"You don't have to do this you know."
"I know." Tony gave Gibbs a soft smile, "thanks for being here Boss."
Gibbs nodded, but stayed quiet and Tony didn't expect much else. Knowing he couldn't put this off all day he left the safety of his Boss's side and stepped into the bar and approached Senior.
"Hi Dad," The greeting slipped off Tony's lips so easily, he wanted to kick himself.
"Anthony," Senior stood, leaving the group he was with and herding Tony to an empty corner of the room. "I didn't…"
"Expect to see me again?" Tony faked a smile, "Yeah I got that."
Tony held up his hand, opened his mouth to demand the man not call him junior but the command failed to form.
"I didn't come here to fight." He said instead, taking the high road.
"Gibbs is here," Senior looked over Tony's shoulder to where the older agent was waiting just outside the doors in the hotel foyer.
Tony followed his gaze and felt irritation at Senior's distraction.
"He's here for me not you." He snapped heatedly.
"And you're here because?" Senior asked him finally, sounding bored.
"Because…" he sighed. "You're my dad." The truth of that statement nearly killed him.
"I'm not." Senior sighed back and Tony thought, hoped maybe, he heard a hint of regret.
"You are." Tony said dejectedly. "I mean yeah technically you're my Uncle, but… You raised me, gave me a home, a mom…" Tony's voice broke on that last word.
Senior deflated and sat down, pulling out a chair from the empty table behind them.
"I didn't protect you." He said finally.
The honest admission had Tony needing to take a seat himself, his legs turning to jelly all of a sudden.
"If I had been your real son and not just your nephew would you have done anything different?" Tony asked tears forming in his eyes that he was adamant wouldn't be falling any time soon.
Senior looked at him as if he was thinking how he dare ask such a question, and then something in his expression changed, so subtly that Tony didn't know how to take his answer.
"I never was good with kids. I wanted you to be independent, be a man. Your mother…" he paused… having been staring at his clasped hands since sitting down, it surprised Tony when Senior raised his gaze and looked him directly in the eye. "She loved you, you were hers, and I can honestly say, I considered you mine too."
Tony felt one tear escape and quickly brushed it away.
"Anthony, I'm…sorry...really… I was young and foolish…"
"I don't want excuses." Tony cut him off, knowing that this man was a master manipulator and he wasn't going to be sucked back in. "I came here to say that, despite what's happened, I … forgive you."
His voice though watery was still strong, and having said what he came here to say he stood up. Senior stood too.
"Thank you, junior, really, but why?"
That really was the question of the moment. Why?
"Look if there's one thing I've learnt from Gibbs it's that family isn't about whose DNA you share." Tony flicked his glance to Gibbs still outside, standing strong, supporting him from a distance in his own decisions despite utterly disagreeing with him on this occasion. "He's taught me a lot." He said with feeling, flicking his gaze back to senior, "You're part of my life no matter who'd I'd have preferred as a parent and I don't want to lose any part of my life, even if it wasn't the best. I don't think mom would want that either."
Senior remained silent, speechless for the first time he remembered.
"Well that's it." Tony looked around, feeling shaky and needing to get out of there.
He began walking towards the exit when senior's voice pulled him back.
"Jun… Anthony," Senior chased after him, Tony stopped and turned in the doorway. "Why don't we keep in touch? I'd really like a chance to make all this up to you someday."
Tony stared at him. Was that what he wanted? The man had used him, put him at risk for his own selfish goals, failed to protect him. But if not then why was he here? He was still a DiNozzo, not this one exactly, but one all the same. His grandfather, his aunt and uncles had all had a part in raising him, they were part of his identity too. He couldn't just throw all that away because senior was a lousy parent. Unfortunately Tony knew all too well how many awful parents were out there and his so called guardian didn't even tip the scale.
Feeling things getting a little too close for comfort Tony nodded and smiled, not trusting himself to speak. Senior seemed pleased with his response however and with a smile waved good bye, leaving to re-join the group of suits he was with in the restaurant. Walking out the bar alone, Tony felt like he might collapse. Gibbs was at his side instantly, taking his arm and walking him out into the fresh air.
They walked a ways in silence, Gibbs a steady presence by his side.
"How'd you do it?" He asked eventually.
"Do what?" Gibbs asked him in that pointless way, basically refusing to help him out and forcing Tony to ask what he really wanted to know.
"Be a great Dad." Tony sighed out as they sat down on a nearby bench together, in front of the fountain he'd broke down at only the other day.
He turned intuitively to see the slight hue of red on Gibbs cheek, but wasn't the least sorry for embarrassing him.
"It's just something you know." Gibbs tried to downplay it.
"Senior didn't know." Tony told him straight.
Gibbs growled his agreement.
"I know you think I should wash my hands of him but-"
"You don't have to explain to me DiNozzo."
"I do. I want to." Tony looked Gibbs in the eye and Gibbs reluctantly nodded his assent. "I know, he's not my father, but I don't think I'm going to get used to it overnight. He kept me, provided for me, he was all I had after mom died. Despite his many flaws, he didn't have to do that. I told him he was my Dad no matter what, good or bad, DNA notwithstanding, he was responsible for me, for making me who I am today. I don't want to lose any part of me good or bad."
"A father is the man who raises you," Gibbs nodded seeing his point. "No matter how crappy a job he did at looking after you."
"The same applies to you, you know." Tony smiled giddily at Gibbs' narrowed eyed affronted gaze. "Except for the crappy job thing, of course."
"Of course," Gibbs repeated proudly.
Looking at him closely Tony thought Gibbs was honestly pleased with his short, yet succinct compliment. He hadn't heard Gibbs be this light hearted in a while, the business with Ari having stolen him from them. They sat in companionable silence for a while, Tony enjoying the moment and gathering his feelings, trying to wrap his head around the new direction of his life and the promise of permanency.
"You're something special you know that DiNozzo." Gibbs said suddenly, still smiling.
Tony smiled back, happy that he finally had someone in his life that thought so.
Gibbs jogged down his basement steps. The gathering of people upstairs unsurprising, it was Tony's birthday and as predicted, since they had no active case the team had converged on his house to celebrate. Abby had even baked yet another cake. Luckily her treats were nothing like her burgers, which meant McGee could breathe a sigh of relief. DiNozzo hadn't been the only one to nearly chuck up on Sunday night.
Hearing a bang on the ceiling above he flinched, instinctively going for his gun. It had been a long time since he'd had this many people over enjoying themselves and this was the second time in the same week. Tony certainly had a lot to answer for he could say that. Thinking about Tony drew him back to the conversation they had on the bench the other day.
A father wasn't a father only if he did everything right, otherwise there would be no fathers in the world, or mothers for that matter. And parents didn't only exist for their children either. For better or worse Senior was Tony's first authority figure and role model, nothing could change that, but Gibbs felt he was his role model now, he was teaching him not just to be the best agent he could, but that parents really could love and protect their kids unconditionally, even when those kids were thirty year olds with low attention spans for anything without moving pictures and a shrink certified behavioural age of 12.
Hearing another bang on his ceiling Gibbs was keen to get back upstairs. The ash from his little bonfire Sunday night was still in the waste basket in the corner of the room and Gibbs looked at it with distain. Opening the draw on the desk he looked at the files encased within. Tony wasn't the only one who saved things and hid them away he realised. His may be more adult items, but that didn't change the sentiment. Smiling he took out the photo of Tony taken from the Long Island house. He was around the same age as he was in the others, only in this one he was happy, and more importantly he was smiling.
Hearing his name being called Gibbs sensed it wasn't long before company found him. Taking the photo he pinned it to the shelf above his work table. Quickly relocking his draw Gibbs made it half way up the stairs before Abby and Tony appeared at the top. Not giving either of them a chance he wrapped an arm around each and pushed them back out, intending to go with them to enjoy the party.
A/N: AHHHHH. It's over. So as good as hoped? I hope I've done it justice anyhoo. And yes that Gibbs line is stolen from a certain u tube video I watched last September, but it goes so well and I'm a sucker for a homage… credit goes to you know who;)
If you feel like leaving a review I would love to hear from you. Thanks for reading and I will post that elevator story I've been promising soon!