Author's Note: I have really appreciated your reviews and comments, which have made writing this story so much more enjoyable. I hope it did not disappoint. I would really appreciate your thoughts on this final chapter and the story as a whole.
The inner world of one Leroy Jethro Gibbs is, to put it mildly, a bit of a mess. The Job Compartment might be neat and fits his exact marine standards, but the People Compartment is another story …However, today, he needed to reveal some of that jumble of motives and emotions to DiNozzo. He could hear his inner voice, which was as blunt as his real one, mocking him, you really don't want him to take you off that pedestal, don't you?
He has never been good at explaining his actions, or volunteering information about himself. He protected his privacy and vulnerability zealously, which has almost cost him one dear friend 2 years ago, and now it seems that his reticence and pride may cost him another. He has lost a few of his loved ones to death, lost others to betrayal, but he had no one to blame but himself for other losses.
He raised his head, forced himself to meet the accusatory look in DiNozzo's eyes. He wasn't used to see that look directed at him. He was used to see affection, admiration, eagerness, concern, and, sometimes bemusement or nervousness. He was used to being called "Boss", and to hear those same emotions in the simple 4-letters word. DiNozzo hasn't called him "boss" once today. He has noticed. He didn't like it.
"Tony," he started slowly, "it wouldn't help much if I try to explain my actions .. some things make sense in your head, but once you carry them out, they take you somewhere you didn't intend to go."
Gibbs sounded uncertain and somehow resigned, so Tony relaxed his posture and waited patiently.
"I know I am a good investigator, I have good initiative, and I know how to make the team work together efficiently, but I can't claim that I am a good leader, Tony."
Tony found himself itching to defend his boss, an instinct that he had to fight. Anthony, he chided himself, you believe in that man like you used to believe in Santa Claus!
"I am a marine," Gibbs went on, "I was taught to use the means I have, to forgo niceties, and focus on the target. I know I watch your back, save your butt, and stand in your defence. I don't fail any of you in that respect. But I am not that good at the other stuff. I don't always know when to stop pushing for more, and when to back off. I keep silent when I should talk, and I say things I shouldn't say. I goad you instead of nudging you, and you're right, I know how each one of you responds, and how to get the best out of you.. I have had many probies working with me, Tony, and I did my best to teach them right. Things work out well for a while. But, eventually, it becomes too much for them, too stressful, too exhausting .. and they move on .. Stan did … Langer did …"
Gibbs stopped for a moment, looking a bit pained, "I don't always know when I cross that line. Most of the time, I don't get it right, Tony. You should either stop me, or ignore me. But you don't do either one."
"Gibbs, you are literally unstoppable!" Tony almost shouted.
"If you were a criminal, a suspect, an idiot in a position of authority, then Yes, you're right. But not with people I care about and respect."
"Respect is not something you often show me, Gibbs."
The words hit Gibbs powerfully though there was no heat behind them, more like a statement of fact than anything else. For a reason he couldn't explain, the emotionless statement provoked his anger, his voice took that hard edge that made his agents cringe, "you mean to tell me that you have been working with me that long, and that closely, going through hell together, you nearly dying, Kate's death, me nearly dying, almost losing you, losing Jen, breaking the team up and getting it back," he stood now face to face with Tony, the two almost touching, his finger jabbing at his chest, "and through all of this you failed to see that I care for you and respect you!"
Tony resisted the urge to back off, literally. When Gibbs got like that he usually took a step back, mentally and physically, it was like a dance they have often practiced over the years.
"Gibbs, you're doing it again."
"You're crossing that line.. You said I have either to stop you or ignore you. I will never be able to ignore you, or disregard your opinion, so I will have to learn how to stop you."
Gibbs visibly deflated. He took a step back, and his lips twitched in a faint smile, "You are enjoying that, aren't you?"
"Oh, yeah .. you have no idea.."
"I don't really know why this made me angry."
Tony smirked a bit, "Well, anger seems like your default setting."
"You… It's .. I assumed it was obvious to you, and that's why you stayed .. Do you think I would rely on you like I do, try to push you as much, or insist on having you back, if I didn't respect you?"
"Gibbs, you are not the type to "show", and you are not the type to "tell".. you can see my dilemma here!"
Gibbs had a dilemma of his own! He may not be demonstrative, but how could anyone miss the panic in his tone and behaviour when Tony went missing, kidnapped, or faced any sort of peril.. his almost manic search for answers when Tony got the plague, and the devastating grief he felt when they presumed Tony dead in that exploding car. The only problem was that his feelings were clear for all to see, except for Tony who was usually otherwise occupied. Gibbs was starting to think that Tony's idea to have this on a DVD or something, was a pretty good idea.
He didn't have that option, so he had to resort to words, "Tony, you know how to read me .. that was never a problem for you"
"Not when it comes to how you see me, I don't. There were a few things that you said to my face, and one to my back," he looked pointedly at Gibbs who grimaced, "that were not flattering to say the least."
It seems they were back to square one, the metaphorical straw that broke the camel's back.
This time, Tony didn't try to stop his emotions from coming through, "I don't think I ever cared for someone's opinion like I care about yours.. I took your rules seriously, may be more seriously than you yourself do, I chose to stay when it would have been easier and better to leave.. I wouldn't hesitate for a second to take a bullet for you or do whatever it takes to watch your back .. if you're the one who got to see the best of me, and you think I am a narcissist, what does that say about my character, what does that say about me?"
Gibbs froze in his place for a heartbeat. Then he answered with a weary and defeated tone, "It says nothing about you, Tony. It says something about me, and it is not pretty. It says I can take your loyalty and devotion for granted, it says I can make fun of you because I know you will always let it go, it says I don't watch your back where it counts the most for you … so, you see, this doesn't reflect on your character at all, it reflects on mine. I am sorry, Tony. It was an arrogant and thoughtless comment, I would take it back if I could."
Gibbs sat down heavily, and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he looked at Tony silently, as if inviting him to search his soul and find the truth for himself.
A moment later, a small smile found its way to Tony's face.
"Apology accepted.. Boss."
"I know I need to work on a few things…"
"Yes, and I will have fun working on that "stopping you" thing!"
Gibbs looked at him with a relieved smile though the weariness was still there, "you never cease to surprise me, DiNozzo.. I wish I could let go of grudges the way you do.."
"I don't do that always, boss, you are getting the Special DiNozzo Treatment!"
"I know, Tony, I know… and I appreciate it."
Gibbs was lost in thought for a moment while they both grabbed their stuff and headed towards the elevator. It has been a long night. He suddenly spoke again, "may be the reason I push you hard sometimes is that I recognize some qualities in you that I used to have .. I know it doesn't look like it, but you and I have more than a few things in common.."
"Actually," Tony interrupted, "Ducky mentioned this same thing once."
"Well, it may be true then, Ducky usually knows what he is talking about," Gibbs said as the elevator doors opened to reveal the man himself. Ducky who had caught the end of that sentence, stepped out to join them, shaking his head, "I am afraid that's not always true, Jethro."
He looked at Tony a bit sheepishly, "I had a feeling one or the two of you would still be here, but I actually was coming looking for you, Tony."
He took a depth breath and continued, "About the other day… I am really sorry, Anthony.. this wasn't just a thoughtless thing to say because it was inconsiderate, but also thoughtless as in I didn't give it enough thought. So, it was both wrong and insensitive,.. I find this field so fascinating, and I do get carried away .. forgive me, my dear boy.."
Tony clasped his shoulder and smiled.
Ducky looked carefully from one to the other, "I can see that you two have had a good conversation."
Gibbs clasped his other shoulder, "You can say that, yes!"
Tony chimed in: "A really interesting conversation, Ducky!."
Ducky's eyes glittered with barely supressed curiosity, "can you tell me anything about that interesting conversation?"
Gibbs laughed "Oh, yeah, it involved camels and carrots among other things.."
Tony added, "It would have made great material for that psychological autopsy thing, Ducky!"
Soft sounds of laughter could be heard as the elevator doors closed.
"There is no hope of joy except in human relations."
Antoine de Sainte-Exupery
I wanted to explore just one possible outcome for a serious conversation between the characters. There are many other scenarios and possible outcomes, as there are other issues that need to be addressed, but I think of this conversation as merely a first step in the right direction.