Tony stepped into the small ICU cube. He couldn’t hold back the shiver he felt seeing his father attached to every machine he could imagine existed.
Irwin Rauter looked up from the bedside. He gave Tony a sad smile. “That’s enough Mr. Russo. We should be able to put the Moretti family away for a very long time.”
Tony watched the lawyer move away from the bed. “You should be proud of your father,” Rauter told Tony.
“He’s going to put a lot of dangerous people behind bars for a long time, and cripple a large crime syndicate. If you will excuse me, I need to call the attorney general and tell him about everything that happens. Please reassure your father that I will honour my promise, there will be no mention of your name or relationship to Gabriel Russo mentioned anywhere.” Rauter nodded his goodbye at Tony and left the room.
Tony felt a tug on his arm. He was surprised to see he had been holding Gibbs’ hand the whole time.
“Sorry,” Tony said trying to let go, but Gibbs wouldn’t let him.
“I don’t care about that. But you should go talk with him.” Gibbs nodded at the frail man lying in the bed.
“I don’t know what to say. I know he’s my father but... damn it, Jethro, I don’t know the man. The way my Nonna talked about him he was the devil himself.”
“Then it’s even more important you talk to him. You need to know the truth, and you need to be able to answer Alec’s questions.”
Tony nodded. He headed toward the bed still holding Jethro’s hand. The tiny jaundiced man in front of him was hardly the robust giant of a man he could recall from the few snippets of his childhood he remembered.
Faded green eyes stared at him as he approached the bed. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” said a frail voice.
“Yeah, well I wasn’t sure either.”
“Sit please. I have much to tell you and not much time.”
Tony wanted to protest but he knew just by looking at the old man; before the night was over Gabriel Russo would be dead.
Tony didn’t sit in the plastic chair as much as he collapsed. The last few days were starting to catch up.
“So, how are you feeling?” Tony asked but the moment the words were out he wanted to head slap himself.
Gabriel laughed but it was more of a wheeze. “Not too good but I still think I might look better than you.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“Small talk wasn’t what I wanted to see.”
“What is it you wanted to talk to me about then? How we haven’t seen each other in twenty five years? Or maybe how you killed my mother?”
“I had nothing to do with that. That was Gio and your grandfather. We were leaving the family that day. I had no idea where we were going but it was the only way I knew of to keep you safe.”
“Safe from what?”
“Mainly, Borsato but there were other concerns. We all knew where the animal’s...appetites laid. My old man had let it be known you were off limits to him but I knew he didn’t care. Borsato was getting ready to make his move for control, and the first thing that was on his list would have been putting me in my place by using you.”
“I’m not sure I follow. Mom was killed because of me?” Tony felt his heart contract, and sink into his stomach.
Gibbs squeezed his hand. “I don’t think that’s what your dad is saying at all.”
“Who are you?” Russo asked.
“Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. I’m Tony’s boss.”
Tony watched as his father looked down at their joined hands. “I’d say maybe a bit more than that.”
Tony got to his feet. “If you have a problem with us then you better realize that if Alec is going to be with me that means, he’s going to be raised by Jethro as well. If that’s a problem them you had better think of another arrangement for the kid.”
“I didn’t say I had a problem with it. Just said it appeared you were more than boss and employee, and it would appear I’m right.” Russo started to cough. Tony looked around for a cup of water. He held the straw steady while the old man had a drink. “Thanks.”
“Welcome.” Tony sat back down, more aware than ever of how close Jethro was standing to him.
“What I meant before was that getting you away from Borsato and the old man had become more important now that you were older. You were becoming more of an interest to Borsato, and my father was talking about wanting to get you involved in some of the business.”
“I was twelve.”
“He started taking me on his ‘rounds’ as he called it when I was ten.”
“Rounds?” Gibbs asked.
“Extortion, bribery and payoffs of officials,” Russo said. “My father was a very hands on boss. He never trusted anyone else to get the money but direct family. I can still remember this old shop keeper back in New York; he was a few dollars short that week. He lost a finger that day.”
“This is your grandfather?” Gibbs asked Tony.
“Yeah. He wasn’t the kind of grandpa to play ball in the backyard. He was more the kind to smack you in the mouth and tell you to shut up.”
“Wasn’t much different as a father either. That’s part of the reason I had to make sure you would take Alec. I had to make sure he wouldn’t be able to get a hold of my little boy. Just the same way I tried to make sure he wouldn’t be able to get his grubby hands on you.”
“He’s still alive?” Gibbs asked.
“Oh yeah, and more miserable than ever,” Russo said.
“From what I heard your testimony is going to put him and a lot of other people away for a long time,” Tony said.
“He’s a slippery bastard. I wouldn’t put anything past him; he killed your mother all those years ago just to make sure I knew who was boss. ”
“How old is he?” Gibbs asked.
Tony thought about it. “He must be almost ninety.”
“Ninety three in June,” Russo added. “He liked to use Alec against me. Reminding me to keep my mouth shut or something might happen to him like it did to Anthony. I was never trusted again after that day on the bridge. Everyone knew I was getting ready to run. I woke up most mornings expecting a bullet to the brain but I think after a while my father just stopped caring and he started talking around me again. I think he hoped I would start taking an interest in the business again. I did but only as a way to have insurance. Then I met Trudy, and Alec came into the picture. Only an idiot has a baby at my age, but I thought I would be able to make up for all the mistakes I made with you.”
“You weren’t a bad dad.”
“But you thought I killed your mother.”
Tony shrugged. “Memories get mixed up with the truth.”
“And all the lies your Nonna told you.”
“She never told me that you killed her, just that you were responsible for her being dead.”
“She might be right it was me who wanted to leave first but when we decided it was time to leave it was both our decision. We were going to head out west with you. Sophia was so nervous I don’t think she slept much once we made up our minds to go. It was months in the planning before we felt ready to go. The day we were to leave I got called back for some meeting with the local union. I didn’t want to go. I had a bad feeling. Maybe if I had listened to it, if I had been there on that bridge I would have seen them coming sooner.”
Tony wasn’t sure what to think; his opinion of his father had been based a lot on what his Nonna had told him about his father. “What happened at that meeting?”
“The old man told me to bring you with me, that he had a big surprise for you. Well, that had me ready to run. Other than knowing there was an heir I don’t think he ever paid any attention to you but your mom thought if I didn’t go it would send up some flags. I was to go to the meeting and tell him you were sick and that Sophia was taking you to the doctor. The plan was for me to meet up with her and your Nonna afterward but...”
“We got taken out at the bridge.”
“Yeah, that was the worst day of my life. The minute I arrived at the office and he saw I was alone my father ran for the phone in panic. But by then it as too late, he’d already ordered the hit; with Gio’s encouragement I’m sure. I didn’t know what had happened until an hour later when the cops showed up to tell me that you and your mother had been in an accident. They didn’t tell me more than that. It was only after we got to the hospital I was told that I needed to identify Sophia and that they thought you had floated down the river. I was devastated. I can still remember seeing this look on Borsato’s face. I was used to seeing this smug look on his smarmy face but there was something almost evil about the way he looked. After I had Alec, he kept reminding me my place and how he would hate to see another tragedy strike me.”
“What made you rock the boat then?” Tony asked. “Why seek out the FBI and me?”
Russo coughed again. This one left him gasping. Tony reached for the call bell but Gabriel stopped him. “I have to tell you this and a doctor in here won’t make a difference but cut short what time we have,” he gasped. “Gibbs, can you get Alec for me? He’s not sure what is really happening but I want to talk to him too. I don’t think there’s much more time.”
“Of course.” Gibbs gave Tony a pat on the back before leaving to get his brother.
Tony raised the head of the bed so that his father was breathing a little easier.
“No problem. You were saying about going to the FBI.”
“Just like your mother, she never let me distract her either. I went to the FBI once I knew how sick I really was. I contacted Fornell; we had some dealings before. How is he by the way?”
“Last time I heard he was out of surgery but still critical. Two of the other agents died.”
“I didn’t expect Borsato to have bought off the head of the New York bureau but I guess I should have known better. The man came from the sewer and dealt with only the best kind of scum. He probably knew every child abuser on the east coast. I am sorry for their loss. All I wanted to do was to keep Alec safe, and hopefully to see you again.”
“Not very altruistic then?” Tony said, getting up to look out the window at the full parking lot.
“I’m not sure.”
“Wish I could tell you that I did it because the bad guys needed to be punished but since I was one of the bad guys, I can’t say that. What I want is a better world for Alec. Thanks to your Nonna you managed to get out and I want the same thing for him. I was in a bar one day and there was a college football game on. Ohio State and Wisconsin I think. I wasn’t really paying much attention until I heard the name Anthony DiNozzo. It was like a flash going off in my head. I found a private investigator to find out all that he could about you.”
“Might have been nice to know you knew I was alive.”
“I wanted to contact you as soon as I was sure it was you but how could I take the chance that your grandfather would get to you or worse Borsato, just to pay me back? I know it’s a cliché but sometimes you do have to let the things you love the most go for their own good.”
Before Tony could answer the door flew open and blond dervish blew through.
“Papa, are you okay now?” Alec asked climbing up to sit by his, no their dad.
“I feel better seeing you champ, but like I told you before I’m very sick.”
Alec’s little lips trembled. “You told me you’re going to go to sleep soon and you won’t wake up.”
“Yeah, baby and I think that day is coming soon.”
“No!” Alec threw himself at his dad. Tony was going to pull him back; he was afraid of him pulling out a tube but Jethro tugged on his arm.
“Don’t. He won’t hurt Russo, and he’ll have the memory of a final hug from his dad.”
He let himself be guided back over to the window. “Jethro, do you really think I can do this? I’ve never been a good one with kids. Then there’s work; we have crazy hours, and we face dangerous situations every day.”
Jethro wrapped his arms around him. Tony let the warmth and the strength from the other man soak into him. “You won’t be alone; I’ll be around so much, you’ll be sick of me.”
“That will never happen.” Tony placed a gentle kiss on Jethro’s lips.
“As for the rest, we’ll figure out a way to make it work. I promise.”
Tony let himself get lost in all the promises made and hinted at before he heard a beeping noise. He rushed over to get Alec off the bed. Their father’s heart had quit.
A nurse quietly came in and turned off the machine. She offered her condolences and left the same way she came in.
The silence was deafening until Alec started shouting, “no.” He pounded on Tony’s shoulders, while crying.
“I’m so sorry, Alec, but he’s gone.” Tony clutched his little brother to his chest, trying to absorb some of the little boy’s pain.
Jethro came over and put his arms around them both.
“There Alec, you need to be brave for your brother and your dad. He wouldn’t want you acting like this, would he?”
“No, he told me to be strong for Tony, and that he would always be looking out for us. He will, won’t he?” Tony looked down into familiar green eyes.
“Yes, he will. Jethro, can you take Alec out, and gather up his stuff. I want a few moments alone, then I need to talk to Rauter before we head home.”
“Sure.” Jethro held out his arms and Alec quickly went into them. Tony knew there were going to be many rough spots as he figured out how this family thing worked but he knew Jethro would be there for them both.
Tony reached out and took his father’s hand. “I hope I live up to your expectations where Alec is concerned. I’ll do my best but I might need a bit of help so if you could keep an eye out for me too, I’d appreciate it. Good bye dad.”
He headed for the door, but turned around one last time and blew a kiss to his deceased father.
He slumped against the wall; all his energy was deserting him. All his aches and pains were doubling, or maybe even tripling. He was ready to go find Frank and see if he could find him so good drugs.
“Crap,” he mumbled under his breath. “Rauter.” He stood as tall as his battered body would let him.
Gibbs and Alec were following him.
“I was told you wanted to see me.”
“Yes. Any word of Fornell?”
“He’s got a long road ahead, but he should make a full recovery.”
“Good. How long before you make your move on Russo’s father and the rest of the gang?”
“As soon as we can. I’m hoping that we’ll have most of them in police custody by the end of the week.”
“Good. Now here’s what I want; I want all the paperwork taken care of so that my father can be buried next to my mother in Connecticut as soon as the Moretti family has been arrested.”
“Of course.” The little man made a note in his book.
“No one is to know that he left any children alive. That means me and Alec. The last thing I need is someone thinking we can be used as a pawn or for revenge in the inevitable gang wars. And finally, I want the adoption of Alexander Dante Russo fast tracked to Anthony DiNozzo and Leroy Jethro Gibbs.”
“What?” Rauter and Gibbs said together.
Gibbs pulled Tony aside. “Are you sure?”
“If you don’t want-”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want it, or you and Alec but are you sure?”
“Our work is dangerous and if something happened to me I need to know you have my back with Alec, and he needs to have stability, and I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Tony kissed Gibbs hard. It was a promise of what was to come once they were alone.
“As for the job...”
“I’m not sure I can make it work and have a kid.”
“But you love your job too, Tony.”
“I do but I have a family, for the first time and that means more to me than any job. We can figure out what to tell everyone else once we get home but I need us, and him for me.”
“I need it too. And if anyone is going to retire it’s going to be me.”
“We can talk about it when we get home.”
Gibbs slipped his arm around Tony. “You heard Agent DiNozzo, Mr. Rauter. Get all the papers ready to be signed. Tony is as Gabriel Russo indicated prior to his passing the legal guarding of Alexander Russo and as I am Tony’s partner-”
“I get it. You’ll have everything you’ve asked for in the next two days.”
“Good,” Tony said. “Oh and one more thing. We want the plane back. Just for the day. We’re heading home today. All of us, that includes agents working NCIS. The FBI can fly coach for a change.”
As far as Tony was concerned Ziva, McGee, and Ducky were all his family and he wasn’t taking a chance on losing any of them at least not today.
“The plane will be ready.”
Tony reached out and picked up Alec. “I know you’re sad right now, but I promise that I will do everything I can to keep you safe and happy. Even if it means doing something you don’t like.”
“Making you eat veggies, and put your seatbelt on.”
Alec made a funny face that brought a smile to Tony’s. He gave his brother a quick kiss to the temple. “Now, let’s go get Ziva and the rest of our motley crew, and head to your new home.”
“What about papa?”
“Mr. Rauter is going to take care of him, and in a week or two we’ll have a service to say goodbye to him. Don’t worry, he’ll always be with us and you’ll never be alone. You have me and Jethro.”
Tony sighed as Alec’s little arms wrapped around his neck for a big hug.
“Okay, Tony, I’m ready. Let’s go home,” Alec said, reaching out to grab onto Jethro’s hand.
Tony slid Alec down and took his other hand. “Let’s go.”
As Tony’s new family walked down the hallway to meet up with the rest of the team he realized that family might be a problem at times but Tony also thought there might not be any greater joy.