A/N: Took slight liberties: assumed Tony did not go up into MTAC with Gibbs and Lee to ID her alleged daughter. Instead he stayed at his desk, which is when Part-1 happened. Also inside, reference to a conversation that didn't happen in canon.
Once the elevator began its descent, Tony bit his lip and tried to cross his arms petulantly, only to pull them away from his chest because it hurt.
"So, Lee ID the kid on the NSA footage?"
"Mm-hm. Looks like you'll have to put up with her a little longer."
"Even if it's really her daughter, we can't trust her."
"Ya think, DiNozzo?"
Tony's face twisted into a snarl. "Yeah, I think, Boss! She's got us running around in circles giving her accomplices time to disappear."
Gibbs swigged his coffee casually. "I ain't running in circles; standing right where I need to be."
Tony didn't reply, but the muted grunt was loaded enough to make Gibbs pause. He turned just in time to catch a strange look on his senior field agent's face. Tony rarely took offence to Gibbs' offhandedness, at least not anymore.
"How bad is it?" He asked, trying to draw Tony into a different conversation.
Tony shrugged like he couldn't care less. "Just a surface burn."
"Yeah? So it won't hurt if I did this –?" Gibbs swung his free hand back and squarely into Tony's chest. Tony flinched and backed away instinctively, only to thump hard against the elevator wall behind him. Gibbs' hand never made contact, it was never intended to.
"Ha ha," Tony muttered unhappily for having been punked, again. Gibbs just smirked.
Down in Autopsy, Ducky asked Tony to take his shirt off and lie down on a steel table.
"Hop on up here, dear boy. Come on now, you've done this before. Many, many, times before. Yes, looks like the socked eye is healing nicely…"
Tony huffed and puffed but eventually did as he was told.
"You don't have to stay, boss."
Gibbs scoffed and didn't even bother to honor that with his usual response, a head-slap. With him standing right there, there wasn't much protest Tony could lodge. So he just lay there sulkily, letting Ducky examine him even as he launched into re-telling the story of a British model whose abusive ex-boyfriend hired someone to throw sulfuric acid in her face.
"The doctors had to remove all the skin from her face, before re-building it completely with a skin substitute!"
Tony winced. "Boy, am I glad they don't serve freshly brewed H2SO4 down at the café."
Ducky didn't much appreciate his smart-assedness. "If you prefer, I can tell you instead about how many children die from hot beverage and hot bath water scalding each year. You'll never guess how alarmingly high the number is, especially in ages one to five."
"Yeah, let's stick to the model, Ducky." Tony begged and Gibbs smiled, even as he winced inwards himself.
He kept a close watch as Ducky lightly rinsed Tony's stomach and chest with cold water. After lightly patting him dry, he applied a generous layer of an aloe vera-based ointment to soothe the area. Finally he handed Tony a couple of painkillers and made him swallow in front of everyone, no sleight of hand allowed.
Tony was visibly relieved to be allowed to rise just as Ducky reached the end of his story with a flourish. "The last fight this horrible man got into during his sentence was in the prison's press room. He got half his face ripped right off by a hot steam iron. And that's what I call poetic justice!"
The doors slid open and Jimmy Palmer walked in.
"Oh!" He exclaimed as he spotted the shirtless agent sitting on a table flanked by two over-protective older men on either side. "I'm sorry, I'll… come later…"
"It's okay, Palmer," Tony stopped him. "Wouldn't be fair if you were the only one that didn't get to see me half-naked today," he quipped with as much sarcasm as he could muster.
Jimmy much rather preferred to leave, really, being in the same room as Gibbs tended to make him do stupid, embarrassing things. But then something extraordinary and rare (as in never happened before) unfolded right before his eyes, stopped him dead in his tracks.
He watched with widening eyes as Gibbs picked up a white shirt lying nearby, and started to help Tony into it. The younger agent looked sheepish, as if he'd been there before but wasn't quite used to this… this unnatural side of Gibbs yet. Only Ducky carried on as if the world hadn't just been turned on its head. Gibbs even pried Tony's fingers away gently when they tried to button up, wordlessly ordering him to keep it open and away from his treated skin for a little while longer.
"Wh-What happened?" Jimmy finally dared to ask.
"Your ex-girlfriend happened," Tony retorted, his face red and his tone clipped, most likely from embarrassment. He looked down at himself, wondering if he could get away with closing at least the top two buttons and completely missed the bitterness that came over Jimmy's face.
"You too, huh?"
Everyone looked at Jimmy then, Tony included, suddenly realizing what the boy might be going through.
"Don't take it personally, Jimmy," Tony spoke with genuine empathy. "A lot of people got used and hurt because of her these past six months."
Ducky nodded subtly towards Gibbs, Tell me you know what's going on with him.
To which Gibbs responded with one of his own, I do now.
"Thanks, Duck," Gibbs drawled and started to walk out. "DiNozzo! Back to work!"
Ducky hurriedly rattled out a few instructions for Tony to care for his wound which the younger man barely heard as he flew out the doors and into the closing elevator after his boss.
Gibbs hit the kill-switch soon enough. The elevator came to a sudden lurch somewhere between sub-basement level three and two.
"Do I need to give you more reports to re-write, Tony?"
Tony's jaw hardened. "I wanna work this case…"
"Not if you keep flying off the handle every time you see Lee."
"She's a traitor and a murderer, and she should be behind bars as we speak, not up in MTAC sweet-talking her way into a plea bargain."
"She's our best lead."
"More like a mislead, boss; no pun intended."
"You're not thinking straight."
And that made Tony fly off the handle right away. "Why, because I don't want us to waste any more time listening to her lies? Agent Langer is dead because of her!"
Gibbs wasn't too far behind. "I KNOW THAT!"
Tony clamped up, regretting ever saying anything at all. While he stared up at the ceiling trying to get his rage under control, Gibbs studied him and sighed.
"I also know that Vance told you why he broke up the team. Lee's the reason you got sent away from the only family you've ever known, the only place you've ever called home."
Tony blinked and backed up, struggling to achieve some kind of plausible deniability. "I-I… that's not why… it doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does," Gibbs whispered, not unkindly.
Not having Tony around for four months had been hard on him too, even if he'd never admit it out loud. It had shaken loose a strong fatherly instinct that he didn't even know he still had. Filing away his own frustrations for later, Gibbs stepped closer to the younger man. Then without waiting for permission (rule 18), he gathered the open ends of the agent's shirt and started to button him up.
"Can't go out like this," he grumbled awkwardly, by way of explanation.
He could feel Tony tremble in his hands, taken aback once again by the simple yet tender, very out-of-character, gesture. Gibbs found himself shushing the kid quietly, willing him to relax.
"This isn't just about a spilled cup of Joe, Tony, I understand that."
No, it wasn't. It was about losing control of one's own life, feeling helpless, punished, discarded… Tony swallowed hard, looking anywhere and everywhere but at Gibbs.
"But what I need right now is for my best agent to trust me, and get his head screwed back on right. Because I can't fix this without him, I can't get justice for Langer without him."
Tony met the clear blue gaze at last, and this time he held it.
The Marine's uncanny ability to get him really shouldn't surprise him anymore. And yet, here he was, once again stunned into silence by a supposed functional mute.
The elevator dinged open few seconds later. Gibbs pushed the last shirt button through its hoop, then abruptly walked out and into the squad room. Abby was still there, perched on Tim's desk and deep in conversation with her other two 'Gibblets'.
A minute later when Tony walked in, she tried to look guilty enough to appease the frown lines on his face, misreading them to be there because they'd tricked him into seeing Ducky.
"Ziva made me do it!"
"Hey!" Ziva threw her hands up and pretended to be affronted, while McGee insisted he was Switzerland in all of this. Tony just chuckled and went to his own desk.
"Relax, you guys. I'm not mad."
Gibbs peripherally observed his team banter back and forth to slowly pull Tony back into normalcy. And later when he caught his senior field agent's eyes from across the room, he found exactly what he needed to see.
The shit-eating grin was back. "Just be glad I'm out of superglue!"
The huddle disbanded and everyone went back to work, including Abby who headed back to her lab. Only Ziva lingered, compelled for some odd reason to make sure her partner was really, really okay.
"You seem better." She fished about for the right word before going with the best one she could come up with. "Much more, settled, yes?"
Tony nodded up at her gratefully, his eyes briefly flickering towards the boss before meeting hers again.
"Just a surface burn, Ziva. Gone before you know it."
Ziva nodded, seemingly satisfied, and turned away. Making a brief detour she reached Gibbs' desk where she leaned in to say something, but Gibbs cut her off.
"I know: Nicely done, Gibbs."
Ziva smiled back.
*** END ***
A/N: Feedback would be truly appreciated!