Games We Play

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Not betaed.

Tony stared at the dark, polished wood of the door and took a deep breath. It was done, he reminded himself. Done and organized and paid for. The only thing that could knock his plans off track now was a failure in his resolve. He'd been sure that he was ready for this, but he wasn't feeling quite so certain now that the only thing left to do was knock on that damned door.

But it was the only thing to do, so he raised his hand and rapped on the wood sharply.

The voice that answered was absent but no less firm for it. "Come in."

Tony opened the door and stepped into the study. His father was seated at a heavy oak desk, leaning back a little as he read through a sheaf of papers. File folders and slickly bound documents were spread over the desk, but they were quickly shuffled into an organized pile and set neatly aside, a plain manila folder placed on top, rendering even the most innocuous of them unreadable.

The elder DiNozzo removed his reading glasses and set them down on the desk top with a click. Tony stepped forward, coming to rest squarely in front of the desk, his hands clasped behind him, more to hide the way they shook than because it was a formal and respectful way to stand. He waited while his father pulled a short crystal glass to the center of the desk and splashed brandy into it from a decanter. Not a word was spoken until two such drinks had been consumed and a third poured. "Well?" Tony's father prompted, finally. "Have you decided, then?"

Tony had decided weeks ago, but indecision made a good stand in for utter terror at announcing that decision. "Yes, sir." He resisted the urge to take another steadying breath.

"So is it going to be Cornell or Columbia?" DiNozzo Senior demanded. Tony's grades weren't good enough to get him into either, but money greased a lot of wheels.

"Neither. I'm going to Ohio State."

His father paused, brandy hovering in mid-air. "We hadn't discussed that option, Anthony. I'm not sure pursuing your education at such a remove from the business is a good idea, and although Ohio State is a fine institution, it hasn't got the prestige and networking potential of the Ivy League. You're going to need those sorts of connections."

"No, I'm not." Tony gave up on trying to look entirely calm and resolved and took another deep breath instead. "I'm not going to Cornell and I'm not going to Columbia and I'm not taking a business degree and I'm not coming back to work for you afterward, either." Tony's breath all but ran out by the time he'd finished, leaving him feeling winded.

His father's eyes darkened and he tossed back the brandy he held before setting it down so sharply that it almost counted as slamming it down. But only almost. The crystal was expensive. "And how are you going to do that with no money for tuition or housing?" he asked, mouth twisting with satisfaction.

Tony almost snorted, the tension in his back relaxing just a bit. He'd been cut off from the family cash at twelve. Six years was more than long enough for him to learn to live without it, but apparently it wasn't long enough for his father to learn a bit of respect for his son's resourcefulness. "On a basketball scholarship," he said aloud, letting a bit of pride color his voice. "Full ride. I've got enough of my own money saved for the first year, and there's summers after that." He paused. "Same as a lot of other students at Ohio State."

"A basketball scholarship," his father said, voice full of disdain. "And what degree do you propose to pursue with this...scholarship?"

And here it was, the do or die moment. "Sport and Leisure Studies."

Tony's father snorted loudly and poured himself another drink. "And what happens when you've used yourself up and are left with a worn out body, no prospects, and no real education, all before you're forty? I'll tell you what. You'll come crawling back here looking for a second chance and God knows if you'll get one." He stabbed a finger at Tony across the desk. "Ambition is important, too, boy, and if you can't demonstrate some, I don't have much use for you."

"Then I guess we don't have much use for each other," Tony snapped, "because I'm not interested in your business. If you wanted me to hang off your purse strings, maybe you shouldn't have cut them quite so early."

"Privilege has to be earned," DiNozzo Senior shot back.

Tony laughed tightly. "I learned that well enough. Well enough to want to earn a little of my own and none of yours."

"Go on, then," Tony's father said with condescending indulgence. "Play your games. Waste your life. When you've spent a little time in the gutter, you'll learn to play my way."

"I've been playing your way for years," Tony said. He turned away from his father and opened the study door, where he paused for a minute to look back. "I'm ready to make my own rules."