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Title: Positive Reinforcement
Summary: Gibbs gives Tony a little positive reinforcement.
Jethro watched as Tony and Ziva talked with Zach in the bullpen, the kid giving Tony a look that clearly said he thought the agent was nuts. Tony was pretty much just hanging there, waiting for some sign of approval from the boy when Zach said something, took the paper from Tony, and walked away. It was Ziva's laugh, however quickly stifled, that told Jethro whatever had just happened, hadn't been to Tony's benefit. That and the crestfallen look that flashed briefly over Tony's face.
Like most kids, Zach instantly knew when an adult didn't have a clue to do with him.
"He tries too hard," Jethro murmured, shaking his head.
That simple sentence really did describe Tony in a nutshell. Not just with kids, but his whole life. He tried too hard on the job. He tried too hard to fit in. He tried too hard to impress. He tried too hard to get a relationship. He tried too hard to dismiss the pain his parents had so obviously dealt him. He tried too hard to pretend that insults didn't hurt so easily, whether from Ziva, McGee, of Jethro himself.
Maybe especially from me, Jethro silently acknowledged.
Sighing to himself at the too-familiar point, he wondered if maybe Ducky didn't have the right attitude when it came to DiNozzo. Indulge the boy with paternal advice and frequent, affectionate touches, instead of smacks to the head. Gentle remonstrations instead of sharp rejoinders. Not coddling, exactly, but taking care not to hurt an already fragile ego.
Unfortunately, Jethro couldn't change even though he wanted to. The words came out with a customary brusqueness every time, even the rare praise he gave out. It wasn't something that he could truly help, being in the military so long. It was part and parcel of who he was, just as DiNozzo couldn't stop his cop instincts, and Ziva wouldn't be able to ultimately keep from using all the back doors that she'd made over the years.
Jethro walked into the bullpen, forcing the softness he felt for Tony down deep and demanded, "Where's Zach?"
"Potty-break, Boss," Tony answered.
And the investigation continued.
* * * *
Memories weren't always enough to keep him going. After reuniting Zach with his father, Jethro spent a couple of hours in the basement with the ship. Memories of Zach helping with the boat mingled with memories of his own daughter doing the same, both causing a bittersweet ache that ultimately drove him upstairs. He ghosted through his own home for a short while, then uttered a short curse and grabbed his coat to combat the rain that was falling and headed outside to the car.
He drove around for a long time, wasting almost half a tank of gas, before ending up at NCIS near midnight. Shaking his head at the refuge his job had become, Jethro grabbed his gear from the back seat and jogged to the building. Once he got the paperwork finished from the case, he could work-out in the gym downstairs.
It wasn't a big surprise to find Tony at his desk, dressed casually as he stared sleepily at the monitor. He'd gone home the same time as everyone else, but then come back to do what he always did; rework the reports until they were 'Gibbs-proof,' as the agents liked to say. Not that anything ever was, but Jethro let them get away with thinking it. Normally, the young man was quick and alert this time of night, but they'd all been going pretty strong the last few days. There was something far too endearing about the picture Tony presented, struggling to stay awake and do his reports when, by all rights, he should be at home, warm and snug in bed.
Tony lost the battle to stay away and slowly slid sideways onto his desk, head propped on his shoulder, arm flung over the paperwork and files. Jethro waited another few minutes, then walked over to the desk and stared down at him. Tony was out like a light, completely lost to the world, and he took the time to just drink in the sight of him. It wasn't often that he got to see the unfiltered Tony and if there was a chance to do so, he inevitably took it.
Asleep, all the insecurities and anxiety and need to please faded from Tony's face, making him look years younger than he was. His hair flopped over closed eyes and his neck was at a slightly awkward angle that would make him regret falling asleep at his desk. It was all very 'little boy lost' and Jethro couldn't help the pang in his heart, nor stop his hand from reaching out to comb through the thick bangs, brushing them from Tony's forehead.
Tony heaved a sigh and smiled in his sleep, mumbling something unintelligible.
Jethro didn't stop the gentle motion of his hand over Tony's head. Having done this before, he knew the action wouldn't wake the younger man and it had been too long since he'd had this kind of opportunity. Bending down, he said softly but firmly, "You're good at your job, Tony."
Tony snuffled in his sleep but nodded and muttered, "Good job."
"I value you on my team," Jethro continued.
"There's no reason to feel insecure."
"Ziva is not competition."
Tony balked a little at that one, frowning in his sleep and shifting restlessly.
Eyes rolling, Jethro figured that it would be competition to prove the most difficult. Ziva was too good at what she did not to throw up all of Tony's defenses. "You're the senior field agent."
The frown faded into a smile. "SeniorAgent."
Jethro smiled and leaned closer to kiss a vulnerable temple, the action hidden from the security cameras by the positioning of his body. "I love you."
Wistful, Jethro stood up straight and watched Tony fall even deeper asleep before heading back out the way he'd come. He'd have to get Abby to alter the security cameras anyhow, just in case someone wondered what, exactly, he'd been doing there with Tony. Hopefully, the positive reinforcement would go even deeper this time and they would all be treated to a cheerful, confident DiNozzo the next day, just as they did all the times Jethro managed to pull this off.
If not, well, maybe Ducky could give him some pointers.
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