The final chapter at last. Massive thanks to everyone who's reviewed; I loved reading them. And it's mush o'clock again…
The day had finally arrived. Tony made sure to be in extra early, dusted off Gibbs' desk, and had a fresh cup of coffee steaming by his computer.
All in all, the past three weeks had been just about the weirdest of his life. Gibbs had nursed him in the hospital, and then put Tony up in his spare room to keep an eye on him. The older man had seemed more relaxed than usual; perhaps the time off was doing him good. He'd let Abby and McGee set up Tony's TV in his living room, reheated Ziva's donations of soup and lasagne three times a day and talked Tony into eating at least half of it; nagging all the time about how much weight he'd lost lately and that he needed to keep his strength up. He'd even let Tony puppy dog him into watching a few DVDs from his collection.
Tony couldn't remember anyone ever taking this much care of him before; at least, not since his mother threw out his nanny when he was seven years old for daring to suggest that maybe she should try to go to his piano recital instead of shopping for shoes.
After two weeks, when he was completely well, Tony returned to work to take over temporary lead of the team until Gibbs' suspension was up. He found that suddenly people who'd always written him off as Gibbs' smartass sidekick were looking at him with respect; that he'd proved to the world he was a man worth taking notice of. Even the baggie bunnies were being nicer to him than usual.
And then there was that special evening, the last before he'd left for his own apartment, when Gibbs had led him down to the basement and taken down a battered Strawberry Shortcake tin from a shelf like it was something rare and precious.
"What's this?" Tony asked, as the older man carefully lifted the rusted lid.
"Memories," Gibbs replied simply, handing him a photo. "That was taken at Kelly's eighth birthday party. She insisted on having a cake shaped like a heart; Shannon had to make a round one and then cut it out."
"Boss… You don't have to do this," Tony said, stunned. Gibbs had never even said Kelly's name in his hearing; and now he was handing around pictures?
"I know," the older man replied. "Haven't talked about them in years; but I should have done this a long time ago." He pulled out another photo. "Here's one of her at the piano; she played too. I still have some tapes they made to send to me when I was deployed."
"Let me guess; five of them?" said Tony, understanding dawning.
"Yeah," replied Gibbs. "Five. Kelly was pretty good; she won second prize in her recital not long after I left for Kuwait, and she'd only been playing a year or so."
"Impressive; I'd had three years worth of lessons before I got to perform in front of anyone."
"How old were you when you started?"
"Four. My mother wanted me to be one of those musical prodigies."
Gibbs stilled. "Kelly would have liked you," he said softly. "She always wanted a brother."
"Brother? Me?" Tony's eyes were wide with astonishment.
"Yeah, Tony; you," replied Gibbs earnestly.
"Listen, boss; I know you feel guilty about me getting sick, but…"
"Are you really this dumb or are you just trying to make me say it out loud?" Asked Gibbs, exasperated.
"Say what?" Asked Tony, totally confused.
Gibbs smacked him on the head, rolling his eyes. "For a smart man, you can be denser than a ton of lead sometimes." Tony just stared at him, not quite believing what he thought the man might mean until he read it from his eyes.
"Oh," said Tony, understanding beginning to dawn. "Oh. Really?"
"What, you thought I could see you every day for six years and not give a damn?"
"Well, of course not, Gibbs, but this… This, is really big. And it's not like you're a really touchy feely kinda guy or anything…"
"You saying you never knew how far I'd go for you?"
"All the way, Boss; but that's like a Marine thing. You'd go just as far for McGee or Ziva…"
"No. It's a parent thing. And I'd risk my life and my career for them, but I'd risk this for you. Because you're the closest thing I've got to a living child; and I am going to keep you that way. Clear?"
Tony could hardly believe his ears; Gibbs had never said anything like this to him before; he never opened up about himself and his feelings… and yet he had, for him. Tony understood just what a gift he'd been given by the older man; and he was not about to disappoint him.
"I… I gotcha… Dad," he said softly, a true smile breaking across his face.
Gibbs caught his breath at the word; it had been a very long time since anyone had called him that. He simply smiled, prouder than he could ever express of the young man who meant so much to him.
"So…" Tony said shyly. "Does this mean Abby's not your favourite any more?"
Gibbs reached over, but instead of the expected smack he simply ruffled Tony's hair. "She never was, Tony. She never was."
Gibbs stepped into the bullpen, sighing with relief to be back in the familiar surroundings. He hadn't taken this much time off, with the exception of Mexico, in years. And yet, spending it with Tony had been so much better than being alone. It was nice to have someone to take care of for once.
Gibbs had known he had to come out and say how much Tony meant to him. The man had earned it a hundred times over; and he was aware how much damage his parent's indifference had inflicted on Tony.
In the end, it hadn't been a hard decision to rebury the time capsule. He'd been holding onto the past so tight for so long, he'd almost overlooked what he had in the present. His team was his family now; Tony especially. And he had a feeling Kelly would understand. He'd be reunited with her and Shannon soon enough; it was time to move on a little.
"Any problems, DiNozzo?" He asked briskly, rounding his desk and dropping into the seat.
"None, Boss. One case, closed easy. Reports are on your desk for you to read before I send them up to the Director," replied Tony happily. Gibbs finished his coffee in one long swallow and picked up the one Tony had brought him, sniffing it appreciatively. And then he noticed what it was sitting on; a CD case.
"What's this?" He asked.
"The wonders of modern technology, Boss. Cassette tapes wear out; CDs are a lot harder to break. And I put them on that iPod Abby gave you too, but I doubt you wanna learn how to use it."
"You put my tapes onto a CD?"
"Not just them. There was plenty of space over, so I added a couple tracks played by yours truly. Kinda a thanks for visiting me in the hospital, sort of thing," he added nervously.
Gibbs smiled fondly, in genuine pleasure. "Thank you, Tony," he said. "I appreciate it."
"You're welcome," Tony replied, glancing around and then dropping his voice. "Dad."
Hope you liked it.