Title: How Do You Solve A Problem Like DiNozzo?
Author: KaylaShay
Rating: FR13
Disclaimer: I'm not Bellesario or CBS, so I don't claim to own them. Some dialogue is used from SWAK and Frame Up.
Spoilers: 02x22 SWAK; 03x09 Frame Up; 05x01 Bury Your Dead
Beta: Demona!! How could I forget you?!
Word Count: 6,832

Summary: From the day he met him in Baltimore, Gibbs has been taking care of Tony one way or another. A Five Things fic.

Note: This is a companion piece to Five People He Lost, but can be read alone. Five People He Lost can be found in my Five Things of NCIS fic.

Gibbs was ready to hit something, or, if he was honest with himself, he was ready to hit the Baltimore police captain sitting a few feet in front of him. He had been squared off with the captain for fifteen minutes and it was fifteen too long in his opinion.

"With all due respect Captain," Gibbs ground out as he clenched his hand into a tight fist. "That so-called disciplinary issue solved this case, put a murderer behind bars and saved a little girl. And he did all that with no support from his partner or department. What gives you the right to put him on report when it should be him reporting you?"

"Evidently you haven't looked at his record Agent Gibbs. He has no respect for protocol or the chain of command. He's bounced from department to department every two years and leaves nothing but a trail of reports behind. His two years in Baltimore are up and I don't plan on giving a recommendation to his next destination. With any luck he'll go back to his rich daddy and leave the real police work to those who follow the rules."

It took all of Gibbs' resolve not to reach across the desk and show the fool of a captain what a marine was capable of doing. As he stood from the chair, a look of cold hatred shone in his blue eyes.

"For what it's worth, you better hope, for your sake, I never take another case in Baltimore. I'll find my own way out."

Gibbs didn't wait for a reply as he stormed out of the office in search of the young detective that had caught his interest. The case had been trouble from the start, but the kid hadn't complained one bit since Gibbs, second b is for bastard, had taken over jurisdiction with the allowance that he could see the case through. Gibbs knew the detective had only taken catnaps throughout the weeklong investigation and ate haphazard meals of pizza and candy bars. But the seemingly irregular schedule hadn't fazed the kid in the least.

Gibbs stopped short a little ways back from the desk the detective occupied and grimaced when he saw the bruising around the tired looking eyes. He watched as the younger man placed items into a cardboard box. He noticed the looks the man received from everyone who passed by. Gibbs wouldn't be surprised if any of them turned out to be the one responsible for the black eye. When the detective started to pick up his box, Gibbs took that as his cue to act.

"Going somewhere DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked in the same sharp tone he had used all week.

Gibbs held back a smile as DiNozzo stumbled and almost dropped the box he was carrying. Anthony DiNozzo looked at him for several long moments before his face transformed into a smile that Gibbs didn't quite believe.

"What are you doing here? Thought you would be back in DC scaring petty officers or something."

Gibbs kept the smile from his face. It was rare that he found someone willing to talk to him the way DiNozzo had during the shared investigation and he wasn't about to let the kid disappear on him.

"Had some business to take care of first. Need a hand with that box?"

DiNozzo looked down at the box in his hand and Gibbs caught a flash hurt cross his face. "Nah, I can manage on my own. Always do."

DiNozzo started walking toward the door and Gibbs followed him out. When they reached the detective's car, he placed the box inside before turning to face Gibbs.

"Is there a reason you're following me? I'm not one for taking in strays."

Gibbs snorted at that. If anything, he was the one about to take in a stray, not DiNozzo. "Just wondering where you plan on going when you drive out of this parking lot?"

"I've always wanted to go to Puerto Rico. You know, island, women in bikinis, sun, sand, surf, women in bikinis... Thinking I should try it out."

"You wouldn't like it there," Gibbs said confidently. "You'll be bored within a week."

"And how do you know what I like and don't like?"

Gibbs grinned as DiNozzo leaned back against his car with his arms crossed. "I've got a good idea what you like DiNozzo and you aren't going to find it on some island. You ever thought about living in DC?"

To his credit, DiNozzo wasn't thrown by the change in conversation. "Not really. Should I be thinking about it though?"

Gibbs took some folded papers out of the inside of his jacket and handed them to the other man. "These say you should."

DiNozzo took the papers and skimmed them before looking up at Gibbs and flashing a wide smile. "A federal agent? Are you sure they would accept me? I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, or so I've been told."

"If they don't, they'll answer to me," Gibbs said with a slight growl. 'Damn,' he thought to himself, 'haven't even got the kid hired and I already want to kill the ones who told him that.'

"Those say you skip the usual training since you've got over five years experience. I'll be giving you on the job training for anything related to the Navy or Marine Corp that you need to know. You'll start once your clearances and badge go through."

"Just like that?" DiNozzo asked as he looked down at the papers. "And I'll be carrying a gun again and working investigations?"

"Yup. Think you can handle it?" Gibbs asked as DiNozzo took a deep breath.

"Sure thing, Boss," he said with a flippant tone. "Boss is okay right? I could call you sir, but I'm thinking you would hate being sir'ed all the time and it reminds me of my father and that is--"

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs snapped at the same time he brought his hand up to lightly tap the back of his new agent's head.

The younger man quieted and looked up in shock at Gibbs. Then he brought a hand up to rub lightly at the back of his head. "Yeah, Boss?" he asked quietly.

"Shut up."

"On it Boss," DiNozzo said before he flashed another smile. "So Boss, you know any good places to stay in DC? I mean these say I need to be at the Navy Yard at 0800 on Monday morning and since it's Friday now, that's kind of short notice."

Gibbs smiled as he joined DiNozzo in his car. "If you can give me a ride, I know of a spare room in DC."

"I don't know Gibbs," DiNozzo said with a hint of humor in his voice. "What are the other agents going to think when I show up on the first day and they find out I'm already sleeping with the boss?"

"Don't make me regret this DiNozzo," Gibbs said lightly.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Boss," DiNozzo said with a smile as he pulled his car out of the Baltimore precinct's parking lot for the last time.

Two months later, Gibbs wanted to hurt someone as yet another nurse told him the same thing.

"I'm sorry Special Agent Gibbs, but only family or the next of kin is allowed pass this point."

"He doesn't have anyone else damn it!" he shouted at the innocent nurse. Then his attention was pulled away from the nurse as a frantic Abby rushed up to him.

"Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs! Is he going to be okay? Tell me he's going to be okay. I haven't been all that nice to him since he started, but he knows I like him right? What if something happens and he dies not knowing I like him? Oh God! He's not going to die is he Gibbs? Tell me he'll be all right. I promise to be nice to him from now on."

Gibbs silenced Abby by placing a finger to her lips and then he pulled her into a hug that she quickly returned. "He'll be okay Abs," Gibbs said quietly into her hair. "If he's not, he'll have to answer to me."

"Jethro, Abigail. Have you heard anything yet?" Gibbs turned to look at Ducky as the older man walked up to them.

"Nothing yet Duck," he said with a hint of anger in his voice. "The nurses aren't giving me anything because we aren't family."

"I'll see what I can do Jethro," Ducky said as he moved toward the corridor that Gibbs had been blocked access to.

"Thanks Duck," he said gently as he pulled Abby over toward the uncomfortable looking waiting room chairs.

What seemed like hours later, Ducky returned with news on their injured agent.

"Apparently, young Anthony was very lucky. The bullet was a through-and-through and missed hitting any vitals. It also did only minimal damage to some muscle tissue that he will regain full use of with some physical therapy."

Gibbs sank back into the seat and Abby wrapped her arms around him in a hug. "So he's going to be okay?" she asked in a quiet voice.

"It seems that way. Apparently, he's already flirted his way through two nurses in an attempt to sign himself out."

"The hell he is," Gibbs said gruffly as he pushed himself up to face Ducky. "Where's he at so I can tell him to park his ass in that hospital bed?"

"Follow me Jethro," Ducky said as he walked back the way he came. "Abigail, you may want to clean up just a bit before you go to see him."

"What?" she asked just before she flung her hands up to her face. Her fingers came away with traces of mascara and other remnants of her makeup. "Oh," she said quietly. "I'll just be that way shortly. Which way is that way?"

"I'll come back and get you my dear," Ducky said as he led an impatient Gibbs down the hospital corridor.

Once outside the room, Ducky placed a hand on Gibbs' shoulder. "He's going to live Jethro, but he's still hurt, so go easy on him. I'll be back with Abby shortly."

"Thanks Ducky," Gibbs said again as he pushed open the hospital room door. Tony was lying in the bed with various wires and monitors attached to his body. Gibbs could see the dark bruises forming around his face where he had been beaten while tied to the chair. The gunshot he received just before Gibbs made it to the warehouse added insult to injury.

"Not going to be impressing the ladies or the nurses much with a face like that, DiNozzo," he said in a teasing tone as he walked the rest of the way into the room.

"I don't know Boss," Tony said with a toned down version of vibrant smile. "Some of the women like it when they see a man needs to be nursed back to health. There's sponge baths, massages, sponge baths... I think I can work it in my favor."

"But your working is not going to get you out of that hospital bed any faster. You're staying put until the doctor says you can leave."

"But I hate hospitals Boss," Tony said with a whiny voice. "It's just a flesh wound. Doc said I would be good in no time."

"That's only if you follow their instructions. And when you do get out of this hospital, you're staying with me until you're done with the therapy."

"What!? Why? I can do things on my own Gibbs. I don't need a damn babysitter," Tony said as he tried to move his right arm to grab the glass of water in front of him. He hissed in pain as he remembered that it was the injured arm.

"I can see that," Gibbs said dryly as he moved the glass over so Tony could pick it up awkwardly with his left hand. Tony blushed as some of the water trickled down his chin.

"I'll be fine Gibbs," he said quietly. "I don't need anyone watching over me. Never have."

Gibbs took a deep breath and forced himself to not ask Tony any questions regarding the hurt in his eyes. "I'm not going to be your damn servant, DiNozzo. Just want to make sure you get back to work as quick as you can. Don't want to break in another agent after spending so much time on you."

"Guess that means I'm not expendable then?" Tony asked with a hint of longing in his voice.

"Nope," Gibbs said in response. It was all he was going to give the other man, so he hoped it was enough. Tony seemed to accept it as he settled back against the pillows with a small smile.

"But we do have something else to discuss," Gibbs added after a moment. "Who's your next of kin?"

Tony blinked in slight confusion. "Um, I always just put the phone number to my father's office on the form. Never really thought about it. Why?"

"Today could have gone differently and I don't like not knowing what is going on with one of my agents. Your father's never answered a call, has he?"

Tony's expression shut down as he answered Gibbs' question. "No. But I've always been coherent enough to tell them not to bother calling before."

"You couldn't today and I don't want that to happen again. We clear?"

Tony picked at a loose string on the sheet of the bed as Gibbs watched various emotions flicker across his face. "So what you want me to do about it?" he finally asked.

"List me as your next of kin on your paper work. Or Abby, or Ducky. I don't really care as long as one of us can get informed on your condition without an act of Congress."

"Got it, Boss," Tony mumbled his answer quietly, but Gibbs knew that the younger man would follow orders when he gave them.

Just then the awkward silence was broken by a squeal from Abby as she rushed into the room and flung herself at Tony. "Tony! You're okay! You know I like you, right? I don't want you to die not knowing that I like you. So I like you. Now you know."

"Abby," Tony said with a grimace. "I need to breathe or the nurses are going to come in here and stick me with things."

"Oh," she said quickly as she pulled back. "Oh God! I didn't hurt you, did I? I didn't mean to if I did."

"It's okay Abby. I'll be fine," Tony said with a smile as he looked around at the three people standing in his hospital room. "Don't you three need to be back at the office closing up the case?"

"Nope," Gibbs answered for them. "We're right where we need to be."

"Damn it!" Gibbs shouted as he sped to Bethesda. The questions kept bouncing around in his head. Why did DiNozzo have to open that damn letter? Why did that girl lie just because she didn't want her mom to know she was having sex? Why Tony?

"You better not die DiNozzo," he mumbled through clenched teeth as he whipped into the emergency parking area. Not caring that his car would likely get towed, he stormed through the corridors in search of where the isolation unit was that Tony was held prisoner within.

The scientist said that the disease was dead, but that didn't mean a damn thing. Tony was already sick and it was up to him to pull through now. Somehow he made it to his destination only to see Kate walk into Ducky's arms saying that he was dying. Hearing those words in conjunction with Tony snapped something inside of Gibbs.

"The hell he is," he ground out as he stormed past Kate and Ducky and into the blue-lit isolation room. Once inside he spoke quietly yet quickly to the doctor on the status of the virus. Then he moved to his downed agent's side.

Seeing the pale skin tinged with blue from the lights and the blood at the corner of Tony's mouth shook him. Seeing the vibrant man struggling for breath touched something within him that he hadn't felt since Shannon and Kelly had been alive. He'd been unable to do anything to save them and he'd go to hell before he sat back and watched Tony die.

He bent down close to the other man and spoke quietly so only Tony could hear him.

"Tony, listen to me," he started, listening to the pants of breath Tony made. When Tony didn't give any indication of hearing him, he asked directly, "You listening?"

Around his gasps and chokes, Tony managed to say, "Yeah, I'm listening, Boss."

Gibbs' heart lightened to hear that the other man could still sound somewhat like himself even in the throes of death. Gibbs leaned closer and slowly gave Tony an order, "You will not die. You got that?"

At Tony's lack of response to the order, Gibbs felt the need to get through to Tony the only way he knew how; he reached his hand up and lightly tapped Tony on the top of the forehead in a mimic of his normal back of the head slap.

"I said," Gibbs started then he slowed his words down as he repeated the order. "You. Will. Not. Die."

Tony's labored breathing stopped for a moment as he looked up with open eyes. In his raspy voice he accepted the order, "I gotcha, Boss."

"Good," Gibbs said with a smile. Then he stood to leave, but stopped as he remembered an item he wanted to give to Tony. He wanted to make sure that Tony knew he still had a job to come back to as long as he fought to get better. He placed the small object in Tony's clammy hand before speaking.

"It's your new cell," he said as he gave Tony's closed fist a squeeze and a pat before stepping back. With a smile he added, "I'd get the number changed. Women keep calling for Spanky."

Then he left before anything else could be said. He knew if he stayed any longer, he would do or say something that would break the façade he had managed to keep so far; the façade that said he didn't care any more than he would for any other agent in the same situation. His heart knew that wasn't true, knew that Tony held a special place and had since he met the kid in Baltimore.

One week later, against doctor's orders, Gibbs pushed a wheelchair carrying a fidgety Tony toward the hospital doors.

"I don't need the damn wheelchair, Gibbs. I can walk you know."

Gibbs smiled slightly as he slapped the back of Tony's head lightly. "I could wheel you right back to the room. They wanted to keep you, although I don't know why."

"You just wanted me someplace where you could torture me with your rules. If I didn't want out of here so badly, I would opt for staying. How come I can't just go home, Boss? I'll be a good boy and eat all my greens," Tony added petulantly.

Gibbs just snorted. "I know you DiNozzo. You wouldn't take your pills or use that breathing thing they gave you. Then I wouldn't get you back in the office."

"So you're saying that you can't work without me? Why Gibbs, I didn't know you needed me that much. Where's a recorder when you need one?"

Gibbs smiled at the fact that Tony was joking again; that he was alive to be there and joking. "I just need something to hit, DiNozzo. McGee's head's not made for it."

Tony let a snort that turned into a long cough that had Gibbs stopping the chair and trying to pat Tony's back in the way the nurse had showed him. "Slow breaths DiNozzo," he said quietly. "It's too soon," he mumbled to himself.

Tony's coughing eased and he looked up at Gibbs. "I'll make it, Boss. You gave me an order and I'm not about to disobey it. Just get me out of this hospital."

"Don't make me regret this," Gibbs said in an echo of that moment that seemed so long ago in Baltimore.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Boss," Tony said with a smile and cough as they made it to the car.

Another week later, Gibbs stood in the basement sanding a section of his boat. Tony had fallen asleep as they watched a movie after dinner and Gibbs had left him curled up on the couch under the afghan Shannon's mother had made for Kelly. He was concentrating so much on the sound of the sandpaper and his thoughts that he missed the sounds of Tony walking down the stairs until he heard a cough from the younger man.

He let himself smile as Tony sat down on the third step from the bottom, a spot that he had begun to think of as Tony's. "You should be sleeping Tony," he said to break the silence.

"I could say the same thing about you Gibbs. And that bench under the boat can't be good for your back."

"I'm not the one who nearly died two weeks ago. Go get some sleep," Gibbs ordered lightly, knowing that Tony would ignore it.

"I'm going back to the office tomorrow," Tony said quietly. "I'm ready and you need me back there."

"Kate's been holding her own and McGee's learning. We can--"

Tony cut him off. "Don't say you can do just fine without me Gibbs. You know Kate doesn't have half the investigation skills I do and that McGee's still too green if a really bad case happens. You need me there."

"What makes you think you know what I need, DiNozzo?" he asked lightly. "Things have been just fine without you."

"But have you had a case?" Tony questioned with a challenging glint in his eyes. "And cold cases don't count."

Gibbs couldn't respond to that, so he changed the subject. "You're not a hundred percent yet."

"No, but I never will be if I don't get back to work Gibbs. I--" Tony paused and Gibbs stopped sanding to look at him. "I miss it, Boss. I'm tired of sitting around here with nothing but your boat for company. You may not need me, but I need it."

"I don't want to lose you because you came back too soon," Gibbs said quietly, but Tony's sensitive ears picked it up anyway.

"You won't, Boss," Tony said just as quietly. "I promise to be good or you can hit me in the head."

"I'd do that anyway, DiNozzo," Gibbs said dryly. "I'll send you to Abby if you misbehave."

"But to send me to Abby means I've got to be at work, right?" Tony said with a tinge of excitement, the first Gibbs had heard since that damn letter was opened.

"Yah think DiNozzo," he said with a smile. Then he changed the subject when he saw that Tony wouldn't be going back to bed anytime soon. "Want to lend a hand on the boat?"

"You'd let me?" Tony asked as he walked over to the boat and pick up the proffered sandpaper.

"You can't screw up sanding DiNozzo," Gibbs said with a smirk.

"I don't know Boss... I've been told if there's a way to screw something up, then I can find it."

Gibbs cast a look at Tony who was focusing completely on the sandpaper in his hand. He knew Tony was still kicking himself over opening that letter, but Gibbs hadn't found a way to get through to Tony that it wasn't his fault.

"But not everyone learns from their screw-ups, Tony," he said quietly. "You ever repeat one?"

"No," Tony said after a few moments.

"Then the rest is irrelevant," Gibbs said in a tone that implied the time for talking was over. They worked in companionable silence until Gibbs realized it was well after midnight.

"If you're going to the office in the morning then you better hit the sack, DiNozzo," Gibbs said causing Tony to drop the sandpaper at the sudden invasion on the silence they had enjoyed for several hours. "I'm leaving at 7am sharp, with or without you."

"Gotcha Boss," Tony said around a yawn and a cough. Then they headed up the stairs, leaving the partially completed boat sitting in the darkness of the basement.

Several nights later, as Gibbs looked at the dried blood stain on the basement floor, he couldn't decide if he should have forced Tony to take another week off or not. Would things have turned out any better if Tony hadn't been there? Would Kate still be alive if he hadn't been on that rooftop? Would she have died along with McGee and maybe even himself when that car exploded? Would he have lost Abby had Tony not been there to pull her to the floor? Gibbs would never know, but part of him was just glad that Tony was still there and he planned to do his best to keep it that way.

Gibbs was frustrated and angry as hell. One of his people was being setup and every turn he made drove one more nail into Tony's coffin. Gibbs knew without a doubt that Tony was not capable of the crime, even if all the evidence pointed at him. But every new piece they found said Tony did it, right down to his teeth marks on the leg.

Now Tony was sitting in a holding cell while the FBI fumbled their way through the evidence and Tony's things and life like he was any other suspect, like he was a killer.

"Damn it!" he shouted out in the empty parking garage where he stood holding a cooling pizza. "There's got to be something we're missing," he mumbled quietly to himself. "No one is that good."

Then he stalked off to the holding cell Tony was cooped up inside. What he saw when he arrived made him wince; Tony was sitting on the small cot with his knees drawn up to his chest and his head hung down in a show of defeat. Gibbs wanted desperately to wipe that appearance off of Tony, to tell him that everything would be okay and he would take care of things. At that moment, Gibbs knew he would do anything to get Tony out of that cell, even if it meant risking his career and his own freedom to do it. Tony was not going to suffer for something that he didn't do.

Gibbs slid the pizza through the slots of the cell and smiled as Tony stood up and walked toward him.

"Smelled yah coming, Boss," Tony said as he took the box of pizza. "Pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese, right?" Tony asked with a half-smile. "My favorite."

Gibbs just nodded his head with a smirk. He knew Tony's favorites and wasn't afraid to use anything to give the man a little peace during the whole ordeal. Then he grimaced at Tony's half-hearted, "Thanks," as the box was tossed onto the bed.

Then Gibbs stood in silence as Tony self-examined himself as if he were the killer. It took all of Gibbs self-control not to interrupt as Tony lashed out through words with the frustration at being framed and not being able to do anything to help himself out of the situation. As he continued on, delving into his childhood and other topics, Gibbs grew concerned. In many ways, Tony was correct in everything he was saying and if that case ever saw a courtroom, Tony's head would be on a chopping block in no time. Gibbs knew he had to find a way to get Tony out of it, but he didn't have a damn clue about where to begin.

As Tony's soliloquy wound down and he sat in the dusty cell staring back at Gibbs, Gibbs held his gaze with firmness in his eyes. He couldn't let Tony how lost he was in the whole mess. He needed Tony to know that he was there for him and that no matter what he would take care of him.

After several moments, Tony sat forward and asked with worried eyes, "I'm not getting out of this one, am I Boss?"

Not trusting his voice, Gibbs bent his finger to signal for Tony to come over to him. Tony got up with a sigh and walked resolutely towards him. Once he was close enough, Gibbs used the one form of communication that always said more to Tony than his words ever could; he smacked him hard on the back of the head. Without words he was telling Tony that he needed to calm down and get his head screwed on straight; that he and Abby, Ziva and McGee were working for him; that everything would be okay if he just sat tight.

Tony got the message when he said, "Thank you, Boss."

Gibbs gave a smile and then tucked a finger under Tony's chin as another brief message. "I know you didn't do this and I'm going to get that bastard that did it. Got it, DiNozzo?"

Then Gibbs walked away, but cast one quick glance back to see Tony picking up the discarded pizza box and digging in. "Things will be okay," he said to himself. 'Now if only I could believe that,' he thought grimly.

Several hours later, they had Chip processed and he had sent Abby home with McGee. The FBI had vanished and Gibbs leaned back in his chair to stair across the distance at his Senior Field Agent. He allowed himself a small smile that Tony was there safe and sound and that the real 'killer' had been found. He would hold off researching who allowed Chip to get the job at NCIS until the next day, because right then he wanted to get Tony out of the office and make sure he was really okay.

"Ready to go DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, his voice cutting through the silence around them.

"Thought I would stay here for a little while longer Gibbs. Those FBI guys made a mess of my desk."

Gibbs stood and shut off his desk lights and grabbed his things before walking over to Tony's desk. "I wasn't asking Tony," he said quietly. "Get your gear. You're coming with me tonight."

"You sure that's a good thing, Boss? Thought it might be better if I just stay here."

"Can't stay with the cameras forever Tony. I'll be your alibi tonight."

Tony reluctantly stood and picked up his bag and followed Gibbs to the elevator. Once inside, Gibbs hit the stop switch and the two stood in the small space in silence. Tony was the first to break.

"It shouldn't bother me. I never thought of it before this," he said quietly. "A normal person doesn't need an alibi for every single moment of every single day just in case they're accused of murder."

"No they don't and neither do you," Gibbs said just as quietly. "You didn't do anything wrong Tony. We caught the guy who did."

"I know that Gibbs," Tony said in an annoyed tone. "But what if you hadn't? I would have gone to prison for life in the best-case scenario and death penalty for the worse case. And all because I didn't have someone that could verify where I was the last few nights."

"I wouldn't have let it go that far, DiNozzo," Gibbs said grimly.

"What would you have done Boss? Break me out and take me on the run like I did with Jeffrey. You know how well that ended," Tony's voice rose as he moved closer to Gibbs.

"I would have done whatever it took to get you out of there," Gibbs said with force as he pressed Tony back against the wall of the elevator. "Whatever it took," he repeated again as he stared into Tony's eyes.

Unblinking, Tony let out a breath. "I'm not that important Gibbs."

"You are to me and don't you forget it DiNozzo. You ready to get out of here?" Gibbs asked to change the subject.

Tony just stared into Gibbs' eyes for several more moments before he shrugged Gibbs' hands off his shoulder and flipped the switch back on. "Yeah Boss," he said with more control in his voice than Gibbs had heard all day. "You do know that one of these days they're going to put cameras and mikes in here just to record what you do when you stop this thing."

"Abby will take care of them for me," Gibbs said with a smile as he fell into his normal rhythm with Tony. "That's what I pay her for."

"I always wondered why she gets the Caf-Pows and the rest of us don't. So it's not just because she's your favorite. Is she your favorite?"

"If you have to ask, then you don't need to know DiNozzo," Gibbs said with a smile as they exited the elevator and headed for the parking lot. "Got some sanding to do on the boat," he said with a glance at Tony. "Could use some help."

"I might know a guy," Tony said with smile.

It was after midnight when Gibbs heard the door open and close and the soft footfalls of someone descending the staircase to join him. He continued sanding, not even looking up when he heard one of the bottom stairs creak with the weight of someone sitting down. Several long minutes passed with only the sound of his sanding mixed with the breathing of two bodies to fill the dusty room. Then Gibbs heard a voice that was a far cry from the vibrant man he struggled so hard to remember every detail about after the explosion.

"I know this guy who knows a thing or two about sanding," Tony said in greeting. "Least I think he does, but it's been awhile."

Gibbs' heart tore at him as he realized the real meaning behind Tony's words. The whole ordeal with La Grenouille had damaged Tony and Gibbs wasn't sure what he needed to do to help him heal. In his heart, he knew he was partly to blame for Tony agreeing to take the assignments from Jen. If he had been there, if he hadn't run off to Mexico, she never would have asked. Or, even she had asked, Tony would have told him. That was what hurt him the most; Tony didn't trust him enough to tell him what was happening.

'It's time to fix that,' he told himself and he picked up some extra sandpaper.

"Could use the help if he's around here," he said lightly, holding the sandpaper out as an odd imitation of an olive branch.

"I've been having trouble finding him, but we'll see how it goes," Tony replied as he walked over and took the sandpaper in his hand. He let his thumb run absently over the rough surface before he turned his attention on the boat.

They worked in silence for over an hour, letting the sounds of the rough paper gliding over the wooden surface keep them company. Gibbs was momentarily started when Tony stopped moving and turned to face him with unshed tears glistening in his eyes.

"I wanted to love her, Boss," he said quietly. "I did love her, or he loved her. It's all screwed up in my head."

"If he loved her then you loved her, DiNozzo," Gibbs said quietly as he put his sandpaper down and walked over to where his bottle of bourbon sat. He poured some into a glass for Tony and kept the bottle for himself.

"I tried to keep it separate, but it got harder the longer I was in. It was like Jeffrey all over, only worse. I just liked him and he turned out to be a killer who tried to kill me. I loved her and she didn't do anything wrong, just had the wrong man for a father. Hell, I never would have met her if it hadn't been for that!"

Gibbs kept silent and let Tony work through his own thoughts. He would wait until the other man had worn down before he spoke up and gave support.

"I can't decide if she would have been better off never knowing or if I would have been better off never knowing her. I never wanted to hurt her," he said quietly.

"Hurting her is on the Director's hands, not yours," Gibbs said firmly. If anyone was to blame for the mess it was Jen and he wanted to make sure Tony knew that.

"I know that Gibbs," he said in an exasperated tone. "But she's not the one who lied from the moment she met her. She's not the one who slept with her. She's not the one who said 'I love you' to her and meant it."

"But she is the one who ordered you to do those things. You are a good agent Tony and a good man."

Tony just snorted. "If I was a good man Gibbs, I never would have slept with her. If I was a good agent, I would have told my boss that I was working undercover."

"You didn't tell me you were undercover because it was need-to-know and you were following your boss' orders."

"You're my boss Gibbs. Not Jenny," Tony said in a small voice.

"I haven't been your boss since that explosion, Tony," Gibbs said before he took a long swig of the bourbon. Tony walked over to the steps and sat down placing his head into his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees.

"That explosion changed a lot of things. Things I would like changed back to how they were before."

"You can't go back," Gibbs started as Tony finished, "Only forward. I know."

"But that doesn't mean we can't go forward with what we had in the past," Gibbs added.

Tony moved his hands down off his face and looked up at Gibbs with a confused expression. "Is that the alcohol talking, Boss? I thought you could hold your liquor better than that."

"I'm not drunk DiNozzo," Gibbs said with a snort. "Just saying we could start over."

"Take awhile to get back to where we were. Took over four years the first time."

"Thought you once said you never repeat your screw-ups?"

"What's that got to do with things?" Tony questioned.

"Then we should be able to knock a few years off that time frame if you're not screwing up all the time."

"Who says I'll be the one to screw up Gibbs?" Tony said in a lighter voice that Gibbs was silently glad to hear. "You've been known to make a mistake or two."

"You're not the only one doesn't repeat their screw-ups, DiNozzo."

"So no more running off to Mexico?" Tony came right out and asked.

"Only if you promise your ass is mine and not the Director's," Gibbs fired back.

"Ass is yours, check," Tony said with a small smile forming. "You know, I could save you the trouble and get 'Property of LJ Gibbs' tattooed across it. I'm sure Abby knows a place or two to get it done."

"You don't need a tattoo on your ass to know it's mine, DiNozzo," Gibbs said in a half-growl, half-laugh.

"Probably a good thing," Tony said as his smile turned more thoughtful. "The ladies probably wouldn't like it if I had a guy's name tattooed on my ass."

Silence descended in the basement again and Gibbs finally broke it. "Should probably hit the sack. Need to wrap up the case tomorrow."

Tony sat in silence for a few more moments before speaking quietly as he stood. "I think I'm going to need a few days, Gibbs. Still gotta get my head screwed on straight."

"I've got a spare room, bourbon and plenty of sandpaper," Gibbs said as he followed Tony up the stairs. "And let me know how you plan to screw your head on, because it never was straight."

"Funny Gibbs. You say that now, but wait until this screwed up head solves another case for you."

"When that happens, I'll believe it Tony," Gibbs said with a smile as they parted ways for the different rooms. "And Tony..."

He waited for Tony to turn around and face him before he continued. "I'm glad you weren't in that car. I gave you an order in Bethesda and it still stands. Got it?"

"Gotcha Boss," Tony said with a smile. "As long as you know the same goes for you," he added in a low voice.

"I'll do my best," Gibbs said in all honesty.

"Then I will too, Boss," Tony said with a smile.