A/N – Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing. I am really grateful for all your feedback.

Oh and Belker... I won't be doing that again anytime soon... (SA346' rubs the back of his head)... I can assure you of that! (Grins)


Hit me boss, one more time!

Chapter 2 – Equals

Tony had been driving him crazy today. He'd had to summon all the strength he had to resist the urge to slap him.

When he'd walked into the squad room earlier that morning and he'd seen DiNozzo fooling around with McGee he could have slapped the pair senseless. He knew DiNozzo was trying to smooth the knots in his relationship with McGee. DiNozzo was still Senior Field Agent but McGee had had a taste of being 'the boss' not so long ago and there was still an air of tension around them. A smug McGee and an uncontrolled DiNozzo was a fateful combination, especially if Vance was around. He was having trouble keeping Vance at bay. Vance pulled no punches about his dislike of DiNozzo but he was worried that Vance was using McGee. If Vance had caught them this morning instead of him, that would have been another nail in both DiNozzo's and McGee's coffins.


Tony was obviously baiting him. He'd been trying to provoke him... goad him into yelling or giving him a swift, sharp slap. That last jibe about his sight a few minutes ago had nearly had him giving Tony what he wanted. The trouble was, Gibbs wasn't sure a slap to the back of the head was what he needed right now.

He shot a glance in DiNozzo's direction. He was staring at his monitor... he looked completely focused... a report... case file maybe. As he scanned Tony's eyes the tiny little 'tell' gave him away. He was somewhere else, deep in thought. Leave him Jethro. He'd leave him. His report was in and it was his own time. Gibbs turned to look at his own monitor.

He didn't want to break the silent promise he'd made to himself that night, three months ago, when Tony and he had shaken hands. That night that Tony had told them Vance had had him reassigned to DC. That same night he thought he'd have to tell Tony he hadn't been able to get him back.

He didn't want to break that promise.

He did the Math. Seven months... it had been seven months since he'd felt that sting in his hand... seven months since he'd heard that familiar crack made by hand and head connecting... seven months since DiNozzo had made that unmistakable and unstoppable 'Oumph' in response.

He missed it.

He didn't want to hurt Tony. That was never his intention. But he missed that contact. He missed letting him know how he felt. He missed the recognition in Tony's eyes... the absolute acceptance of the wake up calls... the lingering warmth that accompanied the affectionate slaps.

Did Tony miss it? Was he wondering why he hadn't slapped him once since he'd been back? Was he wondering why he hadn't slapped any of them?

He was aware he'd been staring at his monitor for a while. He made a point of tapping the keys on his keyboard in quick succession, and was vaguely aware of DiNozzo looking at him. He continued tapping away until, from the corner of his eye, he saw Tony look away. After a few more seconds he stopped and took a gulp of coffee from his Styrofoam cup.

Jenny's death had been hard to handle. He'd been so angry... angry with Tony. He hadn't been able to look at him... hadn't been able to speak to him without the anger swelling up inside him. He had wanted someone to blame and... initially... that had been Tony. He'd told him in the lab that it hadn't been his fault... but he didn't think either of them had believed what he'd said.

It had taken a couple of months for the anger to subside and the grief to emerge. Vance had probably done them a favour by splitting the team... especially splitting him and DiNozzo. Those first few weeks after Jenny's death were bad enough. He wasn't sure he could have handled DiNozzo those first weeks. He'd lost Jenny and Vance had taken his team... he'd lost his family... briefly. But, he feared, if his family had been around for those first few weeks... he might have lost one of them... permanently. He was glad that hadn't happened and, as much as it pained him, he owed Vance for that.

He didn't blame DiNozzo now. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't Ziva's fault either, or Mike's.

He blamed himself.

He had trained Jenny and she had learned from him. She'd been a damn good field agent. But she hadn't learned enough... she'd been focused on the fast track... she'd left loose ends... she'd been reckless... like she had when she sent DiNozzo undercover without backup.

He hadn't taught her enough about trust... and he hadn't taught her about when to break his rules.

He wasn't going to make the same mistakes. Not with Tony... not with Tim... and not with Ziva.

He wasn't going to forgive Tony. He didn't need to forgive Tony. There was nothing to forgive. Although he suspected DiNozzo saw things differently.

Tony took some things to heart... other things washed over him with ease... but the way he had treated DiNozzo that day when he had arrived at the diner... he knew that wouldn't be forgotten. Tony was astute at reading his expressions... and his eyes. He knew that Tony would blame himself for Jenny's death and he knew that his actions that day would have reinforced that blame. Tony would look to him for forgiveness when it should be the other way around. He should be seeking forgiveness from Tony.

He'd been waiting for a sign from Tony... some kind of 'tell' which said that he'd forgiven himself. He figured if Tony was going to blame himself for Jenny's death he needed to face the consequences of that and he needed to forgive himself. He didn't think he'd forgiven himself yet, but he was learning to live with it... making progress. It would take time.

Professionally, Tony had been a lot stronger... ever since he came back from the Seahawk in fact. Two weeks ago he'd even squared up to him in Autopsy. It had put him on the back foot for a while and he'd been quite impressed. Tony had stood up to him before... if he'd had an issue about a case or if he'd thought he'd been too hard on the team. But this had been about DiNozzo and DiNozzo usually took whatever was dished out without complaint. This time he hadn't. He was valuing himself as an equal... considering himself a worthy opponent, and that made Gibbs proud.

He smiled.

He had a new found respect for DiNozzo. He'd seen how he'd worked alone on the carrier. He'd read some of the reports he'd sent back. He'd spoken informally to some of the crew. They'd described him as professional, determined but stubborn... wouldn't let go until he got to the truth. That sounded like DiNozzo. Sounded like someone else too. They hadn't said whether he was liked or not... in fact being disliked was the more common experience for Agents Afloat... and that must have been tough... especially for Tony... especially after Jenny's death... especially alone. He knew Tony wanted people to like him and he craved acceptance. Nothing had been more apparent than when he and Ziva had joined DiNozzo on the carrier and Tony had tried to impress him with the video loop.

But he had still called him boss, even though he hadn't been his boss back then. He didn't mind. He just wasn't sure about it. Most of the time, that whispered "boss" had felt like a term of endearment towards him... but just once, on the USS Ronald Reagan, he'd sensed and heard the echoes within... echoes of a desperate man, clinging hopelessly to the one remaining fragile link back to a safer happier place... a life-line, keeping him afloat, literally. He'd never sensed that again. Tony hadn't needed to call him boss... but he'd let him.

Tony had been his own boss on the carrier. In fact, he'd been the boss before. Tony had been the boss of the MCRT when he'd 'retired' to Mexico. He'd had his own team back then... McGee, Ziva and... Lee.


He sighed.

Lee. She'd been part of his team. He'd have to talk to Tony about that. He'd never really talked to him about Lee.

He'd never really talked to him about Mexico either. He'd put it off for so long and they'd never got around to it. But things had changed since then. Things had been changing since the team had been reunited. Now was the right time.

The dynamics between DiNozzo and himself had changed. Tony was becoming... had become... an equal... although he doubted Tony saw it that way... he may still call him 'boss'... but he was definitely an equal. He'd seen it on the carrier... felt it when he'd shaken his hand three months ago... and heard it when Tony had yelled at him in Autopsy two weeks ago. He'd known this was coming and that was why he'd made that silent promise three months ago.

And although DiNozzo still messed around, wound him up and annoyingly baited him... as he had done with his earlier swipe at his eyesight... he knew he needed to tread carefully. He really didn't want to slap an equal... but he desperately wanted to feel that sting in his hand again... hear the familiar DiNozzo 'Oumph' again... see the absolute acceptance and lingering warmth in Tony's eyes again. But he had no idea how a slap would be received. Tony hadn't been slapped by his hand for over seven months. Would he welcome an affectionate slap? Would a wake-up call just reinforce the feelings of guilt that Tony had?

He missed slapping Tony. He missed that connection between them.

A flash of white to his right caught his attention. Ziva had stopped in her tracks and had turned to face him.

"DNA results. I need a hard copy... for the case file. Abby... she is still in... yes?"

He smiled and nodded to Ziva, watching as she hurried out, resuming her trek to the lab in search of Abby. She hadn't mentioned the spilt smoothie on her desk or the sopping wet strawberry flavoured copy of the DNA results that was now hidden between two sheets of paper. But she knew he knew... and he knew she knew that he knew. They had their connection.

He needed to find a new connection with a new, equal DiNozzo and if he didn't find some way that he and Tony could connect soon, he feared he may have to break his silent promise.

He sat, deep in silent thought. DiNozzo was covering the early shift tomorrow. Maybe he could try bringing him coffee... three sugars, cream and a dash of hazelnut if he remembered correctly... and he always did. He would try it.

He caught Tony watching him.

"Something you wanted, DiNozzo?" he asked rather curtly. Damn... he hadn't meant it to come out like that.

"No boss"

He watched as Tony turned back to his monitor. He'd seen the unease in his eyes and heard it in the voice. He was... they were... wavering. He needed to do something... he needed to do something soon.

He needed to do something he hadn't done in a long time. Something long overdue.

He knew Tony was watching him from the corner of his eye. He didn't care. This had to be done. Tony deserved it. He found this sort of thing really difficult to do... hard for someone like him. He stood up and walked around his own desk coming to a halt in front of DiNozzo's. Tony was fidgeting in his chair but then relaxed, resigned and raised his head to look him directly in the eye.

Gibbs saw the pleading look in the green eyes.

When it finally came... it hadn't been what either of them had been expecting.

"Tony..." he hesitated, "Good job"


The end

A/N – Well, that's the end of my ramblings on the absence... so far... of head slaps in season 6!

Personally, I do hope they come back... at least the nice affectionate ones anyway. I keep thinking of how many times they have to shoot scenes, all the different angles etc and how many times MW has been hit by MH - but I'm just cruel like that!

Please feel free to comment/review and thanks again for reading.

And a big thanks to mirajo for talking Gibbs/DiNozzo dynamics with me.

The boss looked up as SA3466996, blowing his nose loudly, walked into the office.

"You okay?" McColleague asked.

"Dine", sniffed SA3466996, throwing another tissue in the trash and placing another new stack down on his desk.

"McColleague", the boss sighed.

"On it boss!"

SA3466996 gave his boss a nervous grin and shrugged his shoulders causing him to collapse in a fit of coughs and splutters.

The boss rolled his eyes and shook his head.