Special Thanks to GotGoats for cowriting this chapter with me! You rock dude!
Warning: Mentions (in depth) about child abuse and abandonment. May be disturbing to some readers.
Author's Note: This story is a continuation of my one shot, Terminal Orders. Many readers requested that I write a sequel and/or series following this AU. This story will revisit the flashbacks from Terminal Orders in depth, as well as explore a couple of other incidents that we haven't seen up until now. Story spoilers and direct quotes taken from Terminal Orders. You might want to read it first.
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS or any of its characters. No episode spoilers, Gibbs/Tony father-son.
Chapter 1: The First Night
The Gibbs family was leaving the state fair. It was a warm, late summer night and seven year old Kelly was asleep, head on Shannon's shoulder, her little legs wrapped around her middle. It had been the perfect day. That morning, Jethro had signed the papers for his reenlistment for another four years in the Marines.
As they neared the car they heard something rattling a metal trashcan lid. Jethro glanced around, and his eyes widened when he saw the source of the sound. There was a little boy on the ground near the trashcans. It looked like he'd fallen over, causing the noise that Jethro and Shannon had heard. He was alone, and, going by his appearance, had been alone for some time.
"Go to the car," Jethro told Shannon quietly, handing her the keys and the large stuffed animal Kelly had won. She looked at him fearfully and headed for the car without a word.
Gibbs stepped closer, not sure what the situation was, but trying to gather as much information as he could. He reached out a hand and jerked back, surprised, when the child screeched suddenly and flinched away.
"Hey easy," Gibbs said softly, his voice just above a whisper. "I'm not gonna hurt you. Take it easy son," he whispered.
To say the child was dirty would be an understatement. It was nearly impossible to even tell the race of the child because of all of the dirt and filth caked on him. The little one had matted hair that hung in limp clumps and the rags the child wore were in tattered ruins.
"W-whatchu wan' wih me?" Suspicious green eyes stared up at Jethro and for a moment he was floored by how old this young child looked.
"I heard you fall…I just wanted to see if you were alright," Gibbs said gently. "I wanted to see if I could help you."
"I's fine," the child said, and turned away.
"Oh. Well then I guess you don't want this bag of popcorn," Gibbs said, playing a hunch that was tickling his gut. "We had it left over. I guess I'll just throw it away." He turned and started to move away.
"Wait," the child stammered, slowly pushing himself back to his feet. "C-could I's have…maybe just some?"
"Oh you do want some? Ok come over here," Gibbs indicated a picnic table and started over to it. He made sure they stayed in plain sight of the parking lot. People these days were nuts and he'd be damned if he was going to get in trouble over something like this.
The child began moving toward the picnic table, and it was quickly obvious to Gibbs that there was an injury or deformity of some variety that prevented the little one from walking properly. It was likely the reason the child had fallen over in the first place.
Once the child made it to the table and sat down beside Gibbs, two little hands folded patiently in the tiny lap and the matted head bowed low. "Whatchu wan' me a do for you?"
For a long moment Gibbs just closed his eyes. It was worse than he'd feared. He didn't speak for a long moment, choosing instead to open the bag of popcorn and hold it out for the little one. "I want you to eat all you want," he said gently, his gut twisting. "Once you've had all you want then I want you to talk to me, ok? My name is Jethro and I'd like to help you."
The child attacked the bag with an energy and a fervor that Gibbs hadn't seen from him up until now. Two hands began shoving popcorn by the handful into the little mouth and Gibbs feared the child would choke.
"Hey, hey slow down," he said gently. Jethro put his hand over the child's and stopped his frantic eating. "I don't want you to get choked. If you eat that fast you might get strangled. No one is going to take this away from you," he ran a gentle hand over the back of the child's head and down the back. He tried not to grimace when he felt every single bone in the child's back and ribcage.
The child slowed down but only a bit. The popcorn was still packed into the small mouth, but with smaller handfuls now. Once the bag was empty, Gibbs offered his cup of soda for the child to wash it all down with.
The child nodded, suddenly shy.
"Can I ask you some questions?"
The suspicious look returned, but the child nodded.
"Can you tell me your name?"
There was a beat. A hesitation. Finally the child spoke, softly. "Tony a-Nozzo."
"Tony where are your parents, son?"
Another hesitation. "Mama went a heaven, Jethro."
Gibbs closed his eyes for a moment and his gut twisted again. "I'm sorry about that," he said softly. "Do you know where your Daddy is?"
Tony thought for a long moment then shook his head sadly, his eyes fixed on his tattered pants. "Nope. Tol' me I's a sniveling lil shit and needed a not bother him no mores."
Warning bells went off in Gibbs' head. This was a bad situation. Very bad. He should just walk away—shouldn't get involved with this. He should…how could he possibly leave this child behind?
"How'd you get here Tony?"
The child looked at him for a long moment. "F-father picked-ded me up and throwed me outta da car. Tol' me he din't wanna see me no mores. Tol' me I's disowned-ded. Din't gimme no food, no moneys, nothin. I heard people's talkin' bout goin' to the fair. I never been before. Father say fairs is for rednecks an' stupid people. I thought it looked fun."
"How old are you?"
Tony thought about it for a long moment, and then carefully counted on his fingers. "I's five," he said softly.
"Can you tell me about what happened to your leg Tony?" Gibbs was fighting down the urge to vomit, sob, and go hit something. This child needed him to hold it together and listen to him.
Tony's little forehead wrinkled and he looked away. Gibbs' gut tightened again. "Tony? C'mon son, you can tell me what happened."
"I falled down," he said finally, but he wouldn't look at Gibbs. He swiped at a sudden tear that tracked down his dirty face. Definitely a lie, Gibbs decided.
"Did you see a doctor? Looks like it hurts pretty bad."
"Jethro I cain't even get food, how's I gonna get a doctor?"
Gibbs nodded. That made perfect sense to him. "My wife is a nurse. Her name is Shannon. Would you come with me? I just want to make sure you're alright."
"I cain't pay," Tony said softly. "Gotsa have moneys."
"You won't have to pay for it Tony. I want to help you. Will you let me?" Tony thought for a moment and then nodded. Gibbs smiled and stood up, holding out a hand for him. "C'mon, we'll get ya taken care of," Gibbs said gently.
"I don't think I's ever been taken a care of a fore," Tony said thoughtfully as they walked along. "What's it like?"
Gibbs stopped and glanced down at this little boy, so young, and so jaded already. "Being taken care of…well it's nice. I think you might like it."
Gibbs' heart nearly burst when the child suddenly hugged his legs. Gibbs smiled and knelt down so he could return the gentle embrace. "I'm gonna carry you ok? So you don't have to walk on that hurt leg anymore."
Tony nodded his head against Gibbs' neck and the two set off for the car. By the time they made it back, Tony was asleep, head on Gibbs' shoulder.
Shannon got out of the car and gasped. "Jethro? What in the world…"
"He's been abandoned," Gibbs said quietly. "He's only five years old, and he's nearly starved. Someone hurt his leg too; he can barely walk on it."
Shannon stepped up close to Jethro, carefully eyeing the small child in the strong Marine's arms.
"We have to help him," Jethro said. "I can't leave him here like this."
"We'll take him home with us and I'll call the hospital and ask what we should do. For tonight we'll give him a bath and a soft bed to sleep in. After that we'll just take it a step at a time and see what happens."
Jethro nodded. "Will you drive? That way I can sit and hold him without waking him up," he said softly.
Shannon nodded and got behind the wheel. Jethro climbed into the backseat with Tony in his lap. He held the little boy securely while Shannon drove carefully and wondered what they were going to do.
Tony woke up when the car stopped and his eyes flashed in fear. He didn't know where he was, or how he'd gotten here. There was someone holding onto him, their arms were tight around him…
Tony shoved back against Jethro suddenly and sat up, looking around him, trying to understand what was going on.
"Hey buddy, you're safe it's ok. It's me Jethro, remember? You're safe now, we're at my house. That lady right outside the car is my wife Shannon, and the little girl in the car seat there is Kelly. We're gonna go inside alright? Get you all taken care of."
Tony looked at Jethro for a long moment and then nodded silently and put his head back on Jethro's shoulder. Inside the house, Shannon deposited Kelly on the couch and then headed for the kitchen. Jethro carried Tony into the kitchen and sat on a stool at the bar.
"Tony are you hungry, Sweetie," Shannon asked. Her voice was naturally soft toned and the child raised his head up and looked at her.
"Jethro done gaves me popcorn," Tony said softly.
"Are you still hungry?" Jethro's voice was soft too, and gentle. Tony liked these people. Maybe they wouldn't hurt him.
"F-father said s'not nice a ask f-for f-foods," Tony said softly, his eyes drifting downward.
Shannon and Jethro shared a look. "You aren't asking us for food honey," Shannon said, folding her hands and leaning on the bar surface. "We're offering it to you. We'll give you anything you want to eat that we have," she told him. "You just have to name it."
Tony looked uncomfortable. "I-I don't know," he said softly. "I's dunno what's to eat," he continued. "I's hunnngwy though."
Shannon smiled at him and nodded. "Then I will make you something to eat. Do you like blueberry pancakes?"
Tony raised an eyebrow and stared at her. "I's dunno what's that is," he said quietly. "I's sorry."
"No reason to be sorry," Shannon told him gently. "I'll just have to show you what blueberry pancakes are. They're Jethro's favorite."
Tony looked up at the man who'd been so kind to him and watched as he smiled at Tony. "I think you'll like them," Jethro said to him.
"I'll make some for Jethro and Kelly too," Shannon said with a wink. "Jethro can never turn them down and Kelly's nose is like a puppy's. The minute she smells them she'll wake up and want some."
Tony seemed to fold in on himself a bit. "Makes sures they's gots enough a fore you gives me any," he said.
Tears filled Shannon's eyes and she kept her gaze on the bowl she was mixing batter in, her back was facing Tony. Jethro hugged Tony gently. "You get first pick," he said. "Kelly and I will have what's left when you've had all you want."
Tony turned shocked eyes to Jethro. "That not a how it a-pposed a work!"
Jethro shook his head. Not for the first time this evening he wondered at the hell this child seemed to have been delivered from. "That's how it's working tonight though," he said. "Next time we'll all eat together, but this time Kelly, Shannon and I have already had dinner. We don't want you to be hungry all night. You get to eat all you want and if there's leftovers Kelly and I will have some. But you will eat first. Hear me?"
Tony nodded and dropped his chin to his chest. He didn't want to screw up. He didn't want to get in trouble. Why couldn't this nice man understand that he'd get in trouble for eating so much?
A few minutes later Shannon set a plate stacked high with blueberry pancakes in front of Tony. "Now let me show you how Kelly likes these," Shannon said. "First you put some butter on them, like this," she said, spreading the creamy butter all over the warm pancakes. "Then you take the syrup and you pour it on them like this," she said, demonstrating. "Do you want me to help you cut them up?"
Tony looked at her, clueless about what she meant, and nodded. Shannon scooted the plate away from Tony so she could cut them up for him, but she stopped when she heard the small sound emit from the little boy. The tiniest of whimpers had escaped his lips and now he looked up at her with a horror stricken expression.
"I's sorry," Tony said. "I's sorry ma'am," tears filled his eyes. "I's didn't mean to whine," he whispered.
"Honey I'm only cutting them up so you can eat them," Shannon said, cutting the pancakes quickly and efficiently. She scooted the plate back to him. "I'm not going to take them away from you. Here Sweetheart, now you can eat them easier, see?"
Tony looked up at her uncertainly. "Go ahead," Jethro whispered. "Eat up. They're my favorite—I bet you'll like them too."
Tony carefully picked up the fork. He tried to remember every lesson his father had taught him about manners and eating with a fork, but he was so scared of doing it wrong that his hand trembled. Jethro and Shannon looked at each other and watched as Tony stabbed his first bite of pancake and then dropped the whole thing, fork and all, on the counter.
His eyes widened with fear and he gasped softly for several breaths. "Easy buddy," Jethro said softly. He picked up the fork and stabbed another bite. "Here we go," Jethro said. "Try again ok?"
"I's maked a mess," he whispered. "I's sorry."
"It's alright Tony," Shannon said. "No big deal." She wiped the counter off and then poured more batter into the frying pan, cooking pancakes to avoid watching the small, starving child eat. She didn't want him to see her cry because of him, but he was breaking her heart.
Jethro held the fork up to Tony's mouth and the child stared at it for a long moment before looking at Jethro. "You wanna do it?" he asked the child softly.
Tony shook his head. "I's maked a mess," he whispered. "I's no good."
Jethro set the fork down and gently wrapped his fingers around Tony's hand. "Then we'll practice together," he said with a wink. "We'll have you using this fork like a pro in no time at all." Together they stabbed the pancake and this time, the bite went successfully into Tony's mouth.
"There ya go! Good job!" Jethro praised him joyfully, and he thought his heart would burst at the sound of pure pleasure that escaped the child's lips at the taste of the hot, fresh food.
"Dis ish a besh shing ever," Tony said around the food in his mouth. He and Jethro carefully forked another bite into his mouth, immediately followed by the same little sound of pleasure again.
A moment later Kelly appeared and Shannon winked at Tony. "Told ya. That puppy nose of hers never fails." Kelly giggled and Shannon and Jethro smiled at her.
"Mama?" Kelly asked as she crawled up on a stool next to Jethro. "Who's he?" she indicated Tony with her head. She'd slept the whole trip back home and hadn't seen Tony up until now.
"Kelly this is Tony. He's going to be staying with us," Shannon said.
Kelly looked at the little boy. He was covered in dirt! Shannon never let her near food when she was that dirty. "Mama why's he so dirty?"
Tony made a soft choking sound and tried to scramble out of Jethro's lap so he could run away. Jethro held him firmly and wouldn't let him go. "Kelly that wasn't a very nice thing to say," her father said gently.
"Oh." The little girl eyed the little boy carefully for a long minute. Tony began to squirm under the scrutiny. "I'm sorry," she said politely. "How old are you?" Kelly wanted to know next. If this boy was going to be sleeping in her house she wanted to know everything about him.
"I's five," Tony said softly.
"Well I'm seven," Kelly said. Shannon set a plate with a pancake on it in front of her. She took a bite and crossed her eyes in exaggeration of her pleasure. "Aren't Mama's pancakes yummy?"
Tony nodded and Jethro helped him eat another bite. Kelly watched him for a long moment, wondering where this boy had come from, and wondering why her daddy was being so nice to him. Her daddy was always nice to her, but he wasn't always nice to strangers. "Are you friends with my daddy?"
Tony looked at her for a moment and then looked up at Jethro who smiled and nodded. "Yeah, Kells," Jethro said softly. "Tony and I are friends."
"Oh," Kelly said, nodding as though that explained everything. "That's cool," she said and continued eating.
After they finished eating, Shannon hurried off to Walmart to get some clothes for Tony to wear—at least some jeans, shirts, and underwear. They'd figure out the rest later. After she got back Jethro passed Tony off to Shannon so she could look the boy over for injuries and give him a bath. Jethro helped Kelly get ready for bed. Once Tony was out of the bathtub, Jethro gave him an old t-shirt of his to sleep in. Shannon helped him put it on, and Jethro's eyes narrowed slightly when he saw the bruises and scars on the child's ribs and back. "I'll take him to see John tomorrow," Shannon told Jethro, who nodded in agreement. John Walters was Kelly's pediatrician.
"Go on into that bedroom right there and crawl into bed," Shannon said softly, pointing Tony in the direction of the guest bedroom. "We'll be in there in just a second to tell you goodnight," she told him. Tony looked up at her for a long moment, before heading off in the direction of the bedroom with slumped shoulders.
Shannon kissed Kelly goodnight and walked into the hall, where her husband stood with a confused look on his face.
"Didn't you just send Tony in here to get to bed?"
"Yes." Shannon spoke the word slowly. She peered around her husband, looking into the guest room where the double bed remained perfectly made. There was no sign of Tony anywhere.
"Tony?" Gibbs spoke softly. "Where are you?"
Tony's small head poked out from under the bed. He looked up at the Gibbses, confused.
"You's told me a go a bed." Jethro wanted to kill someone at that moment. He walked to the young boy and knelt by him.
"Up on the mattress, and under the covers, son." Tony's eyes grew wide.
"But I's not a-pposed a sleep on the bed." He shook his head fiercely. "I's peed in mine. F-father said no more beds for me. I's sleep under them. Not on them." His eyes were downcast, ashamed to look at the nice people who had given him so much food at dinner.
"Tony, look at me, please." Gibbs struggled to keep his voice calm, while Shannon stood in the door, wanting nothing more than to hug the tiny boy whose head still poked out from under the box-springs. Tony looked up, his eyes filled with fear. He had done something. Something bad. His father never wanted him to look at him unless he was in trouble.
"How's many?" Tony's voice shook.
"How many what?"
"How's many smacks? And do I's have a takes my pants off?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You's sounds mad and want me a look at you." Tony shrugged. "I's did a bad thing." He looked confused for a moment. "What did I do?"
"You didn't do anything wrong, Tony." Jethro was fighting to keep his voice from shaking. "I need for you to come out from under the bed, buddy."
Tony crawled out and stood slowly, his bad leg shaking slightly. His knee wobbled and he nearly fell, catching himself with the quilt. He wasn't sure what was going to happen to him now. Maybe he wasn't good enough at dinner—he'd dropped his fork and made a mess. Maybe it was because he couldn't keep his leg strong. Maybe it was because he didn't do a chore. He couldn't remember hearing any job given to him or Kelly…Kelly. Maybe she didn't like him! Maybe he had to leave because he was worthless. His father was right. He was worthless. He was stupid. A tear rolled down his cheek. Jethro reached out a gentle hand and stroked Tony's damp hair. The boy flinched before taking the necessary step to fall into the tall man.
"I-I-I's sorry." Tony wailed. Jethro ran his hands up and down the child's arms gently soothing him.
"What for, Tony?" Shannon joined them on the floor, sitting down and pulling the child into her lap. She cradled him against her chest, rocking slowly as she spoke.
"I-I-I's d-d-don't know!" They barely heard his quiet whimper.
"You're not in trouble, honey." She sing-songed as she rocked. "No trouble at all." She stroked his hair while her husband rubbed the boy's back. Jethro took over speaking.
"In this house, we sleep in beds, Tony. And if you wet the bed, we can clean it, and you can go back to sleep in your bed with clean sheets and a new nightshirt."
Tony sniffled. He wanted to believe so much, but he was afraid. They'd given him food, and a new pair of pants and two shirts. And now they wanted him to sleep in a bed. His tiny mind was on overload. He began to sob, clutching at Shannon's shirt.
The couple sat rocking the malnourished child, silent communication passing between them over his head. Tony was staying. Even if they had to fight until he was 18. The boy finally fell asleep while the Gibbses rocked and consoled.
Sometime during the night Tony woke up and discovered his sheets were wet. He froze in terror. The Gibbses were woken by a terrible scream. Tony sat still on the bed, unaware of the screams that passed his lips. Shannon picked him up and took him to the bathroom to clean up while Kelly came stumbling out of her room, panic written on her face.
Jethro led his daughter back to her room. "It's ok, Sweetpea. Tony had a bad dream. Go back to sleep, ok princess?" He tucked her into her bed and kissed her forehead. Her eyes dropped closed again almost immediately. She was softly snoring when he reached the door.
By this time, Shannon had Tony cleaned up, and was sitting in the living room on the couch. Jethro checked in on his wife and the little boy and then headed up to change the sheets on the bed. Tony was sobbing into Shannon's chest, his face buried and his body trembling.
Ten minutes later, he returned and carried the still trembling Tony back to his bed. The child whimpered as he was set on the bed. He had expected to be punished, and they hadn't done it yet. To his surprise, Jethro pulled the covers over his shoulders and tucked him securely into bed once again.
"Accidents happen, son. Sometimes when you're asleep, you have to pee and don't know it. You'll get better about waking up when you have to go. Kelly does it too, sometimes." Jethro bent down and kissed Tony's forehead. "You'll stop doing it when you're older, Tony. Until then, we'll be here to help you. Go back to sleep, ok? We're gonna get you into see the doctor tomorrow so we've got to be ready to go early."
"Ok," Tony yawned. As much as he was afraid to sleep now, his emotions had been through the ringer. He felt as if someone had taken a straw and sucked out all of his energy. His eyelids drooped, then he blinked, and finally his eyes stayed closed as his breathing evened out and his body lost its tension. Jethro sat by the boy for a while, just watching him sleep. Tomorrow he'd go back down to the wharf and see if he could find out just how long the boy had been living there. Tonight, though, he'd keep guard.
No one would hurt this child again. Not while he had a breath left.