Author’s Note: Written for The Nine Billion Names faith ficathon (about two years ago, maybe more?) for raggedy_edge, who requested: “Tony Dinozzo. In the name of the Father, the Son, and Michael Corleone. Strength and faith come to people in many different forms.” Thanks to Medie for providing both beta services and morale boosting all through the process of writing this. Ironically enough, I have never seen *any* of the movies highlighted in this story, and was unfortunately too busy to watch them in preparation for it. I did extensive research on them all via Wikipedia, IMDB and other sources, and I hope that’s enough, but I apologize sincerely if I made any glaring errors. I also thought about switching gears to movies I *had* seen, but Tony wouldn’t hear of it. This is the story he wanted to tell, I just hope I did a halfway decent job of channeling it.
Any channeling of, um, franchise developments which happened after I wrote this story is purely coincidental, I swear.
Tony first saw The Godfather when he was nine years old, sleeping over at his best friend Jimmy Mitchell’s house. Jimmy’s dad was watching The Godfather Saga on TV and didn’t even hear them sneak into the room.
He still remembers, as clearly as if it were yesterday, standing there in his white socks and powder-blue pajamas with little anchors all over them, wide-eyed and breathless as the flickering light from the TV – the only light in the room – cast multicolored shadows on the walls and everything else into silhouette.
Tony came away from that night with two lifelong impressions: that family always comes first, and that Al Pacino was a god.
Mama would’ve been horrified if she’d known that the Mitchells had let him watch the movie. Not because of the violence: Tony saw plenty of that at home, when drink, some imagined slight or a combination of both had put his father into a particularly foul mood. No, Mama’s complaint, even though she never saw the movie and never intended to, was the way it portrayed Italians. She was always worrying about that: no book, movie or TV show, no star of stage, screen or song was ever good enough for her if she thought for one second that they gave Italians a bad name. And according to Mama, The Godfather made all Italians look like criminals.
The irony was, of course, that Mama wasn’t Italian. But she’d married an Italian, so apparently that was enough. She was loyal. She would never do to Papa what Kay had done to Michael: to a young Tony, that was all that mattered.
It would take years and his parents’ bitter divorce for Tony to understand how little his father deserved that kind of loyalty: a realization that shook his worldview at its foundations. When Papa disowned him for having the audacity to want to become a cop instead of something more worthy of a DiNozzo and Mama died a few years later, Tony found himself rootless, cut off from the thing that had defined him for most of his life. He bounced from job to job: always restless, always afraid to put down new roots for fear they would be ripped out or cut off all over again.
And then, one day in 2001, only a few months before the world shifted for everyone, along came Gibbs, bringing Abby and Ducky and Vivian Blackadder – and eventually Kate, McGee and Ziva too – along with him.
It didn’t take Tony long to realize that some ties were thicker even than blood. That family still came first, but sometimes family had nothing to do with genetics.
As far as Tony was concerned, after birth control, the greatest invention of the twentieth century had to be home video. All of a sudden, instead of having to sneak out to go to the movies or wait for the good ones to come on TV, he could rent or buy any movie he wanted and watch it whenever he wanted.
The first movie he bought with his own money was Serpico. He hadn’t even seen it, didn’t need to, to know he wanted it. It was Pacino and, even better, it was Pacino playing a cop; Tony had never quite outgrown the “cops and robbers” phase of his childhood.
In theory, a movie about corruption in the NYPD – based on a true story, no less – should have been the thing to finally shatter that illusion. But to Tony, the movie wasn’t about corrupt cops. It was about an honest cop.
Pacino had been a god to Tony for several years by this point, but with Serpico he achieved hero status too. DiNozzo was old enough now to realize that heir to a hypothetical mafia empire was not a viable career choice, but one honest cop fighting the system from within? That he could do.
It didn’t even matter that Frank Serpico finished the movie a bitter, betrayed, disillusioned man who had almost died at the hands of his brothers in blue. Someone had to finish what he started and in Tony’s fantasies, he was clearly the man for the job.
He underestimated just how difficult it could be to be an honest man in a corrupt world.
The lies started to come easy when the old man started pressuring him to “make something of himself.” Sometimes he even wondered if the whole Phys Ed degree had been a ruse to keep Papa off balance, convince him that his son wasn’t yet ready to be anything but a rich man’s son while giving Tony extra time to figure out how to have the life he wanted without having to choose between that and his family.
It hadn’t been time enough.
Then there were the other lies, big ones and little ones: lies to the women he wanted to seduce, lies to his frat brothers and his buddies on the force to protect and project an image he wasn’t even sure why he was building. Lies he lived doing undercover work, some of which took over his life to the point where the lines started to blur, where he wasn’t sure where the lie ended and he began.
What a movie about one honest cop in a million hadn’t managed to teach him about just how rare integrity was, life did.
Oh, he’d worked with cops who were in it because they really believed in justice, but even with them sometimes it became all too easy to let the little things slide. Things like handling a domestic violence call only to sit there making jokes at the wife’s expense in the squad car on the way back, or turning a blind eye when some punk teenager who got off on calling you a “pig” got knocked around a little by his dealer. Or taking the easy way out and only really investigating the obvious suspect, never mind that he might turn up five years down the road on Oprah talking about how he was wrongly accused.
Two years was usually about how long it took DiNozzo to notice just how many of those behaviors he’d adopted without even realizing. And that was always the point where he packed his bags, made a bad joke about being ADHD so he couldn’t sit still, and set his sights on a new town with a fresh new set of hopes.
By the time he’d rotated through his third police department in six years, Tony had enough bitterness and disillusionment running through his own veins to make Frank Serpico look like an eternal optimist.
That was before Gibbs came into his life.
Leroy Jethro “second B is for bastard” Gibbs might’ve lived up to his nickname, but there were times when Tony would swear on a stack of Bibles that he was the first really honest man he had ever met. Gibbs had issues enough to make National Geographic look hot off the press, but he also had something else in spades: integrity.
In short, he was the man DiNozzo had always wanted to be. And as a result, Tony found himself craving Gibbs’ approval like he’d never needed anyone’s before. Not even his father’s back when he’d blindly idolized the man he would later come to hate.
Just being around Gibbs made Tony feel like maybe, just maybe, he’d regained a little of his own integrity. He rarely stopped to wonder if it had been there all along and that’s what Gibbs had seen in him from the beginning.
In 1989, when Donnie Brasco was published, Tony was in college, still caught between Serpico-fueled dreams of being a cop and the laid back, carefree jock persona he’d cultivated so carefully. He saw the book on a shelf in a bookstore while searching for a textbook and hadn’t been able to resist the lure. Lest he ruin his reputation by reading for pleasure, though, Tony kept the book tucked between his box spring and his mattress, only pulling it out when his roommate was out or late at night when he was asleep.
He devoured every page.
When the movie finally came out eight years later, it was only natural that Al Pacino would be involved. He wouldn’t have thought Johnny Depp could have pulled off Pistone, but he did and it gave Tony new respect for the man.
But while Tony went to see the movie on opening day and bought it the day it came out on home video, by that time the damage, the influence, had already been done. From practically the first page of the first edition he still treasures to this day, Tony knew he’d found his calling.
Serpico might have set him on the path to law enforcement, but it was Donnie Brasco that solidified in his mind that he was meant for undercover work. Joe Pistone was the one who made him want that life enough that he was willing to defy his father and give up the luxury and security that came with wealth in order to get it. Because Donnie Brasco proved to Tony, once and for all, that he had what it took to make it as an undercover cop: commitment.
Of course, Kate would have laughed if Tony had ever tried to tell anyone that commitment was one of the foundational principles of his life, but Kate had a bad habit of assuming that everything in his life came down to the way he treated women.
And yeah, Tony had commitment issues when it came to women; he’d be the first to admit that. Watching his parents’ marriage crumble long before they divorced, watching his father go through replacement wives like Kleenex, hell, even just from hanging around Gibbs he thinks he has damned good reason to be leery of that kind of commitment.
But what he did have the ability to commit to was an idea, an identity. He’d been doing that his whole life: the dutiful son when he was a boy, the committed cadet in military school, the lackadaisical playboy who didn’t take anything seriously with his coworkers.
Truthfully, half the time Tony didn’t even know who he really was. Digging down to find what was there at the core of him, underneath all the masks, was a task he’d long ago given up as hopeless. But slipping on a new face, a new life? That was easy. He sold it because for the duration of each assignment, he believed it as fervently as he believed in the persona he put on every other day.
Sometimes, on quiet dreary days when he’s feeling unusually self critical, he wonders if maybe that was what made Jeanne different. Maybe he really didn’t love her. Maybe he just slipped so completely into the persona of a man who did, that like Pistone with Ruggiero, he started to lose sight of who he was and where his loyalties really lay. After all, doesn’t the fact that he ultimately chose NCIS over her prove that his commitment to Jeanne was just part and parcel of his commitment to the role?
It’s not a question he’s sure he ever wants to answer.
Still, even when he’s at his lowest, doubting everything and everyone and himself most of all, there’s one commitment in his life that Tony knows is real: he’s committed to his team. Not just any team, but this team: Gibbs, McGee, Abby, Ducky and Ziva. He would die for any one of them, just like he would have died for Kate or Paula if he’d been given the chance.
Since he wasn’t, Tony’s doing his best to live for them instead. He likes to think they would appreciate the thought, even if he knows Kate wouldn’t always approve of the details.
Scent of a Woman is the one Pacino film he only admits to loving when he’s trying to impress a potential date. The irony is it’s one line he uses that isn’t a lie.
Sure, he only went to see it in the first place to sit in the back row and neck with a girl whose name he can’t even remember, and to be honest the name Chris O’Donnell still makes him twitch, but ultimately it was him, not his date, who got distracted by the movie.
That, of course, is something he would never admit to anyone.
But when he’s being honest with himself, Tony knows that he should have had more faith in Pacino. Should’ve known the Man wouldn’t let him down. Okay, so a movie about a blind guy mentoring a naïve prep school kid sounded pretty lame, but only because he’d made the mistake of assuming that was all it was about.
What it was really about was living life with passion. Frank Slade’s speech about why women and sex make life worth living is probably the longest quote from anything that Tony’s ever memorized. He’d never consider suicide, but hell…if he knew he only had days to live? He’d want to spend them the same way Slade did: eat at an expensive restaurant, sleep at a world class hotel, drive a Ferrari and sleep with a beautiful woman.
Even when Slade was planning to kill himself, he was still driven by passion: passionate hatred for his blindness and his own stupidity that caused it. What he learned from Simms was how to turn that passion around and focus it back on living, not dying.
And in exchange he taught Simms how to live on his own terms instead of everyone else’s. Not a bad trade.
If there’s one thing Tony’s learned himself over the course of his life, it’s that there’s a big difference between living and just existing, and that difference is passion. Whether that passion be love, hate, lust, anger…you gotta feel something if you want it to mean anything. It’s why he’ll never buy a sensible car, why he doesn’t care that people look at the way he dresses and the way he grooms and call him a “metrosexual” in disdainful tones behind his back. It’s why he’ll almost never say no to a beautiful woman who asks, and even why he owns every movie Pacino ever made.
It’s also why his team – Gibbs’ team, Tony’s team – is the best damned team NCIS has. Every single one of them has that kind of passion.
They’re passionate about different things, of course, at least in their daily lives. Ducky has a passion for storytelling, Abby for forensics, McGeek for technology (and for writing thinly-veiled versions of them into his cheap fiction – damn him for thinking of that first), Ziva for…well, violence, he thinks. And Gibbs…Gibbs is driven by quite a few passions, but none greater than the passion for truth and justice.
It’s a cliché, but it’s true. But then, that’s one passion they all share, and it’s one reason they’ve got one of the highest solve rates of any unit in the entire agency.
Every now and then, Tony would get in a mood to go see a movie at the theater by himself. Yeah, going with friends or a date was fun, but sometimes he just wanted to lose himself in the world and the story happening on the screen, without commentary or distraction. Carlito’s Way was the first of those.
From the earliest promo materials before the movie came out, it had looked like another Scarface. But Tony knew better, even if he hadn’t read the book first this time – he’d doubted Pacino once, with Scent of a Woman, and Al had proved him wrong. No way was he doubting again. He’d learned his lesson. Never again would he go to a Pacino film with the intention of doing anything but keeping his eyes glued to the screen. Even popcorn and a Coke were out, and he picked a seat in the emptiest row.
It was his way of atoning. Later, after he discovered he liked the experience, it would become something of a ritual, even a spiritual experience.
Other people went to church or temple or some sort of spiritual retreat when they needed reflection and guidance: Tony worshiped at the altar of Hollywood. From Tom Selleck and James Bond he learned the wisdom of the saints, but when he needed more than that, when he needed divine intervention…nothing less than Pacino would do. Hell, everything he needed to know in life, he learned either from Al Pacino or from Gibbs.
A man could certainly learn a lot from Carlito Brigante.
Tony was observant. It was a fact about him that tended to surprise people because he had a way of looking like he wasn’t paying attention even when he was, but you couldn’t maintain a solid cover without a good eye for details.
So it was that sitting in that dark theater, watching Brigante try and fail, try and fail to walk away from the criminal life, that Tony learned the key to understanding destiny.
Destiny wasn’t Fate, some blind, insensate force that maps out each life before it even begins. Carlito’s stumble, which turned into a fall and finally a fatal one, might’ve seemed inevitable but Tony paid attention and saw that it wasn’t. It was shaped by the choices he made and the choices made by those around him. Some choices had more influence than others, of course. And some, once made, couldn’t be unmade, no matter how hard Brigante might have wanted to.
No matter how hard Tony might have wanted to.
Not that he really wanted to go back and beg forgiveness from his jackass of a father, but Tony had been on his own now for almost a year – disowned only weeks after graduation for telling Papa he was going to join the force – and was finding it harder than he’d ever imagined. Some months he ran up credit card bills he’d never be able to pay off on his own, and others he lived on cat food because he’d forgotten to save enough of his money to cover both groceries and the bills. Only the tiny stock portfolio he’d inherited from Nonno, which Papa couldn’t touch, kept him from starving.
But some decisions couldn’t be unmade, and until he got a job with a police department somewhere in the country and could start pulling in a decent salary, he’d have to live with it.
It was, after all, the destiny he’d chosen for himself.
He never would have dreamed that destiny would lead him to NCIS. Some days, looking back, it seems like it was inevitable, but Tony still knows it wasn’t Fate. No arbitrary whim of the universe could have brought him here if he hadn’t made the choices along the way.
He chose to give up the family he was born into and to find one knit by bonds of loyalty rather than blood. He chose to value integrity even when it would’ve been easier to just embrace the lies life often forced him to tell. He chose to commit himself to an idea and use that commitment to bring criminals to justice; he chose to commit himself to this group of people around him. He chose to live his life as if each day would be his last, because it just might be.
Those choices were what brought him here, to this place. And because of it, there’s not a single one of them that he regrets.
He likes to think Al Pacino would approve.