how I'm going to explain your little stunt to the director when Hammon files assault charges?"
Tony winces. "I should have thought of that," he concedes.
"No, you should have thought! Period." Gibbs's voice lowers in volumes somewhat as he challenges, "You trying to tell me this guy was really worth having your badge yanked?"
Tony almost snorts. He'd be shocked if Hammon actually did file charges, the way he's apparently threatening to. Tony knows his type too well. His own father had used his lawyers as a threat on an almost daily basis, but he'd rarely actually followed up on it. Law suits took too much effort, and he considered his own time far too valuable to be bothered.
Still, though, Tony understands the implications of Gibbs's question. He'd come very close to risking his career over his little outburst. And the bastard definitely hadn't been worth that.
"I'm sorry, Boss," he offers helplessly. "I know you don't like to hear that, but it's true. I know there's no excuse. It's just, Hammon was such a … I don't know, I guess I just lost it."
To Tony's surprise, the look Gibbs gives him is one of understanding. Quietly, he suggests, "Hit a little too close to home?"
Tony shoots his boss a sharp look, wishing that he was a little less perceptive. Finally, he nods. "Yeah." He doesn't intend to say anything else, but before he can stop himself, he bursts out, "I mean, God, Gibbs, he was his father! Isn't he supposed to care?" Bitterly, he adds, "Probably won't even bother to go to the funeral."
Gibbs is quiet for a long moment. Then he sighs. "Maybe not. But Tony, Corporal Hammon has a unit full of brothers that'll be there. They'll appreciate what he did, who he was. And you can be damned sure that they'll care that he's dead." As Tony thinks that over, Gibbs adds quietly, "Point is, family's not always about blood."
Tony has a feeling, now, that Gibbs is talking about more than just Corporal Hammon, but he pushes that thought aside. That's something to mull over later, when he's alone. Not something he wants to actually discuss. Sure, he might know that their team is more than just a bunch of agents who happen to work together, but that doesn't mean he wants to have a heart-to-heart about it with Gibbs, right here in the elevator.
Gibbs, of course, seems to feel the same way. He nods briskly, and his face hardens again as he looks Tony over. "All right, DiNozzo. You do something like that again…" He doesn't finish the sentence. He doesn't have to. Tony knows.
He nods. "Got it, Boss."
With a sigh, Gibbs re-activates the elevator, banging the switch with the back of his hand.
As the doors slide open, Tony chances a glance towards his mentor. "Hey, Boss?" he ventures quietly. "Thanks."
Gibbs just rolls his eyes. "Get back to work, DiNozzo. I'm going to have you doing so much paperwork in the next couple of days that you won't have time to lose your temper again."
But Tony just grins. He knows his boss well enough to see through that. And he had seen the barely-perceptible nod, the way Gibbs's eyes had softened, just for a split second, before he'd reverted back to his usual hard-ass CO act.
A few minutes later, when Hammon comes storming out of the elevator and across the squad room, Tony feels his fists clenching again. But then, taking a deep breath, he forces himself to calm down. He looks around the room, at the desks surrounding his own.
At McGee, brow furrowed in concentration as he tackles whatever computer program he's working on. At Ziva, leaning back in her chair as she twirls her knife in one hand and flips through a file with the other. At Gibbs, sipping his coffee mechanically at he glares at his computer screen, as if that, too, can be intimidated into doing what he wants.
And Tony feels some of the tension leave his body. Because maybe Gibbs is right. Sometimes, family isn't just about blood.
A/N: Feedback is definitely welcome. I'd love to hear from you!