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My Post-Hiatus story



Illusions Lost
Our experience is composed rather of illusions lost than of wisdom acquired.
Joseph Roux



NCIS/Criminal Minds

Earlier chapters HERE




Epilogue 5: Gibbs


Tony was in the bathroom when he first heard the commotion. When he came out, he saw Garcia pulling Abby over her lap and delivering several swats. Thank God Derek hadn’t come with them tonight. His head would have popped off because Tony was almost sure that the two women were sleeping together. He didn’t think they were exclusive or long-term, though. There was too much exaggerated flirtation and too few longing looks.

Either way, he was glad they had each other. Abby, in particular, needed the emotional anchor right now.

“Apologize,” Garcia ordered her. She delivered another smack, but Abby was laughing too hard to say anything. Then the hiccups started, and she laughed even harder. Garcia held Abby for another few seconds before she devolved into giggles and let Abby crawl to the next couch cushion and settled into soft chuckles. Tony took the seat next to Garcia.

“What was her crime?”

“She accused me of buying off the rack,” Garcia said. “At Sears,” she added with a baleful look in Abby’s direction. Abby snickered harder. Tonight’s alcohol was getting to her. Either that or she was emotionally drunk from temporarily getting away from the pressure cooker that was NCIS. Vance was on the warpath, Ziva was wanted for murder, and Gibbs was haunting the investigation without calling Abby. She was hurt by his absence, but Tony suspected Gibbs was trying to keep her out of the line of fire. God knows he could be charged with aiding and abetting. He’d tried to tell Abby that, but in the end, he’d settled for getting her on the dance floor long enough to distract her.

Tony wouldn’t step into that quagmire, but he’d been happy to hear that Gibbs had gone to Fornell the night before. Hopefully someone would untangle the Ziva case. He might not like his own feelings and how tangled they got around Ziva, but she had been his partner.

“I should go home,” Abby said. She was half sitting-half laying on the end of the couch, one arm dangling off the edge.

Tony exchanged a look with Garcia. He could see his own concern reflected back.

“If we could get Tony to buy a bigger bed, we could have one hell of a threesome,” Garcia said. Tony wasn’t sure if she was teasing or not, but Abby devolved into another round of giggles.

“No more zombies for you,” Tony said. Those drinks might taste fruity, but they were knocking Abby on her ass.

“Zombies!” Abby said, her fist raised as if going to war, but her face was still pressed to the arm of the couch and right after, she hiccupped loudly.

“Alright, to my place it is,” Garcia said. “Tony, do you want to come along?” She wiggled her eyebrows, and maybe she meant that as an honest invitation, but Tony was not about to get in bed with a drunk pseudo-sister. There was just so much damage therapy could undo, and sex with Abby would not be fixable.

“I’ll pass. You know how jealous Derek gets,” Tony said with a wink. “However, I will help you get this one poured into your car.” Abby still had her fist raised, and Tony stood and grabbed it, pulling Abby to her feet.

“Pooper of parties!” Abby complained.

“Some of us have work tomorrow,” Tony said.

“I do too.”

“Some of us are horrible at hiding a hangover.”

Abby was almost to the door and she stopped and looked at Tony. “You really are bad at that. The trick is sugar. Lots and lots of sugar.”

“That just makes me hyper and hungover,” Tony said as he maneuvered her out of his apartment. Garcia had grabbed both their purses and now she slipped ahead to press the elevator button. The hair on Tony’s arm stood up, and he checked both ends of the hall. At the far end, near the stairs, he saw a hint of movement. He whispered, “Garcia, get on the elevator and get 911 on speed dial.”

Thank heavens he hung out with FBI because she didn’t question him. She stood facing the elevator, not showing any sign of alarm until the doors opened, and then she yanked Abby inside, and hit the door closed button.

“Hey!” Abby complained.

At the last second, Tony put his arm between the closing doors to stop them. “Nevermind,” he said as the figure came out of the shadows. “I know who it is.”

“Are you sure?” Garcia leaned forward and looked down the hall, but she wasn’t in position to see Gibbs.

“Yeah. Still, get Abby out of here,” Tony said.

Garcia nodded. “I’m calling and checking on you later.”

“Give it an hour,” Tony said. By then, either he would have killed Gibbs or he was going to be in need of intensive psychotherapy. He pulled his arm clear and let the elevator doors close with the two women inside. Abby had sobered up significantly, and she was frowning, but Garcia had her in hand.

Tony turned to face trouble. “Gibbs.”

“DiNozzo.”

And that was it. They stared at each other across this void that Tony wasn’t sure how to cross anymore. He’d given up his Gibbs-wrangling handbook. “Do you want to come in?” he asked. His door still stood open, and Gibbs glanced that way.

“Abby was drunk,” Gibbs said. Tony couldn’t tell if that was a comment or an accusation. He decided to take it in the best possible light and avoid confrontation.

“Yep. She had a good time, and she had two sober friends to make sure she was safe, so she let her hair down.”

Gibbs looked at the elevator, worry making him frown.

“The other woman is part of Aaron Hotchner’s team and besties with Derek Morgan. She’s good people,” Tony said, answering Gibbs’ unasked question, and he then went inside his apartment, leaving his door open. Dealing with Gibbs was a little like having a stray cat around. You put out the food and left the doors open so they had a clear path of retreat. Sure enough, Gibbs followed, standing at the open door while Tony picked up the glasses and turned the television off.

When Tony headed into the kitchen, he heard the front door close, and Gibbs followed him. Gibbs stood silent while Tony loaded the dishwasher, but the second Tony closed it, Gibbs announced, “Ziva was accused of murder.”

“Yep, I know.”

“She was set up.” Now Gibbs had that confrontational edge to his tone.

Tony turned around to face him. “I know that too. I advised Agent Sacks who came to see if Ziva had contacted me. I argued that she was too good to get caught like that. I hear you had a name for Fornell.”

Gibbs narrowed his eyes, but Tony had expected no less. Gibbs always wanted his agents to be two steps ahead of everyone. Everyone but him. Gibbs didn’t like it when they knew more and made a point out of showing that knowledge. In the past, Tony would have tiptoed around that, but he decided to pull the Band-Aid off fast.

“They found Eschel in Woodbridge, Virginia. They’ve connected him to Balash Sassanid, an illegal from Iran who came in on a student visa. The current theory is that Iranian intelligence is setting this up as a wedge between the US and Israel, and the CIA is involved. I shouldn’t have told you any of that, but I know you like to be in the loop.” Tony waited for the explosion, the hard put down or some counter-attack with Gibbs presenting some impossible to know piece of information—Sassanid’s handler or something. Instead, Gibbs frowned and stared at Tony like he was confused. His gaze seemed unfocused.

Tony took a step forward. “Gibbs? Are you okay?” Maybe the mustache and the long hair was covering some deeper problem.

After a second, Gibbs blinked and then seemed to focus again. “Fine,” he said gruffly.

Of course Gibbs would shut him down. Tony had expected no less, but it still hurt. He focused on the case since that’s what Gibbs seemed to want to talk about. “Okay. If Ziva comes in now, she might be held as a witness, but I don’t think anyone sees her as a suspect anymore.”

“Why aren’t you leading the team?” Gibbs asked with far less anger than Tony had expected.

Tony leaned back against the counter and considered his options. “It was time for me to leave.”

For a second, Gibbs had that vacant expression, and then he focused on Tony. “You usually leave after two years.”

The quick burst of laughter that slipped out of Tony clearly startled Gibbs. “Twice. I left two jobs, both because I had better opportunities. I don’t have a rule about leaving after two years.”

Gibbs narrowed his eyes. “You left for a better opportunity?”

“Hell, yes,” Tony said. It was a lie, though. He’d left to get out of the toxic environment, and in the process of leaving, he’d discovered the BAU offered more.

“Ziva said you were insufferable.”

Tony threw up his hands. “Well then, if the sainted Ziva said it, it must be true.” Tony tried to push past Gibbs, but Gibbs caught his arm. Tony stopped and looked down at the hand holding him. “You don’t want to assault a federal agent, Gibbs.”

“It’s not an assault.”

Tony ripped his arm free. “Touch me again, and it will turn into one.” Tony could tell he’d shocked Gibbs that time. He’d thought Tony would fall back into their old patterns, but Tony had left that persona behind. He stormed into the living room and stood near the piano as he waited for Gibbs to follow. It took longer than Tony expected, but eventually Gibbs stood near the bookcase with that same confused expression. It was hard to stay mad when it was clear that Gibbs wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Tony knew the doctors had told him to stay near familiar placed and people—and Mexico didn’t qualify. No wonder his brains were still scrambled. Tony sighed and offered an olive branch. “I was your SFA for four years. Ask me a question, and I’ll give you an honest answer.”

Gibbs moved toward the couch, but he stopped near the back, resting his hands on it. “Why did you leave?”

“Because I couldn’t lead them.”

Gibbs frowned. “Was Ziva right that you were insufferable?”

Tony gave a rough laugh. Of course Gibbs would take her side. “From her point of view, probably. She was told that your expectations were unreasonable, so she was determined to train me to be more malleable, and that included hour-long lunches in the middle of investigations, and arguing whenever she was asked to go above or beyond the NCIS handbook.”

“But…” Gibbs let his voice trail off, but now that Tony had started, he didn’t plan to stop.

“And McGee was just as bad. Good was good enough for him. He refused to keep going on a case because he thought there was enough evidence. My gut wasn’t reason enough for him to spend any extra time on the case when he had other plans. And because I didn’t make it an order, McGee missed an electronic trail that an FBI agent spotted in less than an hour.”

Gibbs’ hands tightened on the couch, pressing into the cushion. “You took evidence to the FBI?”

“After Abby refused to run more tests, yes. She said that by insisting that McGee do his job, I was picking on him.”

“Abbs wouldn’t do that,” Gibbs argued.

“Oh, wait until she sobers up, and she’ll tell you how she was out of line. She apologized, and we’re past it, but I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for myself, and they didn’t care about the job or me enough to listen to me without direct orders.”

“So it’s their fault?”

“Actually, I have a fair share of that blame for not putting my foot down, but then I should have done that long before you got blown up.”

Gibbs’ expression turned dark now. Yeah, he’d figured out that Tony was laying some of the blame at his feet, and Gibbs didn’t like that. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means our team was screwed up long before you left, Gibbs. I couldn’t hold it together because I had no respect from them, and you set up that dynamic.” If Tony was only going to get one chance at come catharsis, he was going to take it and run. “You were so busy trying to punish me that you didn’t notice what the hell was going on in your team.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Gibbs fisted his hands and looked ready to stroke out, but his mental state wasn’t Tony’s problem, not anymore.

“Ziva!”

Gibbs pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes in a truly murderous expression.

“That look,” Tony continued. “That’s what I’m talking about. I told you I didn’t trust Ziva, and from that point on, you had to punish me for disagreeing with the great Jethro Gibbs.”

“I have reasons for trusting her.”

“Yeah, I get that. Something happened between you and her and Ari, and whatever it was, it was enough to convince you that Ziva is on your side. But that doesn’t mean she’s on my side or NCIS’s side.”

“Enough!” Gibbs shouted. He still thought he could run the show when he was in Tony’s house. Some things never changed.

“Oh, now you’re showing that old Gibbs fire,” Tony said derisively. “If your subordinate disagrees, just shout him down. But the problem is that I’m not your subordinate anymore, Gibbs.”

“I’d listen if you had a real reason as opposed to you just thinking with your dick.” Gibbs’ contemptuous expression hit every one of Tony’s buttons.

Tony took a deep breath. “You know, around Ziva, I sometimes do. It’s hard when she’s playing sex kitten one day and ninja the next. And I try to keep that ninja persona in mind, but when she rubs up against me or barges into the men’s room when I have my dick in my hand or talks about her favorite lesbian porn, it’s hard.”

The anger vanished, and Gibbs just looked confused. “She what?”

“Exactly. You would have seen some of that if you’d been looking, but I told you I had a problem with her on the team, and you were so offended by my refusal to trot after you and accept your word as law that you dug in. You became part of the problem, and after we’d been partners for years, that hurt more than I want to admit.”

Gibbs took a step back, which revealed more than he probably meant to. Tony had never seen him so unsure, but his words were still confrontational. “So now I’m the problem.”

“Hell yes.” Tony moved to the armchair and sat. “Let’s play a little game. You’re a gunnery sergeant and you have a unit of six men you’re going to take into the field next week. Five of the men get together for a team night and intentionally leave the sixth man out. Then the next day, during training for a mission where they are all going to put their lives on the line, they make a big deal about telling the sixth man they didn’t want him there. As the gunnery sergeant, do you A) discipline the five men. B) transfer the sixth man out as he’s clearly not gelling with the team. C) ignore the whole mess. D) tell the sixth man you were at that team meal too and it was great not having him around?”

Gibbs had backed up to the bookcase and he rested one hand against a shelf. “What?”

“Oh,” Tony held up a finger. “I left out a part. When the big reveal happened, the sixth man was actually wounded. It was a minor injury, but it had been caused when one of the five panicked and fired wild, hitting him. So, how do you handle that gunny?”

The blank stare told Tony everything he needed to know. Gibbs didn’t remember any of this, or he didn’t remember it enough to put the pieces in order. He didn’t have an answer, but Tony remembered well enough.

“No answer? Let me answer for you. You took the last option. I would have been happy enough for either A or B. I would have accepted C. And you know, it’s not healthy that I would have accepted C, but I would have. But you had to choose D. You stood in that office while I had stitches in my arm from Ziva’s wild firing and you told me how great it had been at Ziva’s dinner. I should have quit then.” Tony shook his head at his own stupidity.

“You quit because you couldn’t handle getting left out?” If Gibbs had said that in an angry tone, Tony would have thrown him out, but he just sounded confused.

“I left because I can’t trust any of you at my back. And then Ziva is all ‘I’ll make it up to you. I just wanted you alone’ and I don’t know who to trust, but that’s the day it all started to slide. You were so openly dismissive and disrespectful that Ziva had permission to take shots at me all day, and Tim stopped listening altogether. You destroyed that team before I inherited it.”

Gibbs shook his head. “I wouldn’t have done that.”

“Newsflash, Gibbs. You did exactly that. Go ask the new director to let you review the notes on the Lake counterfeit case, and while you’re at it, check to see how you handled one of your agents firing wild inside a closed container. Did you give her desk time? Did you send her for retraining or make her take a FLETC course? Did you require her to see a counselor about her claustrophobia?”

A bit of anger returned to Gibbs’ voice. “Don’t play games. What did I do?”

Tony laughed and looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. When I talked to you, you told me it was none of my business. That’s pretty much the day I stopped being your SFA and became the schlump who does your paperwork.” Tony looked at Gibbs again. “And the worst part is that I put up with it.”

“If I was that bad, you wouldn’t have.”

“Yeah, yeah, I really did. You see, for three years, you were the best mentor, the best boss, the best partner I ever had. You were a bastard in the office, but I’d show up at your house, and you’d make cowboy steaks and you’d talk to me. You’d explain things. You see, I got through a lot of life pretending that I knew everything. You were the first person I could ask stupid things, and you still treated me like I was worth something. And then the first time I substantially disagreed with you, you cut me off.”

“So it’s my fault? The team falls apart, and even though I’m in Mexico, I’m to blame?”

“Yep. You knew me. You knew Tim. You knew Ziva, and from there, your actions had predictable outcomes.” Tony didn’t even sugar coat it. Yeah, he could have derailed that dysfunction and he should have, but it was Gibbs who put the train in the tracks.

For a long time, Gibbs stared at him, and Tony figured the man was trying to get his own memories in order. Who the hell knows what was and what wasn’t still rattling around in the brain. Gibbs certainly wasn’t recovered. After a time, Gibbs came down on the side of sounding confused. “Why would I sabotage my own team?”

“You’re asking me?”

“You seem to have all the answers, so sure. You tell me why the hell would I do that?” Gibbs came forward again, stopping at the back of the couch.

Tony shrugged. “Hell if I know. Maybe we’d become so much of a family at work that you thought you’d bring your family issues to work with you.”

That flipped the switch to anger. “You leave Shannon and Kelly the hell out of this! You hear me!”

“Yeah, I hear you,” Tony said softly. He could only imagine the pain Gibbs was going through having to grieve for his family again. “But I was talking about Stephanie and Diane and Rebecca. I was talking about the drinking and the golf clubs swung at your head and you avoiding your house. I was there for the Stephanie divorce. I was the one fielding calls from her when you wouldn’t pick up your phone. I was the one who took her calls after you divorced her and then showed up at her hotel for a quickie that left her in tears, do you remember any of that?”

Gibbs just stared at Tony.

“Jesus, you don’t, do you? Well, just take it from me, you’re as bad at relationships as I am. I watched you do this push pull thing with Stephanie, and you’d think I would be smart enough to transfer away when you started in on me.”

“Are you calling yourself my ex-wife?”

Tony laughed. That was probably the closest analogy to their current relationship, but Tony didn’t want to end with the sort of hatred and bitterness he’d seen in the ex-wives. “I don’t know what we have anymore, Gibbs. I just know I can’t take it. You didn’t have an ounce of respect for me when you left, and that carried over to the team. We nearly convicted an innocent man because they didn’t trust me. They wouldn’t put in the extra mile.”

Gibbs moved to the side of the couch. “I wouldn’t have had you on my team if I didn’t respect you.” He almost sounded sure of it.

“But you don’t remember why you did,” Tony guessed.

“I didn’t say that.”

“I’ve known you too many years, Gibbs. You can’t bluff me. So, how much is gone?”

“It’s not gone,” Gibbs said defensively. But then he sank down onto the couch. “It’s just all jumbled. I remember you playing jokes on McGee in the office. And there were pictures. Kate in a bathing suit and you with a gay man.”

“Hey! The gay picture was photoshopped,” Tony said. The last thing he needed as a law enforcement officer was rumors about his sexuality, especially when he worked the pedo BAU. There were too damn many bigots who associated gay men with pedophiles.

“The Kate one, on the other hand, was completely real, although she was in a wet t-shirt, not a bathing suit,” Tony continued. Gibbs had a thoughtful look, and Tony decided to take a risk and remind Gibbs of a few of their better times. “Do you remember me hiding in a body bag to fool Fornell into believing he had a DB long enough for you to get the actual body back to NCIS? Do you remember me going in undercover with a serial killer? We thought he was an art thief at the time, but I spent many a long, long day handcuffed to him until we could find the missing art, and at the end, I had to kill him. Jeffery. I liked him. He was sweet in a twisted, damaged sort of way, and when I showed up at your house afterward, you told me about Taavetti Gruzdev who you liked all the way up until you had to put a bullet in his head.”

“I told you about him?” Gibbs sounded shocked.

Tony nodded. “I took charge of the team when you decided to give yourself as a hostage to a kid with a bomb, and when the director ordered me to have snipers take their shot, I went up against her because you wanted to save the kid. Before that, when William Ryan developed delusions and stole a bunch of money, you tried to help your old CO. I went up against the FBI to get you intel you needed, all the way up to the point the FBI arrested you. And honestly, Abby and I were coming up with plans to get you out, although I’m not sure they would have worked.”

Gibbs was rubbing the side of his head and staring at Tony’s floor. “But you didn’t help Ziva,” he said in an unsure tone.

“First, I don’t have the history with Ziva I have with you. Second, I would have helped her. I would have found her a good lawyer and then busted my ass to figure out who framed her. But she didn’t come to me.”

“She called you insufferable, but then she said you were better than Lara Macy.”

“My replacement? Yeah, I hear she’s kicking some asses. Abby got a write up for evidence handling, and when she tried to complain to me, I tore her a new one, followed by Garcia tearing her a new one, followed by Abby realizing that she was so out of line that she couldn’t see past her own grief and her own belief that everything she did was right.”

Gibbs looked up at him. “Garcia?”

“The woman who was taking Abby home. They’re good friends.”

Gibbs chuckled, “And sometimes only a good friend can get away with tearing you a new asshole.”

For a long time, Tony stared at Gibbs and tried to figure out what the man was thinking. Eventually, he said, “True.”

“Abby’s that way because of me.” Gibbs sounded distraught at the thought. There was a little mean part of Tony that wanted Gibbs to hurt and wanted to heap coals on that fire. But it wasn’t true.

“Maybe in part. You spoiled her, but I actually think the real problems came from getting caught between you and Sheppard.”

“Sheppard?”

“She came in and tried to change everything. She brought in Chip, the lab assistant, and required business attire and set rules for lab security that were tighter than Abby had been using.”

Gibbs frowned and Tony could see the anger starting to return. “Chip. He tried to frame you.” Gibbs sat up straighter.

“And you stopped him. It was a pretty close thing, though. I really thought I was going to prison.” Tony could still remember the cold panic at the idea of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

“I made Jen back off.” Gibbs looked at Tony as though wanting confirmation.

“Yep, you did. Abby got to work alone and wear goth clothing and loosen up all the security around her lab.”

Gibbs shook his head. “Wait. That doesn’t make sense. Lab security is important.”

“But you were focused somewhere else, so Abby took the fact that you made the good director back off as permission to do what she wanted. You didn’t tell her different.” Tony waited as Gibbs clearly fought with his own memories.

“Ari,” Gibbs finally said.

“Yep.”

“I was obsessed with getting him.”

Tony nodded. “I sometimes think your name should be Gibo because the last O for obsession fits you even better than the second B for bastard.”

Gibbs ran a hand over his face and head. “Christ,” he whispered. Tony figured this was a lot to take in at once.

“Want a bourbon?” he offered.

Gibbs closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch. “I’d rather have a beer.”

“I’ve got one of those.” Tony headed into the kitchen, picking up his cell phone on the way. A quick text to Garcia would prevent her from bringing in the troops. After ensuring they’d get a little privacy, Tony brought two beers to the living room, offering one to Gibbs. He took it silently. “You know, you don’t have to remember everything tonight,” Tony said.

“There are all these puzzle pieces in my head.”

“It’s going to take time. And Gibbs, I’m not there to cover for you at work. You really shouldn’t go back on active duty.”

“With the new director, there’s little danger of that, not unless you’re offering me a job at the FBI,” Gibbs sat up and took a long drink.

“First, I’m not in hiring, and second, no offense, Gibbs, but hell no.” Tony figured the FBI’s mental health benefits weren’t good enough to cover that sort of damage.

“Jethro,” Gibbs said.

“Huh?”

Gibbs looked Tony in the eye. “We’ve known each other for years. If we’re not working together, you could at least call me Jethro.”

Tony sank down into the chair. “Jethro,” he said, feeling out the name. It was weird. Then he looked right at Gibbs and warned him, “I’m still pissed at you.”

Gibbs nodded. “Seems like you have good cause. How did we meet? I get this feeling that you hit me.”

Tony laughed at that memory. “Tackled you, and you set me up for that because you were trying to set your cover.” He leaned back in the chair and started to tell the story of Baltimore and rule five.


Our experience is composed rather of illusions lost than of wisdom acquired.
--Joseph Roux
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