That's odd. I'm walking. I thought I was skating.
Where are my skates?
Why are my feet bare?
Hey, they look kind of good against the snow. All brown and tanned. I always thought they were all knobbly and pale. Not my best feature.
When did I get my feet all tanned?
Why aren't they cold?
The snow doesn't crunch when I step on it. It sort of…chimes…like hundreds of tiny little bells.
Why does the snow chime instead of crunch?
Where am I?
Where am I going?
Tony stopped walking and looked around. He seemed to be beneath the cherry trees in West Potomac Park. They were in riotous, flossy blossom, although snow was on the ground. When they'd left for Maryland earlier there hadn't been snow in DC. Tony puzzled about that for a moment, then decided there was no point. There were more important questions to answer.
"You know there are, Tony."
Tim McGee lounged casually on the steps of the W.W.2 memorial, by the fountains, whose plumes were frozen in the air. Tony decided that since he wasn't asking about the blossoms, he wouldn't ask about the fountains either. Tim wore a thick white sweater, and white trousers, and blended into the background so well that Tony didn't notice him until he spoke, and then he wondered how he'd missed him.
"Because you've only just put me here," Tim answered him reasonably. "There's not much time, Tony. You'd better ask the question."
Tony sat down on the steps near his friend. "O-Kay…."
"Just say it, DiNozzo."
"I don't know if I should see him at all," he said anxiously. He looked Tim in the eyes, pleading for help. "Should I see him?"
"Don't think right now about what happens if you do. What happens if you don't?"
"Either he leaves me alone for another twenty years, which would be nice, or he keeps on trying."
"Would it be nice? Or would you be driven nuts by wondering what would have happened? Wondering what your father wanted?"
"My father… yeah…"
"Go on, ask the other question."
"It's harder, McMagus."
"Oh, you remember that one."
"Course I do. I invented it."
Tim sighed. "The question, DiNotconcentrating." Tony's eyes widened in surprise, then he chuckled. Tim shook his head. "The question."
"It's a bad one."
"I know," Tim said quietly. Tony took a deep breath.
"I remember what he did. I sometimes tease myself with the idea of killing him. What if I do?"
"Have you ever killed anyone in cold blood?"
"Have you ever wanted to?"
"No. Unless you count Saleem."
"That was different. We went there to kill him."
Tony nodded. "That's true. But apart from that… it's one thing to want someone dead so they can't hurt anyone else…"
"And another to set ourselves up as judge and executioner," Tim finished.
"We kinda did with Saleem…it's different when it's one of our own…" Tony said dubiously.
"Which he isn't," Tim told him calmly. "And you're not him. You know without me telling you, that you won't do something just because he did it." His friend nodded slowly, finally convinced. "Why don't you walk some more?" Tim asked. "The park's lovely at this time of year."
Tony nodded again. "Good idea. So long, pal." He turned towards the long Reflecting Pool that ran up towards the Lincoln Memorial. It wasn't frozen, but it mirrored nothing but the white, snow-threatening sky. When he glanced over his shoulder, McGee was gone.
As they carried the SFA's unresponsive form back to the lakeside, Sarah McGee came flying up from the other end of the lake. She side edged her blades, and stopped with a little flurry of ice. "I chased them," she said, looking angrily at the unconscious man. "Four of them went off in a GMC, I got the number. They'll say it was an accident, and I dare say it was, but it doesn't excuse thoughtlessness. Or chickening out."
"Nice work, Sarah," Gibbs said. "Do you know if one of them was the guy who hit DiNozzo?"
"I can't swear to it, but he was the one I tried to follow. I think I got the right one."
Gibbs nodded his approval, and turned his attention back to his second in command.
Tony walked in silence beside the pool. He had no idea how far he'd travelled or how long it took him, until a shadow on the snow made him look up, to find the great monument looming over him.
"I don't think you'll find the answer there, dear boy, at least not yet." Tony swung round to see where Ducky's cheerful voice was coming from. He hunkered down beside the pool, to see the old ME's smiling face reflected where he would have thought to see his own. Another thing he wasn't going to ask about.
"Hey, Ducky! Er… am I supposed to ask you a question too?"
"Of course, Anthony. I venture to think that I know what that question is, too. Since I'm well known for my – ah – capacity for talking… I imagine you have some concerns about your father in that direction."
"The problem is… since I don't actually want to see him –"
"I thought young Timothy had resolved all that for you, my boy."
"Oh, he has. But if I've got to see him, then I've got to speak to him, and I've no idea what to say. Every time I try to visualise it, to imagine what I'd say…" Tony swallowed hard at the recollection, "My throat just locks up and I can't even swallow, let alone speak."
"You regard that as a sign of weakness?" the ME asked gently.
"No… yes… er, I feel like a kid again, Ducky. I remember how he used to make me feel."
"Well, my boy, I'm sure that's understandable, but you surely can't think that you're still that defenceless child. You are," the smiling reflection in the water paused for effect, "Senior Field Agent DiNozzo of the renowned Major Crimes Response Team of NCIS. You were personally recruited by Leroy Jethro Gibbs himself. He didn't choose a second in command who would freeze in a crisis, and to my knowledge and belief you have never done so." Tony opened his mouth to reply, but the face in the water didn't allow him the chance.
"Nor would Gibbs keep an agent on the team who could not control his tongue. Timothy reassured you that you would not try to harm your father. I am telling you that you will listen, and be civil, and courageous, and not descend into recriminations, or histrionics, even if he does. This is the man who used to beat a little boy that he should have loved. Before you meet him, take a look in a mirror. You are nothing like him."
As he spoke, Ducky disappeared for a moment, and Tony saw his own reflection, standing, not squatting down as he was. The reflection suddenly shot across the pool, until it stretched all the way across, and he could no longer see the whole of it. He let out a shout of rather wild laughter, as Ducky's reflection reappeared.
"Ducky… you're in my head, right? You're my thoughts."
"Very perceptive, dear boy."
"Well, wasn't that a bit of an ego trip?"
"Ah, call it an ego boost, Anthony. They're not quite the same thing, you know. You're not without ego… it's understandable, after all. If someone tells you constantly that you're worthless, you then have to counter it by telling yourself that you're a hell of a fellow. And so you are, my dear friend, but you do know when to stop. Oh, and one more thing. Trust Gibbs." The reflection wavered, and vanished.
Director Vance's big utility vehicle came bucketing across the snowy field and fishtailed to a halt nearby. As the family piled out, carrying blankets and coats, Leon was already speaking.
"Lily told me some big kids took over the lake and made it impossible for anyone else to skate. She got knocked over and she's covered in bruises. Then Jared comes dashing up and tells me they've hurt DiNozzo. What's happened to him?"
As McGee explained, Jackie Vance produced a blanket with a waterproof backing, so they had somewhere to lay the patient where he, or more particularly according to Gibbs, his precious sweater, would not get wet from the snow. She covered him with another one, as Ducky and Vance began to discuss putting Tony in the back of the utility and taking him to hospital. Gibbs' attention had never left his agent, and watching his face closely, he suggested they should wait.
"Yeah… Wait…" Tony muttered thickly.
Trust Gibbs. OK, I do trust him.
I suppose he's round here somewhere, then.
He waited, looking round.
Ducky said 'Not yet.' He was talking about the memorial, right?
"Right," a familiar voice said, as Tony turned towards the monument. Gibbs was at the top of the steps, leaning against a pillar.
He began to saunter down, as Tony called up to him, "Hey, good view from up there, Boss?" He had on the old t-shirt and tatty slacks he usually wore to work on his boat, but the drink in his hand was a large Starbucks coffee, not bourbon. They met at the foot of the steps.
"Oh, very good," Gibbs said. He reached out a hand to touch Tony's right temple. "Got yourself a helluva bruise there, DiNozzo."
"I have?" Tony put his hand up gingerly. "Shit, I have."
"There's not much time," Gibbs said. "You know how they fuss."
"It's the hardest question to ask."
"Are you that worried about the answer?"
"Well, see, Boss, I think I already know, but what if I'm wrong?"
It wasn't snowing, but a breeze that hadn't been there before was blowing flurries of snow about. Tony shivered. Gibbs put one finger under his chin and made him meet his eyes.
"Tony, have I ever lied to you? When it mattered? And I don't want to hear the word Domino."
"No, Boss, you haven't. But I've never asked –"
"What if he says he's sorry? That he wants to make it up to me? That he wants to be family?"
The wise blue eyes didn't flicker. "Well, now, you tell him that you've got a family." Tony smiled softly, and thought that was it.
I can't move.
Look at him, you damn fool.
"Tell him you've got a dad."
Got a dad… you've got a dad…
The eddies of snow blowing all around couldn't chill the warmth that flooded through him, and the brilliant smile that lit his face bridged the gap between the subconscious and conscious worlds. He could feel a hand on his shoulder, and knew it was Gibbs, and he felt contented.
He heard Ducky talking about hospital… no, that wouldn't do. He wanted to talk to Gibbs. He trusted him… he heard the Boss say 'wait', and he agreed.
Nikki, (who astonishingly didn't seem to mind picking up fallen pieces of tree,) Abby and Jimmy built a campfire. Abby lit it, nobody knew how and she wouldn't say... Tim, Sarah and the Vance children went up to the refreshments tents and came back with burgers and chicken wings, mince pies and mulled wine. Jackie produced a huge vacuum flask of coffee, and a tin of shortcake biscuits. The moon was dropping in the sky, and the light was no longer good enough for skating, so they stuck a flaring torch in the snow, and sat round their fire, eating, drinking and laughing.
Ziva kept looking across at Tony and Gibbs, who sat apart on the tail-gate of the car, deep in conversation. She wanted to go and pull them both into the friendly circle, but Tim softly told her to give them a while longer.
"So are you still going to be worrying about it over the holiday?" Gibbs was asking.
"No, Boss. I'm not worried about how to handle him, or me…"
"And you're not worried about me and his lawyers?"
Tony shifted the coolpack that he was holding against his temple, and grinned. "You promise you won't go all Poppa Bear on me?"
"Hell, no, DiNozzo, I don't promise that, but I won't eat your father or his cronies." He paused. "Look, Tony," he said more earnestly, "You do know that you don't have to face this alone? I don't have to say that? You know we're here for you? You know I'm here for you." He mentally added 'son'.
The younger man smiled. "Yes, Boss," he said truthfully. "I know it." He mentally added 'dad'.
"So, ya coming to get something to eat? Got your legs back, or are you going to keel over?"
"I'm good, I'm good."
Gibbs found a spot beside Abby and the Vance children. Tim and Ziva scooted over to make room on their blanket, and Tony dropped down in between them. Ziva moved his hair and looked closely at the abrasion on his temple; she shook her head, but made no comment. Tim said thoughtfully, "You seem better. I guess you've told him, then."
Tony grinned and nodded. "It was fine in the end."
"What changed it then?"
Tony's grin grew even broader. "Well, it's a long story, and I don't know if you'll even believe me…. But I had an encounter with three wise men!"
AN: The original idea came from VanishingP2000, who said she'd used a prompt of three random words, given to her by her daughter. Diana Teo gave me 'mulled wine' 'skating' and 'supernatural'. Well, I chickened out of the supernatural bit, so Diana, I hope you'll settle for 'dream sequence' instead. Thanks to everyone who's said nice things!