Title: So Real a Memory
Word Count: 2565
Pairing: Leroy Jethro Gibbs
Rating, Warnings, and/or Spoilers: language, mentioned adult situation.
Author's Notes: This is way, way AU.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to CBS and DPB. No money is being made off their use.
Summary: Four walls can mean so much. They can mean safety – someplace warm and dry, a port in the storm that is life. Someplace that soothes your weary soul. They can also mean aloneness - a prison where there is no freedom from your thoughts and remembrances, a place that batters your very personal walls with things said and unsaid, things done and left undone.
Four walls can mean so much. They can mean safety – someplace warm and dry, a port in the storm that is life. Someplace that soothes your weary soul. They can also mean aloneness - a prison where there is no freedom from your thoughts and remembrances, a place that batters your very personal walls with things said and unsaid, things done and left undone. For him the four walls meant both. Some days, these four walls whispered beguilingly to him with soft laughter and an admonishing 'Jethro' that was full of promise. There were distant echoes of a baby gurgling, little hesitant footsteps, a child's giggles and faster, more sure footsteps, footfalls thundering down the stairs with an ecstatic yell of 'Daddy', and later the angry trampling up the same stairs with a slamming door accompanied by a tearful and angry "It's so not fair."
Some days – most days – the walls whispered accusingly with the echoes from a harsh silence that will never be filled.
The walls are filled with dust now, both from disuse in the upper floors and the sawdust that filled his haven/prison that was the basement. Most days are spent in silence, only broken by the rasp of a lathe, sandpaper, and chisel; the sounds they make soothe his soul.
It isn't only the original ones, makers of these four walls in to a home, which torment him now. For the most part he has made his peace with them. It is others that haunt him now, reminding him of things that are so real they wake him up from a deep sleep and he has to pause now to catch up to the fact that it is just a memory.
Things he did in the service of his country that call out to him in the dead of night, things he hopes that no one he loves has to ever do. Vengeance garnered using the tools of his trade, only learning once he had completed the job that he was cleared from any wrong doing – an after the fact sanction.
It was the people he permanently lost that tormented him, too.
Kate, Chris, Paula, Jenny, Mike, the list goes back further than that, of course. He is an old man now, only sixty on his next birthday, but he feels so much older in his bones. The first loss came when he was eight and his Grandma Gibbs died, the only grandparent he remembered. It seemed like the deaths just came rolling after that. His cousin, his mother, his uncle, friends, fellow Marines in training accidents, then war, then his family, and then the others.
It was Fornell who said, in jest, it averaged out to someone close to him dying every three years and it didn't pay to know him. Funny how he remembered that when he got home today from his once rival's funeral, sitting heavily on a sawhorse toasting one of his closest friend's ghost.
Today, he was tormented most by the ones he drove away. Starting with his father. Jackson Gibbs was just as stubborn as he was and they eventually mended the rift between them. But the years apart had been wasted, the time left was far too short, and now Jack's health was failing. Soon, he would have to add his father to the numbers of the permanently lost.
There were the ex-wives who he met, pursued, and married with the hope that they would fill the empty hole in him, although he never lowered his walls and truly let them in. Later, they divorced him in bitterness and anger, having discovered that while they had given it their all, he had held back
Abby went from being like a daughter to him to cutting him a wide berth to treating him like professional to someone he used to know, quite well. She stopped coming over after that fateful day and never called again. Until the day she left, she directed her communications to another team member and only spoke with him if she couldn't avoid it. Even then, she only addressed the team by their last names. He couldn't blame her, really, in one fell swoop he skewed the hell out of her world before knocking it completely off its axis. That she never said a word to the rest of the team was amazing.
The worst one, of all the ones he drove away and all the dead, even worse than losing Shannon and Kelly was the loss of Tony. His Senior Agent, his loyal St. Bernard, his friend, his lover. Stupidity, pure stupidity.
A few harsh words, followed by even harsher actions, then the unforgivable blow up, taking his anger out on him for a high profile case involving kids, drugs, pornography, the Navy and the Coast Guard – a case that went wrong with faulty information from the CGIS, pressure from the media, SecNav, and Vance. Gibbs knew that if it had happened in private the relationship could have been saved with a lot of groveling, begging and pleading on his part. He might have had a chance to explain that wasn't what he really meant. But it hadn't. It had taken place in front of Abby.
It was as clear to him as if it had happened yesterday. He had stormed back in to the building after finding out that Borin gave him a false lead and had been yanking his chain from the start to get the jump on his case. He was in a foul temper and it took an even further nosedive once he spied Tony and Abby getting on the elevator. He failed to notice the fresh coffee and CafPow they had in tow3
He placed his hand in the middle of Tony's back and pushed the younger man further into the elevator, bumping Abby, stabbed the button viciously and glared at the idiot that thought they were riding in the car with him.
Gibbs shook his head in disgust with himself as he remembered the fire simmering in his lover's eyes as he whipped around and the inferno inside him that had raged out of control at that moment, it was too late by then to stop it.
Tony had loosed a growled, "What the FUCK?"
He snarled back, "Where the hell'd you go? Didn't I tell you specifically to stay in the office in case something came in?"
Abby tried to interject herself between them, ever the peacemaker. "There were no new leads Gibbs, my babies are working as fast as they can, I thought we could take a quick break and..."
Gibbs cut her off with a roar. "You aren't in charge Abby, I am and I gave an order and I damned well expected you to follow it and if you can't you can pack your damned bags."
Tony's eyes narrowed before he pushed forward, jabbing a hard finger into Gibbs' chest. "You wanna be pissed at me for taking a break after being stuck up there pouring over paperwork for ten hours after spending the last week in the office then go for it. You can get the hell over it, too. You want to write me up for making a coffee run while you're most likely on your fourth or fourteenth cup, knock yourself out. But *that*, Jethro, was too damned far."
That Tony sidled in front of Abby, protecting her from him, before stepping toe to toe with him and calling him Jethro in the office further enraged him. The anger had just poured out of him. By the time he realized what he had said and how he said it, it was too late to repair the damage.
"You think just because we're fuckin means you're special, you don't have do what I tell you to do? The whole reason you're still here is because I can use you. You do what I say, when I say, how I say. If you can't do that then you're no use to me and you're out the door. YOU GOT THAT?"
Abby's gasp went unnoticed by the two men. Whatever Tony had was going to say was cut off and a mask slammed down over his features. Tony straightened up, standing tall; his voice became clipped and precise. He nodded one quick nod, "I got it. Loud and clear. ~BOSS~"
The elevator arrived to the bullpen and he stalked over to his desk, looking back to see Tony turn to a horrified looking Abby and give her a slight hug and kiss on the forehead. Tony picked up the coffee carrier, and distributed them to McGee and Ziva. Gibbs was only slightly chagrined to discover a cup of coffee for him.
Six hours later the case was wrapped up thanks to an intuitive leap from Tony, some computer genius work from Tim, and a little bit of ass kicking from Ziva. Vance and the SecNav had been so grateful and appreciative that the case had been wrapped up with little fanfare and spun NCIS in a positive light they were given a four day weekend.
Gibbs compiled the reports, took them to Vance before getting the okay to send the team home. As he reached to shut off his light, he looked over his team and noted their exhaustion Tony was digging around his desk for something. Tim and Ziva had their things packed up and were just getting their jackets.
He was exhausted and had barked out, "DiNozzo, you done?"
Tony looked across the room at him with an odd look in his eyes and snorted, "Oh yeah, Gibbs. I am definitely done."
And that was it.
He doesn't remember all these years later if he said anything else to Tony or if he just left Tony there in the bullpen. He does know that by Monday he was pissed that he hadn't heard from Tony all weekend and thought his lover was sulking over the fight in the elevator. He figured that the four days apart would be good for them to take to their respective corners, so to speak.
When he came back to work four days later, he found Tony had cleaned out his desk and apartment before tendering his resignation that Wednesday evening to Vance. In the four days, Tony he had disappeared.
Gibbs would have asked Abby for help finding him…if she was talking to him. When he went down to her lab to break the news, he found her changed. The first thing he noticed was the lack of music, the second she was wearing regular sneakers and not the platforms she generally preferred, the third she was dressed entirely – head to toe - in black, not a spot of color anywhere. And not her 'fun' black, this was plain black pants, shirt, and sneakers.
He set the CafPow on the counter and leaned in to give her a kiss when she shied away. Gibbs pulled back and looked in to wary green eyes that were puffy and red and at that moment, Gibbs knew that she knew that Tony was gone. It had been a very scratchy, rough, slightly soft voice that asked, "What do you need, Gibbs?"
He had opened his mouth to ask her when Tim and Ziva burst in to the lab looking worried and shocked. Tim's voice was raised when he asked if it was true that Tony had quit while Ziva wanted to know if he was really gone.
Looking at Gibbs, Abby had answered yes with such finality that they just stood there looking at each other, mouths agape, for a few minutes before Gibbs finally said, "Back to work." He could have sworn he heard Abby snort.
In the weeks that followed Tim moved up to the position of Senior Field Agent, not without a rough transition period. After all his years of waiting, Tim didn't want the job. Gibbs was standing outside the doors to the lab when Tim was complaining to Abby that he would just have to move back to his position when Tony came back only to have her look him square in the eyes, expression somber, "Tony is ~NEVER~ coming back McGee. EVER."
That was the end of that discussion. They went through a series of probies; the official reasons for them leaving varied but the real reasons were easily recognizable to the fractured Team Gibbs: Masters didn't last because her name was Toni, Partucci because he was Italian, Johnson because he resembled Tony, Waters because he dressed in designer clothes, and Swanson because he was a frat boy. They finally got a new probie, Anissa Jayne from the Foreign desk, who looked like she would work out. She reminded him of McGee when they first got him, minus the stuttering. She couldn't shoot for shit though. He left her training up to McGee and David.
Ducky retired six months after Tony left, and promptly went to visit his homeland once again before he died. Palmer had been offered an internship a month earlier at some big hospital in Boston. Abby resigned and move moved back to New Orleans a year after Tony left. Ziva transferred to Miami and married CIA-Ray. Gibbs snorted that even after all this time, he still thought of the man by the moniker Tony had given him.
Only McGee stayed on with Gibbs, but even he had moved on eventually. He'd met a girl and gotten married. Gibbs had been invited to the wedding of course, seated at the back of the reception hall, he only stayed for a few minutes – long enough to congratulate the happy couple. He saw Abby across the room looking beautiful but didn't speak to her. Team Gibbs went from being a family to some people that knew each other once.
He stuck it out three years from the day Tony left, just long enough for McGee to get back from his honeymoon. McGee was the youngest Senior Agent in Charge in NCIS history and on the fast track to the big office.
As he sat there in the dark seven years after he had screwed it all up, the evening after burying his closest friend, listening to the echoes of the past, he really listened to the memories in his self made prison behind his walls, hearing the sounds of laughter. Tobias' braying laugh punctuated with snorting, Kate's tinkling bell laugh, Mike's gravelly laugh, Paula's siren call. Abbs and her effervescent "Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs!"
The sound of Tim's laughter and wonder as he talked about those stupid jet packs. Ziva's barely there smile and happy face when Ray came to DC to see her that last time. Gibbs' lips curled when he thought of Victoria's wandering hands, giving 'Matthew' her number. Ducky's little laugh and smile. The way Jimmy's entire face lit up when he smiled. And Tony. Gibbs swallowed another drink..
Tony was in every room and corner of his house. His laughter, his smile, his scent had long faded into memory now. All that was left of Tony here were his memories. Gibbs sat there in the dark and silence, hoping for it to be broken, yet not expecting it to be. His chest hurt.
He felt himself slipping into oblivion, not caring as his glass fell from numb fingers. He was startled by the sounds of a door slamming, treads across the floor, feet skipping down the stairs, that warm honey voice, "Hey, Boss? What are you doing sitting here in the dark?"
As he slipped into the darkness, Gibbs could almost feel the warm arms pull him into an embrace, a butterfly kiss on his forehead, and softly whispered, "Damn it, Jethro."
So real, a memory.