Disclaimer: Blah, blahddy blah... don't own, not making funds... blah blah... you know the drill.
"Why do you do that, Tony?"
"Hmm? You mean the medals? It just... felt wrong to do anything else. Not that I thought you'd ever want them, boss. I know better."
"They don't mean anything." Gibbs told him, adding a vague dismissive gesture. Tony never saw it, refusing to look away from the small open box in his hand. His response was quiet, but not out of any need to hide his words from the older man. Tony simply believed respect was due.
"They do to me."
"Why? Why do you care?"
"You don't... and somebody should."
"There're only four in the compartment."
"I know. That's all that will fit at one time. I'll take the earliest one with me tonight."
"And put it where?"
Tony took a slow deep breath before looking up at Gibbs, a thin smile stretched tight across his face.
Obviously used to Tony's instant and unwavering compliance, Gibbs' expression registered profound surprise.
"I'm not taking the chance that someday you'll get pissed at the director or the Navy or the bureaucracy in general and decide to melt these down to make a gold-plated toilet seat for your damn boat. No." Tony repeated firmly, turning his gaze back to the medal and snapping the lid of the box down. The decisive click seemed to resound in Gibbs' head as if a heavy door had just slammed shut and not a small rectangle made of cheap velour and heavy cardboard. The look on the younger man's face told Gibbs that perhaps there was indeed a barrier now standing between them.
"I'd never do that."
"You said it yourself... they're meaningless to you. When people get mad, they do stupid, destructive things to what they don't value. I'm not letting that happen." Tony countered, pulling a medal out of the drawer and replacing it with the one he'd been handed earlier that day. Swiftly locking the section where he stored the boxes, he rose to his feet, slid his prize into his backpack and shoved his keys into his jacket pocket. As he turned to leave, Gibbs gripped his elbow, holding him in place.
"Stop, Gibbs. Just stop. I get it, okay? I really do. You don't do this job so somebody else will praise you. All well and good, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve it. If I wanna be proud of what you've accomplished... maybe hold onto something tangible to remind me of all the times you've laid your life on the line to save somebody else's... you can't judge me and you have no right to point out what a complete and total idiot I am for hoping you might wake up someday... and realize you're an amazing person."
Tony whirled around and stalked towards the elevator. Speechless, and wishing, for the first time in life, that he wasn't, Jethro dropped into Tony's chair and stared after the younger man, knowing he should chase him down, but unable to make his legs function. The only words swirling through his head were ones he could never, would never say to Tony's face, even if they might be the exact thing his second-in-command needed to hear.
"Tony... I'm so sorry."