A/N: Set after my story, "Nothing to Prove", and near the beginning of Season 2, since in the episode "The Good Wives Club", it is clear that Tony is still having doubts about his place on the team.
Thanks to S. for the beta and encouragement.
Tony and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
(with apologies to Judith Viorst!)
Tony moved skillfully behind Gibbs as the older man unlocked the door and entered Tony's apartment. It was a testament to his many injuries that he was so good on crutches, but he was afraid his boss was not impressed by his prowess.
"Guess I'll just settle here on the couch for now," Tony said as they moved into the living room, but Gibbs ignored him and continued on to his bedroom. Tony had only a moment to hope his room wasn't in too much of a mess before he heard his boss's sharp call.
With a sigh of resignation, he followed the older man into his bedroom, watching nervously as Gibbs tossed the few articles of clothing he had left discarded on his bed to the nearby chair and pulled the covers into some semblance of order.
"Didn't know you'd be coming in for an inspection today, boss, or I would have made my rack tight enough to bounce a quarter on," Tony tried teasing, but his comment once again elicited no response. Once the bed was arranged to his satisfaction, Gibbs gestured for Tony to settle on it, taking the crutches from the younger man as he eased himself down.
"Boss, I'm really not tired. I'd be just as happy out on the couch." Again, no reply.
"You know, I don't think this sprained ankle is going to be much trouble at all. You know how fast I heal. The doc-in-the-box said a week, but I bet it will only be a couple of days," he continued with false joviality, trying desperately to get some kind of reaction from his boss. When he still got no response, he finally scowled. "I don't know what you're so upset about, anyway. It was just a little tumble," he said dismissively.
"Is that what you think? That this was no big deal?" Gibbs demanded angrily and Tony's eyes went wide, realizing that baiting his boss to get him to talk might not have been the best decision. The older man was now looming over him, looking as angry as Tony had ever seen him. "Tony, you forget, I saw exactly what happened! You could have been killed falling off that log—a log you were on for absolutely no reason. Now, roll over," Gibbs commanded.
"Roll over? Why?" Tony asked nervously. He knew it was too much to hope that his injured ankle would get him off totally scot-free but he figured it would buy him at least a few days reprieve from any punishment.
"Because I warned you what would happen if I caught you showing off again and I'm not going to wait to punish you," Gibbs snapped back. "I thought I was pretty clear last time, DiNozzo, but you just had to test me." Gibbs grimly began to remove his belt, causing Tony's eyes to go wide with shock.
"But it was an accident! I didn't mean for it to happen!" Tony exclaimed, pushing himself as far as he could against the headboard of the bed.
Gibbs paused and glared down at the younger man. "All right. You look me right in the eye and tell me that this happened through no fault of your own, and we'll skip the punishment."
Tony opened his mouth to do exactly that and then shut it. Even to save himself from what promised to be an extremely unpleasant few minutes, he couldn't with a clear conscience tell Gibbs that falling had been entirely an accident. Well, the falling part had been, but being up on the log….Hell, he knew he'd been taking a risk…Ducky, McGee, even Palmer, had tried to talk him out of it—but he was so fed up with being so totally useless to the case up to that point that when the techs said they needed evidence from the other side of the ravine, rather than going around to a spot where he could cross safely, he had decided that the fallen tree across the stream would be an excellent short cut, and would give him the chance to demonstrate his superior athletic skills. Of course, the only thing he had demonstrated was the ability to fall—with style.
Unfortunately, Gibbs was just returning to the crime scene after interviewing the local LEOs and saw his unrehearsed swan dive. Once he had ascertained that the younger man was soaked but relatively unscathed, he had moved aside to let Ducky examine the injured ankle but the dark look he shot Tony had warned the younger man that there would be further repercussions. And now Tony was staring wide-eyed at those repercussions.
"You're going to use your belt? For this? Boss, c'mon, I didn't really get hurt," Tony exclaimed, shocked that his little misstep was going to result in this level of punishment.
"That's not the point. You could have been killed and according to the doctor, you're out of the field for at least a week with that ankle! I warned you what would happen if you ever decided to let your ego get ahead of your good sense, and now I'm making good on that promise," his boss replied, folding the belt in half and snapping it in a way that made Tony shudder.
Tony was now seriously regretting his impromptu balance beam act. The fall and the ensuing visit to the urgent care center for x-rays had been difficult enough, but the leather strip in Gibbs's hand looked extraordinarily painful. And since standing was going to be uncomfortable for a while, he didn't want sitting to be also.
"But boss, I'm injured!" he whined, trying for a little sympathy.
"And your injury is entirely your own doing. Besides, I'm not asking you to run a mile—the only place that I'm going to cause any pain is your ass. Now, I'm not telling you again—roll over, or you lose the sweats."
Tony knew there was no point in continuing to argue when Gibbs was this angry. He felt his lip creeping out in a pout, but he reluctantly rolled over on his bed, not willing to risk experiencing the belt for the first time without the protection of his clothes.
He was startled when Gibbs grabbed one of his pillows and carefully tucked it under his sore ankle. The simple act of caring caught him by surprise, and once again brought to mind the differences between Gibbs's punishments and the ones doled out by his father. The ones he suffered at his father's hands had usually been more acts of annoyance and anger rather than an attempt to correct his behavior, and the most they ever taught Tony was to avoid his father when he was in a bad mood, which was most of the time.
He was brought back to reality when he felt Gibbs's hand on his back and he tensed, knowing his punishment was about to start. Tony grabbed another of his fluffy pillows and buried his face in it in anticipation of the first blow. He had the unhappy suspicion that the only reason Gibbs was willing to let him keep his sweats up was because the older man knew they'd offer little protection against the bite of the belt anyway.
"I know your ankle is causing you a fair amount of pain right now, so I'm only going to give you twelve, but they're going to count, DiNozzo. You are NEVER to take such a stupid, pointless risk like that again, and I'm not willing to wait for your ankle to heal to reinforce that lesson." With that speech, Gibbs snapped the belt down hard across Tony's well-presented backside, causing the younger man to let out a muffled shriek.
No doubt about it, he'd been right to fear the belt—while the paddle hurt, the belt produced a burning sting that rippled right through his body 'til it felt like it was coming out his ears.
The second swat elicited an even more pained response and he quickly realized that twelve with the belt would be one of the harshest punishments he had ever faced at Gibbs's hand. He couldn't kick much due to his sore ankle, but his body jerked as each stinging blow landed. He fisted his hands in the pillow to keep them from shooting back to try and provide some protection to his now excruciating butt, knowing it would anger Gibbs and probably lead to more swats.
The tears started before Gibbs was even half-way through and by the time the belt stopped landing and Gibbs had threaded it back through his slacks, Tony was crying hard into the pillow. He trusted that Gibbs had only given him the promised twelve, but truthfully he had no idea. From the amount of pain he was experiencing, it felt more like fifty.
He felt Gibbs's hand on his head and took a shuddery breath, trying to get the tears to stop.
Gibbs let him be for a moment and then slipped his hand under Tony's chin and turned his head to face him. "Don't you ever pull a stunt like that again. My hair doesn't need any more gray," he said softly.
Not trusting himself to speak; Tony just frantically nodded, hardly able to believe that anything could sting worse than the paddle.
Satisfied his point had been made, Gibbs released him and left the room.
Tony shifted painfully on the bed, feeling the intense sting slowly settle into a throbbing burn that he knew would have him sleeping on his stomach that night. His mind wandered back over the events of the day that had led him to this point. Things had not gone well from the start. The case regarding their missing lieutenant had been difficult from the very beginning, with little evidence and even fewer leads. Gibbs had done nothing but growl all morning, until McGeek had managed to work his magic and uncover something hidden on the lieutenant's hard drive, earning the only 'good job' from the boss all day.
Then, when Gibbs had sent Tony and Kate to interview one of the contacts that McGee's snooping had turned up, it was just Tony's luck that the suspect had been a marginally attractive man—just attractive enough to believe that a woman as pretty as Kate might actually be flirting with him. Tony told himself that if it had been a woman, he would have gotten the information they needed, and Gibbs would have given him one of those rare smiles, but in this case, it was Kate who earned the praise, leaving Tony desperate to find some way to help. Instead, all he had helped himself to was a whole heap of trouble—and Gibbs's wrath.
Hearing his boss returning, he quickly rubbed his face on the pillow, not wanting to be caught still crying into it like a little girl. The older man entered a moment later with a chemical cold pack, a bottle of water, and some extra strength ibuprofen. He twisted the pack to activate the chemicals and then placed it gently on Tony's ankle.
"Don't suppose I could have another one of those for my butt?" Tony asked sulkily.
"Nope. That sting you get to keep for awhile, at least until the meds kick in," Gibbs replied, smiling a little at his agent's petulant tone.
"That really hurt, boss," Tony admitted quietly.
"Then you should consider yourself lucky that I went easy on you because of your ankle," Gibbs replied, ignoring Tony's muttered 'that was easy?' "When my father caught me trying to stand up on my sled going down the Millers' hill, I had to eat standing up for three days—and I lost my sled for the rest of the winter and it was only Christmas break."
"Wow! Harsh!" Tony exclaimed, wondering what other daredevil stunts his boss had attempted as a child.
Gibbs shrugged. "So is breaking your neck, DiNozzo. I sure as hell learned my lesson."
He shook three tablets out of the bottle and handed them to Tony with the water, watching as he swallowed them. He then set Tony's cell phone on the nightstand and moved the younger man's crutches closer to the bed.
"Abby said she's going to stop by with dinner later, so get some rest. If you need to hit the head, use the crutches, no exceptions. She'll know if you don't, and then I'll know."
Tony couldn't figure out any way that could be true, but had learned it was better not to bet against the Goth's forensic skills.
"Kate and McGee are going to bring your car by later also since we figured you'd rather have it here than in the NCIS lot for the next few days," Gibbs continued. At Tony's look of confusion, Gibbs explained, "I've already put in for two days medical leave for you."
"But, boss!" Tony protested, his dismay at being kept from the squad room, even if he knew he'd be unable to help in the field, overshadowing his consternation at the idea of Kate or McGee driving his car. "I don't need to stay home…"
"Two days, Tony," his boss interrupted firmly. "Maybe having some time to sit by yourself and think will make an impression on you."
"You already did that, boss," Tony said miserably, reaching back to rub his still burning bottom. "And I don't think I'm going to be sitting and doing anything any time soon."
Gibbs was unrepentant. "You're just lucky that I don't ask McGee to disconnect all your DRV and VCD cables while he's here. Now that would be a real punishment."
"You wouldn't!" Tony exclaimed, so distressed at the idea of two days of house arrest without his beloved movies for company that he didn't bother to comment on Gibbs's mangling of technological terms.
"Just behave yourself, DiNozzo. I'll stop by tomorrow morning on my way to work to see if you need anything, and I'm sure Ducky will be checking in with you at some point too, so you'd better make sure you can tell him you're taking care of yourself, or you'll hear about it."
Tony's head sunk a little lower, realizing all the trouble his recklessness had caused for both himself and his team. Gibbs noticed his reaction and squatted down so he was eye level with his agent.
"We're a team, Tony. We look out for each other, and we take care of each other. Even when one of us screws up," he said with gentle firmness. "I just wish you would stop this ridiculous competition you have with McGee and Kate and learn once and for all that I need all of you on my team."
"I'm trying boss," Tony admitted honestly, knowing the older man was right.
"That you are, Tony, that you are," Gibbs replied with a grin. "But you'd better get it through that hard head of yours, because I'm telling you right now, if this issue ever comes up again you won't sit for a month."
After the whipping he had just received, Tony had no reason to doubt him.
Gibbs scowled as his knees protested as he rose and pulled the blanket over Tony, leaving his propped ankle free. "Call if you need anything before Abby gets here, and stay off that ankle."
"Thanks boss," Tony said with as much sincerity as he could muster. He listened as Gibbs made his way to his front door and then yanked his hand back guiltily as he heard his boss yell from the other room,
"And don't even think about moving that ice pack Tony!"
With a resigned sigh, he settled back with his thoughts, reflecting again on just how miserable his day had truly been. He'd been frustrated, embarrassed, injured, soaked, poked, prodded, scolded, spanked—well, whipped really—and now grounded, for two whole days!
But as he settled more comfortably on his stomach, he realized that even with all of its troubles, the day had held one tiny bright spot—a picture he knew he was going to keep forever in a small part of his mind to take out whenever he needed reassurance.
It was the image of the sheer horror on Gibbs's face when he'd caught sight of Tony slipping from the log. The look was one Tony had recognized right away, though he had never expected to see one like it directed at him.
It was the look of a parent who is terrified that his child is in imminent danger.
He still vividly remembered seeing it on his neighbor, Mrs. Corloni's face; back when he was eight years old and his childhood friend, her precious David, had run into their cul-de-sac after a ball just as one of the many department store delivery trucks that frequented their affluent neighborhood came barreling through. Fortunately, David had emerged unharmed; at least until his mother had reassured himself he was all right and turned him over to his father to punish for scaring her half to death.
His own parents had never seemed to care that much about him—at least not when he was old enough to be aware of it. And while he truly regretted frightening Gibbs, the idea that his gruff boss actually cared for and worried over Tony like a father would for his child was both heady and humbling.
Of course, that was also the reason he was lying here feeling like the heat in his ass could ignite the covers on his bed, but all in all, he figured it was a small price to pay for finally having a father who cared.