The fragility of a bright-eyed Italian

A/N: Probably OOC. Set pre-series and probably strays from the cannon. This will probably be a one-shot because I have a lot of work at the moment and am not sure how I could continue this (ideas most welcome).

Disclaimer: I own nothing here.

Warning: Swearing.


Gibbs knew in less than a single second that he had a made a mistake.

A big mistake.

A big fucking mistake.

He wasn't usually a careless person. He liked to keep up the 'bastard' pretence because it kept people away, at a distance, too frightened to ask the wrong questions.

Gibbs couldn't allow himself to get close to people, only to know that one day, he'd lose them.

They'd die.

Move away.

They'd fall out - probably because of something Gibbs himself did.

But DiNozzo?

DiNozzo, he was the exception.

The pain-in-the-ass, bright eyed, childlike and impossibly fragile young Italian who had somehow wormed his way into the former Marine's heart.

Gibbs wasn't sure how the kid had done accomplished such a feat, but he had done it spectacularly well and despite outwards appearances, Jethro was more grateful that words could ever express.

The kid was dorky, in his own way. He loved movies. He loved projecting the lives of a fictional character onto his own. Ducky would say it was a defence mechanism – a means of shielding himself from his own emotions behind the mask of an actor. Maybe.

But Anthony DiNozzo Jr was a fantastic actor.

It wasn't a gift, only a scar, a reminder of the shattered remains of his abusive past.

And yet, on that stormy Thursday night when the rain battered down upon the roof like falling stars, Tony had let his mask slip.

Gibbs had seen the rawness of the man hiding behind a well-groomed façade.

Gibbs had seen fear.

And it was all his fault.

Yes, Gibbs was angry. He wanted to be left alone in his basement with his boat and his bourbon and forget all about the argument he'd just had with his father. Just let the alcohol and the sawdust wash away his troubles like the rain washes away the dirt.

But DiNozzo, being his wonderfully observant self, had seen Gibbs angry (pretty much all the time) yet an upset Gibbs, a pained one, was a mystery to him.

Tony used to be a detective (still was, basically) so a mystery such as that was bound to get his attention.

DiNozzo had crept slowly down the basement steps, hands lightly resting upon the banister as he peered into the shadowed hull of the house.

Gibbs had been frantically sawing at this point, furiously, and Tony wondered how much more the tortured saw could actually take.

"Gibbs?"

No reply, just sawdust.

"Boss?"

A slight lapse in the older man's rhythmic motions, yet still, he continued.

"Boss, are – "

"What the hell do you want, DiNozzo?" Gibbs all but hissed, allowing the saw to clatter to the ground as his chest heaved at the exertion of his usually soothing past time.

"I…urm.." Tony licked his lips, the cold anger which lingered in Gibbs' startlingly blue eyes had gone way past the bounds of rage. It was something else, something much sadder.

"Did you just come down here to gape, huh? Don't you have anything better to do with your time? I mean, I know you're lacking friends here in DC, but surely you could – oh, I don't know – stay the hell out of my way?!" Gibbs snarled, never blinking, never moving except to pour another rather large helping of alcohol into his glass.

In Tony's experience, alcohol and anger in combination never boded well.

But he wasn't going to admit that Gibbs' words had stung, had struck the numerous, tangled insecurities lurking inside himself. The Boss knew that DiNozzo wasn't the playboy he pretended to be. He was reserved, quiet in the sense that no one was ever allowed to see the real him.

Almost everyone.

But he'd let Gibbs, he trusted the man, and that in itself was a rarity indeed.

Tony tried to reassure himself that the older man's harsh words were simply the result of misdirected anger.

He didn't despise Tony like Tony's own father did.

He didn't.

"Boss, I know you're upset. I just want – "

"Want what?! You want to know everything about me! Well guess what, DiNozzo, I couldn't care less what you want! You're my agent and that's all you are. You think that because you've stayed here a few times, share a couple steaks, that we're friends now? You think I'm gonna pour my heart out to the likes of you? A man who can't stare his own emotions in the face?..."

Gibbs kept going but Tony, for his sanity's sake, let the words fly over his head and strike the basement wall. He was well-adapted to enduring the rants and ravings of a drunken man. He could pretend to be somewhere else, someone else.

Just for a little while.

And when he came back, Gibbs would be calm and sober.

Yes.

"Boss, for the record, I'm not going anywhere – "

"Oh, get the fuck out of my house, DiNozzo!"

It wasn't the words that hurt (much).

It wasn't the words which took hold of his heart and scratched at his chest until he couldn't breathe.

It wasn't the words which brought back memories of his father, the man with the dark eyes and a darker soul, until they jumped and danced across his mind like strobe lights.

No, it wasn't the words.

It was the glass Gibbs had thrown at his head.

The tiny slivers of crystal twinkled in the air and then began their descent to the floor, like flies on a corpse, raining down upon Tony.

DiNozzo barely registered the pain as minute shards of glass sliced his skin.

It was fear, not pain, which ignited a cold fire in his belly.

His father had thrown a glass at him once.

Nearly blinded him.

The world tilted.

DiNozzo thought he was choking.

He was standing face to face with his father.

And when confronted with the panic that comes with an abusive parent, pulling out his gun wasn't going to save him.

A fleeting look of pure agony and terror fell upon Tony's face.

Then he ran.

Gibbs had made the biggest mistake.

And my God, he knew it.