Tony looked up into the bleachers, in search of a familiar face and frowned when he saw no one. It hadn't been that long ago that his mother had been in the stands, cheering him on no matter what the activity or how good or bad he performed. Well, maybe nine years was actually a long time but sometimes it felt like only days ago that she'd been there to laugh with and talk to and confide in.
Now it was just him and Senior which was really more like just him. Tony knew his father tried in his own little way. The man just didn't have a clue how to be a dad. At least that's what he told himself. It was easier than admitting Senior's cons were more important to him than his own son.
"Get your head in the game, DiNozzo," his coach not so subtly warned from the sidelines.
Tony obeyed immediately. He didn't want to disappoint another strong, male authority figure in his life.
A short while later, with mere seconds on the clock, Tony stepped between two players on the opposite team, effortlessly taking control of the basketball and with a little fancy footwork all but danced his way around the other players to half court.
While the crowd cheered wildly and his teammates on the sidelines hollered for him to shoot the ball, Tony caught sight of the clock out of the corner of his eye and knew what he needed to do. With only a split second left, he glanced down the court and threw the basketball more like a football. Silence fell over the gymnasium in a moment that mimicked the climax on many of the movies Tony loved so much.
The only sound that could be heard was the swooshing noise the basketball made as it sailed through the net and the ticking of the scoreboard as the score was changed from Tony's team being behind by one point to ahead by two points. The buzzer rang indicating the end of the game and the crowd went wild as they rushed the courts where Tony stood in stunned silence.
While his teammates, classmates and friends celebrated, Tony looked around in search of his father, hoping the man had made it in time to see his game winning shot but he couldn't see or hear him. Anthony DiNozzo Sr. wasn't there and Tony knew he wouldn't be coming. He doubted his father had even remembered the game despite its significance. His team was now in the finals. They were the pride and joy of the high school. Everyone was talking about them.
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Tony was well aware of the eyes of his teammates, all of them focused on him as he sat at his desk, staring up at the visitor like he'd seen a ghost. To say he was in shock was an understatement. Why had the man chosen then to show up and why when he was at work? He'd spent years carefully building his persona, letting his friends get to know the version of him that he was comfortable with them knowing and now that was in jeopardy of blowing up in his face.
"Dad, what're you doing here?" he asked, worry causing his voice to be a bit more blank than he'd intended.
"I came to see you, of course, Junior," the man exclaimed. Still the same old Senior; loud and boisterous and as charming as ever.
"Oh," Tony managed, his mind working a bit more quickly, "because I had the plague." Senior actually didn't have a clue he'd had the plague but maybe the man would tap into his inner con man and play along.
"You had the plague?"
Tony mentally dropped his face into his palm and groaned, despite the phony smile plastered across it for everyone to see. "Oh, I, uh, I musta forgot to tell you," he said nonchalantly.
"Listen, Junior, normally I'd take you out for a nice meal and catch up but time is of the essence," Senior said dramatically, completely ignoring the news of Tony’s life threatening illness.
"What do you need?" Tony all but groaned.
“Do you remember that necklace your mother used to always wear?” Senior asked.
“St. Anthony,” Tony replied quietly. He remembered it. He remembered how much his mother had treasured it—St. Anthony, the patron saint of finding lost people, among other things. Unbeknownst to his father, his mother had given it to him on her death bed and made him promise to keep it safe.
“Yeah, that’s the one!” Senior said excitedly. “I can’t find it anywhere.”
“Dad, it’s been decades since I’ve even been home,” Tony replied.
“I know she gave it to you, Junior,” Senior replied, his eyes narrowing as he looked at his son. “In her mind, you were named after that saint, not me. It disappeared after she died so either you took it or she gave it to you but knowing how much it meant to your mother, I’m guessing she gave it to you.”
"Dad, we're kind of in the middle of a case here. Why don't I meet you for dinner or something? Where are you staying?"
"That's the thing, Junior. This is kind of a sensitive situation. I'm not staying. I can't. I have to get back to the city as soon as possible. I just need the necklace."
“Why do you need it after all these years?”
“Is there somewhere we can speak in private, Son?” Senior asked.
Tony shot a look over to Gibbs who nodded his permission then disappeared off to the elevator with his father following close behind. The two stepped inside when the doors opened and Senior grabbed for the railing when Tony immediately pushed the emergency stop button.
“What the hell has gotten into you?”
“We’re in private,” Tony deadpanned, “talk. Why do you want Mom’s necklace?”
Senior didn’t even hesitate. There was no shame in his answer. “There’s a rare gem in it. It’s worth a lot of money.”
Tony clenched his fists tightly, fighting the urge to use them on the man. Not only had his father barged into his place of employment and made a scene in front of his coworkers, blowing the cover Tony had spent years building, but the man had absolutely no shame. “Dad, that was my mother’s necklace, her most prized possession. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
“So you do have it,” Senior confirmed.
“I never said that,” Tony replied exasperatedly. “I just think it’s your lowest move ever, wanting to sell something that has so much sentimental value for a couple bucks that’ll be gone by next week. I can’t talk about this right now. I’m in the middle of a case.” He slammed his hand onto the button that brought the elevator back to life and as soon as the doors opened he all but ran out to get away from his father and made a beeline for the bathroom. His father had been full of disappointments. Another one shouldn’t matter.
But for some reason it did.
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Tony tried not to let his excitement show as he stood in line for mail call at the summer camp he was attending. He hadn't received any phone calls and there were no visits during visiting hours. Maybe his father had opted for mailing his birthday wishes instead. There might even be a gift to go along with the card.
His counselor went down the roster, calling almost every single other boy in his group before shooting him a hesitant look and announcing, "that's all for today, guys."
The man walked towards him as the group dissipated but Tony simply shook his head and said, "I'm fine, really. I wasn't even expecting anything."
The counselor opened his mouth to say something but Tony disappeared before he could, putting an end to the conversation before it ever got started.
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“I thought you had to hurry back to the city,” Tony said accusatorily. The last thing he’d been expecting when he returned from the bathroom was his father sitting at his desk.
“My plans were hasty, Junior,” Senior replied with a shrug. “I haven’t even taken the time to get to know your coworkers. I’ve invited them all over to your place for a soirée tonight.”
“I know what you’re doing and it’s not gonna work,” Tony replied firmly.
“That’s no way to behave in front of your company, Anthony,” Senior replied in the tone he used when he was actually trying to be a father. “The gathering will start promptly at 7. I’ll see you all then.” And with that, the man rose from his chair and headed out, leaving Tony to plop down at his desk and try to busy himself with his work and not make eye contact with any of his teammates.
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“Why are all these people here?” Tony asked, his facial expression revealing not only his confusion but also his disappointment.
“It’s a party, Tony,” his mother answered, trying her best to sound excited as she tucked her hands behind her legs, moving her dress into position as she sat down on the elegant, curved staircase overlooking the party next to her young son.
“But it’s Christmas,” Tony said. “My teacher said Christmas is for families.”
“These people are your father’s family,” his mother tried to explain, “they’re his work family.”
“But what about his other family? What about us? When’s our Christmas?” Tony’s expressive, green eyes didn’t hide one ounce of the hurt he felt.
Tony’s mother, as beautiful as could be, looked down at the haughtily dressed people before looking back at her beloved son. “I have an idea. Go up to your room and change into a pair of jeans and a warm shirt. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Tony’s face lit up immediately as his mind raced with possibilities of the adventure his mother was planning. The woman dropped a kiss onto his forehead before sending him off with a loving pat on his rear end.
Twenty minutes later, the two slipped out the large, heavy front door unnoticed and made their way down the long walkway. Lightly falling snow tickled their eyelashes as they walked towards town, joking and giggling as their joined hands swung back and forth between them. The chill in the air didn’t bother them in the least as they made their way into the heart of the festively decorated city that seemed to welcome them.
“Chestnuts! Roasted chestnuts!” a vendor called out.
Tony’s mother led him over to the man and she handed him a couple folded up dollar bills. The vendor greeted them warmly as he scooped a generous portion of the chestnuts up and filled a paper cone with them before handing it to Tony’s mother. Tony mimicked his mother’s ‘thank you’ to the man before they headed off and settled on a nearby city bench.
“Your father and I spent a Christmas in Italy before you were born,” his mother explained as she showed him how to peel the nut open from the ‘X’ that had been cut into it before it had been roasted. “Being all bundled up, out in the cold, eating hot, freshly roasted chestnuts with him is one of my favorite memories from that trip. I wish I could take you to Italy and share the experience with you but this’ll have to do.”
“Let’s just pretend we’re in Italy!” Tony replied excitedly as his mother handed him the meat of the nut.
“That’s a good idea!” his mother said, getting caught up in his excitement. “Let’s do that!”
Tony closed his eyes as he put the bite into his mouth, savoring the delicate, sweet, nutty flavor before smiling up at his mother. “This is my favorite thing I’ve had to eat all night,” he told her.
She smiled broadly and ruffled his hair before handing him a chestnut to peel and grabbing one for herself. “What do you say, after we finish our special treat, we go back and buy all the nice man’s roasted chestnuts and share them with our other friend’s at the homeless shelter?”
“Yeah!” Tony replied excitedly. “And if we buy all the nice man’s treats, then he can go home and spend Christmas with his family, right, Momma?” He looked up at his mother earnestly and her heart swelled with pride.
“I bet you’re right, son.”
“Let’s go right now,” Tony said, popping up off the bench. “We can eat our special treat with our friends at the shelter. Can we, Mom? Can we please?!”
“That sounds like a brilliant idea, Tony. Let’s go!”
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Tony heaved a heavy sigh when he heard the excited knock on his front door. With knocking like that, it could only be one person—Abby, which probably meant Kate too. Those two had been like two peas in a pod as of late but it didn't bother Tony in the least. He loved them both.
He made his way over to the door, unlocked it and plastered his best smile on his face before opening it. "Hello, ladies," he greeted cheerfully.
"Hey, Tony!" Abby replied excitedly as she practically bounced into the apartment and wrapped Tony in one of her patented hugs.
"We're here for the soirée," Kate told him, motioning towards the evening gown she'd dragged out of the back of her closet. She rarely got a chance to wear anything quite so dressy anymore.
"Did your dad tell you he invited us?" Abby asked. "He stopped by my lab; musta been after leaving the bullpen." Kate had been working with Abby in the lab all afternoon and both had missed Senior's visit. Apparently the man had stopped by and charmed them on his way out.
"He didn't tell me but it's fine,” Tony replied. "You guys know you're always welcome here." He waved them in and motioned towards the bar in his kitchen where there were bottles of fine wine in fancy buckets of ice and an assortment of cheese, olive, meat and fruit platters laid out.
"This is nice," Abby said, moving closer and looking over the selection.
"If there's one thing Senior knows how to do, it's throw a party," Tony replied with an empty smile.
"It's nice that he came to visit you," Kate said. "He seems really sweet, Tony."
The cynical laugh didn't hide Tony's feelings. "He does, doesn't he? You guys help yourselves to whatever you want or I can order some pizzas and we can party like real people. I just got off the phone with McGee. He had to drop some books at the library before heading over; probably won't be long before the probie's writing books of his own. I bet he's read every single book the local libraries own."
"What about Gibbs?" Abby asked.
"You know Boss. He keeps his own schedule but he'll be here."
McGee arrived while Abby and Kate were making their wine selections and filling their glasses. He joined them and the three of them headed into the living room where Tony had turned on some soft jazz for a little background music.
"This is so nice, Tony," Abby sighed happily, wrapping one arm around him and resting her head on his shoulder.
"What's that?" Kate asked, standing on the other side of Tony, watching as he fingered a charm attached to a chain.
"The real reason for Senior's visit," Tony answered, smiling softly.
"What is it?" Abby asked reaching for the pendant.
"It was my mom's," Tony explained, passing the necklace over to her. "She gave it to me right before she died."
McGee remained silent after witnessing the words exchanged between Tony and his father in the bullpen earlier that day.
“The real reason for his visit?” Abby tilted her head in confusion. “I don’t get it.”
“Apparently the jewel in it is worth quite a bit of money,” Tony answered. “Senior needs money; he wants to pawn it.”
"Oh, Tony," Abby replied sympathetically.
"That's horrible!" Kate said in shock.
"That's my dad," Tony said, shrugging it off.
"Where is he?" Abby asked, realizing the man who was hosting the soirée was nowhere to be found. "Where's your dad?"
"On his way home, I would imagine." Tony couldn’t keep the tinge of hurt out of his voice.
"He was so charming," Kate said in disbelief. "I can't believe he's such a... a..."
"A scumbag?" Tony finished for her. "I came to terms with it a long time ago, guys. I'm just glad he didn't con my building manager into letting him into my apartment and run off with my mom's necklace while I was at work."
"He wouldn't," Abby started but a look from Tony had her back pedaling. "He would?"
The front door opened and closed and Gibbs strolled into the apartment with a case of cold beer. One look at the group and his suspicions were confirmed. "Senior skip town?" he asked, putting the beer on the counter and kicking his shoes off.
"Not even an hour before Abs and Kate showed up," Tony answered as he made a beeline for the beer Gibbs had brought in with him.
Gibbs opened the case and pulled a cold one out for Tony and one for himself. "His loss," he replied with a trace of a smile and a wink.
"Why'd you bring beer, Gibbs?" Kate asked.
"Because I know the real Senior," Gibbs answered. "The pizzas will be here in about fifteen minutes."
"And now we know the real Senior too," Abby said in disgust, "but we're not gonna let that ruin our evening, right guys?"
"Right," Kate answered for the group. "The party must go on and tonight's party has nothing to do with Senior. It's a celebration in honor of Tony's mother."
The group raised their glasses and cans and clinked them together and the real party got underway.