Disclaimer - If you recognise them I didn't invent them but I can do anything I like with them!

AN. I am still writing "Safe Harbour" but "Tribes" just aired in the UK and Gibbs' reaction to Langer really surprised me. As such this focuses on cannon which might contradict events in other stories I have written (or may write in the future). I'd be really interested what other people thought about that particular dynamic, especially given what is coming up in season six.

For once, Gibbs didn't have a clue what was going on.

His senior Field Agent had been just fine, even a little smug, when they'd been discussing Ryan Sikes in front of the plasma screen and rightly so, knowing that he already had their man in custody. And that thing was the ankle bracelet had been pure DiNozzo. He grinned a little as he wondered how much Ziva had lost on that bet.

Then something had changed.

Not the banter with McGee, or the way he continued to trade movie references with Ziva. Hell, he'd even summoned up one of his most charming smiles for Marcia from purchasing to get Abby that new gizmo she wanted. Nope, just how he was with Gibbs, respectful, focused and totally professional, not a sarcastic comment or a joke had passed his lips, which could only mean only thing.

Gibbs had lived up to his second B again.

It was hardly the first time. He hadn't worked alongside DiNozzo for more than five years without sometimes letting his emotions get the better of him. Mostly, DiNozzo just let his caustic comments roll off him, often deliberately putting himself in the line of fire to protect his teammates from the Marine's bad temper. When he felt it was merited he gave as good as he got but once in a while Gibbs crossed a line, except, he could usually tell what the hell he was supposed to have done.

He wasn't worried. Not at first. As soon as they were alone, he expected DiNozzo to be in his face, letting him know exactly how he had screwed up this time. The Italian knew how to stand up for himself when he wanted to. Glancing at the clock the ex-marine decided that now was as good a time as any to take his medicine. They could clear the air and he would still be home in time for Langer to bring him the information he was expecting.

"Alright people, let's call it a night," He declared. "Be in at 0800 tomorrow."

He watched without surprise as Ziva and McGee grabbed their gear and moved swiftly towards the elevator before he could change his mind. But he straightened slightly in his chair as DiNozzo moved silently to follow them, making no attempt to linger, or detour across to his desk. Instead, he kept his eyes averted, not even glancing at the ex-marine. Frowning, Gibbs began to realise that this might be worse than he'd thought.

"DiNozzo. Not you."

His senior field Agent paused fractionally, not acknowledging the smug look from Ziva and or the more sympathetic wince from McGee before he dropped his back pack onto the floor and turned back to look at his Boss with a cool expression.

"Something you need?"

The ex-marine braced himself. When DiNozzo wasn't using either Boss or Gibbs as a form of address things were very bad indeed. Still, he knew better than to think anything other than the direct approach would work with the stubborn Italian.

"Well yeah, DiNozzo, I need you to tell me what bug crawled up your ass."

Tony blinked once. Then continued to look at Gibbs with that same blank, detached expression he employed so well to infuriate suspects. No hint of any emotion leaking through into his voice.

"It's been a long day," He gave a meaningless shrug. "So unless you need me to work the case ..."

"That's bullshit and you know it," Gibbs pressed. "I've seen you work forty hour straight on nothing but coffee and cold pizza. You don't get like this unless you're pissed about something. Now it's not Ziva and it sure as hell isn't McGee, so you better start talking, because I have no clue what's going on with you."

He saw at once that it had been the wrong thing to say. Whatever the hell he was supposed to have done DiNozzo expected him to realise it. The younger man shook his head slightly, even as he took a step backwards, increasing the physical distance between them.

"I'm fine."

That had Gibbs up on his feet and around his desk in seconds, as he surged forward into DiNozzo's personal space until they were almost nose to nose. After all this time the Italian should know better than to try and pull that kind of crap with him. Gibbs had leanrt really early on that in DiNozzo's world fine usually meant anything but.

"Try again." He growled.

"Nothing you need to know," Tony paused fractionally and there was a hint of pain in his eyes before he ruthessly blinked it away to be replaced by a spark of insolence. "Sir."

That brought Gibbs head up sharply. He remembered how the Italian had used the exact same tactic with the Director. Back then, after everything Tony had been through in the last twenty four hours he had been proud and more than a little relieved, to see his shell shocked Agent show a little spirit. But he'd never figured on the younger man trying to stonewall him.

And the deliberate insolence was usally only in evidence after a particularly dark and dirty undercover op, when Tony was struggling with his own feelings of self disgust at what he had seen and done by trying to provoke Gibbs into giving him the dressing down that he felt he deserved for not being able to save the world.

This was bad.

"You want to try that again?" Gibbs' tone was at its most deadly. Giving no quarter.

"I'm not sick, or injured," Tony clarified. "I'm not fighting with my co-workers. I haven't been drugged, kidnapped or tortured. I'm not dead. My paperwork is up to date I had a steak sandwich for lunch and I haven't been accused of murder for weeks now. So, there's no reason for you to care what's going on with me."

"You think those are the only reasons I'd worry about you?" Gibbs raised a brow.

"Basically, yeah, if it's not work related or liable to affect my performance at work, then you pretty much don't want to know," Tony was pointed. "Remember, when my car got stolen?"

"That was a car, DiNozzo, a piece of fibre glass on wheels, and in case you've forgotten, we had a case to solve and a family waiting for answers." Gibbs felt his own emotions rising. Had the younger man forgotton the way he had gone out of his way every day for two weeks to give him a ride, until the insurance came through? Did DiNozzo really think that their relationship was nothing more than a Boss trying to keep his subordinate fit for duty?

"I loved that car," Tony protested. "I worked two jobs right through College to save up for that car. I skipped meals and cut back on everything – including dating – until I had enough of a deposit to get a loan for the rest. I've had that car half my life, which is longer than any other of my relationships, have ever lasted, including you!"

"You never think that maybe there's reason for that?" Gibbs snapped.

The words shocked DiNozzo into immobility, he stood frozen, his eyes wide, as all the colour drained from his face, his breath stolen away from him exactly as if the statement had been a physical punch to his gut as he looked at Gibbs with an expression of total hurt and betrayal.

"You know, I always thought I understood you." Tony managed.

Gibbs shook his head. He should have known. If there was a wrong way to take something DiNozzo would find it. It never occured to him to think that there was a reason Gibbs stuck by the younger man. A reason that the harder he tried to push him away the tighter Gibbs hung on. A reason that their relationship had enured, because the ex-marine would be dammed if he would give up on the younger man like his father had.

His reaction was part gut instinct and part expereince. It was hardly the first time DiNozzo had over stepped the mark, pushing the envelope to see what he could get away with and whether he would be worth saving this time. Even as Gibbs lifted his hand he wondered what it said about the Italian that it took a head slap and a thorough dressing down to make him feel loved and wanted.

To his uttter astonishment, DiNozzo's hand flashed out, catching his wrist in a vice like grip and stayed his hand when it was still some inches from his head. Their eyes met. DiNozzo's expression was dark and somehow resigned. But it was the utter defeat in his voice that touched Gibbs' soul.

"You don't get to do that any more."

Truely shocked now, Gibbs telegraphed his intention to withdraw his hand and DiNozzo released him. All the time watching him warily, like fragile, baby bird, being circled by a lethal prey who could crush or kill him on a whim. Knowing from past experience that there was little good in trying to talk to DiNozzo when he got like this, Gibbs reluctanlty stepped back and let the younger man continue towards the elevator. Nothing short of a direct order would get him to stand down and right now, Gibbs wasn't even sure if that would work. When he spoke it came out sounding more like a request that he would have liked.

"Be in by 0800 tomorrow morning. Not a second later."

Tony paused, his back still to the ex-marine. But he didn't answer and after a moment he continued on and into the elevator. When he turned around he looked at Gibbs but his expression was completely unreadable, his eyes dark and distant.

And then the doors closed, leaving Gibbs alone in the bullpen.