A/N This is my first publish fan fiction. It's definitely OCC. Reviews are very welcome, but please be gentle. It isn't Betad to all mistakes are mine. Of course, I don't own them and I'm not making any money from this.
Summary: Gibbs realizes how much he means to his team and how much they mean to him.
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs jogged down the stairs to the NCIS basement. The elevator was out of order, a catastrophe for which he was personally being blamed. His repeated emergency stops had apparently had caused some sort of malfunction. Now all NCIS personnel and visitors were forced to use the stairs or the back elevator. Call him a coward, but Gibbs had decided to avoid the accusatory stares of his fellow NCIS agents as they rode sandwiched in the smaller elevator to the rear of the building.
He pushed open the door at the bottom of the stairs and headed to Abby's lab. He had sent McGee down to help Abby with a computer problem hours earlier. Tony and Ziva had also disappeared to visit the Goth and hadn't returned to their desks. Instead of calling, Gibbs had decided to see what required the attention of all four of his employees.
The former Marine slowed as he approached the open outer door to the lab. Raised voices had him stopping and listening to the heated argument taking place between his agents and his forensic scientist. The older agent leaned against the wall and took a sip of his ever present coffee. Ziva's was the first voice he heard clearly.
"It is not fair. Why should it be the two of you again this weekend?" was her rather loud inquiry.
"Because, Zeevah," Gibbs heard Tony's equally loud reply, "I get Saturday because I've already bought the tickets."
Abby jumped in with, "And, my bowling team is in the regional finals Sunday."
"So, what?" Tim countered. "You talked him into going to the semifinals last Sunday."
Ziva obviously addressed Tony with, "And, you went to a baseball game with him last Saturday."
Gibbs had heard enough to know that he was the "him" they were talking about. What he didn't understand was why they were fighting over spending time with him. He took another sip of coffee and continued to listen to the squabble.
Tim was vehement, "Yeah, Tony, you got him last Saturday. I wanted him to go to my book signing this Saturday. This one is important to me."
Tony scoffed, "Like he would pass up an Orioles game to spend the day in a bookstore watching you being worshipped by your adoring fans."
Ziva cut off Tim's heated reply when she addressed Abby, "And, I wanted to spend Sunday with him. I have not had time to really talk to him since the whole thing with Mexico."
"You can go talk to him anytime you want, Ziva. You practically live in his basement," Abby shot back.
"It is not the same. You had an entire Sunday. I deserve the same," Ziva argued.
"Yeah," this time it was Tim who weighed in, "we deserve equal time."
Tony couldn't resist a dig, "You two are just jealous."
"I am not jealous," Ziva denied.
Tim wasn't embarrassed to admit his feelings, "Well, I am. We're his kids, too."
Surprisingly, Ziva relented and agreed, "Tim is right. He is our dad, too. You cannot monopolize all of his weekends."
"He's been our dad longer, Ziva," Abby returned with emotion. "Tony and I shouldn't have to ask your permission to spend time with him."
Tony's voice was insistent, "We almost lost him for good this time, McGee. We were almost orphans. I intend to spend as much time with him as I can."
Gibbs straightened up from his position against the wall. He was in shock. Of all the conversations he had overheard, this was the most bizarre and unsettling. The older agent quietly made his way back to the stairs. He completed the climb back to the upper floor as quickly as his knee would allow. He didn't want his employees to know he had overhead the argument until he had decided how to handle this information.
Gibbs returned to his desk and sat down. He stared blindly at his computer monitor while their words played over in his mind. He had always known they looked up to him as a mentor. Ziva and Abby had even admitted, in a round-about way, they considered themselves to be his surrogate daughters.
But, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was stunned at the depth of feelings the four younger people had for him. He never imagined they honestly saw him as their dad. He had never let himself see how much they loved him.
Gibbs knew they had all struggled with the events surrounding the whole debacle in Mexico. Abby had been scared of losing him. Ziva had been hurt when he missed her swearing-in ceremony and by his refusal to include her in the operation. Tim had tried to hold things together and help as much as he could. Tony had adopted his independent, take charge persona. None of them had discussed their feelings with him.
That was no great surprise. They were all good at the superficial. But, discussing how they felt about each other was something his team never did. He grinned wryly. It seemed they took after their "dad" after all. He would rather be dragged behind a train than open up about his feelings. But, given the intensity of the argument he had overheard, it just might be past time.
Gibbs took out his cell phone and punched the button to dial Tony. The call was answered on the third ring.
"DiNozzo, do you intend to come back to work today?" Gibbs growled.
When he had Tony's hasty assurance he was on his way back up, Gibbs instructed, "Bring McGee and Ziva with you."
Within moments, all three agents were scurrying into the bull pen and behind their desks. Gibbs let them pretend to work on cold cases for an hour. The former Marine also pretended to work. He was going over in his mind a plan for how to handle the disagreement. He also had to convince himself he could be open with the younger members of his team. They deserved nothing less than total honesty from him.
It was almost four when he decided what he would do. Gibbs threw his empty coffee cup in the trash and stood up.
"Okay, you three. Pack up and head out."
Tony's head shot up, "We can leave early, Boss?"
"Yeah, DiNozzo. Be at my house at 1800 hours. All of you. We need to talk."
Ziva and McGee shared looks of concern. It was McGee who spoke up first, "Is everything okay?"
Gibbs looked at each of them before replying, "No, McGee, it's not. That's what we're gonna talk about. My house. Six o'clock."
He left the bullpen and his concerned agents to go to Abby's lab. He issued the same command to the Goth and wouldn't tell her anything more than he had the others.
It was a few minute before 6:00 when Gibbs left his bedroom and headed downstairs to the living room. He had come home shortly after the rest of his team had left the building. He had changed into worn blue jeans and a faded NIS t-shirt. The older agent figured he might as well be physically comfortable for this.
There was certainly no way he would be emotionally comfortable with baring his soul to his team. But, that was exactly what Gibbs had decided he had to do. After their years of unwavering loyalty and support, the older agent had realized they deserved to know how he saw them.
Somehow, despite his attempts to remain detached and disconnected, they had managed to become more than just his employees. Confronted with the depths of their feelings for him, the older agent had been forced to admit to himself that they were now his kids. This very unusual group of people he had assembled was now a family.
DiNozzo was the first to arrive. He had also changed into jeans and a polo shirt. He tried to appear relaxed and unconcerned. Gibbs saw through the act. He watched his agent closely and for the first time recognized Tony's mask for what it really was. Gibbs was able to see the scared little boy that Tony tried to hide behind the playboy image.
Ziva and Abby arrived together. Both were dressed in the casual clothes they had worn to work. Abby was nervously babbling to Ziva who was trying to keep up her stoic, Ninja façade. Gibbs could see the nervous tension around their eyes. Kelly had often looked at him like that when she was afraid she had done something wrong.
Tim arrived last promptly at 6:00. He had shed his sport coat and had rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt. That he was nervous was obvious from the way he wouldn't look Gibbs in the eye. He also stuttered when he greeted the others. That was another one of Tim's tells. These days, the younger man only stuttered when he was upset.
Gibbs surprised them all when he indicated they should sit in the living room. They had obviously expected a trip to the basement. Tim sat between Abby and Ziva on the sofa. Tony chose the chair next to the fireplace. Gibbs took the other chair facing the group. He tried to appear as relaxed as possible. Inside, his stomach was tied in knots. He fervently hoped he didn't screw this up.
Taking a deep breath, Gibbs began, "I was fourteen when my mom died in a car accident. I was angry at the world. And, Jack was alone to raise a hell-bent on destruction teenager. I made his life a living hell. You name it, I did it. He never gave up on me. He told me once being a dad is the hardest job on earth."
He paused to look at each one of his employees. "When I heard the four of you going at each other today like a pack of five year old kids, it really made me angry. It made me angry at myself 'cause it made me realize I'm not doing my job as well as I thought I was. It also means I have to tell Jack I'm sorry. I had no idea how hard it is to be a single parent."
Gibbs could tell from their identical looks of shock, the team was horrified he had overheard their argument. He stopped Abby before she could say anything.
"Abbs, for once, just listen." When she settled back against McGee, Gibbs continued, "When Shannon and Kelly died, I wanted to die, too. I even tried it once. Turns out I was too chickenshit to pull the trigger."
Gibbs watched the reactions of each one of the younger people. Tony visibly paled and his mouth was open in shock. Ziva eyes had narrowed and he could see the muscle in her jaw tighten. McGee had an unfocused, dazed look on his face. Abby was holding Tim's hand and crying silently.
The older man looked down at his hands and continued, "I spent the next ten years existing. Ducky would say I was emotionally detached." He snorted in self-derision, "Three ex-wives would say I was a cold, heartless bastard."
Gibbs looked back at his team, "The boat, the basement, the bourbon…they were the only way not to think, not to feel. And, I had learned the hard way how much it can hurt when you care about someone. I never wanted to go through that again."
Looking back up, he saw that all four of them were crying now. Ziva was even holding Tim's other hand. Tony moved to the sofa and the other three made room for him to squeeze in on the end next to Ziva. Gibbs silently retrieved a box of tissues from the end table next to his chair and tossed it lightly onto the coffee table.
Taking a deep, although shaky breath, Gibbs continued, "And, then I met the four of you. Somewhere along the way, each of you became more than just an employee. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stay detached. I couldn't not care. As much as told myself I didn't want the responsibility, I took it on anyway." He cleared his throat and continued, "We may be dysfunctional, but we are a family."
They had passed the tissue box down the line. None of them were trying to hide how deeply his words were affecting them. They were no longer the frat boy, the Ninja warrior, the analytical geek, or the wacky Goth. They were just four kids hurting for their dad and feeling guilty about the pain they had unintentionally brought on him.
Gibbs had to wipe his own eyes before he continued, "I know I don't say it often, but I am proud of all of you. And, I know I've never said it, but, I do love all of you." He retrieved a photo of a smiling eight year old and handed it to Abby. Each of them looked at the picture of Gibbs lost daughter.
"I will always miss Kelly being a part of my life. Losing her will always hurt. But, I don't think she would have minded sharing her dad with you guys." He managed a small smile, "I think she's probably happy I found the four of you. Shannon's probably saying it's about damn time."
That earned him a weak chuckle from the others.
"The door is always open. You want to just come over and hang out, feel free. You need to talk, the basement's always available. If you want me to do something with you, just let me know. You work out the schedule amongst yourselves…peacefully. No more fighting."
Gibbs stood up from the chair and faced the group. "There's just one rule. You can't call me Dad at work."
He just barely had time to brace himself for the impact as Abby launched herself from the sofa. Wrapping her in his strong arms, he held her close and let her cry on his shirt. When she finally released her hold on him, Tim was next, then Ziva and finally Tony. Abby wasn't the only one who shed a few tears in to his old, NIS t-shirt. With each hug and with each whispered 'I love you' from his kids, Gibbs felt his defenses crumble a little more and his heart open wider.
When he stepped back from Gibbs, Tony broke the silence and the tension that had fallen over the group, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm starving."
The others made comments about Tony's insatiable appetite and questioned how he could think about food now. Gibbs had to smile at Tony's ability to return the group to their usual easy banter.
Over their good natured teasing, Gibbs called out, "Menu for Mama Trina's pizza is on the counter. Call in an order. I'm going to go change shirts. This one's got snot all over it."
From half way up the stairs, Gibbs yelled down, "Order at least one without mushrooms. I love you guys, but I still refuse to eat fungus just because some of you like it."
Upstairs, Gibbs could hear the others discussing the menu options. He stripped of his shirt and entered the master bath. Looking at himself in the mirror, he could see the difference the past hour had made. The haunted, cold look had disappeared from his blue eyes. He wasn't surprised to find that for the first time in years he actually looked happy.
He was sure Shannon and Kelly were smiling down from Heaven. It had taken a long time, but Leroy Jethro Gibbs finally had a family again. They might try his patience from time to time. He would worry about all of them as they went about their often dangerous jobs. He knew he would get angry when they did something stupid or reckless.
As he washed his face, he admitted to himself he wouldn't have it any other way. After all, that's what it meant to be a dad. And, they were definitely his kids.