Gibbs watched silently as Tony quickly swiped his face with the back of his hand and then slowly tugged his boxers and pants back up over what had to be a very stinging backside. Though it wasn't as harsh as the belt, Gibbs knew the paddle had a weight to it that could make the skin burn for several hours, and he hadn't been holding back this time.

He knelt and returned the paddle to its usual spot in the bottom drawer of the cabinet and then turned back to his agent, ready to offer the customary comfort after a well-deserved punishment. He was somewhat surprised when instead of the usual rueful grin or pouty expression, Tony merely stared at him steadily through watery green eyes.

"If we're finished, I'd like to get home now. It's been a long week and I've barely seen the inside of my apartment," the younger man said with an uncharacteristic formality, his voice still hitched.

Gibbs blinked and took a step closer to Tony, somewhat chagrined when his agent took an equal step back.

"Something wrong, DiNozzo?" he asked, with a narrowed gaze.

"No. Everything's just peachy," came the sharply sarcastic response.

Gibbs frowned. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"What's the point?" Tony said bitterly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Gibbs was genuinely confused now.

"Nothing, never mind," Tony said with an impatient shake of his head. "Like I said, it's late and it's been a really crappy week, so unless you have something else planned for me, I'd like to go home now."

"Tony, something is obviously on your mind. Let's go upstairs and talk…" Gibbs began, but Tony angrily cut him off.

"I told you, I just want to go home. So unless you have some reason for keeping me here, I'm heading out."

Gibbs stared at his agent, taken aback by this turn of events. While Tony certainly never enjoyed being punished, he also never seemed to hold any resentment for it either, accepting it as a fair price for his misbehavior. And it had become a tradition of sorts that Tony stayed the night with his boss after he'd been spanked, partly in deference to his sore butt, but mostly because he seemed to need and appreciate the closeness.

"Tony, talk to me. Something's wrong, and I think you owe it to me to tell what it is."

"Oh, I owe it to you?" Tony demanded snidely. "I don't think so."

Taking a firm grip on his own temper, Gibbs wracked his brain, trying to discern the reason for Tony's sudden hostility. Thinking back, he realized that he and Tony had exchanged few words since the debacle at the crime scene. His anger had been so great that when they had finished for the day, he had ordered Tony to wait for him at home and then sent him straight to the basement for punishment once he had arrived.

Though several of his ex-wives had used it to great effect, Gibbs never took Tony for the 'if you don't know what's wrong, then I'm certainly not going to tell you' type. The younger man never seemed to have a problem telling his boss when he disagreed with anything the older man did, and was often very vocal about it. This reluctance to discuss something that was clearly bothering him was new and troubling.

Still, he knew trying to force Tony to talk before he was willing was probably not going to be very successful. The younger man could be amazingly stubborn when the mood struck.

"All right, Tony, we'll let it go…for now. But if you have something to say to me, I wish you would just say it."

Tony acted like he hadn't even heard him. With a last scathing look, he took the stairs two at a time, and a moment later the house shook with the force of the front door slamming behind him.

Gibbs settled back against his boat, his mind working overtime, trying to figure out what had set Tony off. Surely the younger man could understand why he deserved to be punished? He and McGee had gotten into a petty squabble at the crime scene, behaving like a couple of asses, and had almost jeopardized their case when the suspect had taken advantage of their inattention to make his escape. Both agents had been embarrassed at their mistake and had returned to the squad room knowing they were both in disgrace. Definitely not one of their more shining moments, which made Tony's current attitude all the more difficult to understand.

Any hope that a night's sleep would improve Tony's mood disappeared as soon as Gibbs got to work the next morning. He was surprised to find Tony already at his desk since it was rare for any of his team to beat him in. The younger man had showered and changed, but didn't look as though he'd slept at all. Gibbs paused in front of him, waiting for an acknowledgment, but Tony barely flicked his eyes to him, continuing his paperwork without speaking.

"Are you still pulling this, DiNozzo?" he finally demanded sharply.

"I don't know what you're talking about, boss," Tony replied, the icy politeness so different from his usual casual cheerfulness that it came across like a punch in the gut.

Any comment—or headslap—Gibbs was tempted to make was interrupted by the arrival of Kate and McGee.

McGee slunk past his boss and Tony with only a mumbled greeting, aware that neither man was happy with him at the moment.

Kate also took her seat quietly, clearly sensing the continued tension. She had merely been a spectator to yesterday's situation, and was clearly happy not to have been in the firing line of Gibbs's anger.

The rest of the morning continued in the same vein. Gibbs did his best to draw Tony out; asking him questions, sending him on errands, but nothing broke through his senior agent's stiff demeanor. Tony was focused, serious and professional—and Gibbs hated it.

He noticed Tony would occasionally squirm in his seat, meaning the punishment last night had been thorough, but it had certainly not been the worst he had ever dished out. No, whatever was bothering the younger man was definitely more than just the sting of a sore butt.

"Tony! My office—now!" Gibbs was finished trying to guess what the problem was. He couldn't take any more of Tony's 'perfect' behavior. He wanted his old senior agent back.

Tony followed him to the elevator without hesitation, and then stood staring straight ahead when the doors closed and Gibbs hit the emergency stop.

"You wanted to speak to me?"

"I want to know what the hell is going on—and I want to know now!"

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," Tony said coolly, not even bothering to look at the older man.

"Tony, I'm warning you, I've had about all of this I'm willing to take!" Gibbs ground out.

"I'm sorry, sir. Have I done something deserving of a reprimand?" Tony asked, and Gibbs was well aware that the 'sir' and the saccharine tone were designed to irritate him. Gibbs didn't rise to the bait.

"Tony, stop, please. Just tell me what's wrong," he said, almost pleading, something he never did with subordinates. The change was so surprising that it seemed to make Tony actually forget how angry he was and look his boss in the eye for a moment in shock.

For a long moment he said nothing and Gibbs was afraid that even a direct plea was not going to work, but finally, Tony spoke.

"Why am I the only one you punish?" he asked so quietly that Gibbs had to strain to hear him even in the small confines of the elevator. "McGee screwed up just as badly as I did, but he didn't even get in trouble."

Gibbs was so stunned he didn't know how to reply to Tony's comments. He never for a moment thought that Tony believed their probationary agent had received no reprimand for his misbehavior. Then he realized that the tirade he had directed at McGee had most likely happened when Tony had been down with Ducky, meaning the younger man had missed it.

"Tony, whatever made you think I wasn't going to punish McGee for his role in this?"

Tony snorted. "You mean Probie McPerfect?"

"McGee is not perfect, and when he screws up as badly as he did yesterday, he sure as hell gets punished."

Now it was Tony's turn to look confused. "You punished McGee?"

"Of course I did!" he replied. "He's going to be working on cold cases for the rest of the week…,"

Tony interrupted him with a roll of his eyes, clearly thinking that was hardly a punishment on par with what he had received, but Gibbs wasn't finished.

"….without using a computer. Everything he does is going to have to be done manually. And he's not going back in the field with us until he's finished."

Now Tony's eyes widened in shock. It was common knowledge that McGee used his computer like most people used their right hand—he was going to be miserable for the next week. It was a pretty harsh punishment for their resident geek.

Then he frowned again, clearly still troubled. "But why don't you …punish him like you do me?" Tony finally asked plaintively.

Gibbs looked at him fondly and then pulled him into half a hug to whisper in his ear.

"That's easy, DiNozzo. No matter how much they may deserve it, you don't spank other people's children."