Damn, thought DiNozzo, as he ran from his car to the elevator. 8:15 – that's fifteen minutes late in human terms and dead meat in Gibbs terms. Shuffling nervously out of the half open elevator doors he let out a breath he didn't know he was holding, arriving in the bullpen to find only Ziva and McGee.
"Pheeeee-ew!" He stood in the middle of the bullpen and delivered his usual overly dramatic performance to the agents. "I was sure Gibbs was gonna catch me this time! Got away with it three days in a row, can you believe it, Probie?"
McGee started, "Ah, Tony –"
"Five years ago the old man would have stood by the elevator waiting for me to slip up! Guess he's not as smart in his old age, hey?"
Ziva gave him a look of caution. "Tony –"
Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, he cut her off. "You should write another one of those booky-things about me, McNovelist, cause they don't come luckier than me!"
The one word spoken straight into his left ear wiped that smile straight off his face. Tony held his breath, wincing, as he waited for the head slap. It didn't come.
Gibbs liked to make him squirm. "Old age, DiNozzo?"
"Did I say old b-boss?" Tony stammered, "I was talking about, ugh, the Director, Boss. N-not you."
"DiNozzo," Gibbs growled, still standing behind him. "My office."
Tony froze, his co-workers fighting back laughter at the sheer look of distress on his face.
SNAP. The head slap rang through the office, turning every head on their floor.
"Coming, Boss," Tony squeaked. He made to follow Gibbs through the bullpen, tripping over his own feet while Ziva and McGee gave him their widest grins.
"Have fun, Tony," Ziva teased.
"Yeah, we'll see you when they let you out of hospital," McGee taunted. "If they let you out, that is…"
"Thanks guys, I appreciate the sup–"
"Coming, Boss!" He ran nervously towards the closing doors, side stepping inside before they snapped shut behind him.
Inside the abused elevator Gibbs brought the car to an abrupt halt as Tony examined his shoes sheepishly, which were apparently becoming more and more interesting by the second. Gibbs had already chosen his tactic – weaken the young agent with his famous glare until he could get to the bottom of whatever was going on with him. While it wasn't unusual for Tony to show up to work late every now and then, Gibbs had noticed the senior field agent had been distracted lately; frequently leaving the bullpen to take calls, missing obvious opportunities for witticisms against McGee and trying only slightly too hard to show others all was well. While he might have gotten away with hiding it from Ziva and McGee by playing the clown, nothing got past Gibbs.
"You see a way out down there, DiNozzo?" It came out slightly more gruff than he intended.
"No, Boss. Nothing." Tony replied quietly.
Still glaring, Gibbs refused to let Tony's loveable awkwardness ruin his strategy. "You gonna tell me what's been going on with you lately?"
"Cut the crap, DiNozzo. We both know you've been distracted these past few days. Running off to take calls every five minutes, overdoing the class clown act. What's going on?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Gibbs. Everything's fine. Peachy."
Gibbs considered him for a long moment.
"You'd tell me if something was up, right? Something serious?"
"Always do, Boss." He didn't blink as the lie left his lips.
The next morning Tony arrived to an empty bullpen at 0700, determined to show his boss that everything was fine. As he settled in at his desk he caught his reflection in the computer monitor; dark circles framed his eyes, his hair wasn't sitting with its usual elegance and – were they wrinkles? Shit, though Tony. He patted his hair down furiously as he squinted into the blank monitor, doing battle with the cactus that seemed to have replaced his locks.
He was brought out of his musings by the slamming of a styrofoam cup on his desk.
"You're early." Gibbs leaned over him, raising a single eyebrow at his poor excuse for a hairdo, allowing Tony to watch his eyes linger over the dark circles around his own, all the while making it quite clear that he knew that Tony was many things, and fine was not one of them.
"I –" Tony couldn't find the words. His mind abandoned his tongue and was instead racing as he tried to work out just how Gibbs knew he would be at work this early when he ordered an extra coffee for him. Probably just bought two for himself, Tony thought. "Boss. Coffee. Thanks."
"Still peachy, DiNozzo?" He leaned in further, suppressing a smirk as his senior field agent sank into his chair.
"Peachy, Boss." It came out in a pitch a lot higher than Tony had intended.
"Mhm…" Gibbs strode out of the bullpen, leaving Tony to bask in his self-consciousness.
As Tony turned into Gibbs' driveway that night he contemplated turning straight back out to make his way home. Stupid idea, he thought, Gibbs will just think you're too weak to deal with it yourself. But he remembered what Gibbs had said to him yesterday in the elevator, his belief, no, expectation that Tony would come to him for help if something serious was going on. That was all the reassurance he needed to get out of the car and stride through the unlocked door.
"Hey, Boss." Tony made his way down the basement stairs, hovering nervously around the last step for a moment before taking a seat across from Gibbs at his workbench.
Gibbs nodded, not moving his gaze from the finely detailed piece of timber that lay gently in his hands. "DiNozzo."
"What are you working on, Boss?"
"Did you come here at 2 in the morning to talk about wood, DiNozzo?"
He hesitated. "Guess not."
"Did you come here at 2 in the morning to finally tell me what's been going on with you, DiNozzo?"
"Guess I did, Boss."
"Mhm." Gibbs put his tools down, finally giving his agent a thorough looking over before deciding how he'd handle this. "Tony," the use of his first name snapped the senior field agent right out of it. "What's on your mind." He spoke the words warmly and gently, and Tony stopped doubting himself for coming here for help.
"It's my father, Boss. He's back in town."
Gibbs sighed. He knew the effect Senior had on Tony and could only hope that whatever he had dragged him into this time wouldn't end up in him needing to bring the bastard back into interrogation.
"What's he doing here?" Gibbs tone did nothing to hide his unhappiness at the fact Senior was in DC.
"Remember when we spoke after that little Royce Summit debacle and he told me he'd bounce back like he always did?"
Gibbs nodded curtly for him to continue.
"Well, it turns out he didn't."
"He's broke?" Gibbs was in disbelief. Although Tony had told him about his father's bankruptcy, he failed to believe the conman was unable to find another rich divorcee or Arab royal to coast off of for another few years. "Actually broke, this time?"
Tony, unable to look his boss in the eye, began fiddling with bits of sandpaper on the bench in front of him.
"Ha," Gibbs laughed bitterly. "And let me guess - he's decided now would be a good time to start spending a little more time with his favourite son."
Tony couldn't mask the hurt in his eyes at that. "The bank foreclosed his little piece of paradise in Long Island. He had nowhere else to go."
Tony watched out of the corner of his eye as Gibbs clenched his jaw at his reasoning. "How long has he been staying at your place?"
Tony hesitated briefly before deciding the truth was the best way to approach this. Enough lies, he though - he'd had enough of that from his newest housemate. "He showed up at my door three nights ago - I couldn't turn him away, Gibbs," he added upon receiving a look of pure incredulity from his boss. "He's my father. What would you have me do, make him sleep on the street?"
"Certainly not," Gibbs mocked, "Why don't you sleep on the street so you can afford to buy him another first class return ticket to Monte Carlo? That would make much more sense!" Tony jumped when Gibbs' slammed his fist on the workbench for emphasis.
"Hell, DiNozzo, I bet you've even given the ingrate your bed, too. Is that why you've been looking like death lately?"
"The couch isn't so bad," Tony deflected, still unable to look Gibbs in the eye. "At least I can watch my favourite movies all night and..." Tony trailed off, realising how pathetic his argument sounded.
When Gibbs said nothing, Tony finally looked back up at him.
"You're angry at me?"
"Damn right I'm angry at you!" Gibbs bellowed. "You let that bastard use you every time, DiNozzo! I've spent ten years trying to teach you to have some self respect after that asshole beat you down your whole life and now you're just letting him walk all over you again!"
Gibbs wasn't finished.
"Where was he when you won your first game of college basketball? Huh? How about when you almost died from the plague six years ago? Oh, that's right, he had conveniently forgotten that he even had a son!"
Gibbs' eyes softened as he watched Tony's darken.
"You think I don't know that, Boss? You think I haven't spent every sleepless night for the past thirty years reminding myself of that? But what would you have me do, Gibbs?" His voice had remained calm until now. "Since you have all the answers," he thundered.
Gibbs refused to be phased by the kid's defiance. "You're so busy being the bigger man that you can't even see the effect he's having on you." Gibbs' voice was quiet now as concern permeated his every word. "You've been late to work every morning, probably because he's had you waiting on him hand and foot. You've got dark circles around your eyes that even your sense of humour can't hide... And yesterday was the first time my hand wasn't covered in gel after smacking some sense into you!"
Tony had to smile at that.
"I'm worried about you, Tony."
Tony relaxed muscles in his neck he didn't even know he was tensing, allowing himself to accept just how much of a toll the past few days had taken on him.
"I don't know what to do, Gibbs." Tony sighed, the doubt shining in his green eyes. "I can't kick the guy out, but I -" he lay his head down on the workbench, letting a yawn escape him "- I'm so tired."
Gibbs stretched a hand out across the bench and brushed back Tony's mat of hair, concealing a smirk at how endearing an unkempt DiNozzo could look.
"Boss - my father -" Tony managed between yawns as sleep lowered itself upon him. "What should I do?"
"Ssssh, Tony, we'll deal with it in the morning."
He continued to smooth the agent's hair until he finally succumbed to his exhaustion, and sleep latched his eyelids shut.
When Tony awoke Gibbs' hand was still on his head, although the older man had also dozed off on the other side of the workbench.
Softly removing Gibbs' hand, Tony quietly got up and made his way to the stairs, tiptoeing as to not wake his resting boss. He had only reached the first step when a drowsy voice spoke behind him.
"Spare bed's made up, DiNozzo..." Gibbs voice trailed off towards the end, the man still evidently in the depths of his slumber.
"It's okay, Boss," Tony whispered, in an attempt not to fully wake him. "I can head home" He only made it a couple of steps.
"Wasn't a question, DiNozzo." Gibbs groggy voice stopped him again. "Just 'cause I'm asleep ... doesn't mean I can't boss you around."
Instead of the class clown beam usually reserved for his coworkers, Tony spared Gibbs a rare genuine smile, and made his way up to the guest room.
The response only came in a whisper.
A/N: I was so taken aback by your lovely reviews for 'Mother' that I finished up another story I'd been working on. This was actually my first attempt at NCIS fan fiction, although it was a cumulation of ideas I'd been mulling over in my head for a while. Please let me know if you'd like more from this story, I wasn't planning on taking it further but if you're willing to read more then I'm willing to write more.