Dad – the Kids Aren't Always Wrong!
Gibbs answered his cell one handed, sawing at the steering wheel with the other. Tony winced, but held his peace. Why didn't the Boss use the weaker hand for the phone, and the stronger one to drive? For that matter, why didn't he just let him drive? How bad was his driving that Gibbs would rather do it himself, with a shoulder as painful as his must be? He sighed, and didn't care if Gibbs heard it. It had nothing to do with his driving, if he was honest, and all to do with the senior agent's need to be in control.
You're avoiding the issue, Anthony… go on, say it. All to do with Gibbs' pig-headedness. He said it, and tried to let it go, but he worried about the older man sometimes. He'd think that he just enjoyed saying no for the sake of it, if he didn't know what was bothering the older man.
"Yeah, Balboa… coming away from Howard Duckett area, out in the greenery, why? Now why would that be useful to you, Balboa?" Long pause, while Gibbs'eyes lit up, and Tony wished the hell he'd watch the road. "Sure, I can do that…" The pleased look disappeared again, replaced by a scowl. "Sure… sure… yeah, just tell me where…" He listened, disconnected, and drove on without comment. Tony wondered if he was waiting for him to ask, and normally he'd have leapt straight in; he wondered if he were being childish staying silent, but right now it felt like self preservation.
The Boss had been in a mood for the last couple of days, and all of his SFA's efforts to get him to vent had failed; the only time he'd been head-slapped, it had been hard enough to really hurt, and he'd actually turned a reproachful glare on Gibbs. It had been received with indifference, and that was really chewing at Tony. The Boss didn't usually tune him out like that. Ok, Gibbs' shoulder ached in damp weather, even though, officially, it had healed satisfactorily. And his rather energetic interaction with the high, hallucinating Marine Corporal they'd encountered three days ago, had certainly aggravated it.
Tony had thought at the time that the Boss should have left it to the rest of the team; but he guessed it was the fact that the guy was a Marine that made him take him on. The bad shoulder had meant that the team had had to intervene in the end, and while Tony had been rather proud that it had been McGee who sorted the problem, and had tried to let him know, without being too sappy, Gibbs hadn't said a word. He'd been acting like a hippo with piles ever since.
The SFA looked down at his hands, wondering which was irritating the Boss more; the fact that he'd needed help, or the fact that he'd made the wrong decision in the first place? Neither was a hanging offence, and nobody was infallible, not even Gibbs, but Tony hadn't a clue how to rouse the Boss out of his funk.
The fact that he was looking at his hands meant he had no warning at all when the NCIS saloon made a sudden, hard turn, and he was thrown against the window, and he had to stifle a yelp of pain and surprise. He couldn't figure this out; the Boss had either forgotten he was in the car, or he was deliberately trying to provoke him. He hoped, remembering what he'd just been thinking about being tuned out, that it was the first… that was bad enough. He didn't like to consider the second.
He was still glad that he'd been the one to ride with Gibbs. There were two different branches of the Marine's family to talk to; he was adamant that he didn't know he'd taken something, and it had to have come from somewhere, so never mind that it was Saturday morning, and he'd been planning to go to the gym…The team had come in, the team had split, Ziva and Tim throwing him significant glances as they headed for the other car. He didn't know exactly what they signified; shades of 'look after the Boss' laced with 'sooner you than me,' perhaps, but yes, he'd sooner him than them too.
After a night of torrential rain, the morning was fine and fair, without a cloud in sight. The ground was drying rapidly; there was scarcely a puddle, even on the level farm road they were travelling on, and Tony could see the buildings up ahead. He could also see dairy cattle, ubiquitous Friesians and what he thought were British Guernseys, as he tried to recall what he'd learned during a college vacation, working on a mid-western farm.
In the broad yard in front of the house, a British vehicle stood; a Land Rover Defender that looked quite new. A tall man in late middle-age, with more than a passing resemblance to 'Rocky' Balboa, emerged from a barn to greet them.
"Special Agent Gibbs? Greg Balboa. Jay's father. Jay told me you were coming up. He wants to borrow it for a couple of days," he pointed at the FWD, "to pull up some tree-stumps on his back lot." Tony got out of the saloon, since Gibbs had, and followed him over. "This the young feller who's going to drive it?"
"Hell, no…" Gibbs rumbled. "I'll drive it myself."
"Oh… Jay said something about you having a bad shoulder…" the other man said doubtfully.
"It's healed now," Gibbs said blithely. "I'll be fine." Greg Balboa shrugged. He and Jay could sort it out between them. It was on his son's head if the vehicle came back broke. "Key's in it," he said. "Tell Jay dynamite works better." He bade them good-day, and went back to his barn.
Gibbs turned towards the Land Rover, to find his way blocked by a rather angry Tony.
"Balboa told you not to drive it, didn't he? That's why you were grinning and then you started to scowl. He thinks you shouldn't with your bad shoulder."
"Not his shoulder, DiNozzo."
"Boss, those things are heavy."
"It's got power steering."
Tony didn't give up. "Power steering on that, and on that," he pointed to the saloon they'd arrived in, "are not the same thing. And they have suspension that shakes your eyeballs out. Ok, you're not taking it over bad terrain, but Rocky's right. You shouldn't be driving it. You need to take things a bit easy just now."
Gibbs gave him the death glare. He met it, and didn't back down, but he knew that the only way he was going to stop the Boss was physically, and that wasn't an option.
"You going to stand there yacking, or get out of my way, DiNozzo?"
"You're not going to listen, are you?"
Gibbs didn't answer, just stepped round him, and got into the Land Rover. "You can ride along if you like," he said as he started the engine, and Tony frowned in puzzlement. Gibbs took that as a no, and pulled away, none too smoothly.
Tony shrugged, and let out a long huff of breath. He moved back to the big Dodge, and then stopped dead. He put his hands into his pockets to see if Gibbs had used some sleight of hand on him, but no… he checked the coffee cup well, but no… the door pockets, under the seats… Gibbs had gone off with the car keys. Deliberately? He couldn't believe that… but why the comment about riding along? Freaked if he understood.
What to do? Call the others and find out if they were near enough? How embarrassing would that be? Handing them an opportunity to take the mick on a plate like that? He'd deserve it, too; letting the Boss get one over on him like that… he shook his head. No, Gibbs wouldn't do that to him… He lay in the driver's foot-well and looked under the dash, but the car was well designed; there wasn't a hope of hot-wiring it.
He stared down the track towards the main road, and then cringed. No… the dust cloud left by the departing Land Rover ended way before the road, and Tony's excellent long sight picked out the dark green against the lighter shade of the field. Gibbs was taking a cross-country short-cut.
Gibbs liked the vehicle. It reminded him in many ways of things he'd driven as a Marine. The seat was kinder; more user friendly, but the Land Rover was what it was: a work-horse, sturdy, reliable and strong, without any of the frills of its more upmarket sisters. He'd noticed a that a long stretch of the road was unfenced as they'd approached the farm; he'd take a short cut across to it, and wouldn't have to worry about finding a gateway to get back on to it. It would be good just to get a feel of the rougher terrain…
As he turned onto the grass, it only took a few seconds before he had to admit that DiNozzo was right… the suspension was designed far more for the FWD's effective work than it was for the driver's comfort. A hundred yards or so and his spine was jangling; he felt as if the individual vertebrae were the jingles on a child's rattle, being shaken by a very healthy baby. Not that he'd tell DiNozzo…
It seemed as if he had to go down one hill, up the other side and over the brow of another, through a gate in a cattle-proof fence that he could see up on the ridge line in the distance, before he got to the road, and he changed down into second gear. There was a stream running down the cleft between the two hills, and two tall upright stones on the far side that he guessed marked the approach to a crossing point, since the ground all around was chewed up and muddy. This was going to be fun. The water was fast running, so he knew it wasn't deep, so it was more out of curiosity than anything that he turned to see if the exhaust was snorkelled. It was. Balboa Senior believed in being prepared.
As he turned, the twisting didn't help his insistence that his shoulder was fine, but he was more surprised by a jab of pain in his hip. Something hard was poking at the bone, and he realised what it was even before he dug his hand into his pocket. He'd screwed up again. That silly ride-along crack he'd made to DiNozzo… it was coming back to haunt him. The keys to the Dodge in his palm meant that the SFA didn't have a ride at all.
He felt guilty. Good job there was no-one around to see it. He knew he'd been on the team's case; taking out his frustrations at his own errors on them, and he knew too that Tony had been absorbing the brunt of it. DiNozzo did it well, and never seemed to mind, but he'd been downright mulish this time in his determination not to let the younger man snap him out of it. His fingers had stung yesterday after the headslap he'd delivered, and for once, the glare he'd got back didn't have a trace of humour, more a 'what the hell…?'. He'd tried to pretend he didn't notice.
Why was he being so damn hard on the team? Alright, DiNozzo? The younger man's silence in the car, even when he'd taken that over-vigorous turn, had bothered him; he'd pushed Tony too far, and made his staunchest friend give up on him… and for what? Two minor misjudgements, of his own, he reminded himself, not the team's, that he'd shrug off any other time?
He steered the Land Rover down, aiming for the two stone posts, observing that there was more level ground on the other side of the brook, to do a u-turn. Seemed he'd at least get to go through the ford twice… Here he was taking liberties with a vehicle that didn't even belong to him, leaving DiNozzo stranded… all because he was getting old! Well, older… That was it, he finally admitted, and once admitted, he dealt with it.
Futile to complain if you don't heal as fast as you used to, Jethro – haven't your knees been saying it for years? Futile to wish you could stop time, and the ageing process… and downright silly to reject the help of others just because they're younger. He shook his head; this was as much of a mid-life crisis as he was going to have. He'd take the keys back to DiNozzo, who was probably madder than Rasputin at him, take the telling off, and hand the Land Rover over to him by way of an apology, since saying sorry wasn't an option.
He was so deep in thought that he realised that he'd negotiated the ford without paying any attention at all. He shrugged his shoulders and took the FWD in a wide circle, to come back to the water from the other direction.
There were some facts he wasn't aware of, that he couldn't have known because the brook concealed them; although he thought afterwards that if he hadn't been acting like a big kid he'd never have had to find them out. The level was something more than two feet higher than usual because of last night's rain, and the concrete ramp that normally formed the crossing point was under six inches of muddy water. He'd felt its presence, without it really registering, as he'd gone across, but it was quite invisible.
If he'd been able to see it, he'd have realised that it was just wide enough for a FWD; Greg Balboa was in the habit of taking his tractor across further upstream. It stood eighteen inches from the ground, with a large drain-pipe though the middle, which was usually all that was needed for the stream's flow, and it was surrounded by thick mud, as the cattle who usually crossed at that point preferred gong through the water to stepping on the concrete.
He was also without the benefit of two stone posts on the side he'd come down from, so there was nothing to line up his approach, and when the left front wheel slipped off the edge of the ramp, at first Gibbs couldn't figure out what was wrong. As soon as he did, he put the clutch in, but it was too late to prevent the back wheels from pushing towards the spot where the front one hung into space, and the vehicle slewed and slithered and ended up broadside on to the direction it had been travelling in.
Gibbs thought for a moment, then engaged the lowest gear possible. He let the clutch out slowly, and felt the front wheels make some sort of purchase; the front end of the FWD began to rise, but then the grip was lost, and the wheels simply went on churning mud. Gibbs switched off, and sat there for a moment, wondering how a functional mute like him was going to explain this to Rocky Balboa, then he got out… and promptly sank up to his knees in the mud at the edge of the stream.
He wasn't the only one… he realised that the Land Rover was beginning to cant towards him, as the wheels down the side facing him – it couldn't have been the other side, dammit – sank further into the mud. Gibbs tried to jump backwards, but the mud wouldn't give up its hold that easily, and the next moment, he was sitting in it, the side of the FWD inexorably pressing his legs further down.
It wasn't painful, as his legs and the vehicle were moving at the same rate, and in the end it stopped, with the Land Rover at a forty-five degree angle, and Gibbs well and truly stuck. He supposed he ought to be thankful he wasn't hurt – or, more particularly, that the whole of him wasn't under the vehicle. He was pretty certain he wouldn't have enjoyed that… but OK, what to do next?
Tony didn't waste time thinking… the Very Bad Feeling that took hold of him as he watched the dark green dot heading for the top of a hillock dictated what he did next. The jacket of the grey Armani suit was chucked into the back of the Dodge, so was his tie. He grabbed his back-pack from the trunk, added a couple of bottles of water, and in his Armani trousers and Gucci loafers, he set off at a dead run, aiming for where the Land Rover had just disappeared over the hill-top.
He ran most mornings; it was no distance at all, he told himself, although sweats and trainers were preferable to his present eccentric running gear… It took him seven minutes and twenty-two seconds, talking on his cell-phone most of the time, to reach the top of the hill, and only another twenty seconds to reach the bottom, when he saw what was happening down in the stream.
Gibbs, sitting up to his ribs in muddy water, had managed to retrieve his holster, and was trying, awkwardly, to extricate his gun, hoping the sound of a shot or two might attract attention, when a mildly amused voice behind him said, "Don't bother."
The senior agent's expression was, for him, sheepish. "Er… was comin' back with the keys," he said neutrally, and waited for the bollicking. Tony didn't get the chance that often… he'd be bound to enjoy it…
The SFA walked into the mud, Gucci shoes and all, as close as he could without sinking, and looked his Boss straight in the eye. "Dad," he said sternly, "the kids aren't always wrong!" And that was all. He straightened up, and fetched a bottle of water from his pack, holding it out to Gibbs, who took it more because Tony had offered it than because he needed it.
"Are you hurt?"
"No. Havin' fun."
Tony laughed, and walked up the bank a bit, assessing the situation. Gibbs watched, and stayed silent. He saw Tony work out, by wading in where the water was fast, that there was a ramp, he saw him discover where the edge was, and he saw him going down by the front of the FWD, and come up a few minutes later grinning. "Well," he said, "We're fine if the cable's long enough."
"Got a pretty mean winch here. Thing is, they control them different ways… did you see a remote inside the cab?"
Gibbs hadn't. The winches on military vehicles he remembered, had the controls on them, and you had to watch your fingers.
"Kay… did you leave the ignition on?"
"No… habit really. Shoulda done, I guess. Keys are in it though"
Tony thought again. It was impossible to get in from the driver's side, so first things first, he tried to find out if the winch power was dependant on the ignition. The switch was wet and slippery, so he peeled his shirt off and dried it. No power. He removed his muddy, wet loafers lovingly and put them on the bank, with his socks and the D&G shirt that he hoped could be saved, then stepped off the ramp into the muddy water on the far side of the vehicle. Gibbs felt the weight on his legs ease a little as his SFA clambered up the wheel arch, but it wasn't enough for him to move them.
A few moments later, there was a splash, and a sharp four letter word.
"You OK, DiNozzo?"
Tony appeared round the front of the Land Rover again, wet up to his hair, muddy water running in rivulets off his bare shoulders. "Yeah, Boss… just slipped off the wheel when I was climbing down. Now, let's see…" He pressed the winch starter again, and the drum began to turn. He grinned, stopped it again, and looked over at Gibbs. "Gonna get it off your legs now, Boss. If the hawser's long enough. Don't go anywhere." He pressed the starter again, took the hook at the end of the cable, and walked away with it as the winch payed it out.
He took it round the nearer of the two stone markers, and back out to the FW. The winch automatically stopped when the drum was empty, and Tony was relieved to find that he had enough slack cable to allow him some leeway. He ducked down and got the cable round a chassis strut much more easily than he'd expected. He went back to Gibbs, wading into the mud beside him.
"Boss," he said earnestly, "If it moves in the wrong direction… if it's going to hurt you…even if you think it's going to, you yell, right?"
Gibbs looked at him, with as soft an expression as his face was ever likely to show. The SFA's face, arms and chest were daubed with wet mud, and his hair had greenery stuck in it. "Go on," the Boss said calmly. "You're in charge."
Tony flipped the direction toggle on the winch, and pressed the starter again, but it was slippery again, so his shirt took another hit for the team. Finally, the winch started up, and the FWD started to tip back to the vertical. It settled onto four wheels, into the mud, without a sound. It actually took less time than it did for both agents, huffing and straining, to free Gibbs' legs. They stood on the bank, sharing the bottle of water and regaining breath and equilibrium.
"Nice work, DiNozzo."
It was all Tony needed. "Not finished yet, Boss. Got to get it out of there."
"Thought ya'd get Balboa Senior down here with a tractor."
"And he tells Balboa Junior, and he tells the whole of NCIS."
"Hell, I can take the flak for my mistakes," Gibbs protested, and then he paused. Not what he'd been thinking an hour ago.
Tony's green eyes danced as they met his Boss's blue ones. "But you don't have to, Boss." He disappeared round the Land Rover again, and uncoupled the cable, reattaching it in a noose, then he climbed up into the cab and started the engine. He found a dashboard switch for the winch, and as the cable and first gear began to bite, and the FWD began, grudgingly to move, he turned it away towards the far bank so it wouldn't crash into the ramp. As it reached solid ground, Gibbs could hear his triumphant yell above the noise of the engine. He went round and disconnected the hook as soon as Tony stopped it, and the SFA reeled it in. He got down from the vehicle, and they both inspected it.
"Not a scratch on her," Tony said admiringly.
"Thanks to you, Tony," Gibbs said. "And you were right. Shook my shoulder to blazes. You drive her back." Tony raised his eyebrows. "Only cuz you've got shoes. Mine are still down in the mud somewhere."
Tony grinned; the sort of smile that made you want to hide the knives, then whooped again, and threw himself into the mud where Gibbs had been sitting.
"DiNozzo, they're not damn Ver-zat-chee…"
"Tony, what are you doing?" a familiar, clear voice called. Ziva and Tim were coming down the hill, a lot more carefully than Tony had. The nose of a Dodge Magnum could be seen on the top of the hill; whoever had been driving was clearly not insane enough to try to bring it down. McGee was wearing jeans and a t-shirt; Tony wished he'd done the same.
Ziva looked at him severely, trying not to let her gaze linger on his mud streaked torso, and definitely not having mud-wrestling fantasies. She asked him again, "We thought something was wrong from the way you sounded on the phone. What is going on here?"
Tim found his voice. "It… er… looks interesting… what are you doing?"
"I'm looking for the Boss's shoes," Tony said patiently, as if it were obvious. He threw a handful of mud. Tim ducked, so he threw another one. It landed on the shoulder of Tim's clean t-shirt, and Ziva expected him to be outraged. Strangely, he wasn't.
He kicked his shoes off, as another, small blob hit his face. "Right," he muttered, and Gibbs grabbed Ziva's arm and began to pull her out of range, as Tony began to look alarmed.
"Oh, no, McGee… you don't want to be doing that… you don't-"
Gibbs shook his head as the McGee missile launched itself. The splash was impressive, as was Tony's squawk. Ziva found she didn't need mud-wrestling fantasies after all.
AN: Thanks to Di for bringing up a memory from my miss-spent youth, that inspired this bit of silliness.
Going to be away for a week, I hope to have some new ideas when I get back.