All constructive feedback is welcome. Please feel free to comment if there is anything you think is out of character or not as well expressed as it might be. I don't promise to change it, but I might! And it will all make the story, and my next story, better. Thanks to Zan who took time out from her own writing to provide very insightful feedback which greatly improved the story.
It was early afternoon, and Gibbs was the only one in the bullpen when the call came in. Ziva and Tony were out interviewing a witness and McGee was down in the lab with Abby. When Gibbs heard who was asking for him he hesitated, but his curiosity got the better of him and for some reason his gut told him to go ahead.
After clearing the man through security, Gibbs showed him to the interview room. He made sure that the observation room was unmanned and the door locked. Whatever this was about, he did not want the conversation recorded or overheard.
He stared at the man opposite him. In his mid 60s, he was still a handsome man, impeccably dressed with his suit sitting perfectly across his broad shoulders. His nails, Gibbs noticed, were trimmed and clean. An expensive silver watch adorned one wrist, and he wore a heavy gold signet ring on his little finger. Gibbs noted that, although he exuded authority and confidence, one well-manicured finger drummed continuously on the table.
For a while he said nothing.
So Gibbs sat opposite Dominic DiNozzo, watching and waiting. The family resemblance to Tony was particularly noticeable in the man's thick wavy hair and tall solid build, but instead of Tony's clear green eyes, his father's were blue and bloodshot.
"Thank you for seeing me Agent Gibbs," Dominic said, his voice deeper than his son's and more gravelly, but with the same New England accent.
Gibbs just nodded.
"I am sure it's a line from a movie, but I suppose you are wondering why I am here." Despite the levity of the words, he did not smile.
Motionless, unblinking, Gibbs waited.
Dominic DiNozzo paused, and his finger stopped tapping. Leaning forward, he rested his hands flat on the table.
"I want to talk to my son, and I want you to convince him to listen to me."
Within half an hour, Gibbs had agreed to do just that.
When Gibbs walked out to the bullpen he could hear Tony complaining good naturedly about a particularly spectacular piece of Ziva's driving, which he referred to as being like riding "Satan's rollercoaster of death".
Gibbs suppressed a smile and paused in the hallway, listening to his senior agent tease and goad Ziva until she finally snapped back, which is what he had always intended. He drew a deep breath, and prepared himself for the conversation to come.
"DiNozzo," he barked, stepping towards him and crooking his fingers.
Tony started in surprise, but quickly dropped his bag and bounced enthusiastically over to Gibbs. "Yeah, Boss?" he asked.
Gibbs knew that there was nothing that Tony liked better than to be singled out, to be chosen by the team leader, and he felt a bitter twist in his gut knowing that this time his senior agent was not going to like the reason why.
"David, McGee, I want your reports on my desk in an hour. DiNozzo, you're with me." The direction to the others was clear. Stay away.
Taking Tony's arm, Gibbs led him down the corridor towards the interview room.
"Tony," he said softly, "your father is here."
Tony's jaw dropped and Gibbs stepped in closer to him, keeping his grip on his arm, as if he feared he would turn and run. Tony's lips moved soundlessly for a moment before he articulated, "Why?"
"He wants to talk to you."
Tony spluttered and shook his head. "Well, I mean... about what, ... I don't..."
"Tony," Gibbs said softly. "Just take a breath for a second". Gibbs could feel the tension in Tony's arm, and see it in the corded muscles in his jaw and neck. But despite his anxiety, Tony instinctively obeyed Gibbs and drew a slow breath. And then another.
Finally his face relaxed, and he looked at Gibbs more calmly.
"Did he say what he wants?" he asked.
"Yes. He wants to talk to you." Gibbs paused. "And I think you should let him."
"I don't want to," Tony responded immediately. And I can't, he thought. I can't, I just can't. "I don't want to," he repeated, the words sounding to him juvenile and ridiculous, to Gibbs they just sounded desperate and afraid.
"Tony," Gibbs said quietly. "I think you should listen to him."
Tony's head snapped around and he stared at Gibbs, their faces inches apart. Gibbs saw pain in the younger man's eyes, and anger.
Gibbs removed his hand from Tony's arm and rested it instead on his shoulder, keeping their bodies close. "Just listen for a minute," he said softly. "Just listen to me." He could fell the rise and fall of Tony's breath beneath his hand. "I know what he did to you. You've told me some of it, and I've worked out the rest. But I've just spent half an hour with him, and I think you should listen to what he has to say."
Tony's brows came down as he stared at Gibbs. He licked his lips nervously. "Why?" he whispered.
Gibbs swallowed and shook his head. "I can't tell you that." Tony dropped his head, but Gibbs pressed on. "But, Tony," he stressed, "I won't let him hurt you. I would never tell you to go in there if I thought he would hurt you. I'll be with you. If you decide you want to leave, or if he goes off what he told me, then I'll stop him and you can leave." He fixed his gaze on the younger man. "I won't let him hurt you, Tony." Then he paused before playing his last card. He knew it was a cheap shot, his most manipulative move, but he was willing to play it. "Do you trust me, Tony?" he asked.
Tony exhaled noisily and turned his face away, closing his eyes. He knew he was being manipulated. He knew Gibbs was playing him. And now he was being pulled between his desire to please Gibbs and his need, his overwhelming instinctive need, to get away from his father. Gibbs hoped that he had given the young man enough reason to trust him. And he hoped to god that he wasn't making a mistake.
Finally Tony turned his face back and Gibbs was struck by his expression – resigned, accepting, and closed. He would do what Gibbs asked. He expected that it would cost him, and he was preparing to pay that cost.
"Trust me, Tony," Gibbs reassured, "it will be okay." Let it be okay, Gibbs thought. Please let it be okay.
Moving away, he opened the door of the interview room. Dominic DiNozzo was still seated at the table, his hands resting on his thighs. Gibbs entered the room and took the chair from the other side of the desk. He placed it near the wall to the left of the door, closer to the dark mirrored window that lead to the observation room.
Turning, he reached out his hand, and gently ushered Tony into the room.
As Gibbs expected, Tony stepped to his left and stood near the chair. Sliding it around, he placed it in front of him, between himself and his father. He gripped the back of the chair tightly.
Gibbs stepped into the room, and the noise of the door closing behind him seemed unnaturally loud.
Dominic DiNozzo had stood as Tony entered the room, and remained standing, simply looking at him.
"Anthony," he said softly.
Tony looked away, his face blank.
Gibbs took up position leaning against the closed door.
Dominic sat down. He cleared his throat.
"I've already told Agent Gibbs why I am here, and he agreed to let me talk to you."
Tony was looking to his left, at a point some feet from his father. He did not respond.
Dominic drew a slow breath. "Anthony, there are some things I need to say. Whether it's because I need to say them, or because I need you to hear them, I don't know. But I am going to say them anyway."
Resting his hands on the table, he interlaced his fingers and leaned slightly forward. "I am an alcoholic Anthony. I have been for nearly 40 years." He paused, but there was no reaction from his son.
"But I have been sober now for over two years."
At that Tony blinked, and his father paused again. His eyes flicked to Gibbs, who gave an almost imperceptible nod.
Dominic drew a breath before continuing. "I've been sober for two years," he repeated, "and I intend staying that way. In that time, I've done a lot of thinking. Do you know the worst part about being sober, Anthony?" His eyes flicked away from the younger man, into the darkness of the mirror hanging on the wall behind him. "It's that the things you want to remember, you've forgotten. And the things you'd rather forget, you remember. Sometimes very clearly. I remember..." He stopped, swallowed and looked down at his hands. "In the last few months I've been remembering a lot of things, and I've been trying to find a way to make sense of them, trying to find a way to live with them."
Tony's eyes flicked back towards his father, to Gibbs, and then back away. Gibbs could see the muscles in his jaw clenching and unclenching, and his knuckles whitening on the back of the chair.
"Anthony, I've come to tell you some things that you already know." His father raised his head and looked directly at him, steady and unblinking. "I was a shit of a father. At best, I neglected you. At worst, I abused and injured you. I was bad before your mother died, and I was worse after. I should have been arrested for what I did to you. Instead, I paid off or frightened away anyone who tried to stop me or help you." Despite the steadiness of his voice, Gibbs could see the tension in his shoulders and in his ramrod posture in the chair. He was confessing to something that shamed and appalled him, and had no expectation of being forgiven.
Tony kept his head turned away, but his hands shook slightly on the chair back, and his eyes flickered, as if he was looking for something that wasn't there.
Relentlessly, needing to finish what he had started, Dominic continued. "The worst memories for me are not what I did, but what I said. I said such terrible things to you. I called you a coward and a sissy. I told you that you were worthless. I told you I was ashamed of you. I told you not to cry, and when you tried not to, I hit you even harder to try and break you."
Gibbs swallowed. He had known what the elder DiNozzo was going to say, that he would be hearing a perpetrator confess his crimes to his victim, but now the words were being addressed to Tony, and the victim of the crimes was his agent, his friend. Gibbs felt a hand close around his throat, and it was all he could do not to go to Tony to comfort him, to support him, to protect him, to do something. But he remained still.
As he looked between them, both father and son closed their eyes and dropped their heads.
When he raised his head, Dominic DiNozzo continued. "And every word I said to you was a lie. You know that, don't you? You were such a tough, brave kid. I should have been proud of you, I should've. The things I said to you, they were just another way of hurting you. They were lies, and they were awful."
Now Dominic was leaning almost out of his seat, his hands extended on the table towards his son. "And it wasn't your fault what I did, Anthony, it was never your fault, no matter what I said. It was my fault, because there was something wrong with me, something that... " His voice cracked on the last words, and he stopped, and he raised a hand to cover his face.
He drew a deep, rattling breath. Wiping his hand over his face, he looked again at his son, and when he spoke again, his voice was steady.
"I can't fix what I did. I wish I could. I wish I could go back and have one day, just one day, when I could be a decent father to you. But I can't. Whatever pain I've caused you, whatever harm I've done, I can't undo it. I can only say I'm sorry. I don't ask you to forgive me, because I don't deserve it. But I wanted you to hear me say that I know what I did, and I know how wrong it was. It wasn't your fault. And I'm sorry."
There was silence. Tony was completely motionless, his eyes seemingly fixed on the far corner of the room, open and still. His mouth was pressed tightly closed, and the only movement was a muscle in his jaw twitching slightly. It was so unnatural, Gibbs thought, this stillness, so forced and strained, that it was like a scream.
Dominic DiNozzo drew a breath. His game face was back on, the face that Gibbs had seen when he first sat opposite him. And it was the same calm, closed, deflecting face that he often saw on his senior agent.
Slowly he stood. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket. "I am going to be in DC for a week or so on business. I'm staying at the Hay-Adams." Where else? Gibbs thought irrelevantly. "And this," Dominic held up a business card, "is a cell phone number. I only use it for outgoing calls and the number is always blocked, so no-one else has it. Just you." He placed it carefully in the centre of the table, and slid it towards Tony. "If you have anything you want to say to me, hell if you just want to come over and hit me, you call that number. And I'll answer."
He waited, but Tony did not speak or turn his head. Dominic turned to look at Gibbs, who straightened up from where he was leaning against the door and stepped away to open it.
Dominic moved from behind the table, but in the doorway he paused, and looked at his son. Their two faces were reflected side by side in the mirror and as his father looked at him, Tony turned his head and returned his gaze, but did not speak. Dominic DiNozzo left the room.
Gibbs followed him, and took a few steps down the hallway to stop a passing agent. "Can you see him out?" he asked quietly, gesturing to the elder DiNozzo.
The agent nodded and as he passed him Dominic DiNozzo extended his hand. "Thank you, Agent Gibbs." Gibbs took it, and DiNozzo continued. "I just hope..." but whatever he hoped, he could not say it, and he dropped Gibbs' hand and walked away.
Gibbs paused for a few moments before re-entering the room. As he did so, he saw Tony release the chair and step back. Eyes closed, he slid slowly down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, his arms resting on his bent knees, his head bowed between them.
"Tony?" Gibbs asked quietly. He squatted down beside him and heard his knees creak and pop. "Tony?"
Tony slowly lifted his head and tipped it back until it thudded against the wall, but he kept his eyes closed. His face was blank and expressionless. "Tony? Are you okay?" Gibbs asked, becoming anxious. Maybe he had miscalculated, maybe he should never have let his father anywhere near Tony.
Tony's only response was a slight twitch that might have been an attempt to shrug his shoulders. Gibbs knees started to ache, but he did not want to stand or move away. So instead he sat on the floor beside and in front of his agent, mirroring his posture.
"Tony?" he pressed quietly, leaning forwards.
Tony sighed heavily. "Jesus, Boss, what do you want me to say?"
"Nothing if you don't want to," Gibbs said softly. "But I'm not leaving you alone unless I know you are okay."
"I'm okay," Tony protested. "I just need..." he hesitated. "I just need some time, you know, to think."
Gibbs nodded. He put his hand gently on Tony's forearm and squeezed. Finally Tony lowered his face and opened his eyes. Gibbs did not know if he had been expecting tears, but Tony's eyes were dry. Dry, Gibbs thought, and hollow. As he watched, Tony blinked slowly once, and when he opened his eyes any emotion was gone and the shutters were down.
"I'm fine, Boss," he insisted calmly.
Gibbs had his doubts. "Do you want to talk to Ducky?" he offered. He knew Tony had consulted the ME about personal problems in the past, and hoped he could offer more help to the young man than Gibbs felt he could at that moment.
Tony shook his head. "I think I just want to... think," he answered slowly. He paused. "I might get some fresh air, if that's okay."
A knot of anxiety twisted in Gibbs' gut and he frowned.
Tony gave a slight, tight smile. "Boss, I just want to sit in the park for a few minutes. I'll come back."
"You'd better," Gibbs retorted automatically, then he relented and nodded. "Okay, Tony, take your time."
Tony's eyes were distant, and he still wasn't moving. Gibbs did not know whether to stay or leave. He felt responsible. Hell, he was responsible. Then he became conscious of Tony's leg touching his, resting against him. So he remained sitting, allowing the contact to continue, not speaking.
Finally Tony cleared his throat and shuffled a little. Extending his legs, he moved to stand. Gibbs followed suit. A little self consciously, they each ran their hands over their clothes, straightening and dusting themselves down.
Tony drew a deep breath. Gibbs looked at him. His brow was still furrowed, and his eyes were downcast, but Gibbs knew that he couldn't ask again.
He turned and opened the door. "Take as long as you want, Tony. I'll call you on your cell if I need you."
Tony nodded, and Gibbs watched his retreating back as he walked down the corridor.
He returned to his desk, ignoring the inquiring glances from Ziva and McGee. Their reports, as he had asked, were waiting for him. He read them, but the facts did not register. It was a good thing that the reports were just "wrap ups", final statements needed to close out a file. They could wait till he was more focussed, when he had stopped replaying that conversation in his mind, when he wasn't looking at the lift every time it arrived.
About an hour later Tony returned, bearing coffees for the team. He did not comment as he delivered them, and McGee and Ziva got the hint and just said "thanks" and smiled. Gibbs looked at him a moment longer than usual, but Tony seemed, if not his usual self, at least reasonably composed. As Gibbs watched, Tony sat at his desk, pulled out his notebook and quickly began typing his report.
It had been a quiet day case-wise, and at about 6.00pm Gibbs was happy to tell McGee and Ziva to leave. Tony kept typing, but it wasn't long before he stood to hand his report to Gibbs.
Gibbs put the report in his in-tray without reading it. "You gonna be okay tonight, DiNozzo?" he asked quietly.
Tony was silent, so Gibbs looked up at him. After a moment, Tony gave a noncommittal shrug and went back to sit at his own desk. Gibbs immediately wheeled his own chair across the floor to sit opposite him.
Tony sat silently for a moment, looking out through the window. Then he looked back at his boss. "I was sitting in the park for an hour, trying to work out what I was feeling, but I have no idea."
Gibbs wasn't even going to try to guess what Tony was feeling. Instead, he tried to reassure him. "Your father had a couple of years to work out what he was going to say. It'll take you longer than an hour to work out what it means."
Tony sighed heavily. "I know, but part of me wishes I didn't have to. Until this morning, I had it all sorted, you know? I knew what it meant, the stuff with my father. I understood it. It was dealt with. It was over," his voice was becoming harsh, almost angry, "but now everything is different." The rage dropped from his voice, and his shoulders slumped. "And now I have to work it out again."
Gibbs was silent. He was responsible for this. He had told Tony to listen to his father. He had to say something, but he couldn't get away with a glib response, or one if his famous "rules". He was no good at these conversations, or so most of his ex-wives had told him. He hadn't really cared that he was no good at them before, but he did now.
Fortunately, saying nothing proved to be the right answer after all, as Tony continued.
"I feel ... confused. Really confused. And kinda dizzy." Tony finally looked at Gibbs. "Like the world has tilted."
Gibbs swallowed. He knew that feeling. The moment when life pulled the rug out from under you, and all the pain you thought you had buried rose up and grabbed you by the throat.
"Things have changed," he said softly. "You need time to sort them out and get your balance back."
Tony nodded slowly. "Yeah." He sighed. "I think I need to not talk about it for a while."
Gibbs paused. That was his way of dealing with things, but was it really the best way? Had it worked for him, he thought ruefully, with his obsessive boat building and his failed relationships? If there was a "don't talk about it" school of therapy, he was hardly its success story.
He swallowed, and gave advice he knew he would never had the good sense to take himself. "Maybe you should talk to someone about it," he said quietly. "Not right now, but maybe later in the week, or on the weekend, when you've thought about it a bit."
Tony looked at him, questioning. He seemed as surprised as Gibbs by the suggestion. "Really?"
"Yeah Tony, really. Like I said, you could talk to Ducky." And then come over to my place, Gibbs thought, come over and sit on the steps of my basement, watch me work on the boat, eat pizza and talk to me.
Tony nodded. "Maybe." He stood slowly, and Gibbs stood with him. "But right now I'm okay. Really I am, Boss."
Christ, Gibbs thought, now he's reassuring me. How did that happen?
"And you were right," Tony continued, "You were right to tell me to listen to him. I don't know what it all means yet, but if I hadn't listened, I would always have wondered what he was going to say. But now I know the truth. That's got to be better, right?"
Gibbs looked at him. You had to give him that, he thought, Tony never hid from the truth. It was a lesson he had been taught when he was young, taught by alcoholic parents, by abuse, neglect and failure of the part of anyone who could have helped him. And having learned as a child that what could not be changed had to be faced, no matter how hard or painful, as a man he could look at the truth without blinking. Gibbs realised that Tony was right, and he would be okay.
"'Night Boss." Tony said, turning to leave.
"Wait, Tony," Gibbs said, grabbing his own bag from his desk. "I'm heading home too. I'll walk you to your car."
They got in the lift together, and rode down to the car park in silence. When the doors opened and they turned to go to their respective cars, Gibbs gave Tony a gentle pat on the back.
"See you tomorrow, DiNozzo."
"Yeah Boss, see you tomorrow."