Tony returned to his desk only to learn that Gibbs had gone for coffee. Ziva and McGee were busy at their computers. He was glad. The man needed to be caffeinated if he was going to be watching him every minute. Tony sighed. Gibbs knew he partied extra hard during the holidays, but he’d obviously picked up that there was a different edge to it this year. Sure, he was partying a little harder than normal but it seemed as though their cases had been rougher than normal, too. He rubbed a hand over his face.
“Are you alright, Tony?” asked Ziva.
“Just dandy, Zeee-vah!” Tony answered with his trademark grin.
“So you are no longer suffering from the effects of your Sunday party?” she asked coyly.
Tony shot McGee a look only to see him smirking into his computer.
“Like I said, I’m fine. Thank you,” Tony answered shortly. He so did not need to be hassled about his morning condition, especially since he was still suffering from a lingering headache.
“I think you need someone to look after you. It is obvious that you do not know when to hang in.”
“But you are not going out. You should stay at home, stay in, yes?”
“But it’s called hanging out.”
Ziva rolled her eyes. “Regardless of what it is called, you should have rested so that you would be ready to work today. You need someone to ensure it is so.”
“You volunteering for the job?” Tony asked regretting it even before the words had completely left his mouth. It was the slight hesitation just before her answer that made Tony’s hackles rise up.
“I already have a job. Ray does not need me to take care of him like a child.”
“Then you better get to it, Ziver, or you won’t have a job to get back to,” growled Gibbs as he walked into the bullpen. “You, too, DiNozzo.”
“Yes, Boss. Working, Boss,” Tony called out as he dove behind his computer. He had O’Donnal’s address book out in seconds. Even though he was thumbing through the pages looking for any hint of a Gina, he couldn’t help but glance over at Ziva. Unfortunately, she looked up at that same moment and sent him another one of those weird little smiles. He didn’t return it, looking down instead but no longer saw the address book in his hand. What he saw in his mind’s eye instead was his bucket list or, more specifically, item 19. He needed to handle that one. And soon.
Tony shut everything down late Friday evening. Their case was closed and their reports had been written. Tony didn’t want to think about this case anymore. He just needed to get out of the office.
“Got a date, Tony?” Ziva asked and Tony looked up from zipping his backpack closed.
“When don’t I have a date, Zee-vah?” Tony answered facetiously. He wasn’t lying about having a date…it was just that his date was not with a woman. Or even a man, for that matter. His date was with forgetfulness. This case was stirring up a whole slew of unsettling emotions, a lot more than he was prepared to deal with.
“So do I,” said McGee from his side of the bullpen as soon as he got off the phone.
“Cathy is not working tonight?” asked Ziva.
“No, she is not,” McGee concurred with a smile. “Just got off the phone with her to let her know we’d closed the case so we’re going out to dinner and to a late movie.”
“Well, good for you, McPlanner,” Tony said as he hefted his bag over his shoulder. “Have a good weekend, everyone,” he said with a last look at Gibbs and then, not wanting anything else to hold him up, he called out a goodnight and walked out of the office.
Several hours later Tony was quickly on his way to forgetting all about Seaman First Class Victor O’Donnal, the Vic who became a vic over what he’d lost.
The only problem was that he couldn’t get the memory of the frozen tear tracks out of his head. He wracked his brain and then suddenly remembered why it all seemed so familiar. Oh, God…no wonder…
The party was finally over and it was very, very late. He shouldn’t have gotten out of bed but he was hoping to see his Mama again. He crept downstairs very quietly hoping to avoid the maids who were busy picking up the worst of the mess. It was then he heard his mother’s voice, an angry, bitter hiss. She was answered by his father, yelling quite loudly, as usual. He remembered hearing a sharp crack and then a thud. He crept around the corner and that’s when he saw her. He remembered her lying there in her gorgeous holiday dress, the dress that she was so very worried about creasing before the party that she wouldn’t let her only son hug her, now spread out in untidy heaps about her as she lay on the floor where she’d fallen in a drunken sprawl.
He ran to her with a cry and that’s when he saw the tears on her face.
Tony closed his eyes tightly and ran a hand over his face. He opened his eyes and stared down into the drink in front of him. He blew a breath through clenched teeth hearing in his mind the cries of a small boy…
“Mama! Come on, Mama,” he’d said thinking that she was just sick again. “You need to go to bed.” It was then he saw the widening pool of red behind her. “Mama!” he screamed.
He’d tried to lift her but what seven-year old boy could lift the unconscious form of an adult? He tried again only to be roughly shoved to the side. He fell against the piano bench, hitting his head as he fell over.
“Leave her!” growled his father. “She’s just fucking drunk…l”
“Just fucking drunk…and you hit her, you bastard…” he muttered to himself. For three days…three FUCKING DAYS he thought she was dead. It was later he’d learned that she’d just retreated to her room, still drinking, only no one had bothered to tell him.
“Be quiet, Anthony, and go to your room.” “Don’t ask so many questions.” “Your father is too busy to see you.”
He remembered finally tracking his father down to ask if his father was going to bury Mama. He got slapped in the face for that question. It wasn’t until years after they really did bury her that he realized his father thought he was accusing him of trying to kill her.
“Hey, Tony…last call although I think you’ve had enough…”
Tony raised his head and stared blearily at Carl, the bartender. He gave him a faint smile. They’d done this so many times over the years and Carl knew him, knew the different expressions that said yes, he’d had enough, although it didn’t always mean alcohol.
Carl offered to call for a ride and Tony nodded and thanked the man. He grabbed his coat intending to stand outside in the cold to clear his head a bit. He left his scarf hanging and his coat unbuttoned. When he stepped out he gave a quick shiver. He was cold and his breath came out in little puffs but his head immediately felt clearer. He stayed in the doorway and scanned the street. No sound except for the noise of distant traffic and the occasional roar of a garbage truck. The lines to an old song came to him.
“Prehistoric garbage trucks…have the city to themselves…” he sang under his breath. It was late, or was it early? Either way, there was no one out so maybe 3 or 4 in the morning.
“And most of the taxis, most of the whores…are only taking calls for cash…” That’d be about right, he thought as he sang to the night sky. Even though the city was mostly dark he still couldn’t see any stars. The sky was clouded over but he doubted they get snow. That was too bad. He wanted it to snow, wanted pristine white to cover the damp filth.
He looked down at the ground, noted the dew that had turned city dirt to grime. It was then he noticed a torn piece of tinsel trying hard to shine in the dark. It was all bent and dirty and he figured that it, along with an old beaten up and scratched ornament that was lying partially attached, had probably fallen from the decorations on the outside of the building. Tony felt an ache go through him as he looked at it because he remembered the ornament that had broken at that party...empty…and now scarred and useless. It struck him as one of the saddest things he’d ever seen.
God, he was drunk, but the song kept playing in his head and he sang a few more lines.
“Well, now, it's past last call for alcohol
Past recall has been here and gone
The landlord he finally paid us all
The satin jazzmen have put away their horns
And we're standing outside of this wonderland
Looking so bereaved and so bereft
Like a Bowery bum when he finally understands
The bottle's empty and there's nothing left…” *
Tony softly repeated that last line as he stood in the dark, swaying softly with his head hanging down. “I’m empty,” he said to the world at large.
“Not empty, Tony,” came a low voice which made Tony’s head snap up. Unfortunately, that action also made the world tilt around him. His eyes widened and a warm hand curled over the back of his neck, anchoring him.
“Easy. I gotcha,” Gibbs said and then Tony felt Gibbs’ other hand reach out to squeeze his shoulder, a nice, comforting squeeze. Not painful at all. The only problem was that now he was shivering.
“Come on. Let’s go home,” Gibbs said and Tony felt the buttons on his coat being done up and the scarf winding itself around his neck.
“Cab’s coming,” Tony muttered.
“Nah, Carl called me.”
Tony nodded and then the next thing he knew, he was being buckled into Gibbs’ Charger. He watched the world pass by in a blaze of lights. It reminded him of all the lights in the ballroom, the bright colors of the women’s dresses but no one was as pretty as his mother. He recalled looking down through the railing from his perch at the top of the stairs of his family home while his parents hosted one of their many holiday parties. It had all been so beautiful and everyone always seemed to be having the most wonderful time. He was never allowed to join in because the parties had been for his parent’s friends and business acquaintances, not little boys. He just remembered how beautiful it all was and at the center of it all was his mother, always the most beautiful woman there. He remembered seeing her down below, laughing and dancing, her skirts unfolding like a flower as she was spun about in the arms of his father or some other lucky man.
“Did you ever dance with her?” Gibbs asked as he drove and only then did Tony realize he’d spoken aloud.
“No, I was never allowed downstairs during their parties. She didn’t dance any other time…” She was far too unhappy…and then she never danced again…
Gibbs said nothing for a moment. “Did you get a lot of presents?”
Tony’s small smile disappeared only to be replaced by a wide, slightly lop-sided and completely fake grin. “Of course I got presents, Gibbs! Lots of presents. I remember one year I got this chemistry set…”
“Have to tell Abby you were into chemistry when you were a kid…”
“Well, I wasn’t but nobody knew that. Nobody knew anything. Anyway, I decided to try it out so I mixed up this blue…stuff…I don’t remember what it was supposed to be and I guess I didn’t get it right because it let off these seriously bad fumes and then the housekeeper started yelling at me to stop it. How do you stop a chemical reaction? Well, you don’t,” Tony slurred and he slapped his hand down on his thigh in emphasis. “All I could do was stand there while she started running around opening windows and fanning at the smelly smoke with her apron. It was amazing. So funny,” Tony said with a laugh and ignoring the fact that Gibbs just watched him.
“What’d your folks do?”
“Oh, this was great. They were asleep as usual on Christmas morning but when the housekeeper started yelling my father got up and ran down the stairs. His face was so red and his eyes were completely bloodshot. Looking back on it now I think he might’ve still been drunk because he reached out to grab the vial and lost his balance somehow. So the vial goes flying and smashed against this painting and then…then my father really started losing it but that was nothing compared to my Mom,” Tony said, his smile gone as he became lost in his memory. “As soon as she saw that blue stuff dripping down the painting she started screaming and yanking on my father’s arm, telling him to fix it but how could he? So he starts yelling at me but I didn’t really know what the stuff was so he started whaling on m…” Tony stopped, suddenly aware of what he was about to say. “…he was just wailing. Just like my mother,” Tony said, again plastering that wide grin on his face. “It was all so funny, Gibbs. Really funny.”
Gibbs just nodded. “How old were you?”
“I was eight,” he said and then fell silent. He felt as though he should be saying something but nothing came to mind. He didn’t want to remember any more. Fortunately, the silence didn’t seem to bother Gibbs because he stayed quiet, too.
A short time later they arrived at Gibbs’ home. Tony sighed softly. He was still shivering slightly and he wondered how long he’d stood outside of the bar. It hadn’t been long, but considering the low temperature, it wasn’t surprising that he was chilled. Gibbs pulled into the garage and then helped Tony into the house. Still quiet, Gibbs took his coat and scarf and then led him upstairs and helped him to bed.
Later he would wonder if it hadn’t been a figment of his alcohol-soaked imagination, but he could have sworn he felt a hand brush through his hair just as he fell asleep.
*Your Latest Trick by Dire Straits