Jackson Gibbs meant the world to many; some not realizing how much until after he was gone. The days that followed his funeral kept Tony in Stillwater in an attempt to look after his boss.
The store had been transferred to Cal; the entire inventory placed on the shelves, the house cleaned out and sold. The life and times of Jackson Gibbs now contained in the small U-haul being pulled behind Gibbs’ pickup truck.
“Sad how a lifetime ends up in a cardboard box,” Cal wiped at the tears.
“Nah,” Gibbs shook his head as he fought the tears. “Life comes down to memories; memories that you carry in your heart.” Tony wiped the tears that had spilled at the sound of his father figure so broken and childlike. “You’ll find as you grow older that the things you hold dear change. Some things that meant something to you, have no significance while those things that you pushed away or let slip away are your gold.”
“You ever push something away and not get it back?” Cal questioned softly as he looked at Tony; catching the younger agent’s eyes.
“Yes,” Gibbs nodded. “Damaged some things that meant the world to me and lost them.”
“Gibbs,” Tony stepped up quietly as he noticed the emotions draining his friend more. “Let’s get going; I’ll drive.” Gibbs nodded, giving Cal a tight hug before he got into the truck.
“Make sure he comes back to visit,” Cal shook Tony’s hand. “You too; this place is still his home and your getaway. Nobody is going to live above the store; I’ll keep it up for you two to escape sometime. Jack asked me to give you this envelope if something ever happened to him; didn’t want his son to know.”
Tucking the letter away, Tony got behind the wheel and drove his boss home. The drive was silent; Gibbs lost in his grief and memories of his father. He watched out the window as the scenery passed taking in the beauty of the town that his father loved so much.
Tony relaxed when he noticed Gibbs was sleeping with his head against the window; he had heard him up walking the floors every night since his arrival in Stillwater. The store was spotless; the shelves were lined perfectly and everything priced. The outbuilding cleaned up and all the evidence collected, leaving behind no evidence of what almost took his life.
With his boss delivered safely home, the trailer unpacked and returned; Tony made his way to his apartment to wash away the miles and get some much needed rest. The letter that had been tucked in his jacket was long forgotten until it fell on the floor.
Tony pulled the thick wad of papers carefully from the envelope. He read every word of Jack’s hand written letter; the tears flowing as he took in all the memories the elder Gibbs wanted to share. It was the last few pages that tore him open; a father’s advice on how to care for his son after his passing. He knew Leroy well; he knew that he’d be broken and want to heal in his own way. He also knew that his own way may be too much solitude and pain.
The weeks passed and Tony tried to provide as much support as he could possibly give to Gibbs. He didn’t intrude in his home; he knew how Gibbs felt about that, but he did go the extra mile to make sure that the man he regarded as a father figure had a decent meal every day; when he had the time, he would make his way to Jethro’s home and stock his fridge with prepared meals knowing that he’d eat them.
Tony had kept his silent promise to look after his physical health and struggled with the emotional. Holding the keys that were in the letter in his hand, Tony took a deep breath and made his way up the steps to Vance’s office. Explaining to him basics from Jack’s letter, he requested several days off for himself and Gibbs. Vance happily granted the leave; he was becoming a bit more concerned about Jethro’s withdrawal and angry.
Tony left NCIS went home to pack for himself than to Gibbs to pack for him; taking the time to pack up the food that would spoil, take out the trash, and talk to the mailman. He proceeded to lock up the house before heading back to NCIS.
“Agent Gibbs,” Vance summoned his agent to his office, giving Tony time to grab his badge, gun and jacket before heading out to the waiting SUV. Gibbs was more than a bit irritated and confused as Vance walked him out. The enforced leave seemed to be more of an issue of his boss and subordinate ganging up on him.
“You better have a damn good reason for this DiNozzo,’ Gibbs snapped with a glare.
“I do,” Tony stopped the vehicle in the middle of the parking lot and gave Gibbs a look that spoke more than any words. “You; you are my damn good reason. Do me a favor; just try to relax a little.”
Gibbs was silent; his mind was spinning out of control as he ran through all the scenarios that would make his agent steal him away; all the reasons that he could come up with ended badly; were painful.
Pulling down the dirt road, Tony smiled as he could picture Jackson fishing in the lake that ran for miles. “This is beautiful.” Tony commented softly, causing Gibbs to open his eyes.
“Dad’s fishing cabin,” the once silent companion was totally mesmerized by the road; the lake, the wildlife. “He loved this place. How did you know about this?”
“He left me a letter,” Tony explained softly. “Gave me the keys and asked that I bring you here on his birthday, father’s day, your birthday and Independence Day.”
The SUV was unpacked quickly; Tony made his way around the cabin uncovering furniture while Gibbs wandered down to the lake. The letter from Jackson was placed on the bed that Gibbs would occupy; the days of secrets and hiding things had long gone. If Gibbs were going to heal; he would need the love that Jackson entrusted Tony to provide.
Tony walked down to the lake with a plate of lasagna and garlic bread in hand; he handed the plate to Gibbs and pulled a bottle of beer from his pocket. “You need to eat.”
“How long are you going to keep feeding me?” Gibbs smirked. “The meals are good, Tony. Thank you.”
“I fed you for as long as you need someone to look after you.” Tony smiled as he gently bumped shoulders with his boss. “Wouldn’t mind sharing a few of those with you from time to time.”
“I’d like that,” Gibbs nodded. “What I had said before; those things that pushed you away. I didn’t mean them.”
“You did at the time,” Tony corrected. “It’s okay that you did; it made me grow as a man. Eat your dinner; then you’re going to bed.”
“Tony,” Gibbs was about to fight him, but there was something in Tony’s eyes that stopped him; it was a yearning to help him heal. There was so much love and gratitude that flashed through his features that if Jethro were a crying man; he would have been in tears.
The letter was waiting for Jethro when he made his way into the bedroom. Picking up the envelopes, Gibbs looked at Tony’s hand writing, which instructed him to read it first. Taking a seat, he pulled out the letter instantly recognizing the shaky handwriting of his father. He smiled, laughed and wiped at tears as he read the words his father wrote to Tony. He had a better understanding of Tony’s need to care for him by the letter’s end.
“Before you read that one,” Tony took a deep breath. “Change your clothes and get into bed.” Tony sighed in relief when Gibbs followed direction and opened the 2nd envelope.
By now you’ve buried me and you’re angry at the world. All those things you missed during our years apart that neither of us can get back eating you alive. Let it go son, it’s history and nothing either one of us can do to change it. We got several good years together and I am really grateful for that. I know I didn’t tell you much that I love you when you were a boy, but I do and I did.
You made me proud, son. No father could be more proud of their boy than I am of you. Continue to make me proud. Find some love, son. You have so much of it surrounding you, but you close that dang heart of yours off. I know you’re afraid that if you love someone that you’re going to lose them. The truth is everyone dies eventually, but what a shame if they die not knowing you loved them or that you die not knowing they loved you.
Allow Tony to be the chance you never got; he loves you without any condition, son. Love him the same; stop trying to change him and for God’s sake, stop trying to keep him from making your mistakes; you made them already he is his own man. He has to learn, to grow so love him and support him as he grows. Stop pushing him away.
All I ask is you love him and that you don’t mourn me too long. I’m not afraid to die, Jethro.. Don’t be afraid to live. When it’s my time, I’m going to be with your mother and your girls; I will be greeted by Heaven’s most beautiful angels. I will see you again someday, son, but just not too soon I have some catching up to do.
Leroy, I love you and I’m so damn proud of you.
Gibbs sat lost in the words; he didn’t hear Tony enter the room. He didn’t feel the window being opened or the extra blanket placed on the bed. He didn’t realize that he had placed a glass of water on the nightstand until he sat down and eased the letter from his hand. “He loved you so much.”
“He loved you too.” Gibbs looked deeply into Tony’s eyes. “Why’d you save this letter until now?”
“It’s Father’s Day weekend,” Tony sighed. “I wanted you surrounded by your dad when you read his words.”
“You should be with your father,” Gibbs settled against the pillows as the emotional exhaustion started to pull him under.
“I am,” Tony smiled warmly as he reached over and squeezed Gibbs’ shoulder. “I am.”