Sam made breakfast for all of them, Tony fetching and carrying as well as he could he could with his broken arm and Gibbs leaning against the counter top, sipping a cup of the best coffee he had ever tasted, as Sam talked about his life as a shipwright and his passion for the sea.
"My folks were the sensible, down to earth sort, when my father taught me carpentry he expected me to make houses, furniture and the like," He recalled. "But all I was ever interested in was boats. Worried my mother sick, she didn't see how anyone could make an honest living making nothing but wooden boats."
"Plenty of people out there prepared to pay top dollar for craftsmanship." Gibbs put in.
Sam dipped his head, acknowledging the compliment, before plucking the bacon out of the pan and layering it on a waiting plate. Before he could ask, Tony had reached up into a cupboard and used his good hand to pull down a bowel, holding it out so Sam could ladle the mushrooms into it.
"You hurt that arm of yours again?"
Sam spoke, as if it was of no interest, but Gibbs had caught the narrowed eyed glance he threw at the offending limb as he spoke the word that had piqued the ex-marine's interest. Again.
"Work thing," Tony dismissed it. "You want me to plate this up?"
"Your Boss, there'll do it," Sam surprised Gibbs. "You are as white as my Aunt Lucy's porcelain diner service and I reckon if you don't take it easy on yourself he's going to be giving you one of those head slaps of his."
"I can do it." Tony insisted.
"Ain't no shame in leaning on your friends some," Sam observed blandly. "Or did you plan on explaining me to me how come last time I went to the Docs I found my medical insurance covered a whole lot more than it used to?"
"Gonna get yourself a little nip/tuck there, Sam?" Tony neatly deflecting the question, even as he let Gibbs take the bowl out of his hands. "Or maybe that new hip you've needed for the last two years?"
"All in good time boy," Sam waggled his eye brows. "There's still some mileage in these old bones yet."
They ate out on the porch, Tony lying on his stomach, relaxed enough that it was clear to Gibbs that he'd been coming here for a good long time. They talked of nothing much as they ate, specifically nobody said anything more about Tony's arm, or how he and Sam had come to meet. Gibbs sensed there was a story there and not in a good way.
After breakfast, Gibbs re-filled up his coffee cup and went back out to sit on the porch steps to enjoy the view. As he settled down, he wasn't surprised to hear Sam's heavy tread behind him.
"The boy's watching TV in the den. He said something about having twenty years of shows to catch up on. That mean anything to you?"
"He's just yanking your chain, Sam."
"I figured," He heard the man settle in the easy chair behind him. "I suppose you are wondering how we met?"
"Crossed my mind."
"I came across him one summer hanging around on the Marina, scrawny little kid he was, all arms and legs. Seemed like he was at a bit of a lose end, all the grown folks had gone off to some party or other and whoever the heck was supposed to be watching over the kid was nowhere to be seen."
"Sounds about right." Gibbs agreed.
"Anyhow, he started helping me out, kid was smart as a tack, soaked things up like a sponge, came out with me every day for weeks, I swear you could almost see the boy growing. Don't think anyone ever even missed him."
"Now what makes you think something happened?" Sam raised a brow.
"Because if it hadn't, Tony would have told me about you long before now."
Sam gave him a searching look and Gibbs knew that the man was weighing up what he knew of the NCIS Agent's relationship with Tony against the younger man's trust and privacy. Apparently, he passed muster because Sam sighed.
"Last week of the summer they always hold a little regatta in the bay here. It's not a big thing, mostly for us locals but, I thought it would be nice for the boy to crew in a real race before he had to take off. Should have seen his face when I told him, it was like Thanksgiving, Christmas and his birthday, all come together. So, you can imagine my surprise when the big day dawned and he never showed."
"Doesn't sound like Tony."
"Not at all," Sam shook his head. "I went over to the Marina but I couldn't find him. It was two days later when he finally showed up here. He told me that his father had had some big fancy lunch thing and he'd just expected Tony would be there. I wouldn't have minded but, he was so quiet I knew there was more to it than that."
"You think he fought with his father?"
"That boy wanted to sail in that race more than anything. I could see that in his eyes," Sam sighed. "And he's as stubborn as they come. If you want to crook a finger and have him come running you've got to have put in a whole lot of ground work but, I figure you already know that."
"Learned it the hard way," Gibbs' lips quirked in a wry smile, thinking of his first meeting with the headstrong young Baltimore cop. "But, we worked things out."
"Yeah, I reckon you did," Sam chuckled. "To hear him talk you can do no wrong. Boy practically worships you. It means a whole lot to him that you came out here with him. I do what I can but I'm an old man now. About time he had someone to take a proper interest in him."
Gibbs didn't react as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Tony's footfalls were almost imperptablkeas he came to lean on the door jamb but Gibbs knew that he was there, silently listening.
"What did his father do to him?"
"The boy wouldn't say a word. But I saw the bruises on his arm, clear as day. He didn't want to let me near 'em at first but I talked him round. I took him to the Hospital and we had them X-ray it. When I found it was broken I wanted to do something but I had no proof and his family were old money with fancy lawyers and I was afraid of making things worse."
"He doesn't remember any of that," Gibbs murmured. "He thinks it was some kind of accident."
"Can't say as I'm surprised," Sam sighed. "When we got to the Hospital he was almost hysterical, damn near terrified I was going to just leave him there. Only time I ever saw that boy cry. Doc had to give him some pretty good stuff so he could set his arm. I brought him back here, put him to bed, and phoned his father to let him know where he was. He slept through the night and we never talked about it again."
"His father didn't come and fetch him?" Gibbs head came up sharply.
"Reckon, he was probably already passed out somewhere," Sam said frankly. "The help answered the phone. Said I could keep the boy till the end of the week. So, I did. After that, he spent most of his vacations here, with his school friends, or at camp, so things worked out in their own way."
"You really believe that, Sam?"
"The way the boy told it, his father had been drinking and lost his temper. Shook him by the arm when the kid told him he didn't want to go to his party. Tony tried to get away from him, I guess he put up a bit of a struggle, and his father didn't know his own strength. At least had the sense to see he should keep his distance," Sam shook his head. "Way I see it, the less time our boy spent with a man like that the better."
Gibbs didn't react as Tony strode forward, pulling one hand on the porch rail and vaulting over it, taking off down the beach at a clip without a word. Sam's eyes narrowed with suspicion.
"You knew he was there." He accused.
"He needed to hear it, Sam." Gibbs responded calmly.
"That doesn't mean you have to go lancing the boil with a rusty knife." Sam's tone was mildly disapproving.
"You'd rather I recommend him for a Psych Evaluation?" Gibbs shook his head. "Tony doesn't do well with shrinks. He tells them everything but what they actually need to hear. I need his head screwed on right. I want him back in the field."
"You mean you want him where you can keep an eye on him?" Sam figured. Gibbs said nothing, neither confirming nor denying as the elder man snorted. "Can't say as I blame you. That boy has far too much practice at hiding his feelings."
"He come here a lot?" Gibbs fished.
A few times over the years," Sam shrugged. "At first it was when he had problems with his father, then when he was injured in College and knew he'd never turn Pro. Once he became a cop, I saw less of him, just occasionally when he lost a friend, or couldn't solve a case that's been eating at him. There's not many people in this world he really trusts to let his guard down, although things have been easier since he started working for you."
"A boy never grows out of needing a father," The elder man observed shrewdly. "And there's time enough for you to make this right, if you've a mind to. That boy doesn't need anymore heartache."
"Oh, I'm in this for the long haul," Gibbs promised, before letting a wry smile spread across his face. "Knowing DiNozzo, it's going to take at least that long."
He waited until DiNozzo came back, his shirt soaked with swear and his breathing hard as he sank into the in the sand after what was obviously a long, hard run. Running his eyes over the lines of tension in his body and the dark, hard, look in his eyes it hadn't done his exhausted Agent any good at all. Gibbs silently passed him a bottle of water, waiting until the younger man had drunk his fill before asking,
"Better?" He couldn't keep the edge of sarcasm out of his voice DiNozzo looked as if a stiff breeze could do him in.
"Bastard." Tony responded his tone more weary and defeated than truly annoyed.
"You know it." Gibbs sank down beside him.
"We've both still got sick leave coming," Tony spoke tonelessly, after a while. "My resignation will on your desk when you get back."
"You don't get to run from this, Tony." Gibbs' tone was surprisingly gentle.
"Gibbs, it's a free country. You can't stop me if I want to resign."
"No?" Gibbs raised a brow.
"Well, alright, maybe you can," Tony admitted, he wasn't quite sure how Gibbs would manage it, it was probably better not to even think about that but, if he wanted to Tony was pretty sure he could find a way. "But why would you want to?""Don't pull that crap with me, DiNozzo," Gibbs kept his tone mild. "I made you my senior field Agent because you're a dammed good investigator and we both know it. Nothing I've seen over the past few days is going to change that. You screw up like Blackadder and you won't get a chance to resign. I'll fire your ass. Otherwise, you belong to me. Are we clear?"
Tony had always prided himself on being able to keep his emotions in check. But since meeting Gibbs it had become harder and harder to keep his mask permanently in place. The no-nonsense ex-marine had a way of seeing through his act that Tony felt at once terrifying and reassuring."Gibbs I thought I was ten," Tony could barely even say it. "And you just …."
Words failed him. The memory of the ex-marine's simple kindness was overwhelming. His own parents had never let him sleep in their bed after a nightmare. They would never have come to a movie theatre with him. Or let him eat Pizza with his fingers in public.
"I did what I always do," Gibbs informed him quietly. "Took care of my own."
All at once, Tony felt a hot wash of shame. How could he have made any of this about him? Gibbs wasn't seeing him when he slipped so easily into a parental role he was obviously just falling back on the patterns he had learned with his own daughter. Watching Tony must have just rubbed salt into that still open wound.
"Gibbs," He bit his lip. How could he apologise for being so clueless? "You're a great Boss. You bring out the best in your people and you never leave then hanging when the shit hits the fan. I've learned more from you in the last two years than my whole career. That's good enough. I grew out of needing a father a long time ago."
"Really?" Gibbs half amused, half tolerant, repost surprised him. "Could have fooled me."
"Boss." Tony could feel his face heating up, with a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment at the open endorsement.
"You ever think I'm too hard on you?" Gibbs asked suddenly.0
"Sometimes," Tony shrugged. "But only because you think I can deliver, even when I'm not sure. Mostly, you're pretty fair. You get me more than anyone else I've ever worked for. You huff and puff but I've never been afraid of you."
"What about the head slaps?"
"I kinda like the head slaps." Tony admitted awkwardly.
"You like that I hit you?" Gibbs gave him an incredulous glance.
"At least you notice I'm alive," Tony looked at him. "C'mon Boss, we both know the head slaps don't really hurt. It's more of a wake up call. And you are nothing like my Dad. I've seen you with kids, you'd never hit a child."
"Shannon was always the strict one," Gibbs admitted. "She was the one who had to deal with the day to day stuff. Home work, bedtimes, wanting to get her ears pierced. When I was home on leave I just wanted to spoil her."
"That's nice, Boss." Tony smiled. He tried to think of a single time his own father had indulged him with an unexpected treat or a spontaneous gesture of affection. Gibbs said very litte but his actions spoke volumes.
"Had you really never had Pizza?" The ex-marine asked abruptly.
"Never had Pizza, or burgers, never had Captain Crunch for breakfast, never went to a sleepover, never go to go treat or treating," Tony reflected. "As a teenager, I had a lot to rebel against."
"Yeah, I can see that." Gibbs muttered darkly.
"It wasn't a good time, Boss," Tony rubbed his broken arm unconsciously. "After my Mom died, my Dad started drinking too much and spending time with other women. I guess he kind of lost himself for a while. At the end of that summer he sent me to boarding school. My life was better after that."
"Sending you away didn't help you work out your problems with your father any." Gibbs observed.
"Things didn't get any worse either," Tony said quietly. "He wasn't a monster, Gibbs. I always had everything I needed. You shouldn't think badly of him."
"He broke your dammed arm!" Gibbs exploded. "Damn it, DiNozzo, why do you insist on defending him?"
"Because, he's my Dad," Tony said simply. "And I turned out alright. Mostly."
Gibbs sighed. In his book the younger man was significantly more than alright. And he certainly didn't need the ex-marine's prejudices feeding his insecurities. Reaching over, he put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed firmly.
As Tony leant slightly into his touch Gibbs felt a surge of satisfaction. He couldn't answer for his actions if he ever met the elder DiNozzo but, he could make dammed sure that his son got the care and attention that his parents had mostly denied him.
They spent the rest of the day stocking the boat and making final checks. Sam caught a pail full of fish which Gibbs cleaned and cooked over an open fire on the beach. Wrapped up in a cocoon of blankets, Tony complained about sand in his shorts, yelped when he burned his fingers on the bar-b-qued fish, whined when Gibbs cut him off after two beers and finally fell asleep, with his head on Gibbs back pack, having had one of the best evenings of his life.
"You sure have a way with him." Sam chuckled.
"Most people wonder how he puts up with me." Gibbs snorted.
"That boy acts like the whole world is his friend but, he doesn't give his trust easily, I reckon you two rub just fine."
As darkness fell Sam took himself back into the house and his feather mattress. Gibbs put another piece of wood on the fire and sat back to watch his Agent sleep. DiNozzo hugged the backpack to him, a soft, smile on his face as he slept soundly. Pulling out his hip flask, Gibbs ran his fingers over the engraving, before toasting the heavens.
"Guess, you were right as always, Shannon love, I'm a better man for having a family. Give Kelly a kiss for me."
He took a long drag, tipping his head back, feeling the liquor burn as it went down. As he straightened up, he saw DiNozzo's eyes were open.
"Boss?" He enquired sleepily.
"Go back to sleep, DiNozzo."
"I could sleep on the boat if you want to get underway." Tony sat up carefully, propping himself up on his good arm.
"Tomorrow'll be soon enough," Gibbs assured him. "Now, get some rest. Just because you only have one good arm doesn't mean you're going to get to sit on your ass all day."
"The word vacation means nothing to you, does it?" Tony gave a long suffering sigh, as he hunckered back down under the blankets, a contented smile on his face.
He heard, rather than saw the rustling, as Tony dug around in the back pack. Thinking he was looking for a granola bar or something Gibbs paid no attention, until Tony produced a sharpie.
"Hey, Boss? You want to sign my cast?"
His face breaking into a lightening fast grin, Gibbs plucked the sharpie out of his Agent's expectant hand, reaching over to sign in the only remaining empty space
L J Gibbs
"There. Now get some sleep. That's an order, DiNozzo."
He kept a straight face as Tony peered at the writing in silent disappointment, before picking up the thick, woollen blanket, Sam had been sitting on, giving it a quick shake and very deliberately tucking it around his Agent. Tony watched him carefully but, didn't speak as the ex-marine leaned in and ruffled his hair fondly.
"G'Night," He grinned tightly. "Partner."