A/N: More multi-chapter fun! I'll apologize in advance because regular updates will not be happening this time around—my real life is just too much of a rollercoaster to make that promise. Thanks, as always, to Detour for her continuing support, her amazing sense of humor (as evidenced by her latest: a side-splitting crack!fic) and the selfless lending of her all-around brilliance (in all things fiction and far, far beyond!). As for the story? Well, I hope you all enjoy! Requisite disclaimer: I own nothing.
The boy was all of twelve years old.
Sadly, he would never see thirteen.
He would never sneak out on a Friday night because he just couldn't wait until Monday to see his pretty new girlfriend. He would never catch the winning touchdown pass at the state finals or sink a beautiful three-pointer just seconds before the buzzer. He would never be handed a diploma from a well-known university, knowing that piece of paper represented four years of blood, sweat, tears, and an unbending will.
Tony knew these things as he walked around the boy's body, brains blown across once-white carpet after one quick tug on the trigger of his father's service weapon—and a lifetime of pain.
He also knew the boy would never be sent to military school, packing his things with silent, angry tears running down his young face because, goddammit, he just didn't understand. He would never lie on a football field, clutching a ruined knee and realizing all of his dreams were castles childishly built in the shifting sands. He would never search the unfamiliar faces of his classmates' families for his own father, knowing it was futile.
Or maybe he had, Tony thought as he snapped another photo, surreptitiously watching the Marine stare at his son's corpse. The man's demeanor dared any one of the agents to insist he leave, but that simmering anger was the only emotion DiNozzo could read on his face. The Marine was obviously no stranger to violence, but Tony expected the father to have some sort of reaction to his son's violent death. But the man simply turned and walked from the room, shaking his head as though disappointed.
Tony was glad for the years of experience that were allowing him to step outside himself with calm detachment and simply do the job. He watched Ducky eyeing him, as the doctor had been eyeing him since they first walked in and saw the boy, who had stripped himself to the waist to display the evidence on his skin of a brutal beating. More than one beating, Tony thought, crouching down to snap a photo of a patch of faded bruising amid the fresher ones.
Tony wondered what it meant that his first thought had been "Attaboy." His second had been, "But I wish you had found a better way to say 'fuck you'." He stopped thinking entirely when Ducky approached him and laid a gentle, concerned hand on his arm. Only then did Tony realize just how badly he was shaking.
Gibbs'll kill me if these photos don't turn out, he thought, trying to ignore the doctor's probing gaze.
"How are you feeling, Anthony?" he asked, drawing the eyes of Kate and McGee—and unfortunately, Gibbs, too.
Tony didn't answer right away.
"A lot like him," he finally said, his voice low but entirely blank as he nodded to the boy's corpse.
He could practically see the thoughts swimming through Ducky's eyes as the doctor struggled to come up with a reply to that.
Broken, hurting, sad, damaged…
Tony decided to let him off the hook.
"I'm not feeling a thing, Doctor."