Well this is the end. Finally. A huge thank-you to all who have kept me company through this journey, I have greatly appreciated your input and have read each and every review. Like most people here I write first and foremost the kind of thing I like to read and I'm just happy to share that with others who like the Tony/Gibbs dynamic as much as I do. I doubt I have many more stories of this length in me .. but who knows .. if the season finale is as physically and emotionally explosive for Tony as we have been promised, perhaps I'll be inspired! In the meantime I do have some plot bunnies for a few one shots which I will try to get up in the next couple of weeks.

"DiNozzo, stand down!" Gibbs barked.

The reaction came from pure instinct, the parade ground tone used to get the man's attention, and ensure he followed orders. Even as he issued the command, the ex-marine realised his mistake. A myriad of emotions, most too quick to catch, flashed across DiNozzo's face. But what stuck in Gibbs' mind was the way the younger man's eyes widened with shock, before the look of gut wrenching fear in his eyes caused him to bolt.

"Aw hell."

Gibbs was instantly up and following, barely pausing to register the drops of dark red, blood, which spotted the wooden floorboards in DiNozzo's wake. He didn't know whether to be worried or relieved that the younger man made it no further than the small, downstairs bathroom, leaning over the toilet pan to retch in painful, guttural, spasms. Pulling out his cell, Gibbs called Ducky, receiving an assurance that the ME was on his way, before he hung up.

"Easy," Gibbs carefully telegraphed his intentions as he moved to brace the younger man, trying to minimise the impact of his wounded torso by wrapping an arm around his chest, as the younger man dry heaved, bringing up nothing but bile. "You couldn't have waited until after we ate?"

DiNozzo made a despairing sound that sounded a lot like a sob, as he collapsed bonelessly into Gibbs' arms. Holding him fast against his chest, Gibbs dropped his chin onto the dark head, hoping that the physical contact would be enough to ground the other. Soundlessly, he cursed himself for a fool. In recent months DiNqozzo had seen his partner shot dead, been tortured by an abusive ex-marine and attacked by a random stranger. He should have been more careful. He had broken his own rules and assumed that because Tony acted like he wasn't afraid of him he could take liberties. Which was both stupid and dangerous.

"Think you can stand?" Gibbs asked after a while.

Tony seemed to consider that, before he nodded once. Carefully, Gibbs hauled him to his feet, wrapping his arm around his shoulders, before he helped him into the lounge room and settled him on the couch. Tackling the stairs could wait until the younger man wasn't pale as a ghost and sluggishly bleeding. Training sought out an old towel to press again the bleeding stitches, a blanket to wrap around shaking shoulders and filled a glass of water to press into a shaking hand.

"Take small sips, it'll help the blood loss." Gibbs instructed.

He watched as DiNozzo meekly complied, too dammed meekly for Gibbs taste, neither of them moved or spoke until the ME's footsteps echoed across the porch and Mallard bustled in, carrying the rather extensive first aid kit he always kept in the trunk of his car. Just because most of his 'patients' these days were already deceased did not mean he had forgotten his first calling as a physician to the living and Jethro wasn't the only Agent at NCIS who had occasionally required his services.

"Duck." Gibbs greeted him. "Thanks for coming."

Mallard nodded absently, his attention already on his charge. Taking in the downcast expression and the uncharacteristic silence, he quickly surmised that more than his medical skills would be required.

"Jethro, perhaps you would be so kind as to put the kettle on? A cup of tea would be just the thing."

Gibbs knew when he was being got out of the way. Part of him wanted to protest, not happy about leaving DiNozzo even in Mallard's capable hands. But the CO in him recognised that he had to do what was best for his Agent and Mallard would have a better chance of coaxing some answers out of the younger man without his hovering.

"I'll be in the kitchen." He agreed. Still, he couldn't help but add. "If you need anything.."

"Then we will be sure to call upon you." Mallard gave him a warning look.

It took longer than he was really comfortable with. Only the thought of what Mallard would do to him if he barged in kept him at bay. Instead, he focused on trying to make out the low murmur of voices from the next room. It was mostly Ducky talking but occasionally there was the familiar tones of DiNozzo's tenor voice answering. Finally, just when he thought his patience had reached its limit Mallard emerged, his face grave and his brow furrowed in concern, drawing the ex-marine well out of ear shot of even DiNozzo's sensitive hearing, before he was prepared to speak.

"How is he?" Gibbs demanded.

"Physcally, he is a very fortunate young man. There was some tearing to his stitches but I have been able to repair the damage quite effectively. The procedure was quite painful but that young man could give even you a run for your money when it comes to true stoicism."

"And the rest?"

"That, my dear, Jethro is entirely your problem," Ducky assured him with a small smile, before his expression turned serious. "Although, if you want my advice you will tread extremely carefully, Anthony is a very proud and stubborn young man but he is also greatly in need of steady guidance and constant support. If you are as committed to his welfare as I believe you are then you must make your feelings absolutely clear. There can be no ambiguity."

"I've got his six." Gibbs responded. "He knows that."

"Jethro, I am not talking about your work relationship. How many times has Agent Roberts resided in your spare room? Never, I do believe. Nor do I recall you acting as next of kin for any other Agent under your command. And not even Stanley could inspire the kind of loyalty you have demonstrated towards this young man. Your feelings for him run far deeper than Boss and Subordinate."

"He's my Agent," Gibbs refuted that. "Not my child."

"Is that so?" Ducky gave him a knowing glance. "Would that be why you called me out oof work on a busy afternoon to tend to his injuries, instead of simply driving him back to the Hospital? I heard the fear and concern in your voice when you called my friend. If I were to venture an opinion, I would say only Abigail has ever previously elicited this level of protectiveness."

"Alright, you've made your point. I'll talk to him." Gibbs ground out.

"Thank you, Jethro," Mallard was all smiles. "That is all the assurance I needed."

"You want your tea now?" Gibbs offered rather ungraciously.

"No, I do believe I will leave you boys to talk. Strike while the iron is hot as they say. Perhaps, Anthony would like some though. He is rather partial to a cup of Earl Grey and it can be quite soothing."

Gibbs worked out his frustration on pulling out mugs and searching around for sugar. Mindful of Ducky's words to tread carefully he deliberately softened his expression, as he approached his junior Agent, ignoring the defensive body language and simply settling himself down beside him, making sure that their shoulders and thighs were 'accidently' touching as he passed over the steaming mug. Tony tensed up at the physical contact but did not pull away.

"Feeling better?" Gibbs fished after they had sat there in silence a while.

The mostly haunted and still wide-eyed, look that DiNozzo shot him suggested otherwise, but the young man offered nothing further. Biting back a sigh, Gibbs shook his head as he gave the other a a gentle nudge, waiting until Tony made eye contact before he spoke softly.

"Hey," He risked a small smile. "Permission to speak."

"I'm sorry," Tony spoke so quietly Gibbs had to strain to hear the words. "I'll get my bag. I'll get out of your hair. You'll have my resignation in the morning."

"That what you want?" Gibbs asked neutrally.

"Does it matter?" Tony said bleakly.

"Not always," Gibbs admitted. "If you had screwed up an undercover op by being a dammed fool, or made some rookie mistake processing evidence which cost us a case, then I'd fire your ass before you had a chance to resign. But none of this is actually work related."

Tony looked at him, surprised. "You're my Boss. I work for you. That makes it work related."

"I'm also your 'next of kin'." Gibbs reminded him.

"Yeah, but that's just for times when I'm in the Hospital or something," Tony dismissed that. "It's just a legal thing. It doesn't actually make you family."

"You ever know me do anything by half-measures, DiNozzo?" Gibbs raised a brow.

"Well, no." Tony admitted warily. He had to have this wrong, he couldn't be hearing what he thought he was hearing.

"Then you better get used to the idea that I'm in this for the long haul," Gibbs assured him. "I can't promise I won't be a bastard from time to time and I won't promise not to kick your ass if you screw up, but that's all I will do. All I ask, is that if you're ever in trouble I'm the first person you call." He stopped, suddenly feeling un-nerved by the dead silence coming from his newest Agent and felt uncharacteristically unsure of himself. "You think you can be OK with that?"

"You don't need to do my any favours," Tony wouldn't look at him. "If Ducky thinks I still need a baby sitter I'll get a nursing service or something."

"Damn it, DiNozzo, aren't you listening to a word I've been saying? I don't want you to move out. I don't want you to quit. And I sure as hell don't want you to get a dammed nursing service to change a few dressings. I want you to let me help you," Gibbs protested. "Because that is what family does for one another."

"Not my family." Tired and in pain the words slipped out before Tony could censor them.

"No?" Gibbs reaction surprised him. "Funny, I thought you were the one who drove right across town the other week to pick Abby up when her date left her stranded. And I could have sworn it was you who somehow managed to get Ducky's Morgan running when he had engine problems. And the guy who gave up his weekend to help me build that rocking horse in time for Megan's birthday sure as hell looked a lot like you."

"She was only ten," Tony brushed that off. "She had already lost her Daddy, she didn't need to lose out on her best present as well."

"Tony," Gibbs struggled to hold onto his temper. He knew he would never have been able to keep his promise to the child in time if DiNozzo hadn't put aside his dislike of all things wood and pitched in to help with the sanding and painting. It seemed that the kid would do anything for anyone, but he had a real blindspot when it came to seeing that those things cut both ways. "I need you listen to me. Are you listening?"

"I'm listening, Boss."

"I was never mad at you," Gibbs pointed out. "I was upset that you still think my hospitality is something you need to re-pay me for. And I'm royally pissed that you got hurt again because you were too dammed stubborn to ask me for my help."

"In my defense, you don't exactly make it easy for me, Boss. You weren't exactly being all that communicative and you don't act like anyone I've ever known. How was I supposed to know what you're thinking?" Tony protested, still the idea that he might have hurt Gibbs feelings gave him pause for thought. Maybe, the man was as sincere as Tony wnated to beleive. Still, never let it be said he was one to quit whilst he was ahead. If they were playing true confessions better to get things all out in the open. "What about Sullivan?"

"Yeah," Gibbs scrubbed at his face, he was still mad as hell about that. But he was beginning to see the problem here. "You want to tell me why you didn't just come to me?"

"Ah," Tony winced. Truth be told he had thought it was his problem. It hadn't occurred to him that Gibbs would be prepared to do even more than he already had and even if it had Tony knew his own pride would have baulked at being so beholden to the ex-marine. You never knew when that kind of thing might come back to bite you on the ass. "I didn't want to bother you."

"And you don't think it bothers me when you are almost killed?" Gibbs asked, deceptively mildly.

DiNozzo wasn't stupid he visibly gulped as he picked up on the depth of feeling behind those words. He hadn't thought anyone could ever care that much about him. It was both uniquely reassuring and completely terrifying.

"About before ..," He managed.

"Wasn't your fault," Gibbs cut him off. He sighed, as Tony shot him a sceptical look. Maybe one day that would be enough to reassure but right now the kid still needed a little more explanation. "You've had a hard time of things lately. I should have been more careful."

"Was that an 'apology'?" DiNozzo wanted to know, a hint of his usual good humour lighting up his eyes.

"You hear the words, "I'm sorry in any of that?" Gibbs retorted, the sternness of his tone offset by the fond look in his eyes.

"Well, no," Tony admitted. "Not exactly."

"You're learning." Gibbs praised lightly.

"Not nearly fast enough," Tony berated himself .

"We'll work on it," Gibbs promised, giving his leg a quick, reassuring pat. "And you'll l know better next time."

"Next time?" Tony brightened. "There's going to be a next time?" At Gibbs look he hastily backtracked. "Not, of course, that I'm planning on doing anything like this ever again. But it's nice to know that there could be a next time. That this won't be the only time .. I'll shut up now."

"You know what you need, DiNozzo?" Gibbs demanded.

"A slap upside the head?" Tony offered.

"That too," Gibbs flashed him a quick grin. "But I was thinking more of a good lawyer."

"I wish," Tony sighed. If he didn't have to spend every spare dime on hiring cheap outfits to battle his father's fancy legal firm that would be something, actually getting his hands on any of the money he had coming to him from his Nonna's estate was beginning to seem like an impossible dream.,

"Here." Gibbs wandered off to the kitchen and plucked a card from a box of bits on the counter. "Give this number a call."

"Gibbs," Tony shook his head at the glod embossed card. "This guy is a classy beltway lawyer he's not going to give me the time of day."

"DiNozzo, just make the call, say you're a friend of mine. Man owes me a favour."

"You don't have to go to any trouble on my account," Tony began, his protests quelled by his Boss' suddenly icy glare. Sinking right back into the cushions, he instantly capitulated. "Unless, of course, you want to, in which case, go right ahead, knock yourself out."

"See," Gibbs gave him a thin smile. "You can learn."

Tony shrugged scepticism still evident in every gesture as he took out his cell and made the call. To his surprise, he was put straight through and five minutes later he had an appointment for a meeting, pro bono. The guy was even going to come to the house. With an air of disbelief Tony carefully shut his handset and put it back in his pocket before looking over at Gibbs.

"You kill someone for him, Boss?"

"Maybe, once he gets you what's coming to you, you'll be able to afford a decent apartment." Was the ex-Marines only comment.

"That could take a while," Tony warned. "You know how lawyers can be."

"So?" Gibbs raised a brow in mild challenge. "Do you have someplace better to be?"

"No," Tony gave a shy grin as he considered that. "I guess not."

Gibbs knew better than to think all of DiNozzo's problems could be settled so easily. And he wasn't naive enough to think that the road ahead would be easy. But the important part was they would face it together. And they had already made a dammed good start.