A Father Thing

ooo

The kid was all but visibly vibrating from happiness. Zach had his dad back—and all of them were glowing a bit after a day of having caught the bad guys, and reuniting a kid with his dad. It was a happy ending kind of day all around.

Granted, you could rarely say Gibbs glowed about something, but even if he wasn't wearing the sort of grin Ziva and McGee were, Tony knew his boss well enough to sense his intense…satisfaction. He was in conversation with Lieutenant Commander Tanner, and Tony could see a wealth of gratitude in the man's eyes, even if he couldn't hear what he was saying to Gibbs.

And Zach… Zach was sitting at Tony's desk, watching proceedings, swinging his legs, and definitely glowing. Tony only observed this out of the corner of his eye, as he leaned against his desk. His own contentment over a case well-closed was eclipsed by the fact that he felt really, really stupid right now. Abby was right about this kid, who definitely did have something of Gibbs about him.

Tony liked him, he really did. He liked kids in general. The problem with kids was that they saw right through him—and Zach was just double trouble. Not only did he look at Tony's strained attempts at interaction, complete with over-the-top "Hey there, little buddy" talk, and see just how pathetic they were, but he also seemed to see how pathetically not him they were. Yup, that knowing look in the kid's eyes was just as unnerving as the full dose of one of Gibbs' most penetrating stares.

Gibbs always said animals could sense sarcasm, and Tony guessed that was pretty much true of children too. True of Zach, for sure, and it made Tony—embarrassingly—shy away from really talking to him. He could take Ziva's laughter over his ineptness with children, as long as the attempt had been done in true, shallow, Tony-style—the sort of lame attempt that was obviously doomed to fail from the start. He could laugh that stuff off, too, 'cause he wasn't really trying to connect with Zach, and it was lame. Choosing to set yourself up to fail miserably and be laughed might seem masochistic, but it afforded Tony a strange security, being able to choose.

Yeah, he was messed up. It all culminated in him feeling hesitant to talk to Zach now, even with a half-formed plan circulating in his mind. The kid would be leaving soon, and he felt compelled to seize the opportunity to talk to him, with all his coworkers' attention currently elsewhere.

Nothing for it, Tony-boy: face up to the big, scary six-year-old like a man, already.

Running his tongue across a dry lower lip, he turned and squatted down, eye-level with the kid. "Hey…Zach."

"Yeah, Tony?"

Well, that was encouraging. He'd at least remembered his name. Resting his palms on his thighs, Tony tried to think how start. "Look, ah…I think we started out on the wrong foot."

"You think?"

Tony couldn't help but chuckle. The way he said it was so very Gibbs. "Yeah, we definitely did. Or…actually, I was the one starting things on the wrong foot. You've been really great. Really…great, kid."

"Thanks." Zach received the praise with solemnity. "You guys have been really great too."

"Some of us a little greater than others, huh?"

"You just try too hard."

Tony blinked at the sagacity of the insight. Yeah, freakishly Gibbs-like. He cleared his throat, managed to meet the kid's eyes for a moment, then looked away again. "I…ah, I guess you have a point there."

"Yup." Zach smiled serenely.

Tony smiled back, not straining at a brazen grin—just smiled. Now was as good a time as any to offer his gift, and risk rejection. Rejection? He's a kid. Just how pathetic are you, DiNozzo…? Clearing his throat again, Tony held out the object he'd been fiddling with for the past ten minutes. "I dunno if you could find a use for this or not. I mean…it's just a hat, and it's been around the block a few times. I just thought, you know…with you being an honorary NCIS agent 'n all, you probably should have one of these."

Zach looked at the proffered hat for a second, then at Tony, and then very slowly took it. He traced a finger along the embroidered "NCIS" on the cap, and said admiringly, "Bet you wore this to a lot of real crime scenes, huh?"

"Real as they come, kid."

"Thanks." He put it on his head, looking out from under the slightly too-big brim with a slow, spreading grin. "It's really cool."

"Hey, you earned it. Remembering all those numbers off the license plate—that was definitely impressive. I mean…I know lots of adults who wouldn't have been able to do something like that under all that pressure."

"You woulda remembered it too, if it was about finding your dad."

He was right. But at the same time…this kid had a bond with his dad that Tony could only look at in jealously that didn't begrudge. "You've got a great dad. He cares a lot about you."

Zach looked at him oddly, small brows drawing together. His mouth formed a considering line, and when he spoke his tone was almost admonishing. "Gibbs cares a lot about you, too."

Tony sensed more than heard the conversation breaking up behind him. It suited him fine, 'cause this conversation was suddenly moving a direction that made him squirm on the inside. He gave Zach a lop-sided grin. "Hope we get to see you around here again some time—though not under the same kind of circumstances. You're Navy cop material, kid." Before he could consider the miserable failure of his last attempt at getting a high-five out of Zach, he'd automatically raised his hand in the palm-out gesture.

"Hey, Zach," Tanner was calling his son, "ready to go, buddy?"

Zach only made Tony wait in uncertainty for a second, before planting a solid high-five on his awkwardly suspended hand, almost simultaneously slipping of his chair with an eager "Comin', Dad."

Feeling ridiculously pleased at the acceptance he'd just received from a six-year-old, Tony was slow to rise from his crouch. He watched the Lieutenant and his son enter the elevator, hand-in-hand. Yeah, it felt good to have finished a happily ever after day. Real good.

At the same time he realized he was wearing a rather sappy smile, Tony also realized Gibbs was next to him, witnessing said smile. He wiped the expression from his face, turning on his heel to grin with more of his usual bravado.

"Kid's not the only one who sees right through you, DiNozzo."

Tony furrowed his brows suspiciously. "You couldn't have heard all that…what we were talking about, Boss—you were talking to Lieutenant Tanner."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow, not confirming or denying.

"You weren't listening, right?" Tony was pretty sure he couldn't have actually heard anything. And even if he had, it wasn't like he's said anything too mortifyingly touchy-feely.

"You'd be great with kids," Gibbs commented casually, but in a voice that wouldn't carry across the office to Ziva or McGee's hearing, "if you didn't try so hard."

Tony looked blankly at Gibbs. It was just coincidence that he'd hit upon the exact same words as Zach. Like Abby said, the two of them were a lot alike. Tony chuckled, as if to shrug off the idea. As if he really cared one way or another whether or not kids liked him… "Is good with children" was just one of those things that looked good on your resume when you were looking to impress a hot date.

"He was right on that last point, too."

"Wait? What? What point…?" Tony spluttered. But Gibbs had already turned away with that small, amused tilt of his head, as if he were sharing more than one secret joke with himself, while Tony was simply left in his wake to guess at his thoughts.

ooo

A/N: Sorry-I know, still not another multi-chapter piece. =P I've got a lot done on several stories, but nothing actually FINISHED, and I do not post WIPs, unless I'm absolutely one-hundred-percent sure I have the inspiration to finish (even then, I hesitate to post until a story's officially complete). I'm not quite close enough to the end of any multi-chapter stories to be that confident of their end, but I am working on 'em. ;)

Hope you enjoyed. =)