. They Don't Define You .
"Tony? What are you doing here?" Gibbs asked as he entered his house and found his son in the living room, watching a movie on TV.
Tony looked at him, looked at the TV and then again at him, like he wasn't sure what kind of question that was. "Hi, Dad. I'm... Uh, watching TV?"
Gibbs snorted. "Yes, thank you, I can see that. I mean everyone else has gone to your friend's birthday party, right? Why are you here and not there?" He was a bit afraid that Tony was again pulling back, not playing with other kids. He'd always pushed Tony a little to find friends because he knew it'd been hard for him at first. But after three years of him living there with them, he thought the problem was pretty much solved now.
Tony averted his eyes and bit his lip.
"Tony?" Gibbs prodded gently, with a hint of reproach in his tone.
"I wasn't invited." The kid finally replied.
"You-" Gibbs blinked. "What are you talking about? Of course you were invited."
Tony looked up and smiled bitterly. "No, I wasn't. Brian gave cards to everyone he wanted in his party; he gave one to Abby, one to Kate and one to Timmy."
"I'm sure he'd still want you-"
"Dad," Tony sighed and shook his head, suddenly looking way older than 9. "He didn't. And it's OK."
Gibbs was lost for words.
"Why are you home so early, anyway?" The boy tried to change the subject.
Gibbs shook his head to snap out of his thoughts. "It's Friday and we didn't have a case; even we can get an early afternoon." He answered with a growl, like he was sorry for himself that they had to work such late hours sometimes. Sitting down on the couch by his son's side, he studied the kid for a couple of seconds from the corner of his eyes before once again asking, "So, you sure you weren't invited?"
Tony almost groaned when he realized they were back to that topic. "Well, pretty sure the lack of an invitation note says everything."
"Well, maybe he'd left it on your book or something and it's dropped down without you noticing."
Rolling his eyes, Tony said, "Dad, he came to the house to give us our cards. Or well, to give the others their cards. We were all together when he handed the others their cards and acted like I wasn't even there."
Gibbs almost flinched at that. What the hell was wrong with kids, these days? "So, you're telling me that even Abby and the others knew you weren't invited?"
Tony looked up at the man beside him with a raised eyebrow. "They've been going on and on about it the whole week, Dad. Of course, they knew. Also, did you miss Kate's taunting and Tim's giggling every time the party was mentioned? They were pretty happy I wasn't invited."
"I figured you were all just happy to be going to this party." Gibbs mumbled, not believing he'd missed all the hints. "I think you're wrong about Tim and Kate, though; I'm sure they're sad you aren't there."
Tony snorted before he could stop himself but didn't comment. He knew better. The remarks those two had kept making had made it pretty clear what they thought and besides, if they actually cared, they either wouldn't go or at least wouldn't keep mentioning it in front of him, knowing he wasn't invited.
Apparently his dad had thought of the same thing, because he said, "Still, I suppose they could've at least stopped talking about it if they knew." He also thought that if it was the other way around, Tony'd probably not go at all when one of his siblings hadn't been invited; he probably wouldn't go to show his dissatisfaction for seeing a sibling excluded from an event and to show that the uninvited sibling or friend wasn't alone even if she or he hadn't been invited to some stupid party.
"Any idea why you were excluded?" He had to ask because as far as he knew, Brian was Tony's friend; it was strange that he was the only one not invited when even Timmy was.
Shrugging, Tony said, "I think it's because of how I look."
Blinking with confusion, Gibbs looked down at his son with a frown. "What's wrong with your look?"
"Well, thankfully nothing's wrong with my face." Tony chuckled; although it did sound a bit off. "I mean imagine what everyone would do if I had a scar here, too." He pointed to the general area of his face. "They'd probably think I'm a criminal." He said those words so lightly that if Gibbs didn't know better, he'd think the kid was actually finding it funny.
"I'm lost, son. What are you talking about?"
"It all happened after that pool thing."
"What pool thing?"
"Uh, remember about two months ago? When Abby wanted to go to the pool and you made me go, too?"
"So, I didn't want to go for a reason." Tony sighed. "And I told you why back then and you still made me go because you think I shouldn't be ashamed of what's happened to me."
Gibbs frowned. Now he remembered. "I still stand by my words. What's happened to you and leaving you with those scars wasn't your fault, Tony and even someone made a mistake and was somehow left with some scars on their bodies, they shouldn't hide and let those scars rule their lives. You shouldn't let some scars define you."
"Yeah, that's what you said back then, too." Tony sighed; feeling a bit frustrated; because adults always said things like that and used words that usually meant nothing or didn't work in the real world; 'not let them define him?' Well, it wasn't exactly up to him; people looked and people talked and people decided they didn't want him around because of those scars.
Gibbs was still lost, though. "OK, and that's related to this how?"
"Daaaad!" Tony almost whined, sometimes he had to explain every single thing to this man. "There were other kids at the pool. Brian for example. They saw my back and they all started to talk. I know because I overheard some of them; now they just don't wanna be around me and those who hadn't actually seen my body, still stay away because other kids have told them about me. They all stay away now. Nobody wants to play with someone like me. I'm a freak."
"No you're not." Gibbs snapped, sounding frantic.
"Well, they think I am." Tony said with a shrug. He'd explained the whole thing so nonchalantly that it hurt to even listen to him. "It's OK, Dad. Don't worry about it." He smiled kindly and turned his attention back to the TV.
"Tony-" Gibbs wanted to say it's not OK, but he didn't know how he could convince him.
"Really, it's OK. I'm used to it." He shrugged again. "I never had a friend before either. It's alright." He smiled again, which turned into a grin, "besides, watching Batman while having popcorn is way cooler than going to a party." His eyes though were telling a different story; Tony might have mastered the art of hiding his feelings and keeping his voice steady while talking about things that bothered him, but his eyes still showed how hurt his soul was.
So, no, it wasn't cool to be excluded from a party and Gibbs knew Tony was saying that for his sake and wasn't that just sad? The 9 year old boy was covering his hurt for the sake of the grownup. Gibbs was mad at those kids who were treating his son this way; he wanted to be mad at his own children, too; well, Kate and Tim weren't his exactly, but they were living there with them for the time being, so he could call them his if he wanted to and he did want to be mad at them, but they were kids and Gibbs didn't think they actually understood the depth of the problem here.
They were actually kids; none of them had lived through life-changing experience like Tony had, being forced to think and act like an adult in order to survive. He couldn't expect every kid to understand things that Tony did, even if they were older than Tony, like Kate was. Besides, it wasn't exactly a secret that Kate was bitter and harsh to Tony because she felt he could take it and that he deserved it for being a boy. She was rarely hard on Tim, because the boy would burst into tears for pretty much any reason which made him a baby in her eyes and unworthy of her real attention; but Tony stood his ground and while Kate liked it, she still felt he was the kind of boy who needed to know girls were stronger and better than boys.
As for little Tim; well, he actually didn't seem to have a definite side; whichever side was heavier, he'd go there, just like a ball rolling around; and he seemed to be a bit envious of Tony because Tony got to live with his mom and Dad while he had to stay away from them and since Tony was so strong that he'd always take care of his own needs and never had to ask for help, Tim seemed to feel even more jealous. And for those reasons, he enjoyed it when Kate could hurt Tony with her words or whenever they seemed to have the upper hand.
God, kids these days! Gibbs was pretty sure it hadn't been this complicated when he had been a kid, but then again, he had grown up in a pretty normal and ordinary environment. His house, today, with the kids from different backgrounds and different problems was anything but normal.