Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 6972
Warning(s): Other (See Author's Note)
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo, Ziva David
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Character Study, Established Relationship, General
Summary: DiNozzo wonders about what he lacks.
Author Notes: From the moment DiNozzo received notice that his sperm had never been selected for use and was deemed 'unwanted' by that fertility clinic in Ohio, I've felt a strange surge of righteous indignation in his behalf...and, maybe, for childless men everywhere. This is my homage to that brotherhood.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement intended.
Watching young children interact with Jethro Gibbs was something of a real conundrum for Tony DiNozzo and he was continually in awe of how easy going and totally relaxed the older man seemed to become while in their youthful presence. The former Marine’s behavior was completely at odds with his usual, normal, everyday demeanor…well, whatever ‘normal’ was for Gibbs…and it made DiNozzo wonder if it was because of some weirdly special fatherhood gene the older man carried within his body…or if some people were just naturally predisposed to feel a kinship with children, whether they were natural offspring or not. Oh, sure, he was well aware his boss once had a kid of his very own…a daughter named Kelly…and had probably done all kinds of that ‘daddy’ stuff with her when he could, like playing games or reading books or taking her to the park for a few hours of one-on-one quality time, but Gibbs had also suffered and endured the harshest blow a parent could ever experience in this god-forsaken life, by having his only child die while she was just a pre-adolescent girl. To make matters even worse…if that were even possible…she’d died while he was off serving his country on foreign soil, too far away from home to do anything to protect her. Surely, in DiNozzo’s mind, that terrible experience, alone, would have hardened Gibbs’ heart and dampened his feelings toward getting close to the children of other people but, remarkably, it sure didn’t seem that way…at least from what the younger agent had witnessed.
And that was the root of the whole mystery.
Gibbs was a total hardass, most of the time, a real mean, snarly sonofabitch when he was in a foul mood, and by DiNozzo’s standards, nothing could put a person in a foul mood faster than some cranky, demanding, noisy, little kid. They were egotistical, self-centered, undersized whiners and, usually, prone to thinking about no one else but themselves, expecting to be catered to without question or objection. They actually possessed all the characteristics the older man usually abhorred in the human species, so Gibbs’ unexplainable and confusing transformation from grizzly bear to teddy bear, when children were somehow involved with a case, fairly rocked DiNozzo back on heels and made him take a closer look at his boss’ dealings with the children they encountered…
…and made him, personally, wonder if there was, possibly, something in his own character that made him different…or flawed. Flawed. DiNozzo cringed slightly at that thought because he sure didn‘t like to think he‘d been born ‘tainted‘ or, God forbid, ‘incomplete‘. But maybe that was it. Maybe there was some defect in his own disposition that hindered the ability to feel the compassion or kinship or, at the very least, the kind of open, honest concern for them that Gibbs did. DiNozzo knew he wasn’t perfect, although he sure liked to try to get others to see around any imperfection he knew existed, but just the sight of those undersized, underweight, little people sometimes made him wince with dread. Or, they had in the past. Now, he just didn’t know what to think.
DiNozzo’d often speculated about the environment he’d experienced as a child and considered the circumstances of his own rigid up-bringing, wondering if, somehow, that was the root of his on-going problem with children, but, really, he’d never been able to find too much fault with his relationship with his parents or how they’d chosen to raise him. Oh, sure, they hadn’t been like the mothers or fathers he’d seen represented in movies or on television or even been like the parents of the few friends he’d managed to come into contact with as a young boy but they hadn’t beat him or starved him or abused him in any way, shape, or form either, so he didn‘t think he could use them as an excuse for the way he felt. He’d seen the kids that had fallen into *that* category…still saw them every now and then because of the job…but would never compare his childhood to those unfortunate, haunted children. Never.
He’d actually turned out to be a pretty decent guy…at least, he hoped he had…and was doing his part to make society better. That had to account for something, didn’t it? DiNozzo’s lips twisted into a wry expression as he considered the question. He’d made friends easily all through school, learned quickly he had a natural ability to make people laugh and smile and want to be around him, and had, in turn, valued the friendship and camaraderie they’d shown him. He still kept in contact with many of his fraternity brothers from college, saw them from time to time, even though most of them were now married and had children of their own. They usually either razzed DiNozzo unmercifully about being the consummate bachelor, believing he still chased after any warm body who’d glance in his direction, or they persisted in trying to set him up with someone they just knew would be ‘perfect for him’, letting him know they thought he was way past the time he should have settled down and began raising a family of his own. As much as he hated to admit it, the last group was the one he’d started avoiding, not needing to hear their words or see their expressions or, worse, listen to them extol the virtues of parenthood. Like Gibbs, they had felt the desire to become fathers…and DiNozzo just didn’t.
So, what was the difference? What did Gibbs and his frat brothers have that he didn’t?
Sitting quietly at his desk in NCIS headquarters, DiNozzo briefly closed his eyes, sighed, and tried to imagine what it must have felt like for his boss…or any man, for that matter…to hold his newborn baby in his strong, capable arms for the very first time and look down into that tiny, scrunched, alien face. One of his frat brothers had said it had been love at first sight but DiNozzo couldn’t comprehend how that was even remotely possible because, for him, love was an emotion that just didn’t come easily, even with people his own age, so how could a newborn instill such raw, immediate feelings? It just didn’t seem a likely scenario to him. They’d talked about placing the child down as soon as they could and unwrapping the snug blankets so they could examine it thoroughly, checking to make sure ‘everything was there and in the proper place’. There’d probably been a counting and a recounting of all those impossibly small fingers and toes and lots of gazing in sheer amazement at the new life created from such a small portion of their own bodies. DiNozzo frowned and sighed again. It must have seemed like some kind of miracle.
A wondrous miracle.
DiNozzo shifted in his seat and attempted to envision what Gibbs must have experienced as Kelly’d slowly grown, patiently feeding that cherished child, loving her so much that the globs of spit food or spilt milk or burped up formula were patiently ignored and tolerated. He’d probably just smiled and continued on with the feeding, finding some kind of perverse, fatherly joy at being puked upon by his own child. DiNozzo didn’t have any idea how quickly children progressed from being fed with a bottle to finally graduating to baby food but he was willing to bet that Gibbs did. Gibbs seemed to know everything about kids.
He tried to picture how Gibbs might have reacted when Kelly had said ‘daddy’ or ‘dada’ or whatever the hell kids say when they start to talk. It might have even been her very first word, if Shannon had coached the child in that direction, and he could almost imagine the pleased, astonished smile that had graced Gibbs’ delighted, surprised face. Thinking of the older man receiving such inane pleasure from hearing that one, tiny word uttered by his wide-eyed, diminutive daughter made DiNozzo’s grim expression swiftly morph into a small, fleeting, one-sided grin. Had Gibbs swooped down to gather the child into his loving embrace, holding her high and proud, eliciting a repetition of the new word, again and again, as he’d tickled and kissed and hugged her? It must have been wonderful.
But that daughter was gone. Was that fatherly…connection…severed, now, too?
DiNozzo’s grin immediately evaporated as he considered the question, rolling it over and around inside the cramping confines of his confused mind. He wondered if Gibbs still considered himself a father, even after all these years of being childless. He wondered if those feelings still surfaced, now and again, pushing to the forefront, overriding all other emotions so he could focus on the needs of the kid in his proximity. Gibbs had known, firsthand, that secret, elusive emotion a parent feels when they hold and comfort their own child. Was that emotion distributed to other children, too? Was it something that’s forever imprinted in the unconscious and never forgotten?
DiNozzo just didn’t know.
Sighing softly again and partially opening his eyes, DiNozzo looked through the fringe of his lashes and gazed discreetly over to where Gibbs was soothing some missing sailor’s little girl at his desk, watching the interaction closely. He didn’t want to get caught staring openly at the duo but he felt, somehow, compelled to observe the interaction, admiring the easy way Gibbs communicated with and listened to the brave child as she spoke softly and hesitantly to him. They were virtually in a world of their own, even though they were positioned in the middle of the bullpen, like they had some imaginary, invisible walls dividing them from the surrounding noise and action and people. When the older agent gently raised a hand and tenderly brushed a stray wisp of hair away from a small, round, wet cheek, DiNozzo hurriedly looked away, his chest constricting tightly with some unknown and unnamed emotion.
The sharp, quiet word had been directly tossed his way, there was no doubt in his mind about it‘s intended route, and DiNozzo’s head snapped around at the underlying taunt he could hear contained within the soft utterance. He momentarily glared at the woman sitting directly across from him in the small bullpen area and then schooled his expression into a calm blank, not wanting to give anymore of himself away than he already had. The cool, knowing gaze that greeted him made his stomach tighten.
Jealousy? Is that what he was feeling? DiNozzo quickly rolled the absurd idea around in his mind and tried it on for size…but, then, he had to try to see if the emotion he was considering was directed toward Gibbs or the child…and he just wasn’t prepared to go there. Yet.
“Jealous?” He slowly leaned his elbows on the edge of his desk, with just the right measure of nonchalance, and repeated the word, offering a tight scoffing smirk as he did. He could bullshit with the best of them. “I don’t think I’m jealous of anyone but,“ he raised one finger as Ziva David opened her mouth to contradict his assessment, effectively silencing the persistent woman for a moment, ”but I am *envious* of several people.” DiNozzo casually leaned back in his chair, trying to look more relaxed than he actually felt, letting his eyes momentarily loose their focus. “I’m envious of Brad Pitt…the actor, not the doctor…because he can snuggle up to Angelina any time he wants and, between him and Edward Norton, no one‘s sculpted their six-pack any better than old Brad. Man, Fight Club was just a feast for the eyes.”
“That’s not what…” Ziva attempted to interrupt but was quickly cut off.
“I’m also envious of Shigeru Miyamoto,“ DiNozzo continued blithely, slipping into the groove, and tipped his head back, lacing his long fingers loosely together at the base of his skull, “who, if you talk to McGeek there,” he angled his eyes briefly toward Tim McGee’s empty desk, “as the creator of Mario and Donkey Kong and Zelda, should be held high on a pedestal and worshiped like a god.”
“I’m not…“ Ziva tried again.
“And I have serious envy for Tom Ford,” he shrugged indifferently and let his eyes travel back to the Mossad officer’s position, “and his innate fashion sense. Dude’s done more for men’s clothing in the last twenty years than anyone else I can think of at the moment and that includes Giorgio Armani or Ralph Lauren or even Gianni Versace, rest his soul.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” the woman hissed her frustration and pointed a circumspect finger in the general direction of Gibbs’ desk, rolling her dark eyes along the path. “I meant *that*.”
DiNozzo hesitantly let his gaze wander back to the original object of his contemplation, almost…almost…afraid of what he’d see, and had to bite back another sigh. Gibbs had propped the little girl up on the edge of his desk, so they were now basically eye-to-eye, and was carefully unwrapping a stick of chewing gum for her, smiling indulgently as her small, perfect hand patted the top of his slightly bent head. DiNozzo watched as the offered gum was accepted and popped immediately into her bird-like mouth…and then cringed as Gibbs leaned forward and began talking quietly to her again, his face mere inches from hers. When the girl giggled and leaned forward to wrap her small, spindly arms around Gibbs’ neck, DiNozzo had to look away, the burn of some unpleasant, unnamed substance suddenly churning uncomfortably in the pit of his hollow belly.
And that strange, unnamed emotion unexpectedly blossomed in his chest again…and, this time, it hurt.
Abruptly pushing his seat back and swiftly rising to his feet, DiNozzo snagged his jacket off the chair’s back and shrugged into the long sleeves, the first hand through one of the cuffs reaching instinctively to pull his weapon from the desk’s top drawer. He couldn’t stay here a moment longer…not while this bizarre, astonishing, and completely foreign sensation continued to plague his body…and certainly not while Ziva persisted in dissecting his traitorous and, apparently, uncontrollable expressions.
“Got some errands to run,” he threw out toward anyone listening and rounded the desk, the fingers of one hand trying to tame the unruly collar at the back of his neck as he walked. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Get me some coffee while you’re out,” Gibbs barked out an order without looking away from his young charge, seemingly oblivious to his senior field agent’s dilemma. “And bring Amanda some juice.”
The little girl’s shouted demand made DiNozzo’s skin crawl but he kept his face impassive and never slowed. “One coffee, one Snapple…got it.” He threw Ziva a bland look as he passed her desk. “Anything for you?”
Her hand quickly snatched out and her fist closed tightly in the fabric of his sleeve, forcing him to halt. DiNozzo looked down at the fingers bunching the material and then back up into the face of his colleague, seeing the beginnings of sympathy lurking just underneath her usual taunting expression. It was almost like a punch to the gut.
“Don’t,” he warned in a heated whisper, pulling his arm free with determined care, his eyes growing dangerously hard. “Don’t you *ever* look at me like that again.”
Ziva’s eyebrows arched in surprise but she quickly recovered, her smooth face returning to it’s usual bland countenance. She often had a difficult time reading people’s emotions but there was absolutely no doubt about what DiNozzo was feeling toward her right now. She raised both hands in a placating gesture, chest high and palms turned outward, and took a step back, nodding her understanding and compliance. She liked pushing DiNozzo‘s buttons, usually found their verbal sparring almost exhilarating at times, but she never intended to intentionally hurt him in any way, especially so close after his recent break up with Jeanne Benoit. Now, it seemed she had.
DiNozzo gave the woman one more cursory glance and then turned, hurrying toward the elevator that would take him out of the confining office and away from the uncomfortable thoughts that continued to plague him. He nervously fidgeted within the box-like conveyance and, when finally released from the compartment, let his long legs eat up the distance as he pushed through the front of the building and instinctively turned to head in the direction of Gibbs’ favorite coffee shop. He didn’t know if they carried Snapple there, didn’t really care, and just as soon bring the demanding, little girl something with a label reading ‘Crapple’ on it.
‘Crapple.’ Snorting quietly at the thought, DiNozzo slowed his steps and forced himself to take an easier gait. ‘Wonder if that would be a smooth, sweet blend of crap and apples. Yum.’
Shoving his hands deeply within the pockets of his dark windbreaker, DiNozzo let his eyes drift downward toward the concrete sidewalk, and turned the corner almost blindly, oblivious to the few strangers he passed along the way, just letting the tension gradually drain from his tightly strung body. It was too nice a day to clutter his aching mind with thoughts of things that had no rightful place in his life and the young man determinedly forced his mental wanderings back to more appropriate, comfortable musings…like whether Abby would be getting another tattoo soon or if Probie was going to over-bleach his teeth again in the near future. Those were topics he felt at ease with because they put the spotlight on another person and kept the attention centered on someone other than himself, just like he preferred it. Usually. Unless he was actively trying for the attention, then that was another matter all together. Besides, getting a peek at Abby’s tats was pretty much bordering on a forbidden pleasure for him now and checking McGee’s pearly-whites each morning as they arrived at work, sunglasses firmly in place over his eyes to avoid the expected, blinding, reflected light, just never got old. Yep, those were things he could spend more of his time thinking about…not Gibbs or children or some weird-ass, elusive, genetic, fatherhood defect.
Eyes still down, DiNozzo crossed a street and turned the next corner, drawing up short when he identified a small, raggedy-looking object laying a few, short feet away from a woman peering intently into the display window of the neighborhood jewelry store…and the wide-eyed toddler strapped into the stroller at her side. The child had one arm stretched out as far as possible, it’s tiny fingers reaching hopefully, pathetically, toward the stuffed animal well out of it’s range of capture, but continued doggedly to pull against the stroller’s restraints in an effort to reclaim the dropped toy. The huge eyes were wet with tears but, remarkably, there were no sounds of anger or sadness or hurt, only the constant, rapid movement of a yellow pacifier stuck within it’s puckered mouth as the child sucked away in silent frustration. DiNozzo knew there was no way the kid would get that lousy toy unless his…or her…window-shopping mother stopped gaping at all the bling on display and concentrated on the real jewel at her side. Jewel? He frowned at his description of the child and shook his head in bewilderment.
DiNozzo looked swiftly up toward the oblivious, young woman…and then immediately back to the restrained child…and felt his breath catch in his chest as those tearful, brown eyes turned their gaze directly his way, obviously begging for assistance. It was nothing more than silent communication but DiNozzo definitely ‘heard’ the toddler’s plea for help and, when one, lone tear finally broke free and traveled down the child’s smooth cheek, the young man moved into action. Striding the last few steps dividing him from the child and crouching down, DiNozzo snagged the wayward animal, and offered it to the silent toddler, watching in awe as the frustration instantly evaporated and transformed into blissful, satisfied happiness.
“There you go, buddy,” he said softly, still not exactly sure of the sex but taking a wild guess from the look and style of the clothing. Plus, ‘buddy‘ could be a given for a male or a female or, at least, he thought so. “Here’s your toy.”
The toddler wrapped the much-loved stuffed animal in a tight embrace and leaned back joyfully in the restraints, now happy as a clam, and sucking cheerfully away on the pacifier. DiNozzo shook his head at the sheer simplicity of the situation and, before he could rise from his squat and continue on his way toward the coffee shop, made the mistake of looking back and falling under the child’s spell once more. The brown eyes were, again, staring back at him but, this time, they were full of smiling cheerfulness, pure delight, and open contentment…and all of it was aimed directly at DiNozzo.
That strange sensation was suddenly returning, rolling slowly around in his belly, and making his chest feel tight and restricted, like his shirt had suddenly shrunk two sizes. He gradually straightened up to his full height but continued to stare down at the happy, little face.
“Hey!” The child’s mother was finally paying attention, whirling away from the plate glass window, and moving to put herself directly between her youngster and the strange man standing so close. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
DiNozzo took a step back, a bit surprised by the sheer viciousness of her tone. He raised his hands in a calming gesture.
“Easy now,” he tried to explain, pointing down toward the stuffed animal in the toddler‘s grasp, “I just was passing by and saw the…”
“Just saw me looking in the window and thought you’d be able to snatch my purse!” She fumed as she reached for the bag hooked casually over one handle of the collapsible stroller. “Well, you thought wrong, mister!”
“What?” DiNozzo was almost speechless at the accusation, only now aware of the woman‘s dark purse near the rear of the stroller. He shook his head and frowned, holding his arms out and striking a pose. “Lady, do I look like I need to snatch your purse?”
The young woman eyed the agent, her gaze running up and down his tall, solid, nicely dressed body, but started rummaging around inside her bag nonetheless. “I know I’ve got some mace in here somewhere.
“Mace?” DiNozzo all but squeaked, taking a few more steps away. “Look, I just picked up the kid’s toy, that’s all. Don’t get all bent out of shape over nothing.”
The woman finally looked down at her child, who was now on the verge of sleep, the ragged-looking, stuffed animal tucked charmingly under one, plump cheek. DiNozzo could see the intermittent movement of the pacifier and knew the kid was just about down for the count…and also knew he needed to get as far away from this woman as he quickly could.
“Okay, I’m leaving. All right?” He took a couple of more hesitant steps, watching her watch him, her hand still inside the depths of her purse, and, when he felt like he’d put enough distance between them, turned and high-tailed it toward the coffee shop.
‘Crazy bitch,’ he fumed, shooting a quick look over one shoulder, glad to see her starting to push the stroller in the opposite direction. He’d been maced in a training scenario a long time ago and had no intention of ever going through that experience again, if he could help it. Oh, hell, no. Like getting Tazered, taking a face full of mace only needed to be done once.
Finally arriving at his destination, DiNozzo paused before going in, and cast a longing look around at the tables arranged in the small courtyard near the shop, automatically doing a quick threat assessment without being aware of it. It was nice here, like a little slice of some exotic street café in the middle of some foreign city, and he knew he wanted to grab some time to get his head back on straight before returning to the office. Taking a deep breath, holding it in his lungs for a moment, and letting it back out slowly, he pulled out one of the padded, wrought iron chairs and sank down into its sturdy, welcoming embrace. There were very few people using the seating area at this time of the day and DiNozzo thought it’d be a perfect place just to sit and chill for a while. Tipping his head back to catch the warming rays of the sun, the NCIS agent closed his eyes and let his thoughts just bleed away…
Sometime later…minutes or hours, he didn’t know, didn’t really care…DiNozzo became aware of a presence in his vicinity, someone close actually, and he forced his eyes open, looking immediately toward the now-occupied seat directly across the table from his position. He wasn’t surprised to see Gibbs but, truthfully, he was dreading the talk he knew was coming.
“Want to tell me about it?” Gibbs asked quietly without preamble, taking a cautious sip from the container of fresh coffee held in his right hand, and then leaning back. “You taking off like that in the middle of the day, on my time, calls for an explanation. So?”
“Where’s Amanda?” He asked, wincing when he could hear the peevishness tone of the question.
Gibbs frowned. “She’s with Ducky…and don’t change the subject.”
DiNozzo knew it wouldn’t be prudent to attempt to change the direction of the impending conversation now, not with the look Gibbs was wearing on his face. It was plain to see he wanted some answers…and he wanted them now. Besides, this seemed to be something he just wasn’t going to be able to work through by himself, no matter how much time or thought he gave it, and Gibbs was his best chance at getting some answers…and, maybe, finding some peace. DiNozzo sighed and leaned forward.
“Did I ever tell you about my time in prep school, Boss?” he asked softly, watching as Gibbs rolled his blue eyes in barely restrained frustration. DiNozzo was very aware of the older man’s feelings regarding his less-than-stellar past but thought it wise to start where he believed these recent, disturbing feelings had probably originated.
“I am not going to sit hear and listen to you tell me any more stories about your wasted youth…”
“Wasted youth?” DiNozzo bit back a small smile and faked an insulted pout, glad to see a spark of devilment twinkling in Gibbs’ eyes. He placed a hand on the table’s surface and gazed at the older man, tapping a finger on the flat top. “I didn’t waste my youth and you know it.”
“You partied too much…”
“And you didn’t study enough…”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“And you almost ruined your chances at a scholarship.”
DiNozzo frowned down at his finger and shrugged. “I guess if you think that constitutes ‘wasting my youth‘, then, yeah…I guess I did.”
“Then, no, I don’t want to hear any more about it,” Gibbs responded blithely before taking another sip.
“This is something I haven’t told you yet,” DiNozzo whispered, not looking up, his whole demeanor slowly changing. The restless finger continued tracing random patterns on the cloth covering the surface. “Something important. Something…I,” he sighed raggedly, “something I haven’t told anyone, not even my frat brothers.”
Gibbs studied the bent head, watching the slim finger aimlessly stroking the stain-resistant fabric, and knew this wasn’t just ‘important‘ for the younger man. No, this was something else. It seemed highly likely whatever he was going to say bordered right on the edge of significant. He’d heard a lot of pretty strange things come out of DiNozzo’s mouth since being recruited for NCIS but this was different and, if he had to take an educated guess, it was probably very personal. They’d laid in bed many a night during the past months, since becoming more than boss/subordinate, talking quietly about the various aspects of how differently they grew up, and sharing a few intimate secrets along the way, but this was obviously something the younger man found difficult to discuss. Gibbs knew the success in getting DiNozzo to open up was to just sit quietly and listen, so he leaned back, sipped a bit more of the hot, bitter drink, and waited.
“I met a girl during my second year at prep school,” the voice was low, hesitant, and almost breathy in quality, confirming his reluctance to speak. “She was a couple of years older than me but, you know,” the green eyes rose for a moment, “I’ve always had a fondness for older lovers.” The lame attempt at humor fell way short of it’s intended goal but Gibbs nodded to let the younger man know he was listening. The verdant gaze dropped almost instantly. “We’d been together for a while and I…well, she…” he swallowed roughly, “I got her pregnant.”
A trio of young businesswomen made their way past the table, chatting amicably, and DiNozzo halted his account, taking a moment to draw in a deep breath. When the women had moved on past and were entering the shop, Gibbs broke the silence.
“You got a kid out there somewhere, DiNozzo?” He asked softly, concerned when the younger man didn’t look up.
DiNozzo was shaking his head. “No, not that I’m aware of.” He drew his lips tightly together before continuing. “She…she wanted to get married, wanted to have the kid, but I,” he sighed heavily, “I didn’t want either of those things.”
“You were just a kid yourself,” Gibbs offered.
“Well, yeah,” DiNozzo was shaking his head again, “but it was more than that. Way more.”
Gibbs waited tensely, patiently, but knew it was going to be a hard thing to hear if DiNozzo had insisted on abortion as an answer to that past problem. He knew termination was viable in some instances, knew…in his head, if not in his heart…that women had the right to make the ultimate decision concerning their bodies but it sure didn’t make it any easier on his soul, not when all he could think about at those times was how much he missed his young daughter’s sweet laughter and her bright smile. To think that some people willingly chose not to give a child a chance to live was, sometimes, beyond his scope of understanding.
Gibbs frowned and thought of his own experience. If he and Shannon hadn’t been so much in love and ready to start a family together, would he, too, have thought about termination when she announced her pregnancy? No, he didn’t think so. He’d been so happy when she’d spoken those words, so very long ago, and had swept his young wife into a tight embrace and held on for all he was worth. Besides, he’d always been taught to be responsible for his actions and, in his mind, what bigger responsibility could a man possibly have in this life? The answer was simple. None.
He continued to look at DiNozzo‘s pale face, watched him shift uncomfortably in the wrought iron chair, and instantly knew the answer. It *had* been abortion.
“Tony,” he said the name carefully, with great control, “what happened?”
DiNozzo looked up, his eyes bleak and dull. “There’s not much to tell really.” He glanced away, his gaze sliding off to one side. “I didn’t love her, she didn’t really love me, she didn’t want to raise a child alone, our parents didn’t want to face the scandal of going through an entire pregnancy nor the stigma of giving the baby away for adoption.” He shrugged, as if that was all that needed to be said. “I’m sorry…”
Gibbs was surprised…and confused…by the apology. “You don’t…”
“No,” DiNozzo was looking back, his eyes full of misery. “I know this disappoints you. I know,” he sighed softly, “I know how you feel about kids.” He rubbed a hand wearily across his face. “We’re not the same, Gibbs, not even close. I see how you get if we have to interact with children. Hell, I’ve seen the way you are with kids we just pass on the street. You’ve got a connection with them I’ll never have.”
“You can have that, too, if…”
DiNozzo barked out a ragged laugh, interrupting Gibbs‘ thought, turning disbelieving eyes toward the older man. “Are you serious? You *can’t* be serious. Have you even noticed how poorly kids react to me? Christ, Jethro, most of them would run away screaming if they could.”
“That’s not true. You did a good job with Josh Cooper,” he offered quickly, glad he could pull up the name of the dead colonel’s son so rapidly.
“Josh Cooper was getting ready to enter college, Boss,” DiNozzo shot back just as fast, a bit of anger lighting his eyes, “not some scared, little kid.” He huffed out a bitter-sounding laugh. “And, even then, it took several attempts to get him to warm up to me. No, I’m just not cut out for that. Never was, never will be. I just don’t feel the same way as you do.”
Gibbs looked closely at his companion’s face and sat forward, having to ask the question that had been bouncing around inside his head for a couple of years now. “If you feel that way about kids, why in hell did you sell your sperm to that fertility clinic in Ohio?”
DiNozzo’s cheeks flushed in quick embarrassment but he returned Gibbs’ stare without flinching. “I needed the money at the time, Jethro, ” he whispered. “My father wasn’t supporting me in any way, plus, a couple of my frat brothers were doing it, too. “ He shrugged. “It was just an easy way to earn a bit of cash.”
“I don’t get it,” Gibbs confessed. “Why’d you act so upset when you got that news from the clinic then?”
DiNozzo looked away again and sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe because it was a rejection.” He faced Gibbs. “It was just sperm and no big deal. Okay?”
But it *was* a big deal and the former Marine didn’t believe otherwise for one second.
“Some woman could have selected…” Gibbs started.
“But she didn’t,” DiNozzo shot back, cutting off his companion‘s thought.
“There could have been children from…” Gibbs tried again.
“But there wasn’t,” DiNozzo snapped. “According to the clinic’s director, no woman wanted my sperm, so no little DiNozzo’s are running around anywhere.“ He shook his head. “Look, Jethro, that was the past. I really don’t want to talk about that anymore.”
Gibbs sat back and could read the fatigue in the younger man’s posture. This conversation was taking a toll, on both of them. Still, there was one more thing Gibbs had to know.
“Didn’t Jeanne want kids?” He asked quietly.
DiNozzo rolled his lips into a tight frown and shook his head at Gibbs. “You just never let it go, do you?”
Gibbs shrugged. “Not in my nature to let things go, Tony.” He reached across the table and placed his hand, unexpectedly, on one of DiNozzo’s. “That includes you.”
The younger man jerked at the surprising touch and hastily looked around, reluctantly pulling his fingers out of the tender caress. “Fuck, Gibbs, why don’t you just paint a sign and hang it over our heads? ‘Fag table‘.” He gave a nervous, little laugh but his eyes looked a bit brighter. “You can’t do shit like that out in public.”
Gibbs grunted and leaned back, a cocky, little, half-smile on his face. “If you say so.” He drank the last of his coffee and sighed. “Well?”
DiNozzo released an aggravated growl. “You are so tenacious, you know that?”
“Like a dog with a bone.”
DiNozzo briefly considered asking about which ‘bone’ Gibbs meant but knew it was best to just get everything laid right out on the table. Bones could be discussed at a later time. In private.
“Yeah, Jeanne wanted a family somewhere down the line,” he confessed, scrubbing his fingers through his hair and making it stand up in strangely appealing angles, “but I was pretty sure we’d never actually get around to that. Her career was just getting started and I had my work and, between the two, I just thought we’d never have the time to do anything more than just talk about it. Which was fine by me.”
Gibbs didn’t like knowing DiNozzo had purposefully kept things back from the woman. Still, the younger agent had been undercover and had done nothing but lie the entire time he’d been with Jeanne Benoit but this falsehood, for some strange reason, stuck in his craw like a piece of jagged glass.
“I think you’d make a great dad,” Gibbs spoke evenly, “if given the chance.”
DiNozzo expression was nothing short of laughable. Between his gaping mouth and his wide, disbelieving eyes, anyone passing close to the table would probably have regarded the younger man as borderline ‘special’. He silently opened and closed his gaping mouth several times, like a fish out of water, before finally getting a sound to emerge.
“Are you asking me to have your love child, Jethro?” He coughed out, a mixture of laughter and incredulity tempering the tone. “Because if you are, I have to say, your style really sucks.”
Gibbs grinned and shook his head. “Nah, I’m just saying you shouldn’t sell yourself so short. You’ve got a lot of qualities that would make you a good father.”
DiNozzo controlled his laughter and settled back, grateful the older man was willing to offer a measure of kindness in the face of the recent news. “I appreciate it, Jethro, but I think you just need to face the facts: I’m not good fatherhood material, no matter what you think. Many men are…most are, I imagine…but some are not and, you know what? I think that’s okay, too.” He shrugged and pushed back the chair a bit, stretching out his legs. “Honestly, the whole thought of being responsible for someone other than myself, especially a really *small* someone, scares me shitless. I’ve made too many mistakes in my life, still do, and just can’t think about having someone depending on me to be around all the time.” He looked directly at his companion. “I may never know the feelings you had…and still have…for Kelly and all the other kids we see from time to time, and I may sometimes wonder about the experience and be a bit envious of what I’m missing out on but, Jethro, this is who I am, flaws and all, and I…well…“ he looked a little surprised, “I think I’m satisfied being this way.”
Gibbs studied the younger man’s expression, could see the truth in the eyes that held his attention. Yes, DiNozzo was satisfied and, remarkably, the younger man no longer looked as anxious or troubled as he had earlier in the day. Now, there was an aura of peacefulness and a measure of real contentment in his demeanor.
And if he really didn’t understand DiNozzo’s peacefulness or contentment, if he really didn’t want to think about how any man could be satisfied in life without having someone to carry on his name, then that was *his* problem, not DiNozzo’s. Still, Gibbs knew he would have to do all he could to make sure the younger agent felt more relaxed while in the presence of the children they encountered, if only to insure better communication during investigations. Once that was accomplished, then, maybe, they could readdress this subject. Until then…
“Let me get another coffee and we’ll head back to the office,” Gibbs said as he pushed up from the table.
“And a Snapple for Amanda,” DiNozzo added without thought, rising from his own seat and pushing it back under the table.
Gibbs turned slowly and eyed the younger man, watching until DiNozzo was at his side, wondering if his companion even realized he’d been the one to remember the little girl‘s drink. DiNozzo’s green gaze held nothing but serenity. Gibbs offered a small grin and grunted. Maybe it wouldn’t take as much time as he thought.
“And a Snapple for Amanda,” he said in agreement and let DiNozzo lead the way.