STICKS AND STONES

By Charli911 & Larabeelady

Chapter 1

Everyone had noticed the change in Anthony DiNozzo. He was quieter than usual, withdrawn, morose...even depressed. They hadn't seen him smile in days. But whenever anyone asked him if he was okay, his only answer was a muttered, "fine". But he was obviously anything but fine. His usual repertoire of pranks, jokes and lightheartedness was gone. He spoke only when he had information pertinent to their current case or when someone asked him a direct question, and even then, he didn't look anyone in the eye, and his voice was so monotone, he might as well have been a robot.

His teammates, Tim McGee and Ziva David, had tried several times to pull him out of his funk, by teasing, sniping and finally downright insulting him. Both told him to stop sulking and acting like a child. He would stop typing and about the time they figured he'd finally answer back, he'd take a deep breath and go back to what he was doing without even raising his head to look at them.

He had refused to join them for lunch every day for the last two weeks. Even Abby Scuito, their resident lab rat, had been unable to cajole or persuade him to leave his desk. When he refused, she accused him of pouting and told him to grow up. Ironic, when you consider her own past actions.

When advised of the situation, the NCIS Medical Examiner, Ducky Mallard, who often treated their minor wounds and kept his eye on their general heath, had confronted Tony about keeping up his strength by eating healthy. He began to lecture that Tony about his eating habits.

DiNozzo hadn't said a word, just opened up his drawer and pulled out a lunch bag. Opening the bag, he pulled out a roast beef sandwich, an apple and a container of yogurt. Laying the food out on the desk in front of him, he looked up at Ducky and said, blandly, "Healthy enough for you, Dr. Mallard?" Without waiting for a reply, he took a bite of the sandwich and turned back to his computer to finish his report, chewing as he typed.

The only person who didn't seem affected in any way, good or bad, by DiNozzo's behavior, was the Team Leader, Jethro Gibbs. In fact, when Mallard brought the subject up with Gibbs, the former Marine had replied that he was glad that DiNozzo was finally learning to take his job seriously. He didn't seem to see a problem with the drastic change that had nearly everyone else in the building so concerned.

What Gibbs didn't reveal was that he was the one who had caused the change. One night, when Gibbs had been entertaining a lady friend, Tony had dropped by his house unexpectedly. DiNozzo had tried to explain that they had a case and couldn't get hold of Gibbs by phone, so had taken it upon himself to swing by the house to make sure his boss was okay, only to open the door on the pair making out on Gibbs' sofa.

DiNozzo had been properly embarrassed and once Gibbs had seen his lady friend off, he rounded on Tony and laid into him. And although he'd only used words, Tony had felt each word like a physical blow. After ten minutes of verbal abuse, he'd quietly written an address on a piece of paper, told Gibbs they had a dead Petty Officer and that Gibbs might want to turn on his phone, then quietly walked out the door, gotten into his vehicle and driven away.

At the scene later, Gibbs had arrived to find his team already nearly finished with processing the scene. Ziva was interviewing witnesses, McGee was collecting evidence and DiNozzo was photographing everything. Gibbs had walked up next to the body and had a quiet conversation with Ducky and his assistant, then spoke with McGee and David, but never once approached DiNozzo. And Tony made no effort to speak to his boss, didn't even glance his way as Gibbs walked around the crime scene.

The tension between the two was obvious to everyone there, but neither man would talk about it. In fact, ever since that night, Tony barely spoke to anyone, and then only about whatever case they were currently working on. Ducky had managed to get enough grunts out of Jethro to understand that the two men had had words, but neither man would elaborate on exactly what was said. Whatever it was, it was bad.

DiNozzo had stopped calling people by their first names, resorting to calling them by their title and surnames. He was even calling Abby, Doctor Scuito. He refused every invitation to lunch, after work drinks or any other social get-together with anyone in the building. He'd even refused a movie night with Abby, something he had never done in the ten years he'd known her.

Even the Director had commented on it to Dr. Mallard, joking that he'd never seen the bullpen so quiet. Ducky was sure it wasn't a laughing matter, his concern ratcheting up with each passing day.

/

Tony sat in his car, parked on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. He wouldn't go home until late night, knowing that if he was home, he'd get more visits from Abby, McGee and Ziva, wanting to know what was happening between him and Gibbs. He closed his eyes, the pain coming back every time he thought about that night.

Dispatch had called him when they hadn't been able to get hold of Gibbs. Tony tried calling him as well, on both his cell phone and the landline in his basement. When Gibbs didn't answer either one, Tony had jumped in his car and headed over there, concerned that something had happened to his boss. While enroute, he called McGee and gave him the information about the case, telling him to contact Ziva and Ducky, and letting him know why he'd be delayed getting to the scene.

He called Gibbs several more times as he drove to his Team Leader's house, leaving a message each time he got voice mail. As he sped up to the house, he noticed all the lights were off, but he could see a flicker of the fireplace through the drapes. He raced up the two stairs to the porch, then pushed open the always unlocked front door, calling out as he walked in.

Movement by the sofa had him reaching for the weapon holstered on his hip, until he heard the distinctive growl of his boss.

"DiNozzo! What the hell are you doing?"

It wasn't until Gibbs stood up that Tony realized there was someone else in the room. The woman stood up, turning her back to both men and smoothing down her hair, as DiNozzo stammered, trying to get Gibbs to understand that they had a case and that Tony had tried to call him several times. Gibbs had hissed at him to shut up and not move.

He turned to his lady friend, Elizabeth, gently taking her arm and walking her to her car, promising to call her later. She made a remark about locking the door next time and smiled before giving him a passionate kiss goodbye. He was about to drag her back to the house when she whispered in his ear. "You best go see what your agent wants. It must be important."

"It better be," he snarled, which caused her to chuckle as she lightly brushed her hand down below his belt.

"Calm down, Gunny, or he'll really have something to see."

He grabbed her hand and brought it up to his lips. "You're not making this any easier. You do realize I'm gonna have to go back in there and kill him."

"Call me if it's not too late. I don't mind waiting up for a little of what we had been starting in there."

He opened her car door and she settled in behind the wheel, then he leaned in to kiss her. He watched her drive away, willing his body to calm down enough to walk back into his own house and not give DiNozzo fodder for the gossip mills. The more he thought about what DiNozzo had interrupted, the angrier he got. He had some pent up energy that wasn't going to be expended like he'd planned, so he'd just take out that energy on his subordinate. Spinning around he stalked back up the driveway.

"You get an eyeful there, DiNozzo?!" he snarled.

"Boss..."

"SHUT UP! I don't want to hear it! What the hell gave you the idea that you could just storm into my home without knocking?"

"You didn't..."

"I SAID SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Gibbs was breathing hard, every breath straight into Tony's face, glad to see the fear in the younger man's eyes as The Gunny came out full force. "You have a lot of nerve busting in here like that! You're this close to getting your ass kicked to the curb," he snarled, his thumb and forefinger just millimeters apart to demonstrate, "so I hope you've kept your resume' up to date!"

Gibbs watched as the fear left DiNozzo, his eyes going blank and dead, watching a spot over Jethro's shoulder. "You better have a damn good reason for barging in here!" When DiNozzo didn't say anything, Gibbs moved closer, his nose nearly touching DiNozzo's. "ANSWER ME!"

Tony took a step back. "We have a dead Petty Officer. You didn't answer either phone, thought something might have happened." His voice was flat and low, using a minimum amount of words.

"It's no wonder you have no friends, if you do this to other people. Get out! And don't come back. You aren't welcome here!" He didn't notice the slight narrowing of Tony's eyes. "Stupid idiot! Not sure why I ever brought you here from Baltimore. Can't even respect a man's privacy, respect a man's home. You're annoying as hell with all your stupid jokes and movie references. Maybe the Director was right about you after all. Should have left you on that ship. Maybe it's about time McGee got that promotion permanently."

Each word was like a stake to the heart as DiNozzo pulled a notebook and pen from his pocket. He wrote something down before handing the torn page to his boss. He then made his way to the door, closing it softly behind him. He walked to his car, never looking back at the house, at the place that he'd once been welcome in, felt comfortable in. He knew if he looked back, he'd break. It was bringing back flashes of when he left home, sent away to military school. Gibbs' words interspersed through those that his father had yelled at him as he walked out the door to the waiting limo-worthless, no son of mine, end up in the gutter. He choked back a sob that threatened to escape, taking a deep breath to quell the inclination. He slid the key in the ignition and drove away.

Inside Gibbs was still seething. His embarrassment had manifested as anger. He and Elizabeth had been kissing and he was unbuttoning her blouse when DiNozzo barged in on them. She gasped in shock and began to pull her clothing back together as Gibbs stood up and spun around to face his agent, hoping to hide her from DiNozzo's view. He fully expected some smart ass remark from the man, and decided to head that off by shouting out his displeasure at being interrupted.

After several minutes of pacing his living room, he calmed down enough to search for his phone, finding it under the coffee table. He realized that it must have fallen and got shut off when it fell. It turned the blasted thing on, seeing a dozen calls from DiNozzo. He didn't remember hearing the house phone ring, but the only landline in the house was in the basement and with the door closed and his preoccupation with his beautiful companion, he wasn't surprised he didn't hear it.

He played back the messages, hearing how frantic DiNozzo's voice got with each subsequent call. He shook his head. He was sorry to have worried the man, but that was still no excuse for him to barge into the house like he had. Gibbs shoved down the guilt that was beginning to surface at the things he'd said. A few home truths sometimes cleared the air and if that's what it took to keep DiNozzo from making unannounced entries to his home in the future, then so be it.

So, Gibbs had gone to the scene and done his job, grateful when DiNozzo had done the same. He figured that his Senior Field Agent would be smarting from the verbal smack down his boss had delivered, but knew that DiNozzo would not let it affect his job. And he knew, like always, that Tony would eventually put the incident behind him and get back to normal.

/

For the next several days, Tony was unusually quiet. He came to work, did his job, and went home. He didn't joke around, only spoke when absolutely necessary and followed Gibbs' orders to the letter. Gibbs kept watching him, as did McGee and David, probably waiting for him to crack. Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

Ever since that night, DiNozzo had been a shell of his former self. Gibbs knew that the words he'd spoken that night had been particularly cruel and he did regret voicing them the way he had. But no one had ever accused Leroy Jethro Gibbs of being a smooth communicator. His usual way of getting his point across was the equivalent to a baseball bat upside the head. Jethro had been grateful that DiNozzo had kept a low profile and hadn't pushed for an explanation of the hurtful words. Then again, Tony had barely spoken to him at all.

And Gibbs felt just slightly guilty that he'd been happy for the silence. Tony was being serious about his job and hadn't let what had happened affect his work. The Marine in Gibbs relished the professionalism. No jokes, no stupid nicknames, none of the standard DiNozzo fare. He could see that at first it caught the others off guard. But he began to wish he'd spoken up earlier, if this was all it took to get DiNozzo to buckle down.

The one thing that was bothering Gibbs was the dead look in DiNozzo's eyes every time they made contact with him...or with anyone else, for that matter. It was like the life had been drained out of the younger man. Jethro briefly thought about apologizing for the harsh words, figuring that alone would bring the other man out of his funk, but couldn't bring himself to break his own rule.

He didn't really think it warranted an apology anyway, considering that what he'd said was, to some extent, true. Yes, he might have stepped slightly over the line when he suggested that Tony had no friends. Gibbs knew that wasn't the case. But he had done what he needed to get his point across. And he knew that eventually DiNozzo would bounce back and things would settle down to what passed for normal on his team, although he did hope that some of the new DiNozzo would stick around.

He'd bluntly made it known that he expected the younger man to respect his privacy and not barge into his house. Even having said that, considering that his relationship with the beautiful Elizabeth was going strong, he had begun to lock his door when she came over, which was often. He definitely did not want a repeat of the incident that night with DiNozzo...or anyone else. He'd given Ducky a key, in case of emergency, but refused to explain why he suddenly decided to start locking his door.

No one needed to know what happened that night. And apparently DiNozzo, in his embarrassment, hadn't mentioned the incident to anyone else, not even Abby. Gibbs was grateful for his discretion and really should have said so to him, but decided to just put it behind him and forget about it.

He should have known it wouldn't be that easy.