I watch in horror as McGee stumbles backwards and comes to a stop with his right foot embedded in a wasps' nest. There's a moment when time seems to stop. Then Gibbs grabs him and drags him into the water, and Ducky drags me to the other side of the clearing, even though the wasps seem to know that it's McGee who just pissed them off and they're pretty much leaving us alone.

Then we can only watch in horrified anticipation, waiting for it to be safe to find out just how badly he's hurt.

This isn't what I planned at all. I just wanted to have a little fun with the probie, get him a little muddy, maybe a bit itchy. Not attacked by an entire swarm of wasps.

I just wanted to make sure that Gibbs remembers that I'm the one who's actually useful as a field agent. I'm getting so sick of McGee always being the one who pulls off some technical miracle, and now he's a rich and sorta-famous author on top of everything else... and Gibbs is being nice to him, and calling him Tim, and 'Elf-Lord'... why does McGee get to have a pet name? Gibbs has never called me anything other than my name, ever... I didn't even get to be Probie or Newbie or anything like that, when I was... and McGee doesn't even appreciate being 'adopted' by Gibbs... he's taking over my place, and I'm not sure he even knows it! Anyway, I thought that maybe if Gibbs had to put up with McGee's whining and obvious incompetence outside of a computer room, maybe he'd... I don't know...

I hear Ducky calling for a medevac helicopter and wonder how he's managing to function when I'm just rooted to the spot. Finally Gibbs and McGee emerge, and it isn't long before they're both loaded into the chopper. Ducky dabs something on the single sting that I haven't even noticed and I take charge of the search for Bethany. A few hours later I stumble back into our 'command post' and report that the little girl has been found, and hear in return that Gibbs is on his way back.

I'm absolutely terrified. This is just about the worst thing I've ever done, and I know that Gibbs is going to whip me harder than he ever has before. And I'm sure he's going to use a switch to do it.

Sure, he promised me once that he wouldn't do that again, when I lied to him and told him that I was too emotionally scarred by a childhood experience to be able to cope with it. But that was before I almost killed McGee by being an idiot. Again. There's no way he's not going to change his mind about the switch thing.

Besides, the whole story about the childhood switch incident was one big lie. Not that there was ever a story, exactly... but the carefully designed hints definitely made him think that there was a story. Even if Gibbs kept his promise, taking advantage of that would be like lying to him all over again. So it's probably a good thing that he's gonna tell me to go cut a switch anyway, 'cuz I'm not sure I can handle telling him that there's no reason not to.

So, I wait, in agonised anticipation of something I don't think I can endure.

When Gibbs finally returns, I ask after McGee, and am relieved to hear that he's going to be ok. I don't think I could stand it if I actually caused any permanent harm to him. Thank goodness he's not as allergic to beestings as he is to poison ivy.

I take a deep breath, waiting for him to give me the dreaded order. Finally I force myself to just say it, to ask if I should go cut a switch.

The look on Gibbs's face makes me instantly regret it. I've never seen him look so angry. And... is that sadness? And now he's talking about how offended he is that I suggested that he wouldn't honour his commitment not to use a switch on me.

Ok, yeah... I should have seen that coming. The whole Marine honour thing. Of course, now I feel even worse, since Gibbs is being all honourable and I'm still basically lying to him.

'Why the hell would you think that, DiNozzo?'

'Well, the last time I almost killed McGee, you... uh...'

'I remember that, Tony. I also remember you coming to me and asking me not to do that again. And I remember telling you that I wouldn't.'

'Uh, yeah, but...'

'So why on Earth would you think that something's changed since that conversation?'

Because you haven't spanked me for months, not even when you found out about me lying to you about Jenny's La Grenouille op, and I'm not sure you've really forgiven me for betraying your trust like that? Not to mention my betraying your trust by lying to you about the switch thing in the first place? So how the hell am I supposed to expect you to keep your word to me? Now? Especially when you clearly don't give a rat's ass what I do, unless it affects your precious Timmy?

Of course, that's a good thing, considering that the undercover work isn't over, like you think it is. 'Sorry, Boss, but you can't spank me because you'll make it really hard for me to maintain my cover in the undercover op that I'm still not allowed to tell you about, even though you know part of it, because I can't really explain to my target/girlfriend that I got spanked by the boss that she doesn't think I have at a job that isn't what she thinks I do for a living...' Like that's a conversation I want to have with you! Thank God Jeanne's at a conference this weekend... with any luck, most of the marks will be gone before she gets back and the remaining bruises can be explained by me being a klutz...

'Because I really screwed up this time?'

'Yes, you did. And I'm going to whip you for it. But I didn't tell you that I wouldn't take a switch to you unless you did something worse than usual. I said I wouldn't use a switch. Period. That hasn't changed, Tony. And it won't change. That's not how this works. Not with me. I thought you knew that.'

Yeah, well, maybe... I did... I'm not so sure I do anymore...

'C'mon. Get over here.'

It suddenly occurs to me that, if he's not going to use a switch, he's gotta be planning to use his belt. I mean, really... we're in the middle of a goddamn forest, and I don't think he's got the strap or the paddle in his overnight bag. It's not like there's a lot of other options around.

I guess there's some kind of justice in the fact that lying about having a problem with switches is gonna get me whipped with a belt, which is the only thing I actually do have a problem with. Well, not so much being whipped with a belt... it's more about the sound it makes when it's snatched off. Freaks me out every time. Ducky would probably go into some long, drawn-out explanation of PTSD or something.

And now, when I'm already having trouble figuring out where exactly I stand with the boss... a year ago, before that frickin' bomb and the whole Mexico thing, and before the frickin' Frog assignment, I probably could have gotten through this without having a panic attack. But now? I'm not so sure.

But this isn't exactly the time to tell him any of that.

I start towards the table, hoping that I don't look as freaked-out as I feel right now.

Gibbs surprises the hell out of me by not reaching for his belt. Instead, he takes the shoulder-strap off of his over-night bag. It's basically the same thing as a belt, but it doesn't have any of the associations that I'm worried about.

I feel myself start to relax, and I get myself into position. I'm under no illusions that this isn't going to be truly awful, but I can handle physical pain. It's a bit disconcerting that Gibbs has doubled over the shoulder-strap... that can't be good... but the clippy-things on the ends probably don't come off so I guess that's the only option.

Ok, can we get this over with? Why is Gibbs looking at me that way? Is he thinking about not doing this? That I'm too much trouble? That it's about time I move on to my next job? This is a new record for me... almost six years. I wonder if Fornell likes me this week?

Gibbs puts his hand on my back, and I know it's going to be really bad if he's already holding me down. I try to take a deep breath but my lungs don't seem to be working right now.

Even though I know it's coming, the first lash still catches me by surprise. Fuck, that hurt. My whole body jerks in response to the pain, and I don't quite manage to keep quiet about it. Oh, fuck... the bastard is putting all the strokes right on the same spot, and he knows exactly where it hurts the most.

It's not long before I'm openly crying. And it's not just the pain. I know how badly I fucked up, and I hate that I let Gibbs down enough that he thinks that this is what I deserve. However much I pretend to myself that I don't care, his opinion of me really does matter to me. A lot. And if he writes me off because I keep fucking up like this, I don't know what I'll do.

The whipping finally stops, but I don't move. It takes a while before I realise that I can't move anyway, because Gibbs still has his hand on my back. What the...?

'I'm not giving up on you, Tony. It'll be a lot easier for you if you stop asking me to prove it.'

That just does me in. I've just about pulled myself together, and he goes and says something like that... I didn't realise... I thought... oh, fuck!

I'm going to start bawling like a baby if he makes me talk to him about it. I nod and try desperately not to cry again.

Gibbs throws me some tissue and goes over to put the strap back on his bag. I'm grateful for the relative privacy as I wipe my eyes and blow my nose.

'I'm heading back to the hospital. You want to come?'

Oh, shit! If I don't go, he's going to think I'm a horrible human being for not being there for McGee, especially when I'm the reason why he's in the hospital in the first place. But I'm exhausted, and my ass hurts, and the last thing I want to do right now is hang around some hospital room until I either collapse or give in and sit down.

'McGee's probably going to sleep through the night; they've got him pretty doped up.'

Ok, that works. That's my out. There's no point me being there, if McGee isn't going to know I'm there, right? And if Gibbs is gonna be up all night, and McGee's drugged to the gills, I'm gonna have to drive the truck back, right? So I really should get some sleep... it's a question of public safety, after all... can't have that big ol' truck forcing some unsuspecting civilian off the road 'cuz I fall asleep at the wheel. Right?

I nod, and tell him that I should probably get some kip so one of us is alert enough to get us back to DC in one piece. Gibbs gets that look on his face that says he sees right through me, but he doesn't call me on it. He goes off to take care of Tim, and I head for bed.

I stretch myself out on the pathetic cot that passes for a bed around here – on my stomach, of course – and try to make sense of what's just happened.

So, Gibbs still thinks we've got some kind of father/son thing going... and he thinks that I was acting out today because I wanted him to prove it... which I guess I sorta was... but then why has he been letting me get away with shit that he never would've before?

And him actually respecting what he thinks is my deep-rooted fear of switches? When I've actually done something bad enough for him to be completely justified using one? And they're readily available just outside? I've been feeling guilty about that lie again ever since I told McGee about it after Gibbs spanked him... now I feel worse than ever, and I definitely can't tell Gibbs that I lied... not now that I've actually benefitted from that lie. He'll absolutely kill me... and if he's not already trying to put an end to the 'dad' thing, he certainly would then!

And it seems I'm supposed to not be threatened by the fact that McGee's apparently going to be included in Gibbs's paternal affections... which makes this, what, sibling rivalry? C'mon... I'm an only child... I don't share... not that I've ever had a father to worry about sharing before...

Oh, fuck it... I'm too tired to deal with this. I'm just going to go to slee...