Title: Running the Gauntlet
Author: Ice Cube
Rating: T – rather dark even for me, deals with child abuse, will eventually be fairly graphically. I will make warnings at the beginning of chapters that deal more vividly with the subject
Spoilers: Random quotes throughout the series are fair game, but not based off any specific episode – set early to mid season 1 but quotes come from the entire series to date
Disclaimer: Right, if I owned them anywhere outside of my dreams, the characters that are forthwith mentioned in this story would be making me a lot of money and very happy…so no, they aren't mine, and I'm a broke college student who has no money, so if you're going to sue, feel free, you won't get anything. Lyrics are the property of whoever deserves credit for them; I use them only to enhance the storyline.
Characters: Tony, Gibbs
Archives: Feel free; just let me know where so I can find it again.
Summary: Tony's mask was so firmly in place that it took someone truly dedicated to see the real man behind it and who he had evolved from.
Warnings: To those who think that I am capable of writing a fic that is torture free…I can't, and thus, if you don't want to see h/c, various possible tortures, and other forms of angst, find another story.
I don't have my stories beta'd, I'm too impatient to wait for someone to proof it after I've written it, so I apologize for any mistakes, and if you email me to tell me that they're there, I'll fix them later. Reviews are always a plus, it's great to know that people are reading my stories and like them, but as I'm a horrible reviewer, I won't hold my breath for them. Flames, however, will be treated with the utmost respect they deserve…they will be ignored completely or poked fun at with friends.
That said, on with the tale…
First chapter's fairly PG, nothing really warranting a warning except for maybe a tissue warning for some of you. No abuse or anything like that yet.
Chapter 1 – The Catalyst
GIBBS: The Seaman was local. Address is in the file. You don't have to do the dirty deed. CACO already notified next of kin.
TONY: I hate this. I really do.
KATE: Going to be that tough?
TONY: You have no idea.
KATE: No, I don't. Tony?
KATE: Take a breath.
~ 1x04 – The Immortals
The smell of sawdust permeated the air and was a familiar comfort to the man sitting at the top of the stairs. Already two beers in to his evening, he had no specific reason as to why he was sitting here, why he had stopped at the top of the stairs and simply collapsed down to sit hunched over and merely watch. Tony knew better than to think Gibbs wasn't aware of his presence as he worked on the boat unhindered by the younger man's appearance, but had never been more grateful that he hadn't been acknowledged. Sometimes he needed that, despite how very often he portrayed just the opposite. It was a dichotomy that Tony didn't always pretend to understand, but was very much a part of him. For now he was content to let the sounds of the even strokes of the hand sander wash over him and try to erase the emotions of the day. He thought he'd done fairly well. Kate hadn't seemed to notice anything was wrong and McGee had been too busy tripping over himself to avoid Gibbs' wrath on his latest TAD assignment to even see that the mask was there. Gibbs may have been a different story, but he kept his own counsel and left Tony floundering more often than not.
It was hardly the first time that Gibbs had been graced with his silent visitor. The times were fairly few and far between, but most of the time he could predict when Tony would be making his way to the house. Today had not been one of those days. The case was solved; Tony hadn't been beaten, drugged, kidnapped, or misplaced as he was wont to do; and there had been no abused children or broken families that seemed to penetrate the walls of the Agent's cool exterior.
It hadn't taken long after meeting DiNozzo in Baltimore to see that the kid had more masks than a traveling theater, and it only took their first major case together at NCIS for Gibbs to be able to see through most of them. It grated on him the way his new "profiler" couldn't seem to get past the frat boy persona to see anything deeper. No matter. Short of whacking her upside the head and spelling it out, he wasn't sure she'd ever get it.
He continued to work the hand sander over the smooth grain as his agent popped the cap off his third beer. Tony's ventures to Gibbs' basement ran the gauntlet of reactions. Occasionally he'd bring pizza and talk the older man's ear off about everything and nothing before getting to the reason he'd sought out his mentor. Most times he'd come down the stairs and attempt to help as best as he was able – Gibbs usually took these opportunities to teach the younger man how to work with his hands – and would eventually sit under or next to the work in progress and spill what was eating at him. It was rare that his second would sit at the top of the steps in self-imposed silent solitude, as he was doing now, wordlessly observing and losing himself in the sights and sounds. These were the hardest nights, when only the tongue-loosening effect of the alcohol could help Gibbs to coax open the shell. He always felt horribly like he was doing something wrong when he finally got Tony to talk on these nights, felt like he shouldn't be privy to some of the things that were revealed.
They never spoke of the worst of these nights in the light of day. Rarely allowed any of the basement conversations to even leave the door at the top of the steps. Gibbs wasn't entirely sure how much of these nights Tony actually remembered but he had seen him drink fellow agents under the table on more than one occasion. He wondered if the 'amnesia' was yet another of Tony's masks – one he would gladly indulge him in if it kept him coming for help.
Tony wasn't sure how long he actually sat there, sipping at his beer and simply listening. He wasn't sure how long it took him to finish the drink in his hands. He sure as Hell wasn't sure when Gibbs had abandoned the boat to sit beside him, sipping the bourbon Tony had brought for him out of the mug he had scrounged from under his boat. He did, however, notice the familiar cologne of coffee and sawdust as it settled next to him, felt the warmth of Gibbs' shoulder as he crammed himself into the space between his agent and the wall.
"It really sucks telling the families. Doesn't it, Boss?" The whisper was so quiet Gibbs had to take a moment to be sure he really heard it. His brow furrowed.
"I mean, you have to act all professional and casual and cold and all that, and you know that they're going to hate you for it. You know that they know the minute you get out of the car. You know that you're going to change their lives forever, maybe do irreparable harm. Tear families apart, change relationships, upset the delicate balance. But you still do it, cuz it's your job, right?"
Gibbs nodded and forced his eyes to search for answers in his coffee mug and not in the pain he heard that would be bared plainly in his friend's eyes. He knew Tony wasn't done yet.
"They do, you know. The families. Hate the officers for it. Well, I mean, I'm sure you know. But you shouldn't hate someone for just doing the job. You shouldn't hate someone just because they are who they are. You shouldn't hate someone because they remind you of someone who's not there anymore. Because maybe they miss them too, you know?"
Gibbs caught the segue the moment they were no longer talking about the guys from CACO, but the path confused him. Why would DiNozzo be talking about himself in reference to the Casualty officers who had informed their victim's family of his death? Gibbs purposely tried to spare all of his agents that task whenever he could help it.
"I didn't understand it. Not at first. My mother dressed me up in sailor suits when I was a little kid and I used to parade around all of their parties like I was a little Officer. No DiNozzo would ever be enlisted, sorry Boss, but the DiNozzo clan came from money and no son of theirs was going to do anything until they graduated college. That's what they thought when I was really little. Apparently thinking doesn't get you everywhere. Not everyone follows the path that is set out for them. I used to love the attention at those parties. 'There's the youngest DiNozzo boy, doesn't he look dashing?' 'He's a spitting image, not hard to see that he's going to go the same route.' It was the only time they noticed me, and even then it was only because of someone else."
"I didn't know you wanted to be a military man." The voice was soft, not meant to interrupt, but meant to stave off the faltering as Tony's voice trailed off.
"It's been a long time since I thought I wanted that. You know where I went to Prep school."
"Yeah, but Rhode Island's a far cry from where you are now."
"Maybe, but it's not important. Not anymore. Too many stories, not enough time, ya know?"
Gibbs simply cocked his head to the side and let Tony take the lead again, waiting in the silence that allowed him to work up the courage once more.
But when the silence continued and Gibbs felt more than heard the man next to him trying to control his breathing he took the time to reflect on the diatribe so far. He had seen photos of Tony's father once or twice, and he couldn't believe that anyone would ever assume that the youngest DiNozzo was a spitting image of the millionaire. Had Tony really looked that different as a boy?
"Your father was never military." The statement came out as more of a question when he sensed the need to coax out more of the story, ignoring the tingling feelings of guilt that began.
Tony snorted. "No, he lucked out in the draft. He never wanted anything to do with the Armed Forces. Couldn't be bothered to help anyone if it wasn't going to be directly responsible for helping himself. I've told you that before."
"Then who did they think you were the spitting image of?"
There was no answer forthcoming and Gibbs wracked his brain for anything and anyone as DiNozzo gulped down some more of his beer.
"Maybe that's why I do what I do – with Kate, with McGee. Even with you. I don't know, maybe I miss the attention?"
Gibbs knew it was rhetorical and meant more to get him back on track than to divulge any big secrets. The two of them had discussed the need to be noticed before.
"When he was around – when I was real little – it didn't matter much. My mother loved the attention just as much and played it up when she could, but it didn't matter then. I don't think I even noticed it until it stopped."
"When who was around, DiNozzo?" Again, the words were as soft as he could manage to eventually steer the conversation in that direction. He gently eased the empty bottle from Tony's hands and after a brief mental war, pressed the half-full coffee cup into his hands instead.
The wry smile was a ghost of the sincere one that accompanied DiNozzo on other ventures to the basement, but it let Gibbs know that his ploy hadn't gone unnoticed. The coffee cup remained though, and after a tentative swallow of the bourbon, Tony continued.
"We were happy once upon a time. I can remember my father teaching me how to ride my bike, reading to me from the Prince and the Pauper," he paused. "I'm pretty sure he always hated that book, but he read it to me anyway. But that all stopped. He tried, I mean he really did. But my father always loved her more. Always put her first and never saw me as more of a means to an end, maybe a last resort."
Gibbs had learned the art of patience with DiNozzo's stories, but he usually had at least an inkling of where they were headed. His dark past, being disowned; these things he knew and had long ago learned to temper the anger that wouldn't help here. But either Tony was far more out of it than Gibbs thought or he was losing his touch.
"Why did it stop, Tony?"
The use of his first name reassured DiNozzo more than anything else could in that moment. A reminder that he was an individual, not just part of a wealthy name.
"It stopped when he was gone."
"Who, Tony? When who was gone?"
DiNozzo looked up then and Gibbs wasn't shocked to see the pain or the tears checked carefully in the corners of his eyes. They wouldn't fall, not for a while yet. But they were there just the same.
"She used to call us her little angels. Vinnie and Tony. It didn't matter that he was a decade older than me, that I was a mistake on a night of passion that ruined the image of parents and their only child and fortunate heir. Not back then. Not until he was gone."
Once again, the older man started as just how little he knew of this family background. "All your records indicate that you were the only child in that image."
DiNozzo shook his head. "They would. Best way to move past something is simply to erase it. But dig a little deeper, Boss, and you'll find that's not the case. Not that it's easy, mind you. My father had some damned good lawyers. Still does."
"You had a brother?"
"Yeah." The way it came out sounded like it had cost DiNozzo something fierce to admit to it.
It didn't take long to put the pieces of Tony's ramblings together – to connect the beginning to the revelation. But by the time he did, the younger agent was already lost in his memories.
"Come on, Tony. Catch up to me! You don't want to be the last one down again, do you?" The four-year old's stubby legs were still working agility and speed into one concept, and his gait still bore hints of the traits of a toddler in his steps.
"Coming!" Tony's tongue graced the side of his lips as he stuck it out in concentration to increase his speed. He was concentrating on his brother who had turned and was jogging backwards, waiting for the boy to catch up. He didn't see the rock sticking out of the grass until he was face first on the ground, spitting out grass and soaking his face with tears even as he tried to stumble back to his feet.
Tony heard the soft laughter out of his teenaged brother as Vinnie returned to him and scooped him up. The tears eased as he rested his blond curls against his brother's neck and surveyed the damage. Eyes grew wide at the red substance on his hands and he shoved them out into Vinnie's line of sight as his lower lip trembled. He could feel the stinging pain on his knees and palms now and began to hiccup as he gauged his brother's reaction to the blood.
"Ah, Squirt. Let's get you home and cleaned up, okay? It's not too bad, don't worry. We'll get Marie to clean you up good as new, how's that?"
Tony could only giggle as tickling fingers ghosted over his sensitive stomach and he was shifted to a comfortable position on Vinnie's hip.
"What about going to the creek?"
"Ah, the creek will still be here next summer, Squirt. Come on."
"But where are you going? Father said that you had to go to college first, and this sure doesn't sound like college to me." Now seven, Anthony DiNozzo was trying hard to understand how his brother was going to go against his father's wishes. No one the small child had met had ever tried that before.
"You're the brains of the family Half-pint, not me. You're the one with the tutors and the extraordinary ranking at school. He knows that I'd never make it in college. It wouldn't be worth his money." At three days shy of eighteen, the voice was hardened into accepting that whatever choice he made would never please his father. Failing out of college or actually making a difference somewhere didn't seem to be too much of a choice for him, and he jumped at the opportunity to enlist and get out from under his father's thumb. He had wanted to be in the Navy since before his brother was born.
"But you're going away?" The high-pitched voice cracked as Tony scurried under the proffered arm and burrowed into his brother's side. "I'm not going to see you anymore?"
"It's no different than college, Runt. I'll still come home on breaks and see you. I still have to take you camping next summer. It's not forever."
Tony looked petulant, a look he knew he could only get away with giving to his brother. "But what if I want to see you sooner than that?"
"It's not perfect Tony. I know that. But even if I weren't doing this," he waved the pamphlets in the second-grader's face, "I still wouldn't be home all the time. You know that."
Tony nodded and sniffled. "When do you go?"
"Well, I still have to finish the rest of the school year and graduate. Then I'll be heading out sometime in the summer. We can still go down to the house at the creek before then. Just you and me, how's that?"
"Really? Just us?" The grin that lit Tony's face made his eyes twinkle and accentuated the round cheeks that were probably his various Aunts' favorite characteristics for him.
"Just us. I promise. We'll take the Mustang out with the top down pick up chicks all the way there."
"Eww, Vinnie! Girls are gross."
"Good morning my little angels. It's time to get up now." The bright and cheery voice of their mother caused identical groans as Tony rolled his head under his pillow and Vinnie rolled onto his stomach and pulled the covers over his ears.
"It's early, Mother. Why?"
"Because, my friends are coming over this afternoon, so you two need to be presentable and have clean rooms and completed homework assignments before they get here. Now, let's get up and get dressed, boys. Let's go."
Vinnie rolled back onto his back and groaned as he threw an arm over his eyes. "It's just not normal. No one should be that happy in the morning."
Tony giggled at his brother's complaints and launched himself down off the bunk bed and onto his brother's mattress.
"And you shouldn't be this hyper in the mornings, either. Don't you want to go back to sleep?"
"Nope, I'm up now. Come on, Vinnie. Get up. Come on! If we hurry, we can catch the cartoons."
"You watch 'em. Tell me what happens." He tried to roll over but found the seven-year old sitting on his legs.
"Vinnie…" he dragged out the name as long as possible.
"Okay, okay. I'm up. I'm up. Get dressed, Half-pint. I'm gonna hit the shower."
Tony's eighth birthday had come and gone with all the regality due an upper-class resident of Long Island. His school friends had been there and his brother had even made it home for a couple hours, down from Groton on a days' leave as a surprise. The boy was still breaking in his new bicycle from his father when the car pulled up. It was a dark sedan, and two men stepped out in uniforms that looked similar to Vinnie's. Forgetting all rules and reminders, Tony ran up to the two men and started peppering them with questions.
"Do you know my brother? He's in the Navy. He's supposed to be coming home next month to take me camping. Do you work on the submarines with him? I want to be a pilot when I grow up. Father says that I have to go to college first 'cuz I'm too smart not to, but I want to be in the Navy just like Vinnie. Do you know what his job is on the submarine? Because he told me, but I forget. I know he listens to things and tells his superiors what's in the water. What are you doing here?"
The eight-year old would never forget the look that both officers graced him with as they finally made it to the front door. It was a look that would take him years to understand – sympathy mixed with regret. All he knew at the time was the men looked at him long enough to quiet him without so much as a word.
Marie opened the door and ushered the officers into the sunroom before shooing him out the door. She asked if the men would like anything in a quiet voice, much quieter than Tony was used to hearing. He hid behind the door as she exited in search of his mother. Something was wrong, he knew that much. His father was away on business, so he had to be the man of the house, but Marie had sent him off, and a good sailor didn't disobey orders. Tony settled for hiding behind the door.
"Ma'am, we are sorry to inform you that yesterday on a training operation, Seaman Recruit Vincent DiNozzo was killed…"
Tony didn't hear the rest as his brother's name and the word 'killed' echoed in his head. He wasn't listening to the explanation of the incident or what was to come next. He didn't care that his mother hated scenes and expected him to behave in such a manner that reflected on his upbringing – whatever that meant. He knew that his brother expected him to protect his mother, and his father wanted him to be the man of the house while he was away. Red-faced and sputtering, little Anthony DiNozzo raced into the room and started yelling while kicking the shins of the nearest officer.
He yelled until he was hoarse and until Marie had scooped him up into her arms and let him bury his face in her neck. He yelled until he saw his mother breaking down in her seat and wormed his way out of the maid's embrace to climb onto the couch. He was still yelling as the tears dripped down his face and he tried to climb into his mother's lap. He didn't stop yelling until she shoved him away, complete in his neatly pressed sailor suit. As he sat and stared in shock at the woman who was supposed to comfort him, he didn't, couldn't, realize that his whole life was going to change. He just knew his brother wasn't taking him camping next month.
Tony didn't know when the mug had been removed from his hands and the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He didn't know what he had said and what he had remembered silently. He knew that Gibbs was still sitting next to him, providing as much silent strength as he could by simply being there with his arm around Tony's shaking shoulders. The tears made his face hot and sticky, and his hands shook as he tried to bring his breathing back under control.
"I had never hated anyone in my entire life before that point. Not even Billy McKenna when he stole my backpack on my first day of kindergarten and told me I was rich enough to buy a new one. But I hated those men more than I've hated anyone or anything since. Even some of the guys we've put away. And I know I shouldn't."
Tony paused as if clamping down on the memories once more.
"Everything changed after that. I think the last time my mother was ever happy was that morning before they came."
Gibbs knew that words here would just trivialize the situation. Empathy was radiating from him and he knew, he knew that Tony understood that he got it.
"It was twenty-four years ago today." The reason behind the visit finally came crashing down as circumstances had aligned just right to bring Tony to this point. Timing really sucked if you thought about it.
"Aw Hell, DiNozzo."
Just for the record, this wasn't even supposed to be a story. I was starting a different story that's more case-based and got stuck because - well - I don't really do cases. And I started doing a character profile for Tony's past since he's a character I'd like to explore in future stories to try and get past the writer's block that had me stuck trying to figure out how to connect the DEA to NCIS. I started coming up with more and more scenes until 101 pages later I have a 10-chapter story for you. And the other story? Still not even close to getting it out of my head. So other than about half of chapter 8 being nothing more than notes, this story is complete and will be posted fairly regularly.
Fair warning, it's going to get much worse for little Anthony DiNozzo before we're through and will bring us from his 4-year old self at the beginning of this flashback to when he sets foot in RI for the first time. Plus lots of father/son interactions with Gibbs and DiNozzo.
Please let me know what you think. I'd especially like to know what you see from the show in what I write and vice versa - I found myself rereading this to proof it and having to attack my DVD's to remember where I'd seen a certain part in the show so I'd like to see if anyone else saw it - more later in the story than in this chapter though.