"Just spit it out, DiNozzo." Gibbs ordered gruffly, knowing the brusque tone would help steady the younger man. DiNozzo had an odd dislike of gentleness as if it was something not to be trusted experience had taught Gibbs that the younger man was far more at ease with straightforward direction.

Sure enough.

"There was this boy in my class," Tony spoke softly. "Every summer his father used to take him on a road trip in this great classic Thunderbird. Niagara Falls, Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon. The other kids used to make fun of him because he wasn't going ski-ing in Aspen or vacationing in Europe, but I was always jealous. A great car, iconic movie locations and one-on-one time with his Dad, what more could a kid want?"

Gibbs looked at him with a completely unreadable expression and Tony began to regret ever opening his mouth. This had been a bad idea. A few days R and R was one thing. A vacation like that would take at least a couple of weeks. They'd just spent weeks cooped up in Motel rooms together, as they tracked down Baxter. Gibbs was never going to go for it.

"But if I really wanted to do that, all I needed was to buy a plane ticket and sort out some car rental," He back tracked. "I once spent a week in Vegas when I was best man to one of my frat brothers. Never even saw the Canyon. I'll think of something else, Boss."

"Would have thought that was right up your alley, DiNozzo," Gibbs observed calmly. "Isn't that where they drove off that airstrip in Thelma and Louise?"

Tony looked stupidly at his Boss, almost too side swiped by the fact that the ex-marine had actually quoted a movie reference to answer his question. Blinking once, he recovered his equilibrium rapidly enough to shrug with a passably casual air. "It was a busy week. The guys had other things to do."

"And you didn't want to do it alone." Gibbs observed quietly.

Tony looked at him, with eyes wide and slightly vulnerable but didn't answer. Sometimes, it was kind of comforting that the ex-marine knew him so well. Other times, it scared the hell out of him. Gibbs inwardly sighed, as he plucked the barely touched pizza box from his subordinate's lap. "You need to use the head?"

"No, I'm good." Tony assured him.

In answer, Gibbs located the TV remote and threw it, watching with a quiet pride as Tony easily plucked it one handed out of the air. Satisfied that the Hotel's choice of channels would have something to satisfy the ex-dectective's mercurial attention span he turned on his heel and headed for the door.

"I see any porn on our bill it's going on your credit card." He directed.

When he returned, the flickering screen was showing a crime show in Spanish. With no one to see it, Gibbs gave a soft, proud, smile, as he turned of the set. Few people realised how dedicated DiNozzo really was, almost everything he did, from sports to socialising was designed to hone his skills, make him a better investigator, more fluent undercover, anything that would help catch the bad guys.


Tony came instantly awake at the absence of sound, one hand reaching for his weapon even as he bolted up to a sitting position.

"Expecting someone else?" Gibbs quirked a brow, at the note of anxiety in his senior field Agent's voice, even as Tony registered his voice and put his weapon aside.

"Force of habit," Tony's light tone didn't quite disguise the shadows in his eyes or the paleness of his expression. "Maybe, if you'd kept your side arm handy your ex-wife wouldn't have put that nine iron to such good use."

"Nightmare?" Gibbs asked, like it wasn't a big deal.

"It happens." Tony answered in kind.

As a LEO nightmares went with the territory and Gibbs was no more infallible in that respect than anyone else who gave a damn. The ex-marine didn't need to know what Tony had actually been dreaming about. Although, judging by the look of compassion in his Boss' eyes, he had probably guessed.


Tony snatched the small, paper wrapped missile, out of the air, inhaling the scent of the breakfast burrito, even as his stomach registered the fact that he hadn't eaten nearly enough over the last few days. Gibbs plucked a Styrofoam cup of tea out of the paper bag he was carrying and set it on the side table.

"Thanks, Boss." He acknowledged, warmed by the thoughtful gesture.

"You know you slept through Christmas?" Gibbs asked.

"I did?" Tony looked up from his first, blissful bite of the breakfast burrito, unaccountably dismayed. It wasn't like he expected a fairy tale Christmas but to miss it all together seemed incredibly unfair.

"Spoke to the Director while you were sleeping."

"We have a case, Boss?"

"What we have DiNozzo, is leave. Two weeks leave starting tomorrow."

"We have leave?" Tony blinked. "And you're taking it?"

That got him a look. Tony just shrugged unapologetically. Gibbs almost never took leave. In the two years that he had been working with him Tony knew for a fact that the man hadn't taken a single vacation. The odd day here and there, the occasional weekend, was the most he ever allowed himself. It was as if he would rather do anything than be alone with his own thoughts.

"Some one has to keep an eye on you." Gibbs pointed out.

Tony bit his lip, as he felt his face heat up with embarrassment. Of course, Gibbs would want to keep him on a leash after pulling such a stupid stunt. He flexed his feet experimentally were still sore, but rested enough that he reckoned he could walk on them if he went slow and easy.

"Boss." He swallowed. "You don't have to."

"I know," Giibbs agreed easily. "Happen to think you're worth it."

"I am?" Tony seemed genuinely surprised, which was the only thing in Gibbs book which saved him from a head slap. Looking at Gibbs expression he quickly amended. "Of course, I am if you say so, Boss."

"I say so," Gibbs gave a rare smile as he pulled out two pairs of plane tickets to Las Vegas, together with car hire and hotel reservations and dropped them on the bed. "Merry Christmas, Tony."

"Gibbs," Tony picked up the folder, running his finger almost reverently over the shiny coloured card. From his father this would have meant nothing. Arranged by his PA, paid for by funds he would never even miss, and mostly likely cancelled at the last minute when something more important than his son came up. From Gibbs, who had arranged this all himself, never spent his hard earned money on frivolities and was always as good as his word, it meant everything. "Are you sure you really want ..?"

"You even think about finishing that sentence, Dinozzo and I will slap you silly. Are we clear?"

"Crystal, Boss." Tony nodded fervently.

"Good." Gibbs smiled, a rare, warm, soft, smile, before tapping Tony lightly under the chin with two fingers. A broad, beaming, smile, spread across the former cop's face at the open affection.

"Thank you." He said with total sincerity.

"One of these days, Tony," Gibbs words were both a threat and a promise. "You are going to tell me what is really going on with you."

"Yes sir." Tony acknowledged obediently. He had known for a while now that eventually Gibbs would get the truth out of him. He was almost looking forward to it. But right now, he would be happy to forge the kind of bond that he had never known as a child.

He was beginning to realise that Gibbs would always have his six. No matter how much he screwed up. Or sometimes lost his way, Gibbs would always be there to put him straight, keep him on track, and offer occasional words of praise which were all the more prized for being well earned. That the man would always be there was the best present Tony could ever imagine. And as he looked at the soft, proud, expression, on his Boss' face for the first time, he realised, that he was at least as important to the ex-marine.

"Hey Boss, can I drive? Because you know, if you drive we won't see any of the scenery, it'll just be one big blur."