Inch by Inch

By Visage

(Long)A/N (Stay with me!): This began very innocently as I helped my father plant and water the garden. A few of these incidents are borrowed from real life. A few of them I wasn't such a young kid. Such is the life of a farm kid.

I honestly had an internal battle as to who should star in this little tale. While I love all of them in their own way, Tony has a special place in my heart so it was only natural I would lean toward him first. But as I began to write I began imagining each character in the same incident. There are a few different versions and scenarios on my computer. Eventually, I believe I settled on the right hooligan.

Also, I didn't mean for it to get as dark as it did at the end, but honestly, I couldn't think of another way to end this. If anyone has any suggestions I'd love to hear/read them!

No profit is being made, or is any infringement intended. Thank you! Reviews appreciated and requested!

Joyce Cleveland stood up, rolling her shoulders back to work the kinks out of her tired muscles. She sighed with pleasure as the spot between her shoulder blades popped, releasing built up pressure. The bright May sun was beating down on her face, a welcome change from the miniature monsoon season they had just escaped. The nice weather was giving her the chance to finally finish planting the string beans and weed between the tomato plants in the garden.

"'Cook the dinner, plant the garden, clean the house.' I'm a Nanny, not a personal valet!" Joyce murmured out loud as she scanned the yard. By all rights she had been hired to watch the baby and nothing more. She smiled as she found her charge a few feet away, happily driving a dump truck to the edge of the garden and depositing a load of dirt.

Not that he was a baby any longer. The toddler was quickly becoming a boy with bright, inquisitive eyes and a knack for getting into trouble. Her heart had melted only two years previous when she applied for the position, seeing a stern father and a drunken mother, both of whom seem to have forgotten they had a son, unless they were angry. If completing chores outside of her assigned duties would keep his father happy and away from the son, she would do it.

"You Silly Boy, what are you doing over there?" Joyce called

Anthony DiNozzo, Jr. looked up, mid-drop off. "Makin' mud pies." He answered simply before returning to the task at hand. His hands and bare feet were covered in sticky brown mud; streaks of dirt covered his cheeks and ran down the front of his never-to-be-white-again shirt. "Want some?"

Joyce sucked in a deep breath. She was glad she made the boy take off the heavy sailor jacket before coming outside or it would have been ruined. Hopefully she could get the boy clean before his parents came home. She abandoned the garden plot, rubbing her hands together to clean off the dirt as she made her way toward Tony. "No, thank you, Sweetie. They do look delicious though!"

Tony flashed her with a grin before picking up the plastic cup of water by his side and adding some of the contents on the dirt and stirring with his hand. "I'll have to make enough for Mommy and Daddy. You think they'd want some?"

Joyce thought quickly. She knew from experience that neither parent would be appreciative of a filthy five year old asking them to eat dirt. If she could get him away from the mud pies he would forget all about it in a few minutes. "You know, I could use your help. I need someone big and strong to help me in the garden. Do you know of anyone I could ask?"

Immediately, Tony's arm shot up. "Ooo! Ask me! Pick me, Nanny Joyce! I can do it!"

"You can?" Joyce smiled. She held out her hand for the boy to take. "That's wonderful! There's so much work to do and I just can't do it all by myself."

Tony practically tugged Joyce all the way back to the string bean plot. "I'm the strongest in my class. Fastest, too!"'

"The fastest? Wow, we'll be done in no time with you on the job." Joyce smiled as she reached into her deep pockets and produced a small packet of seeds. She stopped at the top of the row and pointed at the ground. "See where I dug this row out all the way down?" She waited for the quick nod. "I'm going to go down the line and drop the seeds in. You have to walk behind and make sure the seeds are covered with dirt, like this." Joyce shook a seed out of the packet and placed it in the earth. Carefully she pushed enough dirt on top to cover it.

"I can do that!" Tony shouted excitedly, wiggling like a puppy.

Joyce started down the line, dropping a seed every few inches with Tony chattering behind her. At every hole he would kneel and carefully level the dirt with his hand before jumping up and rushing to the next spot. However, after each hole he began to take a little longer and a little longer, first pretending his hands were the plough blades on a huge tractor, then turning his fingers into a long rake. He was slowly doing more playing than working.

Joyce paused when she realized she couldn't hear Tony anymore. She quickly stood, scanning the garden for the wayward boy, hoping he hadn't run off. She sighed as she spotted the boy hunkered down five holes back creating a mound of dirt.

"Tony!" She called, walking back toward the boy. "Tony, that's too much, Love! Don't do that."

"But I was building the beans a castle so when they grow up they have somewhere to live." Tony looked up at his Nanny, green eyes wide with innocence. "And this is gonna be the school here, and there's gonna be a horse stable here so they can go riding and saving all the Damsel Beans in distress like Robin Hood!"

Joyce blinked, trying to find words. "Oh, Tony Baby, that's wonderful. But I have another job for you." She reached down, grabbing a hold of him under each arm and plucked the boy to his feet. She pointed to the water pump and hose by the garden shed. "See that watering can? Do you think you can fill it up and give all the seeds in this row a good drink?"

"Ma'am, yes Ma'am!" Tony stood as straight as he could and saluted his Nanny before bouncing to the top of the garden, nearly taking out a few broccoli plants in the process. Joyce just hoped it would keep the little boy occupied and out of trouble. After all, they were outside. The plants couldn't get too much water out here, could they?

As Joyce went back and made sure all the seeds were covered, she watched the energetic boy out of the corner of her eye. He quickly grabbed the watering can and set it next to the pump. Reaching up on his tippy-toes he turned the handle and water snaked its way out of the short hose. Tony giggled as the pressure made the hose dance, getting water everywhere but the watering can. In the middle of a particularly ferocious blast, Tony remembered he was on a mission. He stood up to his full height, trying to make himself look more intimidating before reaching out to grab the hose and stick it in the watering can.

When it was full he simply took the hose out of the can, forgetting to turn the water off. Tony sucked in a deep breath, giving the watering can a hard look before bending down to pick it up. He was just barely able to pick the full can up and hold it against his chest. Slowly he turned and headed back toward the garden at a slightly slower pace than he arrived at. However, the small bounce was still in his step, causing the half of the contents to slosh over the side and down the front of his shirt.

Finally, Tony made it to the top of the newly planted row of beans. Grabbing onto the handle he tripped the can forward, allowing the water to flow out of the spout. Tony watched in awe as the water trickled out of the spout, separating like drops of summer rain.

Joyce looked up when she reached the end of her row and she thought she heard thunder. She rolled her eyes when she looked up and Tony was playing rainstorm with the can, shaking the water on the ground.

"Look, Nanny Joyce! I'm watering the beans, all by myself! There's a big rain coming and it might wash away the whole town! We have to help save the Bean community!"

"Tony!" Joyce ran up and put her hand over the boy's to stop the flow of water. Most of the contents of the can had pooled on the first bean hill, causing a small river to flow and drown the poor plant. She bit her lip as Tony looked up from behind his long lashes, his bright green eyes shining with pride in his handy work and pride that Nanny Joyce trusted him enough to help. The boy would be devastated if she corrected him. Clearly, she needed to find something a little less destructive for the boy to occupy himself.

It was then that the perfect job came to her.

"Oh, Tony Darling." Joyce steered the boy away from the new plantings and took the watering can from his hands. "I just realized there's something extra special that only you can do for me. Think you're up for it?" Tony nodded vigorously.

They stood facing a particularly overgrown patch of the garden. Joyce never understood why the DiNozzo's felt the need to even have a garden as they were able to buy any services or goods they would ever need. She assumed it was part of Senior's need to be 'normal' yet 'better than everyone else' at the same time. The lack of perfection in this section of the garden was a blemish on his reputation and she was sure heads would roll if it wasn't taken care of soon.

"Over here are the plants I've already put in the ground. A couple more weeks and they'll be bearing fruit!" She crouched down low, whispering into the Little Boy's ear as if she were telling a story. "But if we're not careful, the big bad weeds will try and choke them out, stealing all the water and sunlight for themselves."I need you to pull out every plant that looks like this." She pulled a weed out that stood close to their spot and held it out for the boy to see. "Think you can do that for me?"

In an instant, Joyce could feel her heart melt with the triumphant grin Tony gave her. She couldn't help but pity the hearts that would be broken by that exact charming smile as the boy grew.

She watched as Tony set to work and carefully supervised for a few minutes. The boy was happy to be asked to play in the dirt and dutifully set about pulling up the offending weeds. Satisfied the boy would not cause trouble she turned back to her beans, hoping to have the row squared away in time to settle Tony for snack time before his parents returned.

She kept an ear out, catching the odd phrase of saving the Bean Planet from destruction, peppered with the occasional explosion or gun fire noise. Every time she looked over, Tony was completing his task with a marvelous attention to detail.

It wasn't until Joyce heard Tony call her name that she felt an odd churn in the pit of her stomach. She stood and surveyed the garden, searching for her charge. "Yes, Tony? What is it?"

Tony stood, covered in even more dirt and mud than before, if that was even possible. "Look, Nanny Joyce! I got a big one!" The boy held out his hand, a large green plant with fleshy green balls hanging from its leaves.

This time, Joyce could not hide the gasp. She closed her eyes and groaned as she realized what Tony had done. Eager to please, he was weeding the garden.

But he was also weeding the tomato plants.

"Tony, no!" Joyce dropped everything in her hands and raced toward the boy. Reaching him, she snatched the plant out of his hand and knelt down, trying to re-plant it in the ground. When she realized the effort was futile, it was bent in too many places to ever grow properly again, she slumped forward. Her shoulders fell with a sigh.

It was then that Joyce looked up and locked her gaze with green eyes, wide with confusion and brimming with the beginning of tears. She felt a wave of shame wash over her as she bit back her anger. It wasn't Tony's fault, he was only pulling out the weeds as she asked. She should have explained the task more carefully. And certainly she could have avoided scaring the poor thing. She swallowed hard and reached up to grab the boy gently by the shoulders and apologize when she heard a familiar bellow from the front door of the estate.

"Anthony! Here! Now!" Tony's father quickly crossed the yard and stopped a few feet away.

Joyce snapped to attention. She felt a pair of little hands grab onto the back of her knees and a face hiding behind her thigh. "Mr. DiNozzo, you're home early. Tony and I were just-"

"I saw." His eyes were dark with anger. "I'm very sorry my son was behaving so poorly. I hope he's not inconveniencing you while you're performing your duties."

Joyce stuttered, unable to form her thoughts into complete sentences. Before she could protest, Anthony DiNozzo, Sr. snapped his fingers and pointed at the ground directly in front of him. Slowly, Tony slinked out from behind his Nanny, his head bent low. Senior put his hand on the nape of Junior's neck. The material of the boy's dirty t-shirt bunching in the firm grip. "I assure you I will deal with Anthony myself."

Father and son turned back toward the house without another word. Joyce watched until they disappeared through the front door before falling to her knees once more and burying her head in her hands.