Every time Tony woke up, Gibbs was there. When he gestured feebly for something to drink, Gibbs got it for him. When he coughed up the horrible congestion in his lungs, his weakened body screaming at the abuse, Gibbs gave him a shoulder to lean on. When the pain of the episodes became too much to bear and he was gasping with it, Gibbs called for the nurse. Inevitably, as Tony began to improve and demonstrate that he was NOT going to die from a fourteenth-century illness, Gibbs began to talk. No, talk was the wrong word. Gibbs began to question. Interrogate. Demand. And Tony could not escape the questions-Gibbs did not allow him any wiggle room. And also? He was connected to an IV. So no evading.
At first, the questions were easy. "Why'd you open the envelope?"
"I'm sorry." His voice was still raspy, but he could talk well enough. "I put the rest of the office in jeopardy. When I realized that I didn't know who the sender was, I should have been more careful."
"Don't be a jackass, Dinozzo." Gibbs leaned forward in his chair, blue eyes piercing. "I meant that McGee was going to open it. Why did you take it?"
Tony shrugged. "Don't know. I like to mess with Probie, Boss. You know how it is. But actually, the lipstick on the envelope reminded me of a case I worked in Baltimore. This guy…he kidnapped women. Used to dress them up and put makeup on them. Then he'd rape them and kill them. He'd take a ton of pictures, put them in an envelope, and send them to the station. Before he did, though, he'd press the dead girl's lips against the envelope. Guess I just had a knee-jerk response. Those pictures were never pretty. I wasn't thinking, Gibbs. I'm sorry."
"Guy sounds crazy." Gibbs didn't add any admonition; Tony wondered when it would come. He should have known better than to open the letter in the office.
"Buckets of crazy," he agreed.
"You catch him?"
Tony gave a lazy smile. "Course I did."
"Next time, send suspicious stuff to Abby, you got it?" Gibbs' tone was mild. "We almost lost you, Tony."
The stark fear and pain in his stoic boss's voice made Tony stare in wonder.
"What?" Gibbs tilted his head to the side and went for the kill. "Haven't you ever had anyone care about whether you lived or died?"
"Golly, Boss!" Tony fluttered his eyelashes. "You love me, you really love me!"
Gibbs stared somberly at him, then gave in a bit, his lips quirking ever-so-mildly up at the corners. Tony considered it a victory and that was where he went wrong. He should have realized Gibbs was a Marine, and Marines didn't retreat. "I called your dad. When it looked like…well, I thought he might want to be here."
Tony laughed. It was a harsh sound and nearly caused another coughing jag. But he held it together. "And did he actually talk to you, or did you communicate through Karen?"
"His secretary? Yeah, we talked a few times. When I made her understand how serious the situation was, she put me through to your dad. He was in London on a business trip."
"First of all, they're called assistants now, not secretaries. Secondly, good job getting past her. She's been with him longer than any of his wives and she is fierce. And finally, my father does a lot of business all over the world and that business has always been the most important thing in his life. Without fail, he puts the company first. I'm going to assume that he made his apologies and promised to call and check in on me."
Gibbs nodded. "Has he called?"
Tony shook his head. "Gibbs, you're here most of the time and you call three times a day when you are not here. If my father had called, you would probably have been here for it. I haven't talked to the man in 15 years, so it doesn't surprise me."
"You've had no communication with your father for 15 years?" Gibbs asked incredulously.
"I didn't say that. He officially disowned me at 12, but that just meant that he didn't want to be around me. He continued to pay for my education, but I didn't come home for Christmas or summers."
"So what did you do? Did you stay at the school over the summers and holidays? Were you there by yourself?" Gibbs was starting to look pissed.
Tony shrugged. "I stayed but I wasn't alone. The school had some scholarship students and offered some summer courses. I am not complaining…I learned to love sports there over the summers and got really good at them too. If it wasn't for those summers, I wouldn't have gotten the scholarship to Ohio State. It all worked out ok."
He glanced up to see Gibbs giving him the patented "What-The-Hell?" look. "You shouldn't have needed the money. Your dad has hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal. You could have gone to Yale or Stanford."
"And now you sound just like him." Gibbs wasn't the only one pissed now. "I didn't want to go to Yale or Stanford. I didn't want Ivy League. All my life I got told where to go and when and how to get there. I wanted to go to Ohio State and that's where I went. I didn't want my father giving me money for school because then I would let him have control over the rest of my life. When I went to Ohio State, that was when the official silent treatment began."
"What about your mom? Your personnel file said that she was deceased. Didn't she speak out for you before her death?" Gibbs was searching for a bright spot. Tony was tempted to give it to him. To lie and tell him that his mom had been a shining beacon of love and maternal understanding. But he didn't lie to Gibbs. Evade? Yes. Dodge conversations and turn them back on the questioner? Absolutely. But Gibbs had asked directly and part of Tony was tired of trying to maintain the frat boy façade.
"Gibbs, my mom was an alcoholic. She was intimidated by my father and spent most of her time avoiding him. She would never stand up to him. Not for me or anyone else."
Gibbs was silent for so long that Tony thought the conversation was over. He focused for a second on the television, which had been muted but left on. Right now, Drew Carey was proving to the world, once again, that he was no Bob Barker. He watched the Plinko game and could feel himself smiling when the housewife from Chicago won $25,000. When he began speaking, it was almost unconsciously. He was not sure why this story was coming out of him right now, but he was helpless to stop it.
"It was raining. I remember that it was raining. She'd said that she was going to make him stop hurting her. Hurting us. She had said that a lot of times, but couldn't follow through. She wasn't strong enough…I get that now. And I made her feel horribly guilty. I would beg her to stand up for herself and for me. So one night, she finally tried."
"What the hell is this?" Anthony Dinozzo Senior's voice was slurred, a sure indication that he'd been drinking pretty heavily during his 'dinner meeting'.
"We wanted to talk to you." Katherine Dinozzo concealed the fine tremor in her fingers by hiding her hands…slender and pale…musician's hands…behind her back. Her own voice was quavering but Tony was cheering silently. She'd never come this far before. Maybe this would work.
"About what, exactly? It can't be good because he's with you. All he does is fight with me." Senior sulked as he strode into his office, pouring himself a very large glass of Scotch.
"That's not true!" he exclaimed, then winced. He shouldn't have taken the bait so easily. Now Senior would have a direction for his rage.
Sure enough, the next few minutes were a swirl of action: the sound of glass shattering as it hit the wall behind Tony's head, the nauseating scent of the Scotch that had still been in the glass lingering in the air, the sickening feeling of flesh striking flesh, the shrill voice of his mother screaming at his father, trying to pull Senior off of his son. And through it all, Tony did nothing. What could he do? If his father wanted to kill him, maybe he should just let him.
The next thing Tony was aware of was the rain. He was being dragged along behind his mother, who was crying as she pulled him to her car: a Jaguar SJ6 in gunmetal gray. It was a great car and Tony hadn't gotten to ride in it as much as he wanted. Now, it barely registered as she opened the passenger side door and put him in the car. Her hands shook violently as she tried to put on his seatbelt, and her tears fell onto his own, which rested in his lap.
"Don't cry, Mama," he said softly. She ceased her frenetic movements for a moment and raised her pale, still beautiful face to look at him. "Don't cry. We're ok."
She blinked slowly, then smiled. "Yeah, baby. We're fine. We're leaving and we aren't coming back. Do you trust me?"
"Sure I do." And in a lot of ways, he did. But he worried about it. Worried about her driving when she was this upset.
"I'm gonna get us out of here."
The tires squealed on the wet pavement and the sports car fishtailed a bit before she got it under control. As she did, Tony looked out the window and wiped his hand over his face, unsurprised to see blood as well as rainwater on his fingers. He was sure he looked a mess. As soon as he thought about that, he began contemplating other practical things.
"Mom, where are we going?"
"Somewhere far away," she replied vaguely.
"But Dad will cut off our funds. Do you have any money? We'll need some money. Not a lot, just a little to get started. Then you can get a job and maybe I can go to school. We'll probably need papers and stuff…to make sure that he can't find us."
"Stop asking so many questions!" Katherine screamed, her eyes wild. "I don't know, ok? I don't know where we'll go."
"We have to have a plan is all." Tony was cautious now, remembering the few times that the bruises on his body had not been caused by his father.
"You want a plan?" She jerked the steering wheel and turned a corner on two wheels. Tony grabbed the dashboard. "Here's a plan. I can make sure he never finds us."
It wasn't until she picked up speed that Tony realized she intended to kill them both. To send her car careening over the overpass to certain death. He grabbed the wheel hard, trying to steer it toward safety. But his mother was strong in her maniacal rage, and they grappled for a moment.
With a screech of tires, the Jag began to roll. A cacophony of sounds and lights, combined with near intolerable levels of pain, sent Tony into darkness.
When he regained consciousness, he was aware of three things: first of all, he was in a ridiculous amount of pain. Secondly, rainwater and blood was dripping down his face…or rather up it. He was upside down, still buckled into his seatbelt with the Jag resting on its head. And third, his mother had been at least partially successful. Her vacant, staring eyes, less than a foot away from him, told him that she was dead.
Three hours later, when he was finally removed from his mother's car by the paramedics, he told himself that he wasn't to blame for what had happened. And in the years that followed, when the nightmares took him, he told himself the same thing.
Some days, he even believed it…
The silence when he finished speaking was heavy. Tony glanced back up at the television, giving into the lure of the mindless entertainment (Drew Carey was now watching a college boy spin the Big Wheel). When Gibbs cleared his throat, he risked a look at his boss. The man's eyes were usually unreadable, and even now, it was hard to tell whether he was seeing grief, empathy, or cold fury. He waited, unsure of how to break the silence now that he had stopped the verbal diarrhea from escaping his big stupid mouth. Sure, sometimes he tired of the masks he wore, but he wore them for a reason.
"I wish I could have helped you back then. If I had known you…I would have helped. You know that, right? No one should treat their own child like that. They were both selfish and abusive and you didn't deserve that. I know you and I know that you spend a lot of time blaming yourself for things that happened. I will probably never say this again and I will deny saying it until the day I die, but you are a good man, Tony. You are good despite your family."
Tony blinked, not sure what to do with that. "You know, there are times when I wish that you were my father. Not all the time," he hastened to explain, unsettled by Gibbs' shocked look. "But there are times. Recently especially. I see you interacting with kids from time to time because of cases, and you are so natural with them. So easy. Kind but stern. It has made me jealous in the past. I see you talking to them and I wish that I had grown up with you as my dad. I would have been so much better off if I was your kid, Boss."
Now he could read the expression on Gibbs' face, but it made him swallow hard against the lump in his throat. It was an odd combination of melancholy and yearning, and it stumped Tony a little. Why that particular look? Gibbs had never had children. Maybe that was what he was sad about?
"That would have made both of us pretty happy. If it helps, I would have been proud to have you as a son."
Tony blinked rapidly. This conversation had gone in an unforeseen direction, but if Gibbs was going to suck it up and talk about his feelings with Tony, then Tony could respond in kind. "It helps a lot, Boss. It helps a lot."
They sat quietly in the room, pretending to watch The Price is Right and manfully ignoring the suspicious sheen in both their eyes. It was, Tony decided, a good day.