AN: Finally managed to get this one finished. Thanks so much for all the really nice reviews. They are so appreciated. Wishing you and your families all the best in 2011 :)
"Easy now...just go with the grain of the wood," Jackson instructed patiently. Tony was diligently working at trying to carve a fish out of block of basswood, which was the easiest kind of wood for a beginner to work with. Jackson had actually wanted to start Tony out using a bar of Ivory soap and a plastic knife, which was how he had first started out and Leroy as well. However, Gibbs had been pretty sure that Tony would balk at learning that way and take it as an insult, being a man and not a small boy.
Gibbs watched the lesson with interest. Tony wasn't doing too badly at all, though he did tend to get frustrated at times when the carving wasn't going quite as easily as he wanted.
"Ouch!" Tony dropped the piece of wood onto the workbench as the knife slipped and he accidentally sliced his thumb instead of the wood.
It was a minor cut and Gibbs bit back a smile as Jackson cleaned and applied a Band-Aid to Tony's wounded thumb. They had tried to get Tony to use a thumb and finger guard for the two most vulnerable locations likely to be cut, but the younger man had stubbornly insisted that such a measure was unnecessary.
"Oh go ahead, boss. You know you want to." Tony smiled sheepishly at Gibbs.
"Want to what?" Gibbs asked, genuinely at a loss as to what Tony was talking about.
"Say I told you so."
Gibbs just grinned . "I don't think that really needs saying, do you?"
"No...guess not." Tony returned to his carving, proceeding a bit more slowly and cautiously now. Finally, he had it finished to the best of his ability and presented it to Jackson, doubt written all over his face.
"Well, Tony. I think you did a wonderful job with this," Jackson said, beaming as he looked over the carving then passed it to Gibbs.
"Not bad, DiNozzo. Not bad at all," Gibbs said, honestly impressed with the work Tony had done. It was actually a lot better than he had expected for a first effort. "I think you may have some potential if you'd like to keep on with it."
"Really?" Tony met Gibbs' eyes and could tell that he was being truthful with him, not just telling him what he wanted to hear.
Gibbs nodded. "Really."
Jackson passed Tony a can of lacquer and a brush. "Now you can finish it off."
Tony carefully applied the finish to his little wooden fish and looked genuinely proud of the final result. Gibbs and Jackson exchanged a long look, both very pleased with how the lesson had turned out.
"I'm going to make some turkey soup," Jackson said as he glanced out the back window. It looks like a nice day out there. Why don't you two go for a walk? You can show Tony the woods in the daylight."
"You trying to get rid of us, dad?" Gibbs asked, a look of amusement on his face.
"Of course not. Just thought it would do you some good to get out for a bit."
"Okay," Gibbs nodded in agreement. "Come on, DiNozzo." The two men went to retrieve their coats and headed outside. It was a cold afternoon, but the sun was shining brightly and as Jackson had said, it was a nice time for a walk.
"You look like you were born here, Tony," Gibbs said, glancing at his agent who was bundled up against the afternoon chill in his new jacket, hat and scarf.
"I'd imagine this was a pretty nice place to grow up..."
"It was, but nothing's ever perfect. My dad and I have only been working things out over the past couple of years or so. Its been a long time coming."
Tony nodded then sighed, his eyes sad. "Yeah, that may be true, boss, but at least your dad tries. Mine is in Monte Carlo for Christmas."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow and gave Tony a questioning look. "You didn't..."
The younger man shook his head. "No...I didn't give him the money, boss. Not this time. Maybe he got it from Prince Omar. Hell, maybe he stole it. I don't have a clue how he got it."
"Well...I'm glad you didn't give it to him," Gibbs admitted. He knew it really wasn't his place to be telling Tony what to do or not to do with his money, but he didn't want to see him taken advantage of either. He sensed Tony could easily fall prey to Senior if the man chose to manipulate him. So far though, Senior didn't even bother enough with Tony to try.
"Aw, you're not worried about me, boss, are you?" Tony asked with a teasing smile, but his eyes were serious. "You don't have to worry...I don't have any expectations that he's all of a sudden going to turn into a candidate for 'Father of the Year...'"
"I just don't want you to get hurt, that's all..." Gibbs replied quietly.
"I won't," Tony replied. "Besides...you and your dad have given me more of a family Christmas than I've ever had before...and I really appreciate everything you've done for me. This was the nicest Christmas I've ever had..." He ducked his head down shyly when he said the last part, staring intently down at the ground.
Gibbs stared back at Tony for a long moment then placed a gloved hand on his back. "It was a pretty nice Christmas for my dad and I too. Trust me, if it had just been the two of us, there likely would have been some disagreements. You being here helped to stave those off."
"Well, glad I could be of some help then," Tony said. He was beginning to feel some sadness that the weekend was quickly coming to an end.
"You definitely did. My dad really likes having you here."
"Yeah?" Tony asked. "Really?"
"Of course he does," Gibbs said with a nod. "Do you think he'd be teaching you woodworking if he didn't? He already asked me about inviting you back for Easter. So, I'm officially inviting you. No tricks or driving you out here without asking your first."
Tony smiled as he listened to Gibbs' words. "Thanks...I'd like to come here again."
"Glad to hear it,"Gibbs said, returning Tony's smile as they continued to walk. My dad will be too."
"Well...this is it," Gibbs said to Tony as the younger man followed him into his old bedroom.
Tony looked around with undisguised interest, taking in everything he could. The room was pretty much what Tony would have expected from Gibbs...bare bones, neat as a pin. There was a made up twin bed, covered with a patchwork quilt, a dresser and a desk. There was also a shelf on one wall covered with assorted medals and trophies which caught Tony's eye. Tony went over to it and picked up one of the trophies. It was first place in a marksmanship competition. The other awards were all similar. "Gee, boss...were you always an overachiever?"
Gibbs smirked but said nothing, watching as Tony made his way to the dresser and looked at the portrait on top of it. "Nice picture," Tony commented, recognizing Gibbs' mom from the photo Jackson had given Gibbs on Christmas Day. There was also a carved model ship sitting by the photograph. "This is beautiful," Tony said, admiringly.
"Thanks." Gibbs walked over to his desk and pulled a book out of the top drawer which he handed to Tony.
Tony smiled when he read the title on the cover, Stillwater High School Yearbook. Tony sat down on the edge of the bed and slowly started going through the pages. He stopped when he got to Gibbs' picture. The young man looked deadly serious in the photograph. Tony decided not to comment though and just silently went through the rest of the yearbook. "Thank you for letting me see this," he said as he handed the book back to Gibbs.
Gibbs took the yearbook and put it back into the desk drawer before turning back to Tony. "Come on...let's head back downstairs. I think my dad's turkey soup should be just about ready now. You're in for a real treat."
Jackson handed Tony a large thermos of the turkey soup he had enjoyed so much the night before and drew the younger man into a warm embrace. "I'm very glad you spent the holiday with us, Tony. I hope we'll see you at Easter."
"Thank you so much for having me," Tony said, returning Jackson's hug. "If we're not on a case, I'll be here for Easter." Tony then dug into his jacket pocket, pulled out the fish he had carved and handed it to Jackson. "I thought you might like to have this. I'll bring you something new when we come back and hopefully you'll see some improvement."
"Why, thank you, Tony," Jackson said, seemingly touched by the simple gesture. He then turned his attention to Gibbs and hugged him tightly. "It was really good to see you, son."
"Good to see you too, dad. You take care of yourself."
"All three men looked a bit emotional at this point, but were trying their best not to show it. "Come on, Tony," Gibbs said gruffly. "We've got a long drive."
"Thanks again," Tony said to Jackson, waving as he got into the car.
"Call me when you get home," Jackson said to Gibbs, then watched the car as it pulled away, waving until it had totally disappeared from his sight.
Gibbs was silent as he drove and Tony, wanting to respect him, remained silent as well. After a short while though, it became more and more difficult not to speak and he was focusing all his energy on keeping quiet. The radio wasn't even on and Tony tried to concentrate on the passing scenery.
"Well?" Gibbs finally spoke.
Tony started slightly with the sudden breaking of the silence in the car. "Well what, boss?" he asked, shooting a puzzled look at Gibbs.
"Well, why aren't you talking, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked. "You're usually jabbering away a mile a minute about something."
"Uh...I kind of thought you wanted it quiet," Tony replied.
Gibbs couldn't help but smirk at his agent's answer. "That's never stopped you before."
Tony shrugged. "I don't know...this is different."
Tony sighed, unsure exactly of how to answer. "I don't know...you just spent time with your dad and stuff...I don't want to intrude on your thoughts."
"Well, that's thoughtful, DiNozzo, but entirely unnecessary. You can talk."
"Okay...Can I turn on the radio?" Tony asked.
Gibbs nodded and Tony turned it on, but was still somewhat at a loss for words so he kept switching from station to station, unable to decide on one.
"Dammit, Tony. Are you trying to drive me nuts?" Gibbs snapped. "Pick one already or turn it off!"
Tony left the radio on the current station and settled back in his seat, resuming his focus on looking out the window. Gibbs then decided it was up to him to jump start the conversation or it was going to be a long ride home. "So...when would be a good time for your next woodworking lesson?"
Tony glanced at Gibbs hesitantly before answering. "Oh...you don't have to worry about that, boss...I'm not going to hold you to that..."
Gibbs sighed, trying to keep his irritation under control. "What do you mean? I thought this was all settled. You said you liked doing it. What's the problem?"
"No problem," Tony said, shrugging. "I just figured I'd let you off the hook. Thought you probably had better things to do with your time."
"So, now you're telling me how I should be spending my time?" Gibbs asked.
"And you were just giving my dad a load of bull about bringing him back some improved little project at Easter? Or was that whole Easter thing just lip service and you're not planning on doing that either?"
"I didn't say that," Tony protested hotly. "I am planning on going to your dad's for Easter. I just...I don't want to be putting you out is all."
"When my father taught me how to carve, do you think I was putting him out?" Gibbs asked, forcing his tone to be softer and more patient.
Tony shook his head. "No...but that was different. You were a little boy..his son..."
Gibbs hesitated briefly. Talking about emotions was definitely not something he was comfortable with and it was obviously not Tony's strong point either, but sometimes these things were unavoidable. "Tony...I know you're not a little boy," he began tentatively. "But...are you still really not getting the way I feel about you? Even after the weekend you just spent with me and my dad?"
Tony resumed staring out the window, not knowing how to answer. He was beyond uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken.
Gibbs shook his head, frustrated that this wasn't easier. "You are like a son to me," he continued. "I like spending time with you. That's what families do. If I didn't feel like that, I never would have brought you with me to Stillwater. My father feels the same way...you're family..."
Tony felt his cheeks flush as he listened to Gibbs, knowing how hard it had to be for him to say what he was saying, knowing he had to say something in return and wondering why it was so difficult to get the words out. "I...thank you...you have no idea what that means to me and...and I feel the same way," he said, shooting Gibbs a brief, but heartfelt look.
Gibbs smiled to himself glad that some progress had finally been made. "So how about Sunday afternoon for your next lesson?"
"Sunday sounds great," Tony replied, also smiling. He was already looking forward to it.