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On Equal Ground
by: taylorgibbs (Send Feedback)
Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 2712
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Character Study
Pairing(s): - No Pairing -
Episode(s): 3-23 Hiatus (1), 3-24 Hiatus (2), 4-01 Shalom, 4-02 Escaped
Summary: After Gibbs returns from Mexico, he tries to figure out why Tony is so distant. G/D friendship. Fanfic 100 prompt "months".
Author Notes: Thanks to Ange, who initially started co-writing this fic before turning it into my hopefully capable hands! This fic would not exist without her. Thanks to Anna for the beta!
On Equal Ground
Things had been strained since Jethro had returned from Mexico. Ducky at least wore his feelings in the open, but DiNozzo’s upset was more subtle, unlike him. A lot had changed in his senior agent but Jen wouldn’t clue him in. It had been three weeks now and Jethro missed the old DiNozzo.
They were the only ones left in the bullpen, it was eight thirty and DiNozzo looked his age tonight, fine lines around his eyes deepening as he stared at a file. “Wrap it up, DiNozzo. We’re leaving.”
The other man’s head snapped up and he rubbed a hand over his face, sighing.
“Come on, Tony. Food and a beer, my treat.”
“I don’t know, Boss. I’ve got a lot of paperwork left, and I don’t want to leave it. Go ahead and get out of here. Got used to late hours while you were gone, tonight won’t kill me.” Tony gave a halfhearted smile to the older man, hoping it was enough to get rid of Gibbs for the evening. He didn’t want to have dinner; he didn’t want to spend any time with the boss if he could help it. It was bad enough that they had to work together. “How about a rain check? Maybe next time if I’m done with my report.”
Jethro shook his head, grabbing the folder and putting it in a desk drawer before he locked it. “You’ve been here since seven this morning, you’re done for tonight. Relax, get some grub, and confuse me with movie quotes. The paperwork will be here tomorrow. And I’m not taking no for an answer, DiNozzo. We either get a drink and some food or takeout at your place.”
Tony looked very serious, not at all like Jethro was used to him being. He had to press Abby for details later on, because this was very off and it went way beyond his few months as team leader.
“Well, since you’ve taken the decision out of my hands…” Tony stood, grabbing his jacket. “I suppose I can let you buy me dinner and a drink. There’s a place not too far from here, great burgers and cold beer. I’ll follow you over there, so you don’t have to come back cross-town to drop me off. But I’m going to remind you of this next time you complain I don’t have my report in on time.”
“Fair enough.” Tony gave Gibbs the name of the place and soon they were in a corner booth away from the music and smoking. He ordered a burger and a beer and after their drinks were delivered, he just watched Tony, who was fidgeting.
“Want to tell me what the problem is, DiNozzo? You mad that I left or that I came back?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Boss.” Tony looked at the bottle in his hand, and started to peel the corner of the label. “Yeah, I was mad that you left, but you’re back and it’s in the past, right? So all’s good and everything’s fine. If that was all this was about, you could have just asked me at the office, and let me finish my report.”
“We really gonna play that game, DiNozzo? You know there’s a problem and I know there’s a problem that isn’t in the past. You’re not yourself, Tony. What is it? Is it your health? Was Jenny riding you hard while I was gone? Or are you pissed off that your team was handed back to me?”
Jethro took a long swallow of beer, allowing that to sink in. “Jenny told me about Rota. Why’d you turn it down? You’re more than capable of leading your own team. You really want to be my second in command any longer?”
Or was the reason more personal?
“There’s a game I’m supposed to be playing? No one told me, so I’m unprepared for it. Give me some of the base rules and maybe I can catch up.” Tony took a pull of his beer, trying to get his bearings.
He never thought Jenny would say anything about the offer she made and was pissed that she’d told Gibbs. It had been tempting, but moving across the world from everything he knew held little appeal. “I know, seems unreasonable that I’d turn down a job in a country known for their wine and their daily siestas, but I didn’t want to live in Spain, even if it seems to be a fast track to directorship. Apparently European posts are all the rage these days amongst the alphabet crowd. But I had a team, and I’m quite content to live up to everyone’s slacker expectations. Wouldn’t want people to expect that I’m looking to work hard.”
Gibbs was getting pissed off at Tony’s sarcasm. He slapped a hand on the table. “Enough, DiNozzo. You know damn well you’re playing a game here. Get serious and get honest. Aren’t I at least owed that?”
Jethro gestured the waitress over and order a bourbon, a double, and just watched Tony as he downed it slower than he wanted to. Tony met his eyes, nostrils flaring.
“You have no respect for me. Yeah, you’re angry. Tell me why. Why, Tony? Why have I become your father figure? I never asked for it and I never wanted it. You knew I was always going to disappoint you. Why not Ducky? And why take what I do in my personal life so personally, DiNozzo? I’m your boss. Not your big brother, not your best friend, not a favorite uncle. And never anyone’s father. Not any more. I’m not responsible for the way your father disappointed you.”
“Would I stay if I didn’t respect you, Gibbs?” This wasn’t about him being a father figure, he had a flawed father, and he sure as hell didn’t need another one. “I don’t care about your personal life, Gibbs, I care about you leaving Abby crying in the bullpen, looking at the elevator every time it opened in hopes it was you. I care about Ziva feeling a little lost, because while she liked me, she didn’t respect me as a leader. McGee all of a sudden the senior agent on my team. You didn’t think about the little things when you left, you were justified in your rage to leave and not look back. But I’m the one who had to pick up the pieces, and then you come back like you had just run out for a coffee. You were gone for months, Boss, forgive me if I’m still a little pissed about that.”
“When did I become responsible for all of you, DiNozzo? I never asked for that responsibility. No other team leader has this…this thing we do. I’m only responsible for me, Tony, and I don’t even do such a good job at that, as three ex-wives would agree. You and the team should get together with them and have a Gibbs bashing session. Could be a lot of fun for all of you.”
Jethro sighed and ran a hand through his hair, debating on anger or brutal honesty. The fact that he was debating rather than reacting was its own answer. “Do you have any idea how hard it was, reliving the death of my wife and child, Tony? And then to fail when I’d tried so damn hard to remember? I was done, Tony. I didn’t have anything to give to any of you, and you all wanted and you all needed. You all wanted the old Gibbs back when my mind was Swiss cheese. You all wanted everything to be normal when it was anything but. And I wasn’t allowed to be angry or rage or deal with fucking grief. No, I was just supposed to get the dirtbags and be what you all want and need. When nobody but Ziva and Jenny even tried to find out what I wanted and needed. So forgive me if I’m still a little pissed about that, DiNozzo.”
Tony shook his head, standing his ground. “We’re not mad that you were having a tough time, we’re mad that you felt that we couldn’t help you. If you had taken time off, no one would have blinked. We didn’t want the old Gibbs, or the new Gibbs. We just wanted you to know that we were there for you. We didn’t want to do anything but help. You took that from us.” Tony slammed his beer down, waving the waitress down for a second bottle.
“You want us to be a team, but then you head for the hills the first chance you get. And who did you leave to pick up the pieces? Have you ever seen Ziva cry? I have, and it’s not pretty. You expect Abbs to not be able to pull it together, but you had Ziva in tears. Ziva! Do you understand? I understand that we need you more than you need us, but it’s going to take more then you showing back up for some of us to get over you leaving in the first place. And to want you back.”
“You couldn’t help me, Tony. Nobody at NCIS could.” Jethro softened his voice. “I couldn’t help myself, Tony. It wasn’t about taking anything away from any of you. It was about me trying to survive.”
Gibbs couldn’t say any more, a few tears burning his eyes. He blinked rapidly, looking away, unwilling to let Tony see this. “Yeah, I’ve seen Ziva cry. That night, she cried in my arms about Ari. The brother she killed to save me, a stranger.”
The waitress delivered their beer and Jethro downed both before speaking again. “Get him another, and me a bourbon, double.” When their drinks were delivered, he finally spoke again. “DiNozzo, have you ever seen me cry? Nobody ever has, since my daughter was born. Nobody before that since I found my mother’s body when I was ten years old. Yeah, nobody at NCIS knew about that either. But Jenny saw me cry. Jenny saw me completely lose it. That is how bad off I was.” Still am, in a way.
He downed his bourbon in a burning gulp, hating that it was forcing him to open up. “They were my life, Tony. Losing them once was bad, going through it a second time is my own private hell. If you can’t get over that it was about me running to survive, find another boss. I’ve told you more than anyone alive knows.”
Tony didn’t speak for maybe five minutes. He didn’t know what to say or do. “It won’t ever go further than me, Boss, but you may want to tell Abby something. She’s still trying to please you so you won’t disappear. We’re trying to adjust to having you back, without making a big deal out of anything. I apparently wasn’t doing as well as I thought. It won’t happen again. Or if you want me off your team, I’ll ask for a reassignment. I’ll be fine, but it’s what you want.”
Jethro reached across the table and lightly clasped Tony’s wrist. “I told you this to be real with someone, DiNozzo, not as a farewell gift. I wanted someone to understand that I wasn’t just being a bastard. Look, I know it was hard, and I know what I did wasn’t fair on you especially, but maybe you can understand now. It was the first time I put me before NCIS and I had to. I don’t expect you to make sense of it, but I hope you’ll find a way to not hold it against me. When I say nobody knows, I mean not even Ducky. Or Jen. That should tell you how much I respect you.”
Jethro realized he was still holding Tony’s wrist and he dropped it just as their burgers arrived. “Eat up,” he said softly. “The drinks’ll stay down better with food in our stomachs.”
Tony wanted to apologize for everything, he never meant for the boss to admit any of the stuff that he had. He’d never been the guy anyone confided in, But for the months that Gibbs been gone, everyone had expected him to live up to Gibbs’ presence. He’d been the one who consoled both Ziva and Abby when Gibbs would have done it previously, and he hadn’t been a very good stand in.
“I’ll try to understand, Boss, but I’m not the only one who needs that information. Not all of it, but you need to talk to Abby at least. She was devastated when you left. I didn’t think that I was going to be able to keep Ziva here. But with you back, that won’t be a problem. But Abbs, she’s scared you’re going to leave again.”
“In my own time I’ll share what I can.” Jethro chewed his burger, never breaking his gaze from Tony’s face. “Wipe that guilty look off your face, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Jethro didn’t know why he’d shared what he did, but he felt a little more relaxed. Maybe he had been too bottled up for too long.
He didn’t say another word as he finished his burger and ordered another beer. The relaxation was flooding through him and he realized just how much he needed the break and Jethro knew the kid needed a break too. “You’re okay, DiNozzo. You were a damn good leader, better than I was at first.”
Tony blinked rapidly, shocked at what he was hearing. The praise was so unexpected that he almost forgot to file it away. “I learned from the best. I knew that I couldn’t let the team fall apart, and that it could happen all too quickly. So I did what I could do to try to make it all work. It might not have been how you would have done it, but it worked.”
Abby had even accused him of being Gibbsesque, which he took as a huge compliment. “I’ll have a chance for my own team down the road, and I might take it then. But now, I’ve got a team I like and don’t want to leave. I have plenty of time to move up, but you can never learn too much.”
“You’re not me, Tony. You don’t want to be me. Be yourself, with your campfires, if they work for you. Whatever motivates your team and you is the right way to run it.” In Jethro’s opinion, DiNozzo was a damn good agent when he focused, he would be more than capable of leading his own team now, not later, but a big part of him was glad his team was still intact.
It also wasn’t lost on him that he was giving DiNozzo advice team leader to team leader, as equals. “How’s it feel to be on equal ground?”
Jethro exhaled slowly, the mix of bourbon and beer working on him pretty well. He was getting pretty mellow and even more unguarded. He waved the waitress over and ordered another round, leaning back in his chair and just regarding the other man. When DiNozzo was serious and outside work, he was kind of an interesting guy. He was a lot more than just an overgrown fratboy. Jethro had always known that but having it in his face like this was a different kind of wakeup call.
“On equal ground,” Tony replied quietly. “Like the sound of that, Boss.”
“You’ve earned it, Tony.”
MTAC - NCIS Fic