Picking Up the Pieces - Chapter 1

The bar wasn’t so much a bar than a dive. Dark, with stale air that was a mixture of cheap booze, cheap perfume and cheaper women. The jukebox in the corner that’d seen better days attempted at playing a classic rock oldie and failed miserably. The bar with its mismatched stools had also seen much better days, but he didn’t care what the dive looked like. He didn’t care what it smelled like and what it sounded like. His glacial eyes barely brushed over the stools, the jukebox, the pool-table or the women. He paid closer attention to the male patrons, until his gaze brushed over the slumped figure on the other side of the bar.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs sighed, a mix of emotions coursing through him. He was relieved he’s finally found his query, pissed off in what state he’s found his query in, and feeling a pang of guilt for the reason his query was currently slumped on a not-so-stable-looking barstool, probably too drunk to remember his own name.

One glance was enough to prevent the woman who’s sidled toward him from speaking and discourage her companions from even approaching him. He squared his shoulders, set his jaw, and strode through the gloom toward the slumped figure.

When he was close enough to see better, almost close enough to touch, the sight before him hit him. And hit him hard. He thought he was prepared for what he might find, he’s been preparing for this confrontation for almost three months, but all those preparations, all the pep talks he’s been giving himself, had obviously been useless.

The sight of DiNozzo looking like a bum, compared to the polished, debonair man he was used to, was enough to make him nauseous. Tony’s hair was greasy and dull, long enough to almost reach his shoulders, the lower part of his face was hidden by a bushy, unkempt beard, his clothes were dirty and crumpled, hanging loosely on his much thinner frame, and it was obvious by the smell emanating from him, he hasn’t bothered with a shower in quite a few days.

There was a half-empty bottle of bourbon in front of him, and no glass. The fingers clutching the neck of the bottle like a safe line were trembling slightly, the fingernails long, and encrusted with brown.

“Jesus,” Gibbs muttered as he stopped by the younger—though at the moment DiNozzo looked years older—man’s side. “I’m glad you’re still sharp enough to disappear,” he said, “it took quite an effort to find you.”

When there was no reply, he put a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Did you hear me?”

“Yeah,” came a reply in a gravelly voice that indicated the man hasn’t spoken much since disappearing from D.C. three months ago. “I heard you.” Tony took a deep swallow from the bottle. “Well, you found me. Good for you. Now you can go right back and leave me the fuck alone.”

Gibbs sighed again. “You know I can’t do that.”

Another deep swallow. “I know no such thing.”

“Well, I’m telling you it isn’t happening. I’m taking you home.”

Tony finally looked at his former boss, giving Gibbs the full picture of just how far the man he’s considered like a son for more years than he could count, has fallen. “You’re not taking me anywhere.”

“Everybody’s worried about you, Tony,” Gibbs said in a calm tone.

“I don’t care.”

“I know.” A sigh. “I know you don’t care.” Before he would’ve never talked to Tony like this, but he felt the moment, the occasion deserved some empathy. “You don’t care about anything. I know the feeling, Tony, you know I do. But wallowing, drinking yourself to death, won’t help.”

A cynical glimmer appeared in Tony’s eyes. “Sure it will.” He took another long drink. “It numbs. And if it numbs, it’s helping.”

“So you’re planning on staying drunk for the rest of your life?” Gibbs was done playing nice. “Because that’s how long it will take.”

Tony just shrugged and lifted the bottle again.

Gibbs struck and the bottle shattered against the wall. “You’re done,” he snapped.

The barstool clattered to the door when Tony stood on wobbly legs and glared. “I’ll say when I’m done! And I’m not done, yet, boss.” The last word was laced with sarcasm and hurt. “You have no idea—”

“I do, Tony,” Gibbs interrupted.

“No!” Tony snapped. “No, you don’t! You have no idea, how much it hurts! Every fucking second of every fucking day. It hurts so much I can barely breathe! I miss her so much,” he finished in a bare whisper.

“Tony.”

“No! I should’ve been there. I could’ve been there if only...” His eyes filled with hatred. “This would never have happened if it wasn’t for you and your fucking rules!”

They’ve attracted quite an audience, but it took only one hard stare to make everyone think twice before attempting an approach.

Gibbs saw Tony’s hands clench into fists. “You want to take a swing at me?” He took a step forward. “Go ahead. But you only get one shot,” he warned. Then it was his turn. He was taking Tony home tonight and he didn’t particularly care if the boy walked out of here on his own steam.

He knew what Tony’s next move would be before the kid even gathered all the anger, hatred, resentment that was both directed outward, but mostly inward, to strike. He ducked, and when Tony wobbled forward, thrown by his own momentum, Gibbs punched him in the jaw.

It was more a love-tap than a real punch, but it had the desired effect. Tony’s lights were out.

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