A Matter of Trust
Summary: Tony has been thinking about his conversation with Gibbs in TGIF? Warning: discussion of spanking of adult; no 'on-screen' spanking in this one.
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, I'm just playing with 'em.
A/N: This is part of my discipline series, and brings together plot lines begun in other stories, especially The Prank and TGIF?.
Warning: discussion of spanking of an adult; no 'on-screen' spanking in this one.
I look up from my desk and glance over at Tony. He's still pretending to work. Everyone else left ages ago, and I know that he finished his report at least an hour ago. Now he's just tapping random keys, trying to make me think that he's still editing the document.
I'm fairly certain that he's trying to work up the nerve to talk to me about something. I don't often admit, even to myself, how much he reminds me of myself, of what I always imagined my son would be like, if I'd had one. I think he got the message, that night when I had him make a paddle, and told him about doing the same thing for my father. And the way he's acting now, he's gearing up for a conversation that has nothing to do with work, and I find I'm surprisingly pleased by that. But, I know that pressing him about it is the fastest way to shut him up tighter than a clam.
So, I wait.
I see movement out of the corner of my eye and look up again. I make sure to keep my face neutral; I don't want to scare him off.
'Uh... can I talk to you for a sec?'
'Sure. Waddaya need?'
'Well, I... sorry... never mind...'
'Tony! Get back here.'
He aborts his retreat and returns to stand in front of my desk.
'What's on your mind?'
'It's... uh... just that... well...'
I make a conscious effort to keep my brewing impatience off my face. I want to encourage Tony to open up to me. Snapping at him for not doing it at a pace more suited to my notions of efficient communication isn't going to help that process. I watch him take a deep breath, blink a few times, and visibly decide to start again.
'Ok. You know when you said that you didn't want to make me do anything that I'm not comfortable with? When you... uh... punish me?'
I feel my heart drop. I had half-expected to have this conversation with him at some point, but I actually thought we'd gotten past the point when it was likely.
I don't know very much about Tony's childhood, but the little I've figured out makes me careful about using my usual discipline methods with him. I still hold him to the same high standards that I expect of all my agents, and I spank him when I think he needs it. But I keep an eye out for any sign that I'm awakening demons from his past. That's why I made him have that little chat after I found out about him hiding the paddle and the strap, even though it was obvious that he didn't want to talk about it. At first I didn't think much about it; Tony has a definite childish streak at times, especially when he's sick or injured. But then I got concerned that that little stunt was a messed up way of telling me that he has a problem with how I discipline him, that he was trying to say with his actions something that he wasn't comfortable saying with words. So I made more of a point than usual of making sure that Tony knows that, if he would rather I take a more conventional approach with him, that's fine by me.
But, Tony insisted that he doesn't have a problem with my... shall we say 'unorthodox'... methods. And they seemed to be working with him. And he's never asked me not to take such a personal interest in his behaviour. That is, it seems, until now.
'I meant it, Tony.'
I need to let him know that I'll still be here for him, even if he wants to change the terms of our relationship.
'Tony, if you would rather do things by the book than answer to me personally, that's fine. Really. Or, if you still want me to punish you off the record, we can find other ways of doing it. I don't have to spank you...'
'Uh... that's not the problem. Well, not in general...'
'Ok, now you've lost me...'
My stomach lurches as Tony seems to lose his nerve at the suggestion that he isn't doing a very good job with whatever he is trying to say. Despite the superficial bravado, he's actually very insecure, and takes any criticism to heart, more than he should. His face falls, and he starts to turn away.
'I should just go...'
'No. You should tell me what you are trying to say, so I can understand what the problem is. I can't fix it, if I don't know about it.'
I stand up and circle my desk, perching on the edge of it closest to Tony. When he doesn't respond, and merely looks at me with slightly panicked eyes, I continue quietly, 'It's ok, Tony. Tell me what's on your mind.'
'It's just... a switch.'
The words are spoken so softly that I'm not sure I heard them correctly.
'I'm not sure I understand, Tony. A switch?'
'Yeah... I don't mind if you spank me... I mean in general... but can you... uh... not... use a switch again? It's just... it reminds me... of... uh...'
His words trail off. I feel a mixture of relief and deep regret.
I'm glad I haven't misread my relationship with DiNozzo as badly as I was starting to fear I might have done. Knowing that he hasn't been silently brooding, resenting my punishments, allowing old wounds to fester rather than admit that he has a problem, has me breathing easier. And, while I meant my earlier words about finding alternative ways of dealing with Tony, it will be orders of magnitude easier to just continue what we've been doing.
But, at the same time, I wish I'd known this before I made him cut one, then whipped him with it. It only happened the once, and it seemed appropriate at the time. But I don't like knowing that I might have contributed to whatever problem Tony's having slaying that particular demon. On the other hand, while Tony reacted with fear and initial resistance, he seemed to be ok after the initial shock of my order... But I know that psychological scars can be deeply buried.
I look at him carefully, making sure to keep my face impassive. If he thinks I'm doubting him about something so important, it could irreparably damage the fragile bond between us.
He looks... nervous. But it's not unreasonable that he might be uncomfortable revealing something so personal, something that makes him feel vulnerable, to me.
'That's it... unless you want to talk about it?'
'No... uh... I'd rather not.'
'It might help...?'
'I'm not... uh... maybe someday?'
'Whenever you're ready. You know I'm here.'
'And it's... uh... ok?'
'Oh. Uh... ok. Well... I'll just...'
Tony starts to leave again.
'I'm glad you told me. Really. I'm proud of you for knowing your own needs, and setting limits you can live with. And I'm glad that you trust me enough to share this with me.'
I see him swallow hard and blink rapidly, but I don't let on that I know how much my words affect him.
'Uh, yeah... uh... thanks, Boss.'
Tony grabs his things from his desk and heads for the elevator with uncharacteristic haste, not even giving me the report that he'd been using as his excuse to stay late. Shaking my head sadly, I watch the man I've come to think of as a son leave.