He realised he had know her the second he saw her. He couldn't place her though until he heard her name: Mrs Bea Burley. She was a tiny woman, less than 5ft tall and maybe 80 years old. She was dressed in that way that people of her generation and class always seemed to be; like they were perpetually wearing in their Sunday best.
She was a little stooped making her seem even smaller. Her white hair had been perfectly set; he remembered it when it had still been golden brown though with the first sprinklings of grey. She seemed so very old compared to that distant memory. Her eyes though, they were still as kind and warm as ever. The day's events had obviously taken their toll though.
She had witnessed a murder take place and had seen the killers face. They were still at the crime scene and he was supposed to be taking photos while McGee interviewed her.
"McGee!" he called, "Let me do the interview."
"What? Why?" McGee asked suspiciously, trying to figure out what kind of prank this could possibly be leading to.
"Because I know her."
"Really?" McGee asked his voice filled with mistrust and doubt still. "How could you possible her, she must be in her eighties."
"She was my teacher, in oh when was it? Third or fourth grade maybe? And why am I not allowed to know eighty year olds?"
"You know what if she remembers you, fine. But if you're lying to me..."
"Lying? Why on earth would I lie to you about this?" he asked innocently, this did not help his case.
"Why do you lie about anything?"
"Fair enough, but just because she doesn't remember me does not prove anything, this was a long time ago and she must have had thousands of kids go through her class. You can't expect her to remember all of them."
He needed have worried, the second he introduced himself she knew who he was.
"Hi I'm Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo and this is..."
"Tony! Is that you!" she laughed. "Oh I s'pose you don't remember an old girl like me but I..."
"Were my third grade teacher! Of course I remember you." Tony interrupted beaming.
"Well, look at you all grown up! I'm so glad you've done so well for yourself. Well I certainly feel a lot better than I did. Seeing that man... well..." she looked much more shaken again as she thought back to the events she had witness causing her to shiver. Tony immediately whipped off his jacket and placed it over the woman's shoulders.
"How 'bout I take you back to the office, you'll feel much better there." Tony said warmly.
"Still such a lovely boy, why thank you, it would be good to get away from here."
McGee just stood bemused watching the two interact. Well, looks like Tony wasn't pulling his leg for once.
When they got back to the NCIS building, Tony found himself in an interview room with Mrs Burley as none of the less formal conference rooms were available and it was too noisy for her Hearing Aids in the office she told Tony after a few minutes of confusion and repetition.
Tony made it clear she was not a suspect and that she should not feel intimidated. She simply laughed and said if she was easily intimidated she would have lasted 5 minutes with some of the hellion masquerading as third graders.
Both Ziva and McGee had snuck in to watch the interview through sheer curiosity, well, that and the possibility of dirt on Tony. They were both way to excited at the prospect. They were not expecting what they were to hear at all. They both felt very guilty at the intrusion afterwards.
It was not until after Tony had wrapped up the official part of the interview that things got 'interesting'. It happened just as Tony got up to leave in fact.
"Well thanks for everything, you did great. We'll have the guy caught in no time. So I'm gonna have you talk to a sketch artist to get a good picture of the guy, okay?"
"I'm so sorry." She blurted suddenly as he made it to the door.
"What do you mean? Sorry about what? Honestly, you did great, one of the best eye witnesses I've had in a while actually." He said sitting back down as he presumed she had more to add.
She tilted her head making eye contact and gentle grasping his hand.
"You know what I'm talking about. Back when you were a little boy."
"When I was a kid? What do you mean? You were a great teacher. We all loved you..." Tony said looking a little confused but smiled brightly anyway. She saw through it, just like she always had.
"Oh honey," she shook her head sadly, "I'm sorry because... because I knew."
"Well, apparently you're the only one because I honestly have no idea what you're talking about." He joked but not unkindly. "Mind you I was only eight at the time, what did you do? Give me a bad report? Kill the class pet?"
"Ha, there's the Tony I remember, never could stop joking around," she said fondly, "And no; my conscience is clean on the class pet front by the way."
They both laughed. Then her face fell again, mirth forgotten as the guilt sunk its teeth in once again. Her eyes were suddenly watering and she felt her lip quiver uncontrollably. She pulled a handkerchief out her bag looking embarrassed.
"Oh look at me! You must think I'm some nutty old bat."
"Not at all." Tony said comfortingly squeezing her hand. She squeezed his back with surprising intensity and leaned in closer to him.
"Oh Tony, you're such a lovely boy... I just don't think I can apologise enough. I knew what was going on and I did nothing. I just... when I spoke to him he was so charming I didn't want to believe it."
Tony involuntarily flinched back, a haunted look flashed over his face before he could stop it. He knew what she was talking all along about but something in her voice had hit him harder than he expected, and with it a came memory, a bad one. He heard her let out a tiny sob at his reaction. He wanted to reassure her but he couldn't look her in the eye anymore so instead he stared at the table; looking intently at in her hands in his. He could feel the soft tremors that ran through them. They looked so small next to his, so frail, her joints swollen with age but still nimble when the occasion demanded it. Her skin soft was as silk and seemed just as delicate.
"You don't have to apologise I was fine, I am fine." He said finally looking her in the face again, mask on, wide smile resurrected.
"Well we both know I have plenty to be sorry about. I could have done something, I should have done something."
"Everything was fine, honestly. I don't know what you think was happening but you're wrong." He said, smile rigid on his face still.
"I knew the signs," she said as though he hadn't said a word, "I knew them well. If you work with kids as long as I have you're bound to, I suppose. After you... after you I never let my intuition go ignored in these matters. See I knew the first time I met you."
Tony stayed silent, unable to trust his voice.
"I was saying hello to all my students like I do every year," she said her voice far off and wistful like she was caught in the memory, "every child individually, just for a quick chat. Any you, were just so full of beans, so excited and dead set on making me laugh."
Her eyes glistened as she remembered him then and allowed herself a little chuckle. Then that smile disappeared again and Tony missed it straight away, his grin falling with hers.
"Then I asked you about your Daddy. Course, we'd been told about your mama so I knew better than to bring her up. I thought it'd be okay to ask about him though, but the second I asked, you got this look on your face and I just knew. You whipped your head around to check he wasn't there and the relief when you realised he wasn't... well, that said it all.
"On your quiet days I always knew it was him you were thinking of, your expression whenever you thought about him, it changed. I can't even describe it exactly, but I'd know it anywhere. When you came in with your arm in a cast I thought, 'this is it; I'm going to do something'. When I asked you what happen you didn't even lie, you just shrugged and ran off to play.
"So I called your daddy to come in and see me. I thought he would be some monster, but he was so charming I thought I must be going crazy. I couldn't even ask him about it because he was so friendly and seemed so... nice. But then I saw him a few weeks later at that principals meeting, you know after you pulled that little stunt in assembly."
Tony let a full on laugh at that memory.
"Yes, you certainly were a... creative child. But afterwards, as you were leaving when he didn't know I could see him he grabbed you so hard and shook you," another gentle sob escaped despite her best efforts, "Oh and the look on your face! This look of just... terror, terror and pain but you didn't let out a peep. Not a single sound.
"I didn't want it to be true, because I had dismissed it before, and I didn't want to think I could have let that go on... so I just told myself it wasn't happening. Oh I'm such a terrible person, how could I have done that to you! I used to know when you sat so rigidly and said you felt ill in gym class even though normally when you were really sick you would plead to join in. Or when you came in with bruises you couldn't hide and you're stories were so flat. Normally when you told a story, and you told a lot of stories, they were filled with enthusiasm, excitement and a hefty dose of embellishment.
"Oh, and the way you never wanted to go home. Any excuse to stay on and you were there. I could see all these signs, so clearly and I did nothing. I know you were lying about everything being fine. We both know it... but thank you. Thank you for trying to make me feel better even though I don't deserve it for a second."
Tony stood up and for a moment she thought he was going to leave, but instead he walked around the table sat on the chair next to the tiny old lady. Wordlessly he put a hand on her shoulder before pulling her into a hug. Clinging on tightly she felt her emotions overwhelm her once again and she let herself cry uninhibitedly. He just soothed her gently his face absolutely void of emotion as he stared numbly at the wall beyond the weeping woman.
"Oh DiNozzo." Gibbs said to himself from the other side of the glass. He had come in half way through the interview to find Ziva and McGee gawking. Once he realised why he had sent them out in a somewhat... threatening tone of voice and off they had run tails between their legs.
Having met Tony's father he knew what she had meant about him being charming, only his skilled eyes had seen through the man. He had however chosen not to bridge the subject with Tony because he knew the younger man did not want to talk about. He thought it was something to do with not wanting to seem weak or to disappoint him somehow. Not that he would have been of course, it was not Tony's fault what had happen and it certainly wasn't a reflection on his character.
He hoped that one day Tony felt he could tell him about his father and not be ashamed but until that day came he would let Tony keep his secret. And so he just stood there, heart breaking just a little.
When Gibbs came up to the bullpen he gave a quiet but deadly warning that they were not to bring up anything they had heard unless Tony did first. They two agent just exchanged a guilty look and nodded.
None of them told what they had heard to Tony but one look at their faces and he knew.
"So how 'bout a drink then?" Tony asked as they packed up to leave after a couple hours of practically silent work in the bullpen. His voice was subdued and the clearly tinged with sadness.
"I think that would be a good idea." Ziva replied.
"Me too, I'll call Abby, see if she up to it." McGee added with a small smile aimed at Tony.
Tony smiled back, not a real smile but close enough.
Things were going to be okay. He was okay now. He had comforted Mrs Burley until she had calmed down and he had thanked her. She had looked surprised and confused. What could he possibly be thankful for?
He had simply smiled and told her, "You saw me."