"Is it worth it?"
"What?" Tony asked, startled. "I would think you, of all peop –"
"That's not what I mean," Gibbs interrupted in a tired voice. "What I mean is, if they don't believe him and he goes home to his father...will he survive? He's going to get it worse than ever since his mother's gone, and his father will hardly be happy that the kid smeared his image like that. Is it worth the risk?"
"They will believe him, Gibbs," Tony answered softly. "Things are different today. Today the jury is, if anything, biased in the kid's favor. Today we have forensic evidence. They will believe him and we will win." The last came out more forcefully than Tony intended and he sat back in his seat, embarrassed.
Gibbs smiled vaguely at the younger man's passion. "That is, if he testifies."
"Which brings us back to my original question. Do you think he will?"
Gibbs opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. Frowning slightly, he considered the question more carefully. Finally, he answered. "I think he will...if you talk to him."
Tony's eyebrows skyrocketed into his hair. "Wow, boss...confidence. I'm touched."
"Don't get mushy on me, DiNozzo, or I'll have Kate talk to him."
"Peter, we need to talk to you. About your dad."
Peter Brinkley looked to Gibbs, his eyes frightened. Gibbs nodded the okay, and the boy turned back to Tony. "Okay," he replied, so quietly they had to strain to hear.
"Peter, we need you to tell some people what you told us, about how your dad hit your mom. Is that okay?"
"I don't want to get Daddy in trouble," Peter whispered.
"We know, Peter. We know you love your dad. And we know you would never want to do anything to hurt him. But he needs help because he's sick. We can only help him if you help us."
"He told me," Peter shuddered, struggling not to cry. "He told me never to tell."
"I know, Peter. You're scared that he'll hit you worse if you tell people." Peter nodded. "Can I tell you something? My dad hit me sometimes and I was too scared to tell anyone. And you know what? He kept on hitting me. It got worse, too. It used to just be when I made him mad, but it got to where whenever he was in a bad mood, he'd take it out on me. It won't get any better if you don't tell someone. It'll get worse."
Peter bit his lip, his eyes darting from Gibbs to Tony. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, he began to nod. "Okay," he said. "I'll tell."
"Thank you, Peter," the prosecutor finished.
"I have no questions, your honor."
"You may step down, son."
Eight-year-old Peter Brinkley, dressed smartly in a suit and tie, climbed down off the witness stand. His small face was streaked with tears and his eyes had the washed-out appearance of someone who had just been crying. Walking past his father to the peanut gallery, he determinedly looked in the other direction.
A hand reached out and grabbed Peter by the arm. Startled, he looked up into eyes that were normally icy-blue, but today seemed to have melted a little. The stern face beneath silver hair softened slightly as the mouth turned upward into a rare genuine smile. Peter returned the smile as best he could and continued on out the door. He did not see the face turn back toward the front and he did not hear the words it uttered.