TI: So Far In Blood That Sin Will Pluck On Sin.
DI: Not mine. If it was, NCIS would have continuity!
SU: "The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even to murder with the truth." (Alfred Adler). A one-shot based on the potential return of Tony Senior.
AN: Special props to Maleshka and the wonderful fic Two Weeks Notice. Maleshka wrote a monologue of Vance's thoughts about Tony as an asset that totally inspired this piece. Highly recommended reading!
All things considered, DiNozzo had held it together better than anyone could have expected under the circumstances.
Between the press camped outside the man's house and the rumours swirling throughout the various agencies about his father's arrest, Vance had expected an epic meltdown. Instead, he'd watched the agent behave with a dignity and a sense of composure that belied the larger-than-life personality and reactions everyone in the bullpen had come to expect from DiNozzo.
Frankly, for Vance it was a jarring reminder of just how blue DiNozzo's blood really was. His Italian ancestors may have come through Ellis Island via steerage but the man was the grandson of an English aristocrat and his stiff upper lip proved it.
He took a brief sip of his coffee as he watched from his office window as the media swarmed like fire ants in front of the Yard's main gate. Vance was well aware that his resentment towards the younger agent was in actuality misdirected anger at himself. He'd never bothered to fully read into the man's personnel file until Gibbs had refused to pick a new senior agent. He'd been confused by Gibbs' loyalty to a man Vance saw as borderline incompetent.
The file had been illuminating to say the least.
Leon had always considered himself a master of character assessment. Falling for DiNozzo's immature, dumb jock playboy act made Leon feel like he'd been played for a fool and he hated that. It had been extremely discomfiting to realize DiNozzo's whole personality was a defense mechanism created to distract, confound and deflect people; a leftover from a childhood his psych evaluation summed up as sustained neglect punctuated by episodes that bordered on abuse.
He'd only had himself to blame but at the time it had been easier and more palatable to push it off onto DiNozzo than to accept that he'd totally misread a situation that badly. He now knew DiNozzo's individual success rate easily rivaled Gibbs' own score. The MCRT's closure rate had only reached the high 90s after DiNozzo had joined NCIS. It had only dropped a few percentage points when Gibbs decided to test drive retirement and DiNozzo had stepped up as lead. Regardless, the MCRT's success rate was the envy of its sister agencies and DiNozzo was a major reason for it.
Vance had only known the short version of Sheppard's irrational vendetta against René Benoit when he'd been seconded to DC over the FBI's investigation into the man's death. After finally reading up on DiNozzo and the full Benoit file nearly seven months later, he'd been shaken by the cool indifference Jenny Sheppard had shown towards DiNozzo's odds of surviving the op.
La Grenouille had killed every agent and team sent after him by previous administrations slowly and painfully, and not one of them had targeted his children. The woman had known that she was sending her agent on what amounted to a suicide mission yet she had still sent him in blind!
DiNozzo was undercover for a year - a year - without back-up or support of any kind. He had been under direct orders banning him from even acknowledging there was a case to anyone but Sheppard herself.
A year spent on the job 24 hours a day without any respite.
A year of living two lives without anyone, including Gibbs, catching on.
A year spent never knowing if he was walking into his grave.
A year of wondering when Jeanne Benoit would find out the truth.
Vance often wondered at what point during the Frog op DiNozzo had realized his Director had knowingly sacrificed his safety and mental stability in order to pursue an unauthorized operation against a restricted target. After reading that file, it was no wonder DiNozzo had left Jenny Sheppard to her fate in L.A.
Even Vance couldn't blame him for bailing on his protection detail. He would have been wary of getting pulled into Jenny Sheppard's messy past too if he'd been in DiNozzo's shoes.
Yet in spite of the abusive nature of his orders and his Director's dereliction of duty, DiNozzo's performance had been flawless. The man's ability to hide in plain sight had been famous before the op; after, it had taken on near-mythic proportions. If it hadn't been for Kort deliberately blowing his cover, Vance knew DiNozzo would have brought down René Benoit and by extension the world's largest illegal arms network effectively by himself.
DiNozzo had cut his own heart out for the country, the agency and his team on that mission and had asked for nothing in return. Not even a vacation. And that if anything was what truly concerned Leon Vance. DiNozzo had put NCIS and his team ahead of his own happiness, walking away from the only woman he'd ever loved for love of his team.
DiNozzo would do anything for his team provided they returned his loyalty. No matter what the personal cost.
Recent events had only reinforced his concerns.
DiNozzo's devotion to Gibbs and NCIS was unwavering under normal circumstances. But he was merciless and uncompromising when there was even the hint of a threat towards his team and the agency.
Eli David had learned that lesson the hard way.
This past year though had been filled with mole hunts, strained friendships and shattered partnerships. His constant movement from force to force, city to city, early in his career had always been triggered by the people he trusted to have his back failing or worse betraying him.
Vance knew that whether he liked DiNozzo or not, the man was a damn good agent. One that NCIS could not afford to lose to a rival agency. And there were plenty of those that wanted DiNozzo.
Would this be the event that sent DiNozzo packing? Vance didn't know but he knew he had to tread carefully and make sure that DiNozzo knew NCIS had his back. If he chose to fight the FBI, NCIS would be right there with him for the duration.
The sharp clack at the door drew him back into the present. Vance felt his muscles tense as DiNozzo entered the room with Gibbs on his heels. Neither man showed much surprise at Fornell's presence in light of the charges levied against DiNozzo Senior by the FBI. Vance exhaled slowly, wishing he had been able to delegate this task to Gibbs. Couldn't be done, though. Gibbs had what would ultimately be the harder role - putting DiNozzo back together after Fornell got through with him.
DiNozzo and Gibbs did not sit down but waited in silence as Fornell quickly reviewed the evidence against DiNozzo Senior. Finally, Fornell reached the point of the story that Vance had dreaded since the phone call before lunch.
Fornell didn't bother trying to sugar-coat this mess. He obviously knew DiNozzo wouldn't thank him for it and there was no easy way to say it. "DiNozzo, we want to exhume your mother's body. We're pretty sure she was his first victim."
DiNozzo tumbled into the chair behind him from shock, Gibbs' hand resting on his shoulder. "I...". He swallowed hard, moving his head slightly as if to shift his thoughts back into some sort of rational order. Vance was surprised when DiNozzo looked to him rather than Gibbs for help. "I'm sorry, Director. I don't think I understood what he just said."
Leon Vance felt a sharp pang of sympathy for the younger man. He was by no means a fan of Anthony DiNozzo but he had never deliberately hurt one of his agents before today. "Evidence has turned up indicating that your mother's death was not the result of natural causes. The FBI is requesting permission to exhume her body for testing," he repeated softly.
The room was silent. Vance watched as Gibbs stepped up and stared into Fornell's face for what felt like hours. Vance felt something in his stomach twist and sink as Gibbs' shoulders slumped slightly.
"No." DiNozzo's hands were trembling just enough to be noticed by those watching him. Guilt rolled through Leon's gut like a tremor. Vance had never expected doing this would hurt as much as it did. He felt as though he could see DiNozzo's soul shatter right there before him. His face had paled so drastically Vance wondered if he should have required Ducky's presence after all.
"No!" DiNozzo exploded out of the chair, jolting everyone in the room to their feet. Gibbs quickly moved to put himself between DiNozzo and Fornell. "She died of cancer. Cancer!" His hands flailed through the air in tormented agitation as he pressed forward against Gibbs restraining arms. "You're wrong!" he spat at Fornell before turning back towards the windows. Gibbs stayed where he was, shadowing DiNozzo closely just in case.
Vance cursed silently to himself as Fornell remorselessly tore apart DiNozzo's childhood memories even though it was clear to everyone in the room that DiNozzo had finally reached his saturation point. "There are no records of your mother ever being diagnosed or receiving treatment for cancer, DiNutso. There are no records of any hospital visits or admissions."
"She was at a private clinic!" The senior field agent hissed, whirling around to face the older man.
"There would still be records!" The tension in the room was unbearable. "When was the last time you saw your mother?"
DiNozzo looked like he was grasping at reality and it had turned to ether in his hands as Fornell abruptly switched courses. "What?"
Fornell was curt as he reiterated, "When was the last time you saw your mother, DiNozzo?"
DiNozzo's eyes were half-crazed with hurt. "I was 8. She went to a private clinic to die!" His voice cracked as he trembled violently. "I was so little and she didn't want me to see that!" DiNozzo was shaking from the grief of long-suppressed memories of a terrified mother in pain being dragged into his present. "I talked to her on the phone every other day until she died, Fornell!"
There were days he truly hated this job and the ethical requirements that came with it. Vance had no choice but to permit the virtual destruction of a man he was ultimately responsible for. He was letting the FBI tear a good agent apart at the seams because of rumours and inconclusive forensics.
"Are you sure you were speaking to your mother?" Fornell snapped antagonistically. "As you said, you were only 8." Fornell would be dead if Gibbs' stare was tangible.
"Yes!" DiNozzo was trembling as he clutched the back of the chair. "Dad would call the clinic and they would put Mum on the phone and I would talk to her." DiNozzo's voice was clogged with grief and rage.
Fornell's voice was sharp and incisive. "You spoke to her? Did she talk to you?"
"Yes! The treatment made her throw up a lot so she didn't sound like herself but it was my mum!" DiNozzo crumpled into a chair, burying his face in his hands as he gasped for air.
The room was silent for a scant few moments. "Your mother had filed for divorce."
DiNozzo's head snapped up and his face darkened at yet another reminder of his rotten childhood. "What the hell does that have to do with anything!" He snarled defensively.
"Your parents were legally separated and only spoke through their lawyers." Fornell twisted to avoid Vance while Gibbs tried to keep their wounded man in his chair. "Your parents fought over you like two mutts over a bitch in heat! Your mother won! She was taking you back to England with her! Why would she have turned to your father if she was sick and not her family, DiNozzo? Why?"
Vance quickly moved round his desk to join the others. He was furious with the FBI agent. He had made it very clear he was only here to get an exhumation order signed, not conduct an interrogation!
"The whole cancer thing kind of put infidelity and alcoholism into perspective, asshole!" DiNozzo snarled bitterly as deeply concealed family secrets were tossed out like pennies. He kept trying to get up in spite of Gibbs pinning him down.
"That's enough, Agent Fornell!" Vance barked as he tried to end this disaster before it ruined everything.
Fornell ignored him, though, sniping back at DiNozzo. "Your father is under arrest because we're sure he's killed several of his wives. Wives who have not been seen or heard from since they divorced your father. Your mother was his first victim, DiNozzo. He murdered your mother!"
DiNozzo finally got past Gibbs and was in Fornell's face in the blink of an eye. "NO!" His voice was frantic and so sharp it could have cut diamonds. DiNozzo looked at Gibbs, pleading as the former marine dragged him away and over towards the sofa. "My father loved her! She died in his arms. My dad did not kill my mum." DiNozzo wrenched free before dropping into a crouch. He yanked at his hair then reared back up with a massive breath as he choked back tears. "You. Are. Wrong," he spat at Fornell.
Vance growled as Fornell played a card that burnt every bridge and professional courtesy available to him. "Your mother deserves justice! If the information the FBI has is correct, a good son would make sure she received it!"
Gibbs hauled DiNozzo back even before he could think to attack Fornell. Gibbs held him down on the sofa, speaking oh-so-softly to the enraged, devastated man. "Deep breaths. Take deep breaths, Tony." Vance had never seen Gibbs touch anyone with such gentleness. The soft stroke up and down the back of DiNozzo's head soothed the senior field agent back into controlled anger. "Ok?"
DiNozzo nodded, still breathing heavily.
Gibbs held DiNozzo's eyes with his own, grounding the younger agent. "You were a good son. You are a good son. Your mother loved you, Tony."
DiNozzo's voice was a soft raspy plea. "They're asking me to let them dig up my mum and cut her up because of a rumour, Gibbs!" Vance turned away. He couldn't look at the broken man before him. Couldn't watch a man who he had never seen bow to anything crack like this. Guilt ate at him.
He should never have allowed Fornell to do this.
"Anthony." The use of DiNozzo's full name combined with the firm flatness of Gibbs' voice cut DiNozzo off. Vance turned away from the window, surprised at the way Gibbs addressed his senior field agent as he held him by the shoulders. "Your old man did your mother wrong. How many times have you told me how bad he was to her? Told me how helpless you always felt when he left her bruised and crying?"
"A lot," DiNozzo whispered, shutting his eyes as he looked down.
"Look at me, Tony," Gibbs ordered, pausing until DiNozzo's eyes were once more locked onto his own. "Fornell - as big of a dick as he is - would not have asked for this if he wasn't sure. The Director would not have let him ask you unless Fornell was sure. And I would not let either of them do this to you unless I was sure it was absolutely necessary. Okay?"
DiNozzo nodded jerkily before pushing Gibbs' hands away. He rose shakily then slowly walked away. He braced against the conference table, quaking arms holding him upright. The room was silent save the harsh, ragged panting of the senior field agent. Vance was surprised to see DiNozzo forcibly rein in what could only be a jagged, unbearable anguish cutting through him and hide behind a stony mask of blankness.
"I want Ducky to do it." DiNozzo turned himself around and rested his lower back against the edge of the table.
"It's not our jurisdiction, DiNozzo," Vance reminded him gently.
Something feral flared in the agent's green eyes. "I don't care." His lips twisted into an ugly parody of his normal grin as he looked at the FBI agent. "You want my mother, Fornell? Then Ducky does the autopsy."
"DiNozzo," Fornell said with heavy intent.
"No. It's non-negotiable. This is my mother," his voice was low but fervent, "My mum and I want Ducky to do it." DiNozzo sucked in a shaky breath, straightened and the blankness took over once more. "Do we have a deal?"
The sun had not yet risen outside when Donald Mallard watched a faded casket be escorted into Autopsy. Tony stepped forward and rested a hand atop the battered surface, his eyes never wavering from what had been his mother's final resting place for just over 30 years. He swallowed hard once before raising bloodshot stormy eyes to meet Ducky's, the only sign of the sheer hell he was living through.
"Ducky, this is my mother." Ducky felt a sharp pain stab through his heart as Tony's voice broke. He couldn't imagine what this scenario must be like. The poor boy was fighting for his composure like Ali in the jungle. "This is.....". Tony's voice faded away. His lips trembled and he looked down, breathing harshly before looking back at Ducky. "This is my mum, Ducky."
The weight of those words, the tacit plea colouring that introduction spoke volumes to Ducky. Ducky swallowed against the lump that suddenly clogged his throat. "I am honoured, Anthony, that you would entrust her to my care. I assure you, I will preserve her dignity and treat her as if she were my own."
Anthony gave a tight, jerked nod before stepping away from the casket and exiting the bay.
Ducky knew he had not gone far.
McGee stepped into of the elevator, hoping he could find a way to help Tony feel something other than grief and rage.
The whole situation had been excruciating when it had first blown up. Now? Now it was unfathomable and horrible and devastating.
He didn't know what to say. 'Hey, sorry your old man's a serial killer. How come you're not dead, too?' probably wasn't appropriate. But he knew that if it was his mother in Autopsy, Tony would be right there with him until it was over.
It was a good thing Abby had been stranded at that conference, unable to get a flight home until later today. He didn't think Tony would be able to handle her full body contact brand of affection at the moment.
Hell, who was he kidding? Tony couldn't even handle Ziva right now. Ziva had volunteered herself to help with arabic dispatches rather than risk triggering the public meltdown everyone was still waiting for.
The bullpen was rarely quiet, even at night. Yet it was as silent as space right now in spite of every single agent being at their desks. Unnecessarily at their desks.
McGee wondered if Tony knew everybody had decided Sunday was the new Monday. No one hadn't come in to work today. Once the scuttlebutt had spread about what was happening in Autopsy this morning, paperwork and cold cases had suddenly assumed an urgency heretofore unheard of at any federal agency.
No one knew what to say or do to help Tony beyond making sure they were there if he needed them. Because say what you will about his sense of humour or his temperment, Tony DiNozzo was devoted to the people in the building.
McGee still remembered the first time he'd been faced with what he had to live up to as DiNozzo's probie. He'd only been on Gibbs' team for a little over a week. They weren't on-call and Tim had been up until four in the morning playing World of Warcraft since he hadn't expected to be hauled out of his bed by DiNozzo pounding on his door at 8AM on a Saturday. Balboa's movers hadn't shown up and his family had to be out of their old home by noon. The next thing he'd known, he'd been hefting boxes and furniture alongside Tony's frat brothers, Kate and a few other NCIS agents DiNozzo had dragged out of bed.
It had been sort of like getting drafted but a lot more fun.
He was pretty sure nobody else could have gotten a chuck wagon and a deejay to show up at a moving party.
No matter how many times Tony made him the butt of his jokes, Tim knew that when he needed help, Tony had his back. When he'd shot a cop, Tony had been at his side, defending him at the top of his lungs. When his sister had gotten herself into trouble, Tony had believed in her innocence because Tim had said so. When that lunatic had started killing people because of his books? Tony had provided the unconditional support he'd needed, combined with the long-overdue ass-kicking he'd deserved for basing his book on the job and his friends.
Unique methods aside, Tim knew Tony would always help him and have his back.
It was time to return the favour and fuck it all if there was no way for Tim to do it.
He couldn't fix it, couldn't make it go away. He couldn't do anything!
Anything except be there for his best friend.
The image the doors opened onto would never leave him. McGee felt a lump start to choke his throat. Tony was just sitting there on the floor outside autopsy, staring at the doors with what could only be described as blank anguish.
He just sat slumped against the cold walls, hugging himself as his world slowly imploded. It was such a far cry from the confident, brash and overly ebullient Tony he was used to seeing. McGee found himself battling back the tears he could feel burning at the edges of his eyes.
Tony looked so goddamn broken.
McGee didn't know how long he stood there before he returned to reality. He did know that the voice that brought him back sounded nothing like what he was used to hearing in the bullpen every day.
"It's okay, McGee. I got it."
McGee stepped back into the elevator, the doors slowly shutting like a curtain as Gibbs settled himself onto the floor beside Tony. The last thing McGee saw before the doors sealed was Gibbs wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulders, tugging him closer as Tony slumped against Gibbs and let his head tilt sideways to pillow on his shoulder.
For the first time in many years, his heart ached more than his feet. Some things were just unforgivable, no matter the circumstances. He rapped the door with a courtesy knock as he walked in.
Both men stood, one with dread and the other anticipation colouring their movements. "Director, Agent Fornell."
"You've completed the autopsy?"
"Yes," Ducky answered curtly, thinking of the damage that these men had done to his dear friend based on rumour and innuendo.
He wouldn't make it easy on them. He let the weight of their curiousity hang in the air, like humidity before a summer storm, until it drove them to the breaking point.
Fornell finally snapped first.