As I walked up to the front of the room, I was feeling a little self-conscience at the reviews I would get for the speech I was about to give. Not that what anyone else thought actually mattered. It wasn't for them. It was for Gibbs.
A bunch of faces looked back at me as I stood behind the microphone and began my speech. I tried not to look at them and pretended that I was only saying it for my boss.
"Being constantly compared to someone is like listening to a cynic nag your ear off about something you were looking forward to. After a while you just wanna smack 'em. Being told that you would never be as good as the person you're being compared to is like a torrential downpour on the greatest parade ever.
"And the time I remember it raining the most on me was definitely not the time to pull out the Slip 'n' Slide. Gibbs was lying in a hospital – dead to the world while reliving the pain of losing his first wife and child – while I was being told to stop headslapping people, drinking coffee, and staring people down to make them talk.
"Truth is I was scared. Scared because the one man I saw as unstoppable was in a coma because of an explosion. Scared because the only thought that ran through my head after the director told us about Shannon and Kelly was that Gibbs was gonna let this one stop him. He was gonna give up and never wake up from this coma and rejoin his family. And I was scared because I knew everyone who told me to stop trying to be like Gibbs was right.
"I, nor anyone else on the face of this or any other planet, could ever come close to the one and only very special Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. "
I saw a few tears throughout the audience but I knew I had to continue with the story of what I knew about the man.
"Gibbs came out of the coma but he didn't come out unscathed. Not only was he physically hurt from the bomb's blast, he was also mentally wounded with the fifteen year gap in his memory. And after screaming obscenities at the heads of about five different naval operations, he left for Mexico without more than a couple words to each of us."
I caught Abby's eye as she sat in the front row. She knew what was coming next.
"As soon as the elevator doors closed with Gibbs and Ducky safe inside, Abby ran away to her lab. Even though she was the one who was probably the most public about her emotions, she couldn't stand to let anyone see her break down that much. I followed her, knowing she'd scream at me and try to push me away, but I knew that once she got out the anger she felt at the loss of her silver-haired fox, she would need a shoulder to cry on.
"And she did. Everyone did. From Director Shepard to Palmer, I was the emotional sponge that dried everyone's tears and listened them vent out frustrations while Gibbs was away. I drowned the emotions I felt with beer – never really could stand the burn of bourbon sliding down my throat – so that I could be the stand-in leader with the level head. Keeping the together and on task was my only goal because if he came back and there was even one piece of paper out of place in a case file, Gibbs would smack my head from here to China.
"Once Gibbs came back, though, the director offered me a chance at a team of my own. I knew I couldn't accept the reassignment to Spain because, not only did I just start that undercover assignment to catch an arms dealer but because Gibbs had just gotten back from his retirement stint in Mexico and I wasn't so sure he wasn't gonna have a memory lapse or something and leave again.
"Jenny had told him about the offer and he apparently thought he had made the right choice when he left me in charge. Just like he thought he'd made the right choice when going off by himself to help his daughter's best friend. Man, watching that car backwards into the water was scary as hell.
"I saw it go over the edge but was separated by the chain link fence. When I finally got around the building and past the shooters, I was afraid to go in after the car and see them trapped inside with no way of getting out, but I did.
"After getting them back on land, I had to do everything I could to not look into his eyes while I gave him CPR. They were just staring blankly at the sky and I was scared once again that my boss would not come out of this one.
" But Kelly and Shannon must've known that we still needed him and sent their father/husband back to us to save both the team and about a hundred more people."
"When Jenny died, all of us were frightened because not an hour after they put her in the ground, Vance was splitting up our team. We were in shock until reality hit us square in the face as Ziva stepped on the plane and headed for Israel, I set foot on the boat headed for God only knew where, and McGee's finger landed on the button for the basement and prepared himself to be called the boss of the cyber crime unit.
"Abby told me once I got back that Gibbs stopped taking the elevator because it reminded him of all the times he stopped the damn thing with that emergency switch to have a private conversation that couldn't be held anywhere else. Man, his knees must've been hurting him so much! But he was stubborn, and worked with the wannabe team Gibbs for about four months until Abby got him to finally fight Vance to get us back.
"When I got back to D.C., I noticed a change in the old man. Yes, I just called Gibbs old. He probably wants to knock my head off right about now. But this story isn't over just yet."