The investigation continued. There were a lot of recruits to interview, so we were there a couple of days. Anyway, the day after I'd done the obstacle course, Gibbs actually let me go off on my own for the first time since we'd got to the base. He gave me a list of recruits to interview, and told me to stay out of trouble.
The interviews were mainly pretty routine. More versions of the story we'd already been told. Emerson didn't fit in the rest of the guys, they made sure he knew that, he finally snapped, but instead of washing out of boot camp like most kids who don't fit in, he shot half a dozen other people and then himself. We had to find out if any of the way Emerson was treated was far enough outside the regs to be culpable, or if there were any signs he was about to go postal that got ignored.
Only one of the interviews turned up something useful. One of the other recruits, the only one who came close to being friendly with Emerson although the term 'friendly' had to be used pretty loosely, had just gotten a letter from him. It was a bit odd, mailing a letter to someone on the same base, and it showed that Emerson had planned his rampage at least long enough in advance to get the letter in the mail.
Anyway, the kid gave it to me unopened. I slit it open, making sure to wear gloves so Abby could check it for prints and such, and found a map inside. There was a big X marked on it, and a note that Emerson had hidden his diary there and he wanted his 'buddy' to retrieve it for him after the investigation was over and send it to his mom. I wondered briefly why the kid hadn't just mailed the diary home himself, but then realised that a map was small enough to just stick in the post-bag; a parcel big enough to contain a journal would have to be handed over in person and that would take more time. So the rampage wasn't planned all that long in advance, just a bit premeditated.
I should have taken the thing straight to Gibbs, but I was trying to impress him by showing that I could think for myself. So, when I'd finished the interviews he'd assigned me, I decided to go fetch the diary. The map was pretty straight forward, and used landmarks that I recognised after being on base for a few days.
It was only when I got close to the place Emerson had marked that I realised that it was in the free-fire zone – the big graveyard for worn-out equipment that the Corps uses for target practice with live munitions. I knew people were supposed to stay out of the entire area, but I also knew that live weapons training had been suspended because of the investigation. So I decided to go get the diary.
Only I didn't know that the base commander had decided that his base had been disrupted enough by Emerson's screw coming loose and had given the go-ahead to resume normal training. So there I was, getting the diary out from under the seat of an old car, and a bunch of recruits were trying to target it with some kind of rocket thingy. Fortunately the guy in charge had a good pair of binoculars and saw movement and stopped everything before they'd even finished loading the whatever-it-was.
Unfortunately, when he figured out that it was me out there, he went straight to Gibbs.
The first I knew of any of this was when Gibbs drove up in a jeep and ordered me to get in. I tried to hand over the diary, and started to tell him how I'd found out about it, but he cut me off.
'Did you see the signs?'
'Whaddaya mean, Boss?'
'I'm trying to figure out if you're unobservant or stupid, DiNozzo. Did you see the signs? The big, red signs that say "DANGER – LIVE-FIRE AREA – KEEP OUT"?'
'Uh, yeah, I saw them.'
'And you decided that didn't mean you?'
'I knew they'd suspended live weapons activity because of our investigation, so I didn't think it would be a problem. When I started following the map I didn't know I'd end up in that area, and once I got there I didn't want to walk all the way back to find you so I just went ahead and got the diary. It's not like they were actually going to use it today.'
'The problem is, they were going to use it today. They were about thirty seconds away from dropping a ton of explosives right on your head, DiNozzo!'
'That's what you have to say? "Oh"?!'
'What do you want me say, Boss? I didn't think they were going to change their minds and go ahead with operations.'
'This is a military installation, DiNozzo. That means that when something is marked as dangerous, it is. You don't second guess. You don't make assumptions. You don't use your judgement. You let the people in charge tell you if, and when, you can proceed. That's what the chain of command is for.'
'Ok! I get it.'
By this point we were clear of the live-fire area and on the main road back towards the cluster of buildings where we were based. Gibbs pulled over at the side of the road and got out. Not sure what was going on, I did the same.
'When you are on a base, you will pay attention to signs, especially warning signs. You will follow the orders of everyone on base, unless they are actively impeding your investigation. If they are impeding your investigation, you will come to me first. The rules have to get broken sometimes, but until you have enough experience to know which rules you can break without getting yourself killed, you don't get to make that decision. You let me watch your six. And you answer to me when you do something stupid. Especially when you do something stupid and dangerous. Are we clear?'
'Good. Now we just have to discuss your punishment.'
'You violated about a dozen regs with that little stunt, DiNozzo, and nearly got yourself killed in the process. You really think I should just pretend that never happened?'
'I guess not. So you're gonna write me up?'
'I don't like paper punishments, DiNozzo. Suspensions are pointless. Nobody ever learned anything from having to take time off. And written reprimands usually have more of an effect on your career than the offence warrants, and too long afterwards to be any good as a deterrent.'
'Ok... You gonna make me run the obstacle course again?'
'You're getting closer. If you'll accept some old-fashioned physical correction from me, we can skip the formal reprimand.'
I was actually speechless, and you know how much of a feat that is. I wasn't really sure what to expect. Physical correction could mean just about anything from having to run laps to Gibbs beating the crap out of me. I was pretty sure that, whatever he had in mind, it would be unpleasant. But I also knew that a note in my file when I'd only been there half a year would be a professional death-sentence, and he was offering me a way to avoid that. And I knew that I could trust Gibbs. Not just the way that I'd trusted my partners with my life when I was with the police. That was merely mutual self-interest. This was more... something.
Anyway, I met his eyes and nodded. He gave me a look like I'd just confirmed some suspicion that he'd had and nodded back. Then he started rummaging around in the back of the jeep and told me to bend over the hood.
On one level, I wasn't that surprised. It was a pretty obvious definition of physical correction, and it made more sense than him using me as a human punching-bag. But on another level, I was shocked that he'd actually do it. And it felt strange bending over the front of the jeep, waiting for him. But I did it.
He came around the front of the jeep carrying one of those leather tie-downs they use to hold heavy loads on the back of open vehicles. It was wider and thicker than a belt, but still flexible like one. I swear my heart stopped for a moment when I saw it, and my mouth went as dry as dust. I'll admit it. I was terrified.
But I didn't have a chance to react before he smacked me hard across the ass with it.
I yelped like a little girl and jolted upright. I'd never felt anything like it, and I'd had my share of spankings when I was a kid. I expected Gibbs to put me in some kind of Marine headlock, but he just stood there, waiting. And I realised that he was expecting me to bend over again and that he wasn't going to hold me down.
Somehow I forced myself to lean forward and take the next lash. It hurt even more than the first one and I screamed and again I half stood up. It was pure reflex. And again Gibbs just waited for me to get back into position.
It was like that every time he hit me. The pain was unbelievable and I was crying out with every stroke of the strap and gasping for breath and there were tears streaming down my face. It seemed to go on forever. My ass was on fire. And he made me keep bending over to take another one. That moment of submission, accepting Gibbs's discipline rather than giving in to my own overwhelming desire to tell him I'd had enough and not bend over again, was almost worse than the pain. But, for the first time in my life, I wasn't angry at the man whipping me, and I didn't think it wasn't fair.
He gave me a dozen lashes before walking away to put the strap back where he'd got it, leaving me sobbing against the hood. After a minute or so, I felt his hand on my shoulder. He didn't say anything, just let me know that he was there and everything was ok. Despite the pain, I felt protected. I eventually caught my breath and somehow got myself back into the jeep. Gibbs still didn't say a word, just drove us back and carried on with the investigation.
X X X
'Anyway, that was the first time Gibbs spanked me.'
'Oh, there have been many times since then, Katie. It's how Gibbs usually punishes me when I do something he thinks rates more than a head-slap.'
'And you don't think that's a problem?'
'It's better than a formal reprimand in my permanent record. It's over quickly. And Gibbs has never once made me feel like I was in danger, or given me more than I could handle. And when I'm really feeling guilty about something I've done, it can be.. I dunno... cleansing, I guess. I feel better afterwards, anyway.'
'Ok. But he let you choose.'
'Only the first time. And he was really just testing me.'
'But still. He had your consent. With me he just went Neanderthal.'
'Oh, c'mon, Kate. He didn't do anything you wouldn't have consented to if he'd made you choose between that and taking it to the Director. And it's a hell of a lot easier to take when you're being held down. He was going lightly on you by not making you stay in control.'
'What makes you think I'd have agreed to let him whip me?'
'Because you're smart enough to know that a few minutes of painful embarrassment are better than a permanent hit to your career.'
'Well, I don't know what I would have done if I'd been given a choice in the matter.'
'Then you should be grateful that Gibbs didn't give you the opportunity to be completely stupid.'
'You know I'm right.'
'I'm too tired to know anything right now, Tony.'
'Ok. I'll let you get some sleep. You'll feel better in the morning. And when you think about how you don't have to worry about how this is going to affect you from now on, you'll know I'm right.'
Kate struggled to her feet, shaking out the stiffness in her legs after kneeling for so long. She saw Tony to the door, thanked him for the ice-cream and for trying to make her feel better about how Gibbs had punished her, and locked the door behind him. She dropped the bowls into the kitchen sink and the empty carton into the trashcan, then got herself ready for bed and settled down on her stomach again. She remembered Gibbs's own words, that he had spanked her because he cared about her. Smiling to herself as she recalled what had happened next, she drifted off to sleep.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who has reviewed! Just to clarify - this isn't supposed to refer to any particular episode (if I intend one of my stories to play off of something that has actually happened on the show, I say so). It's just my imagination playing with Tony adapting to working with Gibbs (I imagine this taking place sometime before Ice Queen).