A/N: This hot mess is all mine. Not beta'd. Completely spur of the moment and trying something new. And as you can see, I'm very rusty. All of the many technical errors and the general confusion is all mine. *Takes a bow* They don't know it, but SASundance and Arress have been very encouraging. I just needed to hit submit before I lost my nerve. Thanks Trippies!

Updating to include a couple of warnings. I told you I was rusty!

1. Mentions of child abuse. Nothing graphic, but it's the major theme.

2. Mild cursing. One F-bomb.

3. Gibbs lovers might be offended.

Characters sadly belong to CBS, Bellisario and Brennan and others. Not mine.

It was a bad case.

Bad cases often have fallout, but you just never know what that's going to be. They're always especially bad when they involve kids. Everyone feels the same way. But for one Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, it was a whole different level of bad. In fact, the entire case could have been scripted from his own life. Powerful, overbearing, neglectful husband and father. Wife who numbs her pain with booze and pills. And an only, lonely child that was more accident than loving creation. Staff for friends, designer clothes, and a bedroom taken from the pages of Vogue Living. Not a personal item in sight lest it spoil the effect. No dirt. No mess. No little boy things. No love.

For Tony, it was like seeing his life played out in a bad Lifetime movie of the week, except for that one thing. One big thing.

The kid even looked like he did at that age. Foppish dirty blonde hair that refused to stay in the artfully cut, overfly coiffed style that was too old for his too young face. Sunken, haunted emerald eyes in a face still clinging to baby fat that uncoordinated, skinny limbs had left behind after the last growth spurt.

But those eyes.

A child and an adult in one damaged little package all of eight years old. Crouched in a corner, bruised, bleeding and broken and still holding the knife as the Admiral lies cooling at his feet. That's how Tony found him, first on scene. The moment he stepped into that room it was like a homing beacon. Jade on jade. Takes one to know one.

Everything else fades to black. All he hears is the drip, drip, drip of the blood hitting the high polish parquetry floors and the swish swoosh, swish swoosh of his own blood pumping through his veins. His heart is pounding a staccato in his chest. The stench of rust and scotch is thick on his tongue, and it's sheer will alone keeping every meal he's ever eaten from making a violent encore. Knees get locked in boneless legs so he, too, doesn't end up on the floor. Two vics is enough.

For the briefest moment, Tony thinks he's having a flashback. Apart from the final act, he's lived this scene. Over and over he's lived it. Sure, some of the details are a little different. His dad never wore dress whites for one. But the pretentious house right down to the den he's standing in could be a copy of his family home. Even the belt with the bloody buckle and the wooden paddle are right there on the desk. Tools of the trade. And didn't he imagine this outcome - and about a thousand other creative variations - in excruciating detail. Hey, a kid's gotta have a hobby!

They can't take their eyes off each other. The kid knows. It's a special club. Members only. Nobody suspects a thing.

No one else could get near him. Except Tony. Dropped the knife and put his arms up in invitation. Like he'd been expecting him. What took you so long? Tony wondered the same thing.

The investigation had been like reading Tony's own diary, had he kept one:

Mom kills herself. Check.

Dad blames the kid and emotionally disconnects even further. Check.

Dad progresses from social drinker to functioning alcoholic and mean drunk. Check.

Dad turns into a monster. Check.

Dad uses money and power to get away with abuse, neglect and child endangerment. Check.

Kid kills dad in self defence when dad gets so plastered he thinks their "lessons" should involve a carving knife...

He's both sick with grief and proud of the little guy.

It's an open and shut case.

The only silver lining is that an Aunt on the mother's side is found who is willing to take him in. No social services or foster care for Drew. He'll be moving to England; that's where his mother's family is from. Go figure. Andrew David Donnelly. ADD. Yeah, what are the odds! The hits keep on coming.

Tony checked them out, of course. Got McGeek to do some digging. They seemed normal enough. No skeletons in the closet worth mentioning. Old money, big estate, lots of staff. The kid will fit right in. But with some cousins around his age it'll be much more like a real family. He'll be okay. Nothing like a lifetime's worth of therapy to look forward to. Sure, he'll be fine. He'd better be. Tony'll be checking in. He's got some vacation time coming, and Ducky has contacts in the mother country. Their Messages info is sorted, too. Special, super, secret meetings in their exclusive club. Rule Ten is so not a problem. Honest!

Yeah, it was a bad case. A case like that, it can change a person.

For one Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, the change was huge. It was important. Oh he was still the clown. He was still what everyone expected and needed him to be. Almost. Drove everybody crazy with his movie chit-chat that inexplicably yet consistently linked clues that were instrumental in solving cases. He still applied his super stealth patented probie program that annoyed them so much they never figured out all the learning and seasoning he had them doing right under their mutinous junior agent noses. Bait. Switch. Deflect. Boom. Pow. Shazam. Just like magic. Yes, he was still the Tony DiNozzo that everybody loved, and that everybody loved to love not so much. Masks in place, time to underestimate. International man of mystery. How is that guy so good at his job? Situation normal. Until it wasn't.

Tony knew he was coming. He always knew. Surprise was just part of the act. Tony DiNozzo has excellent situational awareness and reflexes. Just ask Drew Donnelly or any member of the special club. It's a matter of survival. So Gibbs' first head slap after that case was expected. He let it happen. Just like he let it happen every other time, too. And after all these years, he couldn't even begin to count how many. So many good times.

THWACK. Job well done. THWACK. He likes me. He really, really likes me. THWACK. Love.

All attention is good attention. Right?

Wake up and smell the denial, Tony. No, this time it's different. He knew it was coming just like always, but he finally, finally knew better. Man with a plan.

"Ow! That actually hurts, Boss. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't do that anymore." Rubbing the back of his head. Lopsided grin and sincere eyes. Haunted, emerald eyes. So familiar.

Surprise all 'round. The junior agents peek around paperwork and computer screens.

Gibbs falters but blink and you'd miss it. He doesn't break stride, just keeps on walking to his desk, steaming coffee in hand, vapours curling in the air. But Tony saw. Tony was looking.

"Stop doing crap to make me have to do it, DiNozzo." Thin lips upturned on one edge. Sparkle in the eye.

Well okay then.

The next head slap doesn't come until the following day. Considering it can be a multiple per day event, Tony considers this to be progress. It was in the bullpen again, but Fornell and some of his FBI subordinates had been there. Tony waited until they left.

"You know, I really would appreciate it if you'd cut out the head slaps, Boss. It's especially embarrassing when we have visitors." Earnest with a side order of bothered.

Lightning flash of steel blue, there and gone again. "You got something to say, DiNozzo?"

Probie and Probette have matching anime eyes.

"Said what I had to say, Boss."

Blue on Green. Hold. Hold. Hold.

"I'm going for coffee. Don't you have something you should be doing Mc Gee? David?"


"Of Course, Gibbs."

Elevator pings.

"He looks tense."

"Tony, it's not funny. What the hell are you doing?"

And so it went. The probies were not dealing well with the stress.

Day three and they caught another case. Just as well, the tension was so thick you could carve the bullpen into bitter bite sized portions. All the world for a field trip.

Thankfully not a child in sight, and a smoking gun with a nice juicy print plastered right on the barrel. A dead petty officer requiring justice, and it looked like he'd be getting it posthaste. Photos and sketching was complete, and Black Lung looked like he needed some help over by the mobile morgue on wheels. An overly enthusiastic 'Gibbslap' arrives special delivery sending Tony stumbling forward. Palmer steadied him before he lurched into the van head first.

Gasps all 'round.

"God dammit, Gibbs. Stop hitting me!"

Dead silence bar the crickets. Literally crickets. They were in a field.

"What did you say?"

"You heard me. There's two doctors here who can explain to you why hitting someone in the back of the head at all, let alone repeatedly, isn't a good idea. Just knock it the hell off already."

Anime eyes all 'round. The comic is catching.

Ducky is a lot stronger than he looks. Some whispered words, steel trap arms and Gibbs' "if looks could kill" stare turned into no eye contact and a, "Just do your damn job, DiNozzo, and I wouldn't be forced into keeping you on track."

Tony let that one slide. Point was made. Scene was had. Three strikes, almost out.

Things got back to...not normal. Gibbs' mood was the worst it had ever been, and no one was spared. Naturally, the junior agents were pissed with Tony. Why did he have to ruin everything? Everything was fine the way it was. Why couldn't he take the hits like a man? They're only head slaps for God's sake! And all the while, Gibb's slapping hand was a mesmerising clench, release, clench, release, clench, release. Looks painful. Tony was sure he didn't even realise it was happening.

The status yuck lasted the rest of the week then it was a blissfully peaceful weekend off. Alone at last. Tony used part of his time off to call Tim and apologise for the few head slaps he'd ever dished out promising to never partake in the practice again. Yes he is serious. No he's not dying. Yes it'll be okay. No, it's not a plan to get Gibbs to hit you instead McSkeptical. Thanks for caring.

Monday morning sees Tony back at his desk scheduling a routine checkup with Doctor Brad Pitt. Though it may have sounded like a personal call as he amiably chatted with the lovely temp, Tamarra, who enjoys yoga, Italian food and long walks on the beach, since his bout of y-pestis, it is a condition of his employment that he have bi-annual checkups to test his lung function and ensure he is in peak physical condition.

Tony's a great multi-tasker, so as delightful as Tamarra sounded, he's able to spitball McGee, spot Ziva reading a gossip mag she pretends to hate and still sense his approach, just like always, while he's speaking with her. No flies on him. The change in air currents as Gibbs' hand cuts through the air behind his head is so easy to detect after all this time. He disconnected the call with one hand and reached behind to grasp Gibbs' wrist with his other hand just before contact could be made. He's fast when he wants to be. When he needs to be. Enough now.

It's probably fortuitous that the probies, Palmer, Abby and Ducky happened to be in the vicinity, too. It was the grand finale after all. However it played out, this was it. Witnesses. Always witnesses. And the reports. Them, too! Bases covered. Gibbs knows, he signed them. This can't really be a surprise. This road was always leading somewhere, Boss.

"I told you to stop hitting me. In fact, I've asked you repeatedly to stop hitting me, and then I told you." Iron man, not letting go. Emeralds in the rough. Here we go.

"My team, my rules. You don't like it, you know what to do. Now get your damn hand off me, DiNozzo, before I take it off." Nostrils flared. Cerulean steel. There be danger in these parts.

"Okay, Gibbs. Hand is off. Calm down." Hands up, palms out. Peace, brother. Deep breath. The DiNozzo smile, half mast. Disappointed. Not surprised, but, if wishes were horses... That's a stupid saying.

The entire floor is silenced, watching on, riveted. A hundred anime eyes bugging out. Toothpick is on the mezzanine working two at a time like they're his first t-bone steak after a long meat-free Lent.

"You know, I've tried, I really have. It should have been a simple thing. A simple request. And you gotta wonder why it wasn't. But that's not for now. So let me make it real easy for you. You hit me again, Agent Gibbs, and I'll have you brought up on charges of assaulting a Federal Officer. Am I making myself clear, Agent Gibbs?"

Not a creature was stirring, not even an Autopsy Gremlin.

Green on blue. Hold. Hold. Hold.

"Crystal, Agent DiNozzo. My office. NOW!"

Elevator doors ping shut and the car begins its' descent when it's halted between floors. Mood lighting.

"Just what the HELL is your problem, DiNozzo?"

"My problem is assault, Gibbs. I've finally wised up. I won't stand for it anymore. There's a reason it's against the law. I should never have allowed it to go on this long, but it ends now. The real question is, what the hell is YOUR problem that you are so attached to hitting me?"

"Assault huh?" Eyes flash like a solar flare. Light bulb moment.

"Oh for God's sake. This is about the kid isn't it? You're letting your personal life cloud your judgement. Your daddy issues have confused you. Back of the head, open handed is not assault. I'm just keeping you in line. You need it. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. And now you've gone and put on this frigging performance and undermined my authority. I can't let it stand. You get that, right?"

"Will you listen to yourself. You're damned right my personal life is part of this, but is hasn't clouded my judgement. It's cleared it up. You can spin it however you like, but take a good damn look in the mirror, Gibbs. Abuse is abuse however you frame it. You don't hit people just for the hell of it or because you're in a mood, or, or because you think they NEED it. Who the hell do you think you are? What a crock of shit.

Arms gesticulating wildly emphasise the words. It's a known thing.

"You don't hit people in the head ever. I can get you literature from any Hospital on head injuries and the dangers of trauma to the back of the head. If you don't trust me, which you clearly don't, McGee can google the damn info for you, or you could talk to Ducky like I asked you to. YOU DO NOT HIT PEOPLE IN THE HEAD. And I've had a lot of concussions, Boss. For God's sake, it's not hard to work out. You just don't do it. You've got anger issues. You can't control yourself. Or is it you can't control yourself with me? What makes you ruffle McGee's hair and say, "Good job, Tim," but slap me in the head and somehow consider them both motivational tools?"

"I know my people."

"NO. You don't. I was that kid, Gibbs. I lived Drew Donnelly's life. Every single part of it except that grizzly end. Don't tell me you didn't at least suspect it. You and Ducky both. And yet you decided that more violence was the way to go with me?"

"Well dammit it worked didn't it? You lapped it up. Face it, DiNozzo, you respond to violence. I was just giving you what you wanted. What you needed. You were skittish at first. You didn't know how to take it when I was nice, so, I wasn't. And it just... I never meant any harm, and you're no worse off for it. You've made something out of nothing."

"Jesus, Gibbs. Listen to yourself. Yeah, I responded to violence. It was all I knew. And that's just sad and sick and you know what that makes you? That makes you just like my father. That makes you just like Admiral Donnelly. You're justifying it. You get off on it. You're like a god damned anger junkie, you abusive prick. Would you have smacked Kelly around, too, if she needed it?"

"You watch your mouth you little shit. You don't say her name. You forget who you're talking to? I would never... You don't know what the hell you're saying. I am nothing like them. Nothing. YOU HEARING ME! ARE YOU?"

Words and actions are simultaneous as Gibbs pins Tony to the wall, slamming his head against it face first, twisting and pulling his arm back and up. A knee is jammed between Tony's legs and a hand wrapped around his throat, squeezing. Dominating. Know your place, boy!

"Gibbs. You're hurting me."

Something in the quiet, pathetic, wheezing tremor to Tony's voice momentarily stuns him. Gibbs takes in their positioning before releasing Tony and stepping back, his breaths coming short and sharp, his eyes wide and glassy. Tony gingerly turns around rubbing a wrist that is at the very least sprained, finger shaped bruising already evident there and around his throat. A large bruise is forming on his cheek, a small cut has opened up over his brow and his lip is bleeding where his tooth bit through it.

"Tony..." He reaches out, his own voice tremulous and unsure.

Tony flinches so violently he falls, landing awkwardly in the tight space. The probable sprained wrist is now definitely broken. The snap echoing all too clearly in the metal chamber.

"Ah hell." Gibbs reaches out again.

"Don't! I got it."

Tony is a picture of misery cradling his injured arm to his chest, bleeding from two places on a bruised and battered face. Red and purple and angry. Dewy, verdant eyes look anywhere but at him as he balances first on one knee and then the other, his good arm pulling himself up by the railing. Though he is a strapping 6' 2" tall, bronzed and the picture of health - scarred lungs be damned - right then all Gibbs can see is the eight year old Tony DiNozzo and Drew Donnelly rolled into one, and in the reflection of the shiny elevator wall, he swears he sees himself in that snobby den with a belt wrapped around his fist with a bloody buckle jangling between his fingers. He startles at the sight. No!

"Look, Gibbs, we've both got a problem. I figured mine out. It took seeing that kid for me to get it, and I'm doing something about it. Well, I tried. Didn't turn out so well, I guess." A wistful grin is forced through bloody teeth. It's gruesome and appropriate. He wears the betrayal like a well worn coat. Gibbs can barely stand to look at him.

"It's not the DiNozzo way, but, I think I'm gonna go see someone about it. Talk to someone. This has to stop. And you, you have to stop. This all got out of control. I don't think... I don't know if I can work here anymore." Raspy and breathy, his words leave him spent.

This snaps Gibbs fully back to reality, and it's really not a whole hell of a lot better than that warped reflection he thought he'd just seen. How the fuck did they get here?

"Why wouldn't you stop? Why did you have to keep hurting me? I thought..."

Gibbs isn't sure he's meant to hear that. It's halfway between a whisper and a sob after the lift is back in motion, and Tony isn't even facing him. It takes his breath away just the same. He sounds so young. So hurt. And they're damn good questions. Christ, this is so FUBAR, Gibbs doesn't think Rule 45 even applies anymore. He's been a day late and a dollar short when it comes to DiNozzo for years now.

In the seconds it takes for the lift to come to a halt and the doors to open, Tony has himself back together. If he weren't bleeding and broken, even Gibbs wouldn't know anything was wrong. Tony's not just good at undercover work, he could teach a master class.

Hoping to minimise the fallout, The Director positions himself and Ducky outside the elevator doors, and when they open, the shock has him inhaling his vice. It's touch and go as to whether Ducky needs to intervene. The rest of the team hover in the background, various states of theatrics in play, and news travels fast across the wire. This is big.

Choking crisis averted, The Director takes command. Time to shine, Leon. "Doctor Mallard, please see to Agent DiNozzo. I'll need...documentation."

"Ahh, quite so, Director. Quite so. Come along, my boy. We'll soon have you sorted. Perhaps a trip to Bethesda is in order. You, too, Mr Palmer. Tally Ho." One eye on the victim, the other on the perp. Duck in distress, but stiff upper lip and all that.

It is a testament to the situation that Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo doesn't object. In fact, he says nothing at all. He's too busy wondering what size box he'll need. Mighty Mouse doesn't take up much space. Semper Fi my ass.

"Agent Gibbs, my office, NOW! Everybody else, back to work." Toothpick's back in play. Working, chewing, gnawing. Earlier near death experience already forgotten. Moving on. It's a red letter day.

It is a stony faced Leroy Jethro Gibbs that follows Director Vance through the bullpen and up to his office. Mountain's going to Mohammed. OORAH.

It was a bad case. Hell of a thing.