A/N Fair warning: Un-betaed—all mistakes are mine.

I know this one might be a little out of character (all right, a little more out of character) but I wanted to do a birthday story and this is the best I could come up with. Sorry it's late—I wanted it in time for Tony's (and M.W.'s) July 8th birthday, but I missed my own deadline.

This is set after my other stories, but it is not a sequel and you do not have to read them first.

Summary—a visit home throws Tony off track and he needs Gibbs to help him back to the right path.

Gibbs knew there was something wrong as soon as Tony strolled into the squad room bright and early Tuesday morning. Most people wouldn't notice it, but Gibbs had spent a great deal of time observing his senior field agent and had become adept at reading his signals. What he saw now troubled him.

His team was returning to work after an unusual three day holiday for the fourth of July—and the first holiday Tony had spent with his family on Long Island in the three years he'd known the younger man.

In the days leading up to their mini vacation, Tony had been uncharacteristically moody. He would vacillate between being excited and brooding, but when Gibbs questioned him, Tony would just flash a grin and insist that he was fine. As the weekend had grown closer, Gibbs couldn't help wishing they'd catch a case that would cancel all of their plans, though he knew that was unfair to McGee and Kate. Both had worked hard the past months and deserved to spend some quality time with their families. Of course, Tony had worked hard too, but Gibbs had a feeling that 'family time' meant quite a different thing for Tony than it did for his co-workers.

The big grin Tony wore now convinced Gibbs that his concerns had not been unfounded. The younger man's biggest smiles and most juvenile remarks were often reserved for times when he was feeling the least secure. It was plain to Gibbs that something had happened during Tony's visit home. Something that had clearly disturbed the younger man's equilibrium.

"Hey, boss. How was your weekend? Did you get a lot done on your boat?" Tony asked cheerfully.

Gibbs gave him a level look. "My weekend was fine, Tony. How was yours?" he returned pointedly.

"Fine, boss," Tony said blithely, turning quickly to his teammates as they entered. "Hey, Katie, looking good with some sun. Any chance I can check your tan lines? And look at you, McPaleface—did you even step outside your game master's cave once in the last three days?"

"For your information, Tony, I spent all day Saturday at a barbecue—outside—with my family. I just stayed in the shade so I wouldn't burn. I have very sensitive skin."

"Of course you do, Probie," Tony smirked. Gibbs listened to the spirited discussion, but he could hear how forced Tony's voice sounded, and how brittle the edge to his humor seemed.

"So tell us about your fabulous time living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, Tony. Did you get to hobnob with any celebrities?" Kate asked, never one to miss an opportunity to tease Tony about his privileged upbringing.

She was surprised that instead of rising to the challenge and regaling his team mates with stories (some real, some not) of his exploits, Tony just shrugged and turned away.

"Not much to tell, Kate," he said, settling in at his desk.

"Oh, come on, Tony. No deep and meaningful relationship with a starlet in a bikini?"

"Yeah, Tony, surely some hotshot new producer wants you to consult on his next movie," McGee added, joining in on the fun.

Both of Tony's teammates missed the momentary bleak look their jibes inspired, but Gibbs saw it and he put an end to their teasing.

"All right, people, weekend's over…it's time to get back to work."

The three younger agents immediately turned their attention to their email and other work that had been neglected in their absence but it wasn't long before Tony returned to teasing and pestering his co-workers until Gibbs finally had to head slap him into settling down.

Just as noon approached, Abby appeared from her lab to drag Kate away for lunch.

Tony looked up. "What do you say probie, shall we join the girls for lunch?"

Before Tim could answer, Abby interrupted. "Sorry Tony, but this is a girls only lunch."

"Girls only?"

"Yeah, you know— Kate and I need a little girl talk."

Tony gave an exaggerated shiver. "Well, far be it from me to mess with a little girl on girl bonding—in fact, take pictures if it gets interesting."

Ignoring Kate's growl of disgust at his comment, he turned to McGee. "So, probie, it's just you and me, and since I'm feeling generous, I'll even let you pick—which burger place we go to."

"Uh, no can do, Tony. I let a lot of errands slip this weekend and I need to get caught up."

Tony looked momentarily nonplussed. Tim usually seemed eager to be invited to eat lunch with him—it was kind of like being invited to sit at the cool kids' lunch table in high school.

Before Tony could comment further, Tim followed Kate and Abby out, assuring Gibbs they'd be back within the hour.

Gibbs saw Tony's face fall as he watched his team mates depart. It was as if a switch had been thrown. Without an audience, Tony dropped his clownish façade and turned his attention to his work.

Tony noticed Gibbs noticing him and made a concerted effort to conceal his hurt feelings. He was being ridiculous anyway—just because his team mates had other plans for lunch was no reason to act like a ten year old. But coming so soon after his disastrous visit home, he couldn't help feeling a little abandoned.

He knew his boss was curious about how his trip to New York had gone, but Tony was not ready to talk about it—in fact, he didn't really think he ever would be. How do you explain to people you consider family that your real family doesn't care much for you at all? It would just make him seem pathetic, and one thing Tony DiNozzo couldn't stand was pity—especially coming from someone he admired as much as he did Gibbs.

Finally growing uncomfortable with the scrutiny, and knowing that a conversation was imminent, he stood.

"Guess I'm going to grab something at the deli on the corner, boss. Can I bring you something?"

When his boss grunted a negative, Tony ducked out quickly. The early July heat and humidity hit him like a wet towel to the face as soon as he left the building and by the time he reached the corner, he was uncomfortably sticky. As he pulled open the door to the restaurant, he glanced across the street to the sidewalk café that he often frequented with his teammates when they went out for lunch. He noticed Abby and Kate sitting at one of the shaded tables and started to call over and wave hello, but his hand dropped when he realized that Ducky and McGee were sitting at the same table. So much for their 'girls only' lunch. Clearly, they had all gone out together—without including him.

He tried to tell himself that there was an easy explanation. Maybe Ducky and McGee had simply happened upon Kate and Abby and had been invited to join them. He couldn't quite convince himself of that though, and the realization brought an unpleasant twist to his stomach. With no appetite, he turned away from the deli and returned to the squad room empty handed.

Gibbs sensed a problem as soon as Tony got off the elevator, but the younger man was even more closed mouthed than before. When the rest of the team came in a few minutes later, Tony pointedly ignored them, but when Gibbs tried to draw Tony aside later that afternoon and press him for an explanation, he got only a shrugged grin and throw away comments.

Unfortunately, the following days continued in the same vein. With no new cases, the team was stuck spending time reviewing cold cases, giving them too much time together with too little to do. Tony still seemed upset with his co-workers, but in typical DiNozzo fashion, he showed it by teasing and annoying them, his barbs becoming increasingly more snide, until Gibbs found it necessary to yank him aside on several occasions, demanding that he rein in his behavior.

Tony knew his boss was growing more and more aggravated with him, but he couldn't help himself. No matter which one of his teammates Tony tried to interact with, each seemed to have reasons not to talk to him. McGee was almost mute when Tony was around, Abby seemed to be completely avoiding him, and Kate's conversations with him were more limited than usual to snippy comments. He also had the disconcerting realization that any time he joined two or more of his co-workers, the conversation would quickly stop. He had no idea what he had done to deserve such treatment but coming on top of his disastrous visit home, he was hurt and disappointed.

In fact, only Gibbs seemed to be behaving normally, though normal for him was grouchy and surly, so it wasn't much comfort. The older man did ask him a few times if everything was all right, but what was he supposed to say? People weren't being very nice to him? That no one wanted to have lunch with him?

Gibbs would head slap him silly for such ridiculous ramblings.

By Thursday, Tony's patience was at an end. The final straw came that afternoon when he walked into Abby's lab and interrupted an unusually heated conversation between the Goth and Gibbs. Both immediately fell silent when they saw him, though they exchanged a last few words in sign language. Distressed to realize that now even Gibbs seemed to be acting strangely, Tony mumbled something and tossed the folder he'd been bringing to Abby on the counter and then spun on his heel and left the lab abruptly.

He headed back to the squad room, only to bump into McGee. Unfortunately, with his feelings already bruised, it took little for the probie to set him off, and Tony found himself blurting something unusually vicious, not realizing that Gibbs had followed him from the lab and was now within earshot. McGee had barely stomped off before Tony was startled by a searing swat on his butt. He jumped and turned in shock, only to be met with Gibbs's angry face.

True, they were by themselves in a little used alcove that was out of range of any security cameras, but he could hardly believe that the older man had… smacked… him like a sassy eight year old. Though he had certainly endured more painful punishments at Gibbs's hand, the humiliation of that one swat made it somehow worse than even the hardest head slap.

Not giving Tony a chance to respond, Gibbs had then dragged him to the elevator, but Tony was too angry and hurt to listen to anything the older man said. He stared determinedly straight ahead, feigning indifference and saying nothing until Gibbs released him in exasperation with a hissed order to apologize to McGee as soon as they returned to the squad room.

Gibbs had watched him go, completely frustrated by Tony's behavior. He had left Abby's lab, intending to catch up to the younger man and reassure him that he had no reason to be upset, but the comment he had overheard to McGee had been inexcusable. He knew Tony's acting out was tied to both his family visit and the unusual team dynamics that week, but that was no excuse for him to act like a foul-mouthed brat. Once in the elevator, he had given Tony every chance to tell him what was bothering him, but again he got no where. The younger man had thrown up his usual stoic mask and refused to say anything, so Gibbs had to settle for demanding that Tony apologize, which he did so only grudgingly, and then spent the remainder of the afternoon sulking.

By Friday, Tony was ready to call in sick to work just to avoid having to deal with any of his teammates. He knew Gibbs was still confused and disappointed by his behavior, and even with the apology, he knew that he had been really out of line with McGee. His guilt and misery made him even more edgy and he was almost relieved when the team finally got called out on a hostage situation early in the afternoon.

The case was not complicated—just sad. A marine had gone AWOL after reading his girlfriend's new Facebook page and, realizing she was now involved with someone else, had confronted her and her new lover with his gun. Fortunately, Gibbs had been able to talk the young Marine into surrendering and he was now on his way back to his base for a pysch eval and most likely some sort of disciplinary hearing. This left little for the team to do but file their paperwork before they left for the weekend.

The steamy July D.C. weather made the ride back to the navy yard uncomfortable, since the van's A/C was not very efficient. The trip was nearly silent, with an odd undercurrent between the team and none of the usual teasing and joking after case and Tony had finally had enough. Feeling raw and emotionally wrung out and more than ready to put the week behind him, he made a sudden decision. When Kate and McGee exited the van and followed Gibbs into the elevator, Tony ducked out of the garage and made his way to his car. It had been a crappy day ending an even crappier week, and he was through with trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with his team.

Realizing he was going to catch hell for going AWOL himself, he sent a brief message to Gibbs's email. It wouldn't save him from the older man's wrath, but at least it spared him the grief of trying to explain his reasons for taking off. He wrote that he wasn't feeling well and was cutting out a bit early, but would return first thing Monday.

Tony had barely made it onto the expressway to his apartment before the calls started. First McGee, followed quickly by Kate and then Gibbs—several times. Tony listened to each of the messages, just to ensure that no new cases had come up, but every one was a variation on the same theme—where the hell are you??? When he noticed Abby's number come up a few minutes later he was tempted to answer it, but then he remembered how stand-offish she had been all week and her odd behavior with Gibbs in the lab and ignored that one, too.

He arrived home, blessing his foresight in leaving the A/C on, and changed into his oldest cut-offs and a tank top. He really wanted to go for a run, but the July weather had turned unbearably sultry and he knew exercising outside was not recommended.

Checking his home phone, he discovered another batch of messages, demanding he call in to the office immediately. He winced, knowing there'd be hell to pay Monday, but telling himself he didn't care.

He wandered into the kitchen and foraged in his fridge for a beer, and then abruptly changed his mind. After all, today was a special day, he thought bitterly. Why not celebrate? He returned the beer to the shelf and then reached into the cabinet above the sink and pulled out an expensive bottle of whiskey. A birthday gift from a few years back from his father—not that the old man really cared what his son liked to drink. Only that it was top of the line.

He poured himself a healthy amount and then grabbed the remote to find something on TV to occupy his mind, finally deciding on an Indiana Jones marathon. He settled down to drink and sulk but his musings were interrupted by a sharp knock on his door. His stomach gave an unpleasant flip when he realized it was no doubt Gibbs. He should have known that the older man would track him down. Suddenly, walking away from his job seemed like a really bad idea. With a resigned sigh, he made his way to the door, knowing things would only get uglier if he made his boss use his emergency key.

As expected, Gibbs's face was full of fury as he stormed into the room and took in his senior agent's casual dress and half full glass.

"You leave a goddamn message on my computer, knowing full well I don't bother with the thing, and then just disappear?" he demanded without preamble.

"I was off duty," Tony countered stubbornly. He was dimly aware that giving his boss attitude right now was probably not his best move, but he was unable to stop himself. The alcohol he had consumed had been just enough to make him reckless but not enough to make him mellow.

"You're off duty when I say you are and not until. Which means you can now add drinking on the job to your crimes," Gibbs said, furious with Tony's casual attitude.

"Whatever," Tony muttered sullenly. When the older man continued to give him the evil eye, Tony held up his left wrist. "Look, I screwed up," he said, using his right hand to give his wrist a slap. "There, it's all taken care of."

His petulant response prompted a glare that could peel the paint from the walls, but he didn't care. He was hurt and miserable and tired of giving in and appeasing other people.

Knowing that his senior field agent had had a difficult week, Gibbs had been prepared to let him off with little more than a strong scolding, but the attitude, combined with the drinking, killed that idea. He knew from personal experience that drinking alone to ease a bad mood or hurt feelings was a dangerous habit, and one that he was unwilling to let Tony form without censure.

Instead, the older man took a seat on the couch and beckoned Tony over to him.

Tony obeyed only grudgingly. He knew he'd probably lose this pissing contest, but right now he was too deep in his well of self-pity to care.

"You've got ten seconds to tell me what this is all about," his boss said, and Tony could tell the older man was holding on to his temper by the barest thread.

Tony opened his mouth and then closed it again, unable to find any words to explain his churning emotions and hurt feelings that wouldn't make him sound like a whiny little girl.

Gibbs continued to stare. "You're down to about four seconds, DiNozzo. You'd better start talking now, or I'll assume you were just trying to piss me off and we'll skip right to the punishment."

That finally got a reaction. Tony's demeanor quickly changed and he backpedaled hastily.

"Look, I just had a really lousy week," he said, his attitude now more conciliatory. "You can't punish me for being in a bad mood!"

"I'm not. I'm punishing you for acting like a brat and for pulling a stunt that was dangerous, not to mention disrespectful, to your coworkers—and your boss. You really had us worried, DiNozzo."

Tony scowled at that. "Like anybody'd care," he muttered. Then he looked back at Gibbs. "Besides, it's not like anything happened. No harm, no foul."

Gibbs was seething by this point. "That's not the point, Tony. For all we knew, you might have been kidnapped! And suppose we'd gotten another case? Your little disappearing act would have left us a man down."

"I checked the messages," Tony said defensively, but he felt a twinge of guilt, knowing Gibbs was right. If they had gotten a call, the alcohol he'd consumed could have rendered him a danger in the field. Drinking was strictly forbidden unless you were officially on stand down.

He stared at his shoes, remorse finally taking the place of anger. "Please, I know I deserve it, but can't we just skip the punishment? It's my birthday!" Tony had sworn that he wasn't going to mention his birthday to anyone, preferring to suffer in silence, but when faced with impending punishment his resolve went out the window.

Gibbs simply stared back at him. "I know it's your birthday."

Tony gaped at the older man, unable to hide his surprise and hurt. "You remembered?"

Gibbs gave him an exasperated look. "Of course I remembered. I even know how old you are—or at least how old you're supposed to be." He shook his head ruefully. "Hell, I have a feeling that's why we're in this whole mess in the first place."

"What do you mean this 'whole mess'?" Tony asked, growing more confused by the minute. "I mean, I didn't expect cards or balloons or anything, but I just don't understand why everyone has been treating me like crap."

Gibbs felt a moment of regret when he looked at Tony's face. He had warned Abby that things were getting out of hand, but he let his favorite Goth convince him that the surprise would be worth the turmoil it caused. Now he knew that had been a mistake.

"Tony, I'm sorry," he said softly. "I have to take some of the blame here." He took a deep breath. "The reason everyone has been acting oddly is because they've been planning a surprise birthday party for you and no one wanted you to find out."

"A party? For me?" Tony didn't know which was more surprising—the idea that his team was throwing him a party or that Gibbs had actually apologized for something. After the week he had spent with his teammates, a party was the last thing he expected. "I thought everyone was mad at me!"

Gibbs gave him a look that would have been considered sheepish on anyone else. "Yeah, I get that now. Tony, no one meant to hurt your feelings, but you know Abby wears her heart on her sleeve. She doesn't keep secrets well, so she had to avoid you to keep from giving it away. And McGee would never have been able to stand up against any kind of questioning on your part. After all, there is a reason I tell people you are one of the best investigators I've ever known. You make it tough to keep anything from you. And Kate tried so hard to keep you from getting suspicious she ended up making it worse."

"A party? But why?" Tony asked again, unable to wrap his mind around the idea. Though birthdays and other special occasions were usually acknowledged between teammates in small ways, a party was unusual.

"It was Abby's idea. She knows what a tough year you've had and she thought you deserved one."

Tony thought back over the year he'd had and realized it had been unusually difficult. Trust Abby to notice. He gazed at his boss in disbelief. "You mean that's why everyone was too busy to have lunch, and stopped talking whenever I was around?"

"Apparently, these things take a lot of planning," Gibbs said with some derision. "That's what I was talking to Abby about when you came into her lab. I could see how 'off' everyone was acting and how it was getting to you and I told her I thought we should just tell you about it, but she was sure that the surprise would make up for any confusion. I guess I underestimated how much it was bothering you."

Tony still seemed stunned. "I thought I must have done something to make everyone mad at me. And then when I saw you and Abby talking about me, I figured it must be really bad," he said softly. He dropped his head in his hands, remembering some of his remarks over the past week. "God, Tim's never going to forgive me. I acted like a real ass."

"Yeah, you did, but I'm pretty sure he's already over it. But Tony, you were edgy even before the party stuff came up. I know everyone was acting a little weird this week, but that shouldn't have been enough to set you off that much. Are you ready to tell me what happened at home that threw you so much?"

Tony was silent for a while, feeling ashamed at how he had acted. Gibbs was right—if he'd been thinking clearly, he would have realized that something was up and teased everyone unmercifully until he had figured it out.

"Everyone at home treated me like crap," he finally said, knowing his boss would not let him duck the question again. "I know I shouldn't have been surprised, since that's pretty much the way it's always been, but I guess hope springs eternal, you know? Instead of being interested and proud of what I do, my father belittled me. He never even mentioned I had a birthday coming up. Instead, he just asked in front of everyone when I was going to grow up and stop 'running around playing cops and robbers' and come back home to the family business. All my relatives take their cue from him, so I ended up getting snide comments and putdowns all weekend. To them, I'm just 'Tony, the screw up'."

"And instead of telling me about it, you decided to lick your wounds in private and then act out when you thought your team was doing the same thing," Gibbs said, forcing himself to be stern, but silently seething at the malicious way Tony had been treated.

Now it was Tony's turn to look sheepish. "I didn't want you to know, boss. I mean, if your own family thinks you're a waste of space…" Tony stopped abruptly when Gibbs gave him a look that indicated 'finish that sentence and die'. The older man might ride him hard but no one else was allowed to; not even himself.

"I'm sorry you had such a lousy time, Tony, but you should have come to me instead of letting things get so out of hand."

"I guess I was just too embarrassed. I didn't want you feeling sorry for me."

Gibbs frowned at this admission. It troubled him that his senior field agent never seemed to understand his worth to other people. He knew it would take a long time to undo all the damage that had been done through the years, but it was a job he was willing to take on. But first, they had to get through the issue at hand.

"All right, Tony, it looks like mistakes were made on both sides, but it's time to deal with this right now."

Tony's heart sank. He knew his behavior had been a little …difficult, but maybe, just this once, Gibbs could give him a break?

Gibbs easily read the hopeful expression. "Sorry Tony, you're not getting a pass on this one. The bad temper I can understand and excuse, but not the drinking and going AWOL. Not to mention the fact that I asked you over and over again if something was bothering you and you completely blew me off."

"But you said we were both at fault! And after all, it is my birthday!" Tony wheedled.

Gibbs looked at him for a long moment and then shook his head. "That's not going to get you out of this one, Tony. What you did was stupid and dangerous. If wind of it got out, you could be facing some serious official disciplinary action. I don't want that to happen, but I'm not going to just let this slide, either. So let's take care of this so you're not late to your own party." He settled himself on the couch and then looked at Tony.

"I want you to go get me your hairbrush," he said firmly.

"My what?" Tony asked, a curl of dread forming in the pit of his stomach.

"You heard me. Your paddle is back at my place, and I don't think you deserve my belt for this, though I can use it if you want me to."

"No! Th-that's okay. But, I mean…my hairbrush?" Tony repeated, clearly horrified at the prospect.

"Yes, Tony. Most people have one, and I'm willing to bet that considering the amount of time you spend on your hair, it's not going to be some cheap nylon one from the dollar story, either."

Tony's heart sank. Gibbs was right—his hairbrush was a sturdy wooden one, with the finest boar hair bristles. The damn thing had cost him more than thirty bucks, and now it was going to be used as an instrument of torture. But once glance at the heavy belt Gibbs wore was more than enough to convince him he really didn't want to go that route again. With a resigned sigh, he left the room to retrieve the brush.

Gibbs used the time Tony was gone to think about how he was going to carry out his punishment. He knew that the one time previously he had taken Tony over his knee had been terribly embarrassing to the younger man, but it seemed to be particularly fitting on this occasion. But he decided not to add to his humiliation by making him take down his shorts. Tony was only wearing too-worn-to-be-decent-in-public cutoffs anyway, which would provide very little protection against the sting of the brush.

Tony returned a moment later clutching an extremely sturdy looking hairbrush and looking distinctly unhappy. Gibbs made no comment but silently reached for it and then tugged on Tony's arm, making his intentions clear.

Tony's courage nearly faltered as Gibbs took the brush from his hand and then he turned scarlet when he realized that his boss was planning to once again turn him across his knee. He couldn't help but wish that he had had a chance to finish the drink he had poured.

Gibbs almost changed his mind at the look of pure misery on the younger man's face, but hardened his heart when he remembered how disappointed he'd been in his behavior and how he had worried when he had failed to appear in the squad room after their return. When Tony paused and started to unbutton his shorts, he shook his head slightly, indicating it wasn't necessary. The younger man shot him a pathetically grateful look and then slowly lowered himself over Gibbs's waiting lap.

Once Tony was settled, Gibbs hefted the brush. It was a surprisingly heavy one, but he had already planned to make this more of an object lesson than a real punishment. Just a few smacks would get his point across and let his agent know he had boundaries he could depend on without being unduly harsh. He laid a warm hand on Tony's back, more soothing than restraining and then raised the brush over Tony's well-presented backside. He brought it down firmly, gripping Tony's waist more tightly when the younger man jerked.

"You don't act out at work," he said sternly, punctuating the statement with another solid smack.

"You don't say ugly things you don't mean to your teammates." Two more, just as hard.

"You don't keep things from me." Three with that one—very hard, and all in one spot.

"And you don't ever, ever, ever take off without being dismissed and then decide to drink while you're on duty." This last was accompanied by a flurry of stinging spanks all over Tony's rump, including several to his unprotected upper thighs.

Tony was nearly ready to jump off Gibbs's lap at this point. The brush was smaller than the paddle, but it was heavier and left a more concentrated sting. This was so not how he envisioned spending his birthday! If he survived, he promised himself that his once-favorite hairbrush would be fireplace kindling.

To his amazement, however, the punishment stopped abruptly and Gibbs's now brush-less hand rested lightly on his throbbing bottom.

"Have I made myself clear here, Tony?" Gibbs asked quietly. "I can continue if I haven't."

Tony shook his head frantically. "Not necessary! It's clear, boss." Though his butt was stinging, he knew he had gotten off easy.

"Good. Though I should go ahead and give you a full thirty two, just to keep with tradition," his boss said with a grin that Tony could hear. He gave Tony one firm smack with his hand. "There, that's your 'one to grow on'."

Tony wasn't about to give him a chance to change his mind and add a few more smacks, so he scrambled hurriedly off his lap. Gibbs handed him back his hairbrush as though it were a weapon, handle first, and Tony took it reluctantly, no longer able to look at it in quite the same way.

"I hate it when you do that, boss," Tony muttered, rubbing his butt, not sure himself whether he was talking about the spanking in general or being placed over Gibbs's knee.

"I hate it that I need to. But I will, every time I think you deserve it," came back the immediate reply, and Tony was amazed at the comfort that simple declaration provided.

He dreaded being spanked and he felt awful when Gibbs was disappointed enough in his behavior to punish him that way, but he did find comfort in knowing that he could count on the older man to care enough about him to call him on his behavior.

Sensing Tony's thoughts, Gibbs stood and gazed fondly at the younger man. "Why don't you get cleaned up and changed. I promised Abby that we wouldn't be late," he said gently.

Tony felt a rush of pleasure at the thought of his party, coupled immediately with the realization that in spite of the relatively easy punishment, he would be very uncomfortable keeping still through dinner.

"But, boss, sitting…

The older man gave Tony an evil grin. "Yup, that's not going to be a whole lot of fun tonight, but there is no way you're letting Abby down after all she's done, so you're just going to have to suck it up. Consider it a little extra punishment."

Seeing Tony's face fall into a pout, Gibbs took a little pity on him.

"Hey, before we go, would you like your present?"

In spite of his dread at the thought of spending the evening on his still-stinging rear end, Tony perked up. "My present?"

"It is customary," Gibbs said dryly. "And I really don't feel like dragging it to the restaurant."

"Aww, you didn't have to get me anything, boss," Tony said, but Gibbs could see the genuine pleasure in his eyes.

"Wait here," Gibbs commanded brusquely and left Tony's apartment. He returned a few minutes later carrying a large, heavy, gift wrapped box. He set it on the coffee table in front of Tony, who still hadn't been brave enough to attempt to take a seat.

Tony stared at it, trying to guess what it might be. The wrapping job was far from professional, which meant it hadn't come from any store where they would gift wrap your purchase. Clearly it was something that Gibbs had chosen personally and that made it mean all the more to him.

"Are you going to open it, Tony, or wait for it to open itself?" Gibbs teased.

Tony shook himself from his musings and eagerly tore off the paper and opened the plain cardboard box. Removing the cushioning, he found a small, beautifully crafted wooden tool box, with his initials carved into the top. Opening it, he discovered a complete set of woodworking hand tools.

He stared at boss, unable to find his voice.

"I thought you might like to learn wood crafting. You really did a nice job with your paddle," Gibbs said with a grin, "but I thought you might prefer learning to make something more fun."

Once again, tears shone in Tony's eyes. The box and the tools were wonderful, but what really meant the most to him was what the gift implied: that Gibbs genuinely enjoyed his company and wanted to spend more time with him.

"I don't know what to say, boss," Tony said once he had recovered his voice somewhat. "They're beautiful." He couldn't help but compare this gift to the unwanted and unneeded power sander his father had sent for a previous birthday. Never comfortable with strong emotions, Tony then turned away, busying himself with gathering the wrappings so he wouldn't have to look his boss in the eye.

Gibbs understood and deliberately lightened his tone. "Glad you like them, DiNozzo. Now, you better get a move on, or Abby will have both our heads."

"Yeah, boss, I'm going," Tony said. Then his shoulders slumped. "Though I wouldn't blame anyone if they didn't want to come anymore. I acted like a jerk."

Gibbs turned the younger man back to face him. "Tony, everyone is entitled to have an off week. They understand and they all wanted to do this for you. In fact, next to Abby, I think McGee was the most excited."

"Really? I wonder what the probie got me?" Then he shook his head. "I just feel so stupid for letting myself get so worked up over nothing."

Gibbs took Tony's chin firmly in his hand. "Feeling abandoned by your family and friends is not 'nothing'. I just wish you had come to me and let me know what had happened. And I'm telling you right now, if you ever let something bother you this much and don't come talk to me, I will give you a spanking you'll be telling my grandchildren about, when you ever get around to giving me some."

Tony's eyes widened comically when the full meaning of the threat sank in and he nodded quickly. "I gotcha, boss."

He started to move away only to be startled when his boss's strong arms wrapped around him in a hug. He felt himself relax and then tentatively brought his own arms up to return the gesture. He rested his head on the older man's shoulder, smiling to himself when he heard his boss whisper gruffly in his ear,

"Happy birthday, Tony."