Impressing Gibbs has long since gone from an aim to an obsession and simmered down to a constant in his life. He sometimes, when he has a moment spare, which isn't often, lets himself imagine Gibbs' face; how he'd look, the way his eyes would widen just a little.
Even Tony doesn't go so far as to paint incredulity or amazement on those impassive features. And sometimes he wonders if he really wants to achieve it because an impressed Gibbs would be a stranger -- more of a stranger -- and that's not what he wants at all.
He knows he can do it sometimes in a small way; there was the case where he'd got a suspect in a bar, Gibbs at a table across the room, sipping on something without swallowing, his attention seemingly on a TV screen showing highlights of a football game.
Tony had fed the suspect jokes, each one dirtier, each one funnier, until the man had been gasping for breath, choking on tears, waving his hand imploringly for Tony to stop even as he leaned in eagerly, waiting for the next.
Then Tony had slid in a question, a single one, and when the man had given him what he wanted, relaxed, unthinking, the last syllable of 'Why, that would be Wednesday' had barely left his lips before Gibbs had been on him, slamming him into the table, drinks flying, catching the cuffs Tony had tossed him and using them with his usual economy of movement.
They'd been on their way back to the car when Gibbs had patted Tony's arm. Pat, pause, pat, the pause lingering just a little, Gibbs' fingers curling around the swell of Tony's bicep before the hand lifted away and descended a final, brief time.
And hadn't he felt that clear down to his fucking socks, which really, when you thought about it, was pathetic, except he'd long since rationalised his feelings for Gibbs to the point where they seemed perfectly normal and totally separate from anything he needed to worry about.
Gibbs had said something, too; something casual with the word 'good' in there, but for once he hadn't really been listening. Gibbs had touched him because he'd done something right. Rewarded him with a pat.
You'd do that to a dog, but as he spends his life at Gibbs' heels, that doesn't seem entirely inappropriate.
It's not long after that he starts to wonder if he hadn't better sideline the attempts to impress Gibbs with something work-related. True, Gibbs is pretty much all about the work, but there are spaces in his life that the job doesn't touch. Much. And there's something Tony's good at, something he's very good at and if it's a skill he generally exhibits only to a woman, naked, soon to be smiling and purring, he's willing to make an exception for Gibbs.
God, he really is desperate.
But past a certain point, that stops mattering to a man with a mission and Tony passed that point a long way back.
Pat, pause, pat.
On his arm, through cloth, it'd felt good. He jerks off and lets himself think about it on bare skin -- his bare skin, definitely -- and comes in a frantic, messy spill, making a sound that shocks his body into a convulsive follow-up shiver of pure, delighted terror.
Oh, this is new. This is… he's not sure what it is.
But Tony knows seduction is going to be harder than getting Gibbs something he wants before he's finished asking for it. Much more of a challenge than that.
He doesn't even consider being subtle about his interest; he's lucky Gibbs hasn't called him on it long before now and that he hasn't is in itself an answer to a question Tony hasn't asked: would you? With me? How about it, Boss?
Okay, that's three questions. Or is the third the same as the first, making it two? Or maybe two and a half -- and he's been hanging around Ducky way too much.
But Gibbs knows. Has to. The same way Tony knows if Gibbs is angry when he's not showing it in his expression, his stance, his voice. They're aware of each other and if Gibbs has that same level of awareness with all his team, Tony doesn't want to know about it. He prefers to think it's just for him.
He's good at choosing what to believe. It makes life so much easier to deal with.
And he could be blindfolded in a dark room, spun around until he was dizzy, and still know just where Gibbs was standing when he came to a halt.
A while later, he pulls it off again. Goes above and beyond and gets their man. Except in this case, it's a woman and the stream of filth pouring out of her mouth when she realises she's busted makes Tony's ears feel violated. Such a pretty pink pout of a mouth, too…
On the way back to their car, he's waiting for that pat again, walking in a slow, relaxed stroll, arm tingling in anticipation, warm with it. He doesn't get it. Gibbs is frowning, withdrawn, staring forward, walking fast, way ahead of Tony.
"I did good back there." It's almost a question. He certainly wants an answer.
"You're supposed to, DiNozzo. It's what they pay you for."
"I don't do it for the money."
"You don't always do it," Gibbs says dryly. "But if you want to hear it --"
"Yes, I do."
"Fine. You did good. Keys."
He tosses Gibbs the keys and watches him snag them out of the air without looking, same as always.
Something doesn't feel right.
"Now what?" Gibbs asks, his voice resigned, once they're inside the car and Tony's silence is speaking for him. His hand is on the key but he doesn't turn it. The street's quiet, dark. It's two in the morning in suburbia and over to their right a swing is creaking in the wind, the sound faint now the car doors are closed.
"I didn't want to have to ask," Tony tells him, tired of just about everything right then and just plain tired. No sleep so far tonight; four hours the night before.
"Sorry." He doesn't sound it. Tony watches Gibbs' fingers tighten on the key and reaches out; wraps his hand over Gibbs' and stops it moving.
And Gibbs lets him. That's a shock but Tony doesn't let it affect what his hand's doing.
Gibbs turns his head and in the pale wash of the street light he still looks there in a way no one else ever does to Tony. He sometimes feels the world's peopled with shadows and ghosts and Gibbs.
"You might want to rethink your strategy, DiNozzo. Unless your plan is to find out firsthand how it feels to have a broken finger."
And that's a lot of words for Gibbs. Interesting.
"Already know, Boss. Age eight. Caught a baseball wrong. Hurt like hell."
He shrugs. Gibbs' knuckles are small points digging into the palm of his hand. "Like a baby."
"I don't want to see a repeat."
"I don't want you to start driving."
"And why is that?"
Gibbs sounds quiet, controlled; that's not new. Maybe a little angry; not new, either. Scared? He wishes. Except, no, he really doesn't. That much power, he really doesn't want.
Gibbs sounds… unsure.
Which is so fucking scary, Tony's hand is back in his lap, shaking slightly, before Gibbs has done more than breathe quietly, in and out once. Gibbs sounds plenty certain when he speaks again.
"Rule twelve, Tony. It applies to you as much as anyone."
And that, right there, that's something. If he's on the 'do not date' list because he's a co-worker that means… well, it means a lot of stuff. And he's impressed by how quickly Gibbs cut to the chase. Quicker than he would have done, and Tony's had a girl's panties sliding down and his fingers sliding in before he's finished introducing himself. Special circumstances, sure, but even so.
"Suppose I didn't work with you?"
Gibbs crosses his arms over his chest, leans back, twisting sideways a little, and stares at him. "Is this your way of resigning?"
"No." Tony gives Gibbs his best smile, shoving the panic down deep. Not be with Gibbs most days of the week? Not be there to watch his back? "I like working for you." Don't fire me, please, don't do that, I swear I'll never - well, I'll still do that, but I won't --
Gibbs studies him with a care Tony finds unnerving. "What's this all about, Tony?"
"Nothing, Boss. Just tired. Little punchy. Forget it. I have."
He gets a slow, thoughtful nod -- Gibbs is so not buying that except he is, he has to, he will -- and then Gibbs' hand is on the key again and the moment, the moment, is about to be lost in the growl and cough of the engine and the speed they'll reach on deserted roads.
He grabs Gibbs' hand again. This time he doesn't get to keep it. His eyes are watering with tears of pain and his thumb's entirely too close to his wrist and he's making little, anguished whimpering sounds between his teeth. Gibbs had barely moved but he'd moved fast.
"You touch me like that again and I won't stop with your fingers." It's said without anger but Tony's hurting too much to care about that.
Gibbs' grip eases and his hand twists. For just a moment they're palm to palm and he feels Gibbs' thumb trace a gentle caress over the bright pain that he's put into Tony's flesh.
Then Gibbs' hand is back on the key and the key's turning.
"How did you do that?" Tony asks him in a used-up croak.
The car pulls away, already moving too fast. Gibbs doesn't turn his head. "You weren't ready for me."
And it's not until Tony's opening his front door, awkwardly, using the wrong hand, that he wonders if he'd have gotten the same answer if he'd asked why.