AN - Well, here is finally the final chapter. Many thanks for sharing this journey with me - hope the ending doesn't disappoint and I will get bakc to SH just as soon as I can and I promise I will finish that before I write anything else!
Jack wasn't remotely surprised when Leroy turned around, to fix him with a decidedly irritated look. What caused his eyebrows to raise was that, before his boy could even open his mouth, it was the young fella who responded.
"Mr Gibbs, I appreciate what you are trying to do but there's really no need. Everything's fine now."
"You sure about that, son?" Jack asked, taking a step into the room and fixing Tony with a level look. "Seems to me you and Leroy here have a whole bunch of things you need to talk about."
"Like the way your son thinks I'm a good Agent?" Tony challenged. "I wouldn't be on his team if he didn't think that. Or how he is proud of the way I stepped up to the plate when he was in Mexico. He would never have handed off the responsibility if he didn't think I was ready to do it. Or the way he's taught me everything he knows and always has my six, even when I've screwed up, because he thinks I'm worth it."
"DiNozzo." Gibbs murmured.
"I know," Tony looked at his Boss, his eyes dark and unreadable. "I know you think I'm worth it. I understand that you wouldn't have trusted anyone else with the lives of your people and I get that you think I'm the best investigator you've ever worked with. I just .. I can't .. "
"Maybe, you'd find it easier to believe if you heard it said every once in a while." Jackson wasn't ready to give up.
"He's tried," Tony defended his Boss. "I don't make it easy for him. If he tends to use actions rather than words then that's because that's what we are both more comfortable with. Besides, praise isn't about showing love or affection, it's designed to motivate, you only deserve it when you've done better than your best."
"Is that what you think?" Gibbs sounded surprised.
"Well .. yeah." Tony looked a little confused at his Boss' reaction.
"Looks like the two of you have something to talk about after all." Jack observed.
Gibbs swivelled his head upwards, in a silent plea to his father to give the two of them some privacy. Recognising that the admission had rocked his son, Jack backed out of the room to see if their dinner was still anywhere close to edible. The NCIS team lead waited until he was out of earshot before turning his attention to the young man in the bed.
"C'mon Boss," Tony squirmed slightly under the focused gaze. "We don't have to do this."
"You want to me the one to explain that to my father?" Gibbs raised a brow.
"Hell no," Tony shook his head fervently. "That guy is like something out of "The Waltons" all genial smiles and homespun advice but if you disobey him he would probably cut a switch and take you out to the woodshed for a whipping."
"You think?" Gibbs wrinkled his brow at the observation. "He never raised a hand to me growing up."
"Never? As in not ever? Not even one single time?" Tony frowned, shock and disbelief writ plain across his face, it was obviously a concept that he had difficultly in grasping. "You know, Gibbs, somehow I can't see you as the perfect child. Now, Probie, maybe, I'll bet his parents never had to spank. But you ..?"
"Oh, I had my moments," Gibbs gave a rueful smile. "But my Mom was always the strict one. And a look from her was usually enough to bring me back into line."
He expected some sort of come back. The idea of Leroy Jethro Gibbs being cowed by a maternal glare should have been worth at least a raised eyebrow from DiNozzo. But the younger man just pressed his lips together, his face taking on a thin, pinched, look as he started straight ahead.
"Works pretty well on you too." Gibbs observed gently.
"Most of the time," Tony acknowledged, a little bitterly. "I've always been more of a 'hands on' project."
Gibbs sighed. He had been afraid of this. He had learnt enough from the bourbon fuelled snippets Tony had let slip in his basement over the years to know that David DiNozzo had laid down the law to his young son with a heavy hand and a thick leather belt. No wonder the younger man had flinched away from him. Lying on his stomach with a throbbing butt must have been all too stark a reminder of his childhood beatings.
"You finish up putting that ointment on?" He asked neutrally.
"Yeah," Tony faltered a little when Gibbs fixed him with a steady gaze. "Mostly."
He didn't want to admit how the fall off the high wooden bedstead onto the unyielding floor had made his injuries flair up. He had already taken the painkillers Gibbs had given him, so he would just have to tough it out. The last thing he expected was for the ex-marine to reach over and pick up the jar of ointment from where it still stood on the nightstand.
"What?" Tony's jaw dropped, even as he felt his face flame. "No, really, Boss. That's not necessary."
"You still hurting?" Gibbs' tone demanded the truth.
"I've had worse." Tony stubbornly held out.
"I know," Gibbs said simply, softening his expression. "Let me help you, Anthony."
DiNozzo's expression reflected his surprise at the unaccustomed use of his entire first name, recognising it as Gibbs way of trying to convey the depth of his sincerity and respect for a man he might love like a son, but viewed as a near equal. Not many had earned the kind of leeway he allowed his senior field Agent after all. Unable to form any words as his throat closed with emotion, Tony just nodded soundlessly and rolled obediently onto his stomach, trying not to tense up as Gibbs pulled back the covers, raised his nightshirt and set to work.
"Cold hands, Boss." He managed after a few silent minutes.
The decidedly strangled tone to Gibbs' voice as much as the apology itself had Tony twisting his head around to look at his Boss. As he took in the iron hard line of his jaw, clenched tight enough to break a tooth, and the burning fury in his eyes, even as he continued his gentle ministrations, Tony didn't need to be a trained investigator to work out what was bothering his Boss as his fingers ghosted across the normally faint silver scars, which stood out with unusual starkness across the red mottled, swollen, skin.
"Nothing you didn't already know about, Jethro." He spoke quietly.
"Doesn't make it right." Gibbs shook his head.
"You won't get any argument from me there," Tony agreed fervently as he settled back. He waited until Gibbs had finished up and draped the covers back over him, before stretching out carefully, letting his features relax as he realised he really did feel much better. "You have magic figures, Boss. Those three ex-wives must have been really hard to please."
"Yeah well, I wasn't exactly blameless, I wanted what I had with Shannon," Gibbs busied himself putting the lid on the jar of the ointment to avoid looking at his senior field knowing his next words would hit home. "But I've never been one to settle for second best."
Tony stilled and Gibbs knew better than to let the silence stretch out too long.
"Not back then," He continued, putting a finger under Tony's chin and drawing it around until he made eye contact, before saying firmly. "And not here and now."
"But you said .." Tony argued.
"And I meant every word," Gibbs agreed. "If I had raised you I would have done a far better job than that sorry excuse for a father of yours. But that doesn't change the fact that you did a dammed fine job of raising yourself. You're a good man, DiNozzo."
"I screwed up today," Tony reminded him. "I never should have gone all lone ranger like that."
"Wouldn't have been there in the first place if it wasn't for McGee." Gibbs huffed.
"You're just mad because I got hurt," Tony pointed out with some justice. "That wasn't McGee's fault. And he already feels bad enough a formal reprimand isn't going to accomplish anything."
"Alright," Gibbs conceded. "I'll let him off with a warning, this time. But it's not the first time he's tried to do an end run around you. He starts making a habit of it and I'll make sure he lives to regret it."
"Fair enough," Tony braced himself. "What about me?"
"I ever tell you about the first time my Dad took me fishing?" Gibbs asked.
"No, boss, I can honestly say that you never have."
"Whole thing was a disaster," Gibbs gave a rueful smile. "Managed to cut myself with my own hook, drop my brand new fishing pole into the river and loose one of sneakers in the mud. At the end of the day the only thing I'd managed to catch was an old tree branch. And you know what my Dad said to me as we were walking home? He told me he was proud of me."
"That's .. nice?" Tony hazarded, obviously confused.
"What you did today," Gibbs held his gaze. "Maybe, you didn't exactly follow procedure and it sure as hell didn't turn out as well as you planned. But sometimes it's just about doing your damndest. You knew the risks but you couldn't stand there and watch a crying child be cold and scared for one second longer than you could help. Made her parents very happy and made me proud."
"Oh." Tony managed, as a wash of warm pleasure made him blush.
"Thinking I should probably tell you that more often." Gibbs admitted.
"Don't strain yourself, Boss," Tony smiled. "McGee already thinks we're dating, if you pay me too many compliments he'll start a pool on us moving in together."
"I hope he knows he owes you a jacket."
"Doesn't matter, I have lots of other jackets," Tony shrugged that off before looking slightly shy. "Another jacket just wouldn't be the same."
Gibbs hid his own smile at that. The look of pleasure on Tony's face when he realised that his Boss had gone to the trouble of hunting down the exact jacket he had been talking about for weeks would live with him for a long time. Still, the fact remained that the cold water had ruined the expensive material and the younger man didn't have any other jackets here. And Gibbs didn't think even a direct order would be enough to force DiNozzo back into that garish cacti sweater.
"Anyone here want some chicken soup?" Jack stood in the doorway, holding three earthenware mugs.
"Soup?" Gibbs raised a brow.
"Well, the soufflé died, the roast got burned and the pot luck I was making boiled dry while the two of you were yakking. So, soup it is," Jack passed out the mugs, pausing to raise a brow at Tony's night attire. "Didn't that used to belong to Grandpa Williams?"
"I knew it." Tony scowled at his Boss.
"I'll send McGee out to buy a change of clothes in the morning," Gibbs observed blandly.
"Not comforting Gibbs," Tony observed darkly, over the rim of his mug. "Besides, I already have a shirt and my pants will be fine once they dry out."
"Still a nip in the air," Gibbs vetoed that. "You'll need a sweater."
"I might be able to help with that." Jack offered.
"That's really not necessary," Tony called after the retreating figure, making a face as his words elicited no reaction. Turning his attention to his totally unsympathetic Boss, he fixed the man with a glare as he lowered his voice to a hiss. "C'mon, Boss, I've seen his wardrobe and, no offence, but don't you think I've been embarrassed enough for one day?"
"Here you go, son. This looks about your size."
Tony barley had time to rearrange his features into an acceptable mask before Jack returned. His eyes widening he blinked as he took in the cream coloured sweater with the roll neck collar. It looked like the kind of thing Cary Grant might have worn in his youth. Or maybe, Sean Connery, his face lighting into a genuine smile, Tony felt the soft wool between his fingers.
"Very James Bond." He waggled his eye brows as he did the accent. "Are you sure you won't miss it?"
"Least I can do," Jack assured him. "Seeing as you took up all that room in your bag to bring me that fancy bourbon."
Tony opened his mouth to reply to that, only to find his words stolen away by a massive yawn. As Jack and Gibbs exchanged an amused look, he felt his Boss rescue the still half full mug from his hand and pass it off to his father. As he scooted carefully down in the narrow bed Tony felt deft hands pulling the covers up around him,
"Get some rest, Tony."
"Goodnight, Boss. Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."
The sardonically raised eyebrow was frankly more of a response than he had expected. As Gibbs turned out the main light, leaving the room bathed in the soft glow of the hallway, Tony watched through heavy lids, as his Boss reached into his pants pocket and pressed something in his lax hand, closing his fingers over it with a light pat, much as he had that time under the blue light of the isolation chamber in Bethesda.
"Goodnight .. son."
Tony froze, almost not daring to breathe, as his Boss made his way out into the hallway. Still not quite sure if he had heard the words right, he let his fingers explore the unmistakable outline of a Matchbox Ferrarai with its figure of a driver and four distinctive wire wheels. In the half light Tony smiled braodly as he settled himself more comfortably for sleep. Maybe, it wasn't that hard to imagine what it would have been like growing up in this household after all.