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Tony had great memories of his mother. She never hesitated to sit on the floor with him to play, or sit on his bed to read him a story. He remembered her long, blonde hair and how she always dressed nicely. If he was ever down, she would give him a comforting embrace, or gently rest her hands on his shoulders. One thing he was sure of was that she truly loved him.

Then his mother died. All he had left were a few photos and his memories of her. When he was first told, he didn’t really understand death. As their housekeeper hugged him, and that explained his mother was never coming back, Tony sobbed for hours as she held and tried to comfort him. His father had stormed off shouting for the staff to keep “that damned kid” quiet.

Tony had walked through the house sullen and quiet for weeks, and was often found in his mother’s walk-in closet. Even if she was no longer there, her clothes were. So he could pretend she was wearing them. Then one day, they were gone.

He remembered odd things about his mother from time to time: the way she made him wear a little sailor suit because she thought it was so cute; that she had decorated his bedroom in a way that betrayed she may have truly wanted a daughter; even the time she’d nearly drank his sea monkeys, when she’d been a little tipsy and mixed them up with her mint julep.

His relationship with his father wasn’t as easy. Business travel often kept his father away for days, or even weeks, at a time. Young Tony didn’t understand all the schemes Senior was talking about as he drank his scotch, but he did his best to pay attention and be supportive. It also helped when he learned to make Senior’s favorite cocktails. There was an advantage to keeping the old man’s glass full in the evening, and performing whatever tasks Senior demanded.

It wasn’t long after his mother’s death before Tony found himself shipped off to one boarding school after another. The first one wasn’t too far away, and Senior had driven his son there, speaking to the headmaster as he dropped Tony off. Tony remembered Senior insisting that he wanted his son to be part of the program, but he had no clue what his father was talking about. Apparently, the headmaster did, as he agreed to check young Anthony’s aptitude.

Senior didn’t hug him goodbye, but promised to pick him up for Thanksgiving. When the holiday arrived, Tony was the only child left at the boarding school on Wednesday evening. As he lie on his bed, tossing a baseball into the air and catching it, the headmaster came to his room and offered to take him home.

“You can’t stay here by yourself,” the man insisted.

“My mom’s dead,” was Tony’s reply.

“I am sorry. Gather your things, Anthony. We’ll have a fine feast.”

Tony sighed and grabbed his suitcase.

~*~*~*~*~*

The years came and went, as did the boarding schools. At first, Tony thought the moves were financial. The boarding school near his house was very upscale. The later ones were further away and seemed to be a step or two down.

Not all of the headmasters saw fit to take Tony home for the holidays, when his father failed to send him a ticket to get home. Sometimes it was a teacher or coach who offered their kindness. Once it was the school nurse, who was young, single and reminded Tony of his mother. She had allowed Tony to sleep on her sofa and took him to her parents’ house for dinner. She even placed her hands on his shoulders, like his mother had.

As always, it was only a matter of time before Tony was put into another school. After that, he began acting out. He hated that his father had all but abandoned him, and he hated having to change schools all the time, especially when they seemed to be going downhill, both in quality of the education offered and the buildings and grounds. Most of all, he was mad when his father took him away from the school with the young nurse who had shown him kindness.

~*~*~*~*~*

Long before he was transferred to the Remington Military Academy, Tony’s father had told him he was old enough to travel on his own. His train arrived late, but the coach from the academy was there to pick him up.

“I’m Coach Tanner. I guess your father is a man of influence. This is the first time I’ve been ordered to pick up a student at the train station.”

“Whatever,” said Tony as he tossed his bags into the trunk. “He’s been shipping me off to boarding schools for almost as long as I can remember.”

“I’ve seen your transcripts, kid. Can’t find a school you like?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Look, Anthony, I am not the enemy here,” Coach Tanner said as he started the car and backed out of the space.

“The truth is that nobody cares about me. My dad ships me off to these schools to get rid of me.”

“Son, people care. I care.”

“Why?”

“You’re a young man about to enter the prime of your life. You have everything in the world to look forward to. But this attitude of yours is going to hold you back.”

“Are you a shrink, too? Guidance counselor?”

“I’ve taken a psychology class or two in my day,” Coach Tanner revealed. “You’re mad at your dad. I get it. But don’t let that hate ruin your life. Right now, you have a world of opportunities waiting for you. Don’t let your feelings for him rob you of those opportunities.”

“Right.”

It was a short drive to the school. Coach Tanner walked Tony into his dorm room. “You’ll be staying here in Hull House with the rest of the seniors. Travis Phelps is your roommate.”

“Great,” said Tony with a heavy sigh.

“We had to guess your sizes for uniforms and PT gear. If anything doesn’t fit, let me know. Look, Anthony, I know the first night is usually the most difficult. If you need me, I’m right down the hall.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“I could do without your sarcasm.”

“I’m seventeen, not seven. I don’t need to be tucked into bed. I’ve been to a bunch of schools. This isn’t my first dorm room, or my first time getting new uniforms and teachers, so back off, buddy.”

“My name is Mr. Tanner or Coach Tanner, not buddy. And from here on out, you are Cadet DiNozzo. Got it?”

“Yes, Sir,” Tony replied sharply with a mock salute.

Coach Tanner walked away rolling his eyes, and knowing he’d have his hands full. However, he saw potential. If only he could reach this kid, maybe he could set him on the right track to having a successful life. He looked to be in good shape. Maybe he could be reached through the school’s athletics program.

~*~*~*~*~*

The next day, Coach Tanner dug into Tony’s files, viewing his previous school histories. Within a few hours he had a good idea of what made Anthony DiNozzo, Junior tick and he set up a meeting with the headmaster, Miles Townsend.

“Thank you for seeing me, Miles.”

“Have a seat, Coach. What’s on your mind?”

“I picked up Anthony DiNozzo Junior last night at the train depot. Kid likes to act tough.”

“It’s a new school. Some kids like to test the facility and the staff.”

“I did some digging into his past. He grew up wealthy, but it appears to have been money from his mother’s family over in England. She passed away years ago. Since then, it seems there have been financial troubles. Staff has been let go, his father has downsized the house twice. Anthony has been shipped off to boarding schools since his mother passed away.”

“No wonder he’s rebellious.”

“It gets worse. The first school was one of the best and near his home. Even then, there are notations he wasn’t picked up on some holidays. The headmaster would take him home.”

Headmaster Townsend shook his head. “Did his father remarry?”

“Several times. And the boarding schools went from top grade, right on down the line. It looks like most summers he was shipped off to summer camps, unless the schools had a summer program.”

“Are there any other relatives?”

“He’s an only child. The closest relatives appear to be his mother’s family over in England. It says he was sent there last summer, staying with his uncle, Clive Paddington, the brother of Anthony’s mother. It doesn’t appear that his father is too keen on spending any time with his son.”

“The Paddington family may have been sending his mother money, and that stopped when she died,” the headmaster speculated.

“Has he stayed in contact with his uncle?”

“Not that I can see.”

“There is a lot of anger in that kid.” Coach Tanner straightened up in his chair. “I want to get him into the athletic program. Maybe we can get him a scholarship to a decent college and give the kid a chance in life.”

“If you want to mentor young Anthony, you have my blessing,” said the headmaster.

“Thank you, sir. I feel he needs someone in his life to set him on the right track. And, there’s one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Did you know he’s in the special program?”

Miles Townsend flipped open the file and nodded. “He’s had some basic classes, but no actual training.”

“I saw something very interesting in that file, sir,” offered Coach Tanner.

“What was that?”

“His father pushed for his inclusion. The father is a registered Dom. Anthony tested as a sub.”

“That’s not unusual. The children of Doms are often subs. Otherwise it leads to a lot of confrontations, especially during the teen years.”

“I don’t see anywhere noting that information was shared with Anthony, or his father.”

“Interesting.”

“My guess is, he expects his son to be a Dom and no one wanted to tell him otherwise.”

“Or he never made it in to have that discussion. What’s your take on young Anthony?”

“He’s rebellious, to be sure. Looking through his files, he does show some leadership qualities, but ultimately, I think he’s a people pleaser deep down inside. If I can reach him, we can bring him to his full potential.”

The headmaster closed the file and pushed it back across the desk. “The world does not run on Doms alone. Someone needs to harness this kid before he gets himself into trouble.”

“I will work with him.”

Putting his glasses back on, the headmaster flipped through Tony’s transcripts. “It does say he has played football, basketball and baseball at his previous schools. Maybe you can put him on one of the teams here.”

Coach Tanner stood up and reached out to shake the headmaster’s hand. I will see what I can do.”

~*~*~*~*~*

Coach Tanner pushed Tony to join the football and basketball teams. “We made sure there aren’t any scheduling conflicts,” he promised. “Football for fall, and basketball over winter. And if you find that isn’t enough, you’re welcome to try out for baseball in the spring.”

“How about tennis or golf?” Tony asked as he smirked.

“You try to hide yourself, Anthony. But I see through you. It’s a defense system you’ve learned over the years. I get it, Cadet DiNozzo. I do understand. And I know you well enough to recognize that deep inside, you enjoy teamwork. You like being on the field with other guys.”

“Do I? Are you saying I’m gay, or something?”

Coach Tanner smiled and waved Tony to walk beside him. “Personally, I value everyone. I don’t care whether you’re gay, straight or bi. But at your age, you may want to be careful who you reveal your tendencies to.”

“You’re afraid I’ll get beat up or something?”

“You’re still a kid. I know you feel all grown up, but you’re not. You’re still well into what I consider to be the experimental years.”

“Then when would I know?”

“Mid to late twenties for some. For you? Maybe when you reach your forties or fifties.”

“What? I’m mature for my age,” Tony insisted, folding his arms across his chest.

“You’re very independent. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re mature. And you can be mature in some ways, but not others. You haven’t grasped your place yet. You have a lot of learning to do.”

“And just what is my place, Coach?”

“Anthony, I want you to succeed. In order for you to do that, you need to start trusting those around you. I see great potential in you.”

“Potential good, or potential bad?” Tony asked.

“Could go either way. We’re going to set you up with a mentor, to help you.”

“You?”

“I will help you as much as I can, but that’s going to lean into the athletics program. There’s another program your father had you enrolled in. It’s time for you to explore that more.”

“The Dom and sub thing? I’ve taken classes. I get that some people are Doms, others are subs.”

“Many don’t fall into either category. But once you’re tested, if you identify with either being a Dom or a sub, it’s in your best interest to embrace your role.”

Tony nodded slowly and smiled nervously. “I tested as a sub and no one wants to tell my father, right?”

“You’re very sharp, Cadet DiNozzo.”

“They say you can feel it. Inside. The tests are for the outside world. Doms and subs can identify themselves internally.”

“Have you talked to your father about that?”

“No. It’s been obvious to me for years that he doesn’t care about me or my life at all.”

“Do yourself a favor, okay? Live your life. Succeed. Don’t screw yourself over in an attempt to piss off your dad. If what you say is true, he’s not going to care anyway. It doesn’t sound like you can count on him. Count on yourself. Work on your grades. Go to college. You want payback? You make something out of your life, without any help from him. Do it on your own. Do it for yourself.”

“Be all I can be?”

“You are a bright young man, with a promising future. I’m willing to help you. There are others willing to help you. During the week, I’ll mentor you through the athletics program. On the weekends, I want you to spend some time with one of our teachers. He can help you.”

“Is he a Dom or a sub?”

“Ken Madison. He’s a sub.”

“He’s my history teacher.”

“He can help you during the school year, then this summer, we can send you to work with a Dom. I can set it up with the program. They pay for Doms to tutor young subs, that or they get college credit.”

“Why not dump me in with a Dom to start? Can’t he teach me everything?”

“He could. But seeing both sides will likely prove very helpful and enlightening.”

“What if I don’t like it?” Tony asked.

“It doesn’t really work that way. You can deny it all you want. You can refuse to align yourself with a Dom. You can live an empty life. But you will always feel there is something missing in your life. You can’t choose to be a Dom or a sub. And you can’t choose not to be what you were born to be.”