Warning: This chapter contains descriptions of physical abuse.
Any other day, Gibbs might have cuffed DiNozzo on the back of the head. But today he sensed it would be a wrong move. Instead he rose to his feet and replied, "Maybe the day you turn into a redhead."
The former Marine started to walk towards the nearest cemetery road. He was confident Tony would follow, and sure enough a moment later his agent sighed heavily just behind him, "So I guess that means you're not buying?"
Gibbs hid his smile before he turned and stared at Tony. Tony stopped walking and smiled unapologetically. They both knew this dance. Gibbs turned and strode purposefully away, "Are you coming, DiNozzo?" he queried with feigned impatience.
"On your six, Boss!"
The two men walked in companionable silence for several minutes. Gibbs knew he had derailed DiNozzo. He had done it instinctively, an act of protection. He had sensed the growing fear in his senior field agent, and he dreaded what it could mean given the gravity of what Tony had already revealed that night.
Tony began tentatively, "Over Easter break, dad took me to Rhode Island, to Rhode Island Military Academy. On the trip down, he told me that I needed discipline, direction in my life. He said, 'Three generations of DiNozzos have gone to this school,'" Tony mocked his father's voice.
"He had planned out my entire next decade. He had arranged for me to go to Harvard once I was done with prep-school. It was all about the image, the prestige. I told him I didn't want to go to Harvard. He said it wasn't about what I wanted.
"That spring we had a career project we had to complete. We had to interview people in the professions we wanted to pursue. We had to do two essays: one on the history of the profession and one on a notable personage in the profession. It was the most fun I had on a school project to-date. Steve took me to interview his brother in Albany, I wrote my research history of the NYPD. I couldn't pick a notable personage at that time, in my eyes, they were all notable. So I chose instead to write about law enforcement archetypes in modern cinema."
Gibbs looked sharply over to Tony, expecting to see a smirk on his face, some indication that he was joking. Tony licked his lower lip, "I'm not kidding, Boss. I still have a copy of the essay, complete with the gold star and my first A+ if you want proof.
"I was so proud of the work I had done. I had been successful at something. The day we got our projects back, I was looking forward to my afternoon update with my dad. He was too drunk that night to even look.
"It was a week later that I was finally able to show him and by then some of the thrill had worn off. To his credit, he actually read the entire thing. I remember watching his face as he read it. Cold, impassive, and then he got to my last essay. At first I thought I only imagined it, that I was hoping so hard for some acknowledgement that I didn't believe it. He looked surprised; it was the closest thing to an approving expression I had seen on his face in almost 9 years. He finished reading the paper and sat there quietly thinking for awhile, sipping on his scotch. I didn't dare say anything. Then, the expression changed. He asked me who I got to write the essay for me.
"He may as well have punched me in the gut, Gibbs. I couldn't answer him. I just ran out of the house, kept running. I guess he took that to be an admission of guilt. When I came home that night all the doors were locked. I didn't give him the satisfaction of pounding on the door begging to be let back in."
Tony rolled his head, stretching out his neck muscles and ran his hand across the back of his head. He fell silent. Gibbs stopped walking. They had reached the coffee shop.
"What do you want, DiNozzo?"
"Whatever, Boss. The usual is fine," Tony replied tonelessly.
Gibbs walked in to order the coffees. Tony waited outside, watching people stroll by. While the coffee was being prepared Gibbs watched his agent through the storefront window. His expression had become stony. He stood with his hands thrust deep into his pockets and his shoulders hunched. It was a closed posture. It was something he rarely saw in the gregarious younger man. The teenager at the counter handed Gibbs the coffee.
Wordlessly, Gibbs handed Tony the large cup. With an eyebrow and a head nod he asked his agent if he wanted to sit at one of the sidewalk tables. Tony replied with a negative shake of his head and tipped his head towards the park up the street.
Letting the warmth from the coffee flow into his hands was a welcome distraction. He knew it was inevitable he would finish telling Gibbs his story, but for now he needed to hang on to the present for a little while longer. By the time they reached the park, the coffee was finally cool enough for Tony to drink. Taking a sip of the hot brew, he pointed to an open park bench that overlooked the cemetery below.
Tony took a few deep breaths. He knew he was going to have to do it soon, before he lost his nerve and buried his past again.
"The week after school got out dad was sitting out by the pool, drinking as had become his custom on Saturday afternoons. He made me fetch him some more ice for his drink. When I got back, he asked what I wanted to go to school for when I went to Harvard. I told him I didn't want to go to Harvard; I wanted to become a police officer. He looked at me with this sneer, like it was a career that wasn't fit for the germs living on his shoe. 'DiNozzos have better things to do with their lives than handing out parking tickets.'"
Tony swallowed hard. "I got gutsy. I asked him what difference it would make what I did when he thought I would amount to nothing anyway. He brought the whole image thing up again. According to him, it didn't matter if I was successful at whatever I did – because I'd never be successful anyway - so long as I was ensconced in an approved, Harvard certified profession.
"I don't know what came over me that day. I baited him. I guess I had just had it with being ridiculed, humiliated, and made to feel worthless. Everything just came boiling up. I told him I was going to become a police officer, a good one so I could protect people and do some good.
"He told me that the best I could hope for was the gutter if I pursued that path. He said it was going to be hard enough keeping me out of the gutter anyway, but he had to try to protect the family name. I said the family name was a joke. It was never about family, it was his name. It had stopped being about family when Adrianna died, when mom died…
"He lost it Gibbs. I was just out of eighth grade; he stood over a foot taller than me then. The last time I had seen him move that fast was when he dove off the boat to save Adrianna. He had never hit me so hard in my life. But I kept baiting him. I told him that maybe if he had been a police officer, instead of some stupid desk jockey in a monkey suit Adrianna might still be alive. I tried to fight back, but what could I do?"
Tony rested his elbows on his knees. He set the coffee down on the concrete beneath the bench, his trembling hands threatening to drop the cup. Burying his face in his hands he lost himself in the memory of that day. The scent of scotch, blood and chlorine assailed his senses as if he were there. Just before Gibbs could place a hand on his shoulder, break him from this memory Tony sat up again.
"I remember calling for help. I remember seeing Steve running across the yard just before I landed in the pool. My father tried to drown me, Gibbs. Technically, I guess I did."
It took all the will the ex-Marine could muster to suppress the expression of horror that threatened to break his stoic features. He watched Tony shuddered away the vestiges of that horrible day.
"Tell me he served time for that," Gibbs urged. He couldn't stay objective. Not when one of his own had been so wounded.
Tony looked at him sadly. Tony looked at him with… shame?
"I spent four weeks in the hospital. Three broken ribs, a punctured left lung, a broken right wrist, two dislocated fingers, a fractured jaw, concussion and a broken left tibia were the result. Steve told me he had fished me out of the pool after knocking my dad flat. God, how I wished I could've seen that. He got me breathing again.
"It took me two weeks before I could think clearly and hold a conversation. The police did get involved. They wanted to file attempted murder charges. Back then, I thought I knew a better way. If dad went to prison, all the family assets would be forfeit and I would go into foster care. I talked to Steve and his brother. I talked to a lawyer. I talked to the judge that had known dad for 30 years.
"Ultimately, I filed for partial emancipation. The agreement was I would go to Rhode Island Military Academy, and he would pay tuition. I liked the school, and I thought what I could learn there would be helpful for my career goals. It also got me off of Long Island. He was also to set aside $50,000 for my college expenses; I would attend a school of my choice. I agreed to drop all criminal charges to make it happen."
Tony leaned back into the bench, spent. Gibbs found himself rendered silent. The older agent found himself reflecting on what he knew of Tony and what was revealed in this new light. His determination to succeed, his drive to stay positive under bleakest circumstances, all stemmed from his will to survive a father who did not love him.
Tony whispered, "I should have sent him to jail, made him pay. I could have taken a few years of foster care. I had an opportunity to send an abusive father to justice and I threw it away. How many kids are dying for that chance?"
Gibbs thought about that statement and suddenly understood Tony's misguided shame. He thought his father got off too easily, that he let the man claim victory. Tony had done what his father claimed he could never do, he succeeded in life. That alone gave this extraordinary man the right to claim victory.
"Tony, when you were talking with Kate earlier, you were right. About not being seen the same way after hearing your story."
At that admission, Tony's eyes filled with a look of shame, hurt. Gibbs held up a staying hand and said softly, "Hear me out."
"Tony, to live through what you did, and knowing the man you became in spite of it all…" Gibbs had to pause, to clear his throat that had become thick with emotion. "I am amazed. I'm awed by what you had to overcome. At fourteen-years-old you negotiated a deal from a hospital bed that most seasoned lawyers couldn't broker on their best day."
Gibbs turned in the bench to face Tony square-on. "You have become a success. You did what you wanted to do with your life. You made all this happen despite being told every step of the way that you'd fail. "
Tony fought back tears as he listened to this man who had been more of a father to him than his dad ever was. He searched for the pity in Gibbs' eyes, and found none. What he saw there was genuine. He couldn't hold back the smile when Gibbs placed a hand on his shoulder and proclaimed, "I am proud of you, Tony."
A/N: And here ends the tale. Thanks once more to those who have reviewed and alerted, and/or flagged this story as a favorite. It really means a lot to me that you have enjoyed this story. Please, if you have any constructive criticism to offer, I am happy to hear your advice.