in loco parentis - A person or institution that assumes parental rights and duties for a minor.
Note - This is a Tony kidfic and is therefore wildly AU. Some characters will appear in roles that have no correlation to their roles on the show. Please be aware that there will be a traumatic injury suffered by a child, so if this is not your "cup of tea" go no further and let's part as friends. It makes no sense to ignore this warning and criticize me later.
Although it will begin as a "disabled" fic, there will be significant recovery along the way. As this is the initial chapter, there is quite a bit of set up to do, however, I do not intend for this to occur very often. I hope you enjoy the story.
in loco parentis
Anthony DiNozzo Senior was a man in crisis. During the worst of his wife's long illness and following her subsequent death he had halved his workload and handed the running of two of his business enterprises to his trusted friend and business partner, Marco Firelli, only to find the man had milked his companies dry and left him with a huge financial headache. When DiNozzo confronted him, Firelli admitted that he had been coerced into investing over fifteen million dollars into Grosvenor Imports to finance several large illegal weapons shipments from South East Asia. Just days after his confession, Firelli was killed in an unsolved hit and run accident.
James Grosvenor was a second-generation arms dealer who operated with remarkable candour in the north-eastern states of the US. Several attempts by various government agencies to infiltrate and close down his organization had failed spectacularly, leading to the popular consensus that Grosvenor was lining the pockets of highly placed law enforcement, judicial and government officials. Days after Firelli's death, Grosvenor approached DiNozzo, attempting to extort more money for his own purposes and threatening to ruin his reputation as a legitimate businessman. Anthony DiNozzo Senior had worked too hard and sacrificed too much to let a modern-day gangster tear his business empire down. He asked Grosvenor for time to gather the money but secretly contacted the FBI, desperately looking for a way out.
The Attorney General's office had approved entry into the witness protection program for DiNozzo and his son, in return for his testimony but, so far, DiNozzo had baulked. He was trapped between a rock and a hard place – sell his soul to the devil and be forever at Grosvenor's beck and call or turn state's evidence and enter the witness protection program. Either way, life would never be the same for DiNozzo and his boy.
Gibbs paced the front steps of the stately residence, breathing deeply to calm himself. He held his cell to his ear and gritted his teeth as Director Vance tried to justify why the FBI was playing the Cinderella role in this investigation and NCIS was once again cast as the ugly step-sister.
"Inter-agency investigation, my ass," Gibbs growled into his cell. "You and I both know that who's running this show, Leon."
"I don't like this any better than you do," Vance said. "But the FBI's six-month investigation into the illegal importation of weapons, trumps our lance corporal trying to buy a few Chinese manufactured assault rifles. Our orders are clear, the FBI has the lead and we get to watch the action from the cheap seats."
"You mean lack of action," the former marine replied. "I'm not convinced DiNozzo's going to play ball and testify. This is the second time Fornell and I've been out here and we're no closer to getting him to agree."
"It's a big decision," Vance said. "DiNozzo gains nothing if he chooses to testify. He and his boy will be placed in the witness protection program and will lose everything."
Gibbs glanced around at the grandiose house, the expanse of manicured lawns and the magnificent oak trees that fiercely guarded the privacy of the residents. One thing was certain, there was a lot to give up. A barely audible sound had him reaching for his weapon, while his keen eyes scanned the area nearby. The noise sounded again and he zeroed in on the silhouetted shape near the top of a tall oak tree. Too large for a bird or animal, the shape was too small for a man and Gibbs secured his Sig as he recognised the small boy he'd seen briefly on his last visit.
"I understand your frustration, Gibbs," Vance continued. "But your role in this case is to represent NCIS and to provide back-up and support to Agent Fornell. No more and no less, is that understood?"
"Understood," Gibbs replied distractedly, ending the call and not taking his eyes from the tree.
The tree was almost as wide as it was tall and the boy was perched among the smaller branches near the top, at least forty feet above the ground. As Gibbs approached he recognised the sound of hiccupping sobs. He waited unnoticed and then spoke in a quiet voice so as not to startle the child.
"Sure is a great tree."
The sobbing stopped and the boy stilled as Gibbs continued.
"I bet you can see for miles up there. I had a tree just like this one when I was about your age. Used to climb to the top and sit there for hours."
He chanced a quick look up the tree and saw he had the boy's attention.
The boy shook his head and wiped the tears from his face with the bottom of his t-shirt.
"Mind if I come up? Kinda like to check out the view."
A long moment passed before Gibbs saw the nonchalant shrug. He rounded the trunk and selected his first foothold. The branches reached out from the enormous trunk at regular intervals, making it an excellent climbing tree. Tony didn't look down but he felt the branches shudder slightly as the agent climbed steadily upward. Gibbs ventured as high as he dared, noting that the higher branches would not hold his weight. Settling himself on a sturdy bough just below the boy, Gibbs whistled through his teeth.
"Yup, just what I thought. Sure is a great view from up here."
Keeping his voice and his gaze casual, Gibbs assessed the boy for signs of injury, relieved when none were obvious. The child was small for his eight years, not skinny but not far from it. His sandy hair was windswept and his small face was pale, highlighting the sprinkling of tiny freckles on the bridge of his nose. Large green eyes, red-rimmed from crying, were filled with a pain no child should have to bear.
"My name's Gibbs…you must be Tony."
The boy didn't move a muscle, didn't even blink an eye to acknowledge the agent's presence. He just sat, stony faced and continued to stare at a photograph tightly clasped in his small hand. The image was that of a woman; blessed with classic beauty, sparkling green eyes and an enchanting smile that would light up any room.
Gibbs knew that Tony's mother had passed away from a serious illness a few months ago and it was clear that the boy was still grieving deeply.
"Your Mom was a very beautiful woman," he said softly.
The little head turned slowly toward him and then nodded slowly.
"You must miss her very much."
Fresh tears filled his eyes and he fought desperately to keep them from falling.
"It's okay to miss people, Tony, to be sad that they've gone away."
Two fat tears spilled down the boy's cheeks and he caught his lower lip between his teeth to keep from crying aloud. A long moment later, the boy spoke in a low, flat voice.
"My Mom and I used to lie on the grass and look up at the sky. In the daytime we'd make shapes in the clouds and at night we'd watch the stars. We'd watch old movies and eat caramel popcorn," the boy's voice wavered as he continued. "She always made time for me…she was never too busy."
"Sounds like you've got some special memories," Gibbs said gently. "You share 'em with your Dad?"
Tony dropped his head.
"He doesn't like to talk about her."
"That why you climb all the way up here? To talk to your Mom?" he almost added 'to cry alone.'
The sandy-blonde head nodded again.
"It's my favourite place…and I don't want to make my Dad sad."
"Know what I think? I think your Dad would a lot sadder if he knew you were out here on your own."
"Maybe…but he's been busy and I can be a real bother sometimes."
"He tell ya that?" Gibbs asked, shoving his anger aside for the boy's sake.
He received his answer as Tony glanced away, his chin wobbling slightly.
"There's nothing wrong with tears, Tony. They help you let go of the sadness. Then, your heart can heal and lock in all those special memories of your Mom," Gibbs reached into his jacket and withdrew his business card. "Tell ya what, why don't you take my number and if you ever need me or you just want to talk, you give me a call, okay?"
Tony stared at the business card, before raising hopeful eyes to Gibbs.
"Really?" he asked, searching the agent's face for any sign of a lie.
"Really," Gibbs replied, watching as the small hand tentatively reached out and took the card. "Now, why don't you let me help you down from here?"
Gibbs reached a hand up to the boy who shook his head emphatically.
"I can do it myself," the boy whispered shakily as he climbed down to Gibbs' branch.
"That's what I'm trying to tell ya, Tony," the man said, slipping an arm around the slim shoulders, "you don't have to do this all by yourself."
The small body stiffened and a sob escaped as he covered his face with his hands and wept silent, heartbreaking sobs of grief and loneliness. Gibbs stayed close, rubbing his back, but letting him cry. After a moment, the agent leaned forward and spoke softly into the boy's ear.
"It's gonna be okay, sport."
The boy twisted around toward him, giving in to the need to feel arms securely around him…any arms. Still he cried, hot tears on the agent's shoulder, his face pressed into Gibbs' collar. When, finally, the tears subsided and sobs gave way to hiccups, Gibbs handed Tony a hanky and the boy used it to wipe his face and blow his nose then he pulled away, his face burning with embarrassment at his perceived lack of control.
"Why don't we go down together," Gibbs suggested.
Nodding shyly, Tony started to climb down the tree, secure in the knowledge that, if he should lose his grip, the agent would not let him fall.
Placing his change in the tips jar, Gibbs left the coffee shop and headed back to the NCIS building. Shrugging into his coat to ward off the bitterly cold wind, he took a long scalding swig of coffee, feeling the liquid burn all the way to his stomach.
What the hell was wrong with him? It had been only a few days since he first laid eyes on the small boy and yet, he was all Gibbs could think about. There was something about the kid that had punched a hole in the former marine's armour and exposed a gaping hole in his life and in his heart – a hole left vacant by the agonising loss of his own beloved wife and child.
After their last meeting, Gibbs had taken it upon himself to do an extensive background search on Anthony DiNozzo Senior. For all intents and purposes, DiNozzo was a shrewd and honest businessman who had put himself through school and built a large and successful corporation. He had an unblemished reputation in business circles, no police record and his personal and business taxation records were all in order.
DiNozzo Senior was an exemplary provider for his late wife and his child but as any man worth his salt knew, there was much more to being a husband and father than a luxurious house and a fancy school could give. From what Gibbs had witnessed, DiNozzo had furnished his son with all the material things he could dream of but deprived him of the emotional support he longed for. Gibbs felt his heart clench at the thought of the little green-eyed boy, grieving for his mother and unable to seek comfort from his father.
Passing through the security check at the entrance to the building, Gibbs nodded to the guards as he re-holstered his sidearm and entered the elevator. As the car started upward he flicked the emergency switch and cursed loudly. What was he thinking? The boy had a father – a man who he loved and who, in his own way, loved him in return. Tony was where he should be, he was with his father.
If Senior agreed to testify, he and Tony would disappear into witness protection program and Gibbs would never see them again. Their lives would be forever changed but they would be safe and they would be together. Consciously pushing the boy from his mind, he flicked the switch again to release the elevator and resume his own life.
He arrived at the bullpen to find Fornell sitting at his desk. The senior FBI agent advised that DiNozzo had requested another meeting and Gibbs grabbed the keys to the agency sedan before he had time to think. Fornell was more than surprised by his old friend's willingness to continue in the unaccustomed role of second fiddle.
"DiNozzo's still pretty skittish," Fornell said. "There's no guarantee this meeting will be any more productive than the last two."
"Ya think, Tobias?" Gibbs replied.
"What I'm saying is, if you want to sit this one out I can brief you later."
"This is an inter-agency matter. You telling me that the FBI would rather NCIS have no involvement at all?"
Fornell shot a confused look at Gibbs' senior field agent but Kate just shrugged and returned her attention to her computer.
"What's with the change of heart?" Fornell asked. "A few days ago I had to drag you there kicking and screaming all the way."
Gibbs answered the question with an irritated glare as he strode quickly toward the elevator.
"Kate, it's 1600. When you're finished your reports, you, McGee and Mitchell call it a day."
"Right, Gibbs," Kate answered with another shrug for Fornell's benefit. "We'll see you in the morning."
She waited until the lead agent had left the bullpen before turning to her teammates.
"Is it just me or has Gibbs been acting differently the last few days?"
"Differently, how?" Probationary Special Agent Brett Mitchell asked.
"I don't know…a little more…"
"Human?" McGee offered.
"Exactly!" Kate replied. "He's been acting more human."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Mitchell asked.
Kate and McGee exchanged a worried look.
"Not with Gibbs," they said together.
As Fornell and DiNozzo began another round of discussions, Gibbs stood at the back of the grandiose study. The sound of a bouncing ball attracted his attention and he slipped out of the room to investigate. Following the sound across the back courtyard he found Tony shooting baskets on a makeshift court near the pool house.
"Nice shot," he said as the ball skirted the rim and then dropped through the hoop.
Tony smiled bashfully at the compliment as Gibbs gathered the rebound.
"Hi, Agent Gibbs," he said quietly.
"Hi, yourself," Gibbs replied, pointing to the hoop with his chin. "You any good?"
"I'm okay, I guess," the boy shrugged.
"How 'bout a little one-on-one? First to seven points."
"You…you wanna play with me?" Tony asked, his green-eyes lighting up.
"Sure, if you promise to go easy on me."
"I promise, Agent Gibbs" the boy nodded earnestly.
Gibbs gave the youngster a four-point start and watched keenly as the shy boy came alive on the court. Tony's confidence grew with every point scored and every steal or rebound taken. There was no doubt that the kid had good athletic ability and a natural feel for the game but the child glowed with every word of praise Gibbs uttered.
With the score at 6-6, Gibbs feigned a fumble that returned possession to the boy. Tony pivoted and tried to fake the much larger man. Swooping the boy off the ground Gibbs lifted Tony high into the air so he could slam-dunk the winning shot.
"Good game," Gibbs said, ruffling the boy's hair affectionately. "You must be a real asset to your team."
"I don't play on a team," Tony said failing to hide his disappointment. "Coach Raynor asked me to play for my school but my dad said no. He said I need to concentrate on my grades if I'm going to take over the family business one day."
"That what you want?"
Tony worried his lower lip and looked up through long dark lashes.
"You won't tell?" he asked.
"I won't tell."
"I'd love to be on the team. Coach says I have a real special talent for sports. No one has ever said that to me before, Agent Gibbs…'cept my Mom. She used to tell me I was special all the time."
"Well, it must be right."
"You really think so?" the boy asked hopefully.
"Mom's never lie about things like that," Gibbs told him, clipping him lightly under the chin.
The boy startled as DiNozzo Senior's voice rang out across the courtyard.
"I have to go!" he said quickly before running toward the house with Gibbs trailing slowly in his wake.
"Am I to assume that, as you are playing basketball, you have finished your homework assignment?"
Tony's head dropped immediately and he instinctively drew back into his shell.
"You know the rules, Anthony, school work first. Now, go to your room and we'll discuss this later."
"Yes, Sir," Tony said quietly, his face flushed with embarrassment and his eyes filled with tears he refused to shed. He excused himself and returned to the house.
After the boy had gone, Fornell extended his hand to DiNozzo with a promise to call in the morning. As Senior offered his hand to Gibbs, he stated coolly.
"I hope my son wasn't being a bother, Agent Gibbs. Tony sometimes lacks discipline."
"He was no bother," Gibbs defended, unable to suppress his irritation. "He's eight years old and he misses his Mom. Maybe if he didn't spend so much time alone-"
"You have the nerve to tell me how to treat my own son? How dare you!" Senior blustered. "Everything I am trying to do is for Anthony. I love my son, Agent Gibbs and he loves me."
"Then maybe you should try telling him that," Gibbs growled stepping right into DiNozzo's personal space. "You're not the only one grieving."
"Gibbs, that's enough!" Fornell snapped. "We're leaving, I'll meet you in the car."
With a lingering glare that could have started the ice age, Gibbs moved off and walked to the large sweeping driveway where he'd parked the car. As he was climbing behind the wheel, he spotted movement from an upstairs window and turned to see the boy watching him nervously. Forcing a smile, Gibbs waved goodbye and received a tiny wave in reply before the curtains were drawn and the boy was gone.
For the next two days, Gibbs battled the urge to call the DiNozzo home and ask to speak with Tony. He reached for his cell on several occasions only to change his mind at the last moment. His team were at a loss to understand his unusual distraction but knew the former marine well enough to know not to ask.
At eight-thirty the following evening, the MCRT were returning to the office from a crime scene when Gibbs' received a call that would change his life forever.
Hope that was okay. More soon.