Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Special thanks and a wish for a Very Merry Christmas is sent to Rose Malmaison for her comments, insight and help in getting this story out to you. Thanks, Geraldine!
Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story belong to me. I'm just borrowing them for some holiday cheer -- sort of. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
It was Friday evening on the last weekend before Christmas. It had been a long day and Tony was beat, but he really needed to get his shopping done before the team Christmas luncheon on Monday. While he'd done most of his shopping on line, he just couldn't seem to really find what he wanted for some of the members of his family. He was determined, though. Just three more, he thought as trudged tiredly down yet another street. He'd already taken care of three gifts: Jack's, Tim's and Jimmy's, plus the standard bottle for his father and a few other gifts he liked to hand out to friends at NCIS. Tim had been easy since he'd been talking about a great new game he'd just started so Tony bought him the next game in the series. He'd gotten Jimmy and Breena a weekend away at a resort since they'd been working so hard between their jobs, Jimmy's school, and their efforts to adopt a baby. He figured they were bound to get a baby soon so together-time would be at a premium.
Jack had been a little harder to choose for but then Tony remembered one of their phone conversations where Jack mentioned having to stop baking bread because of arthritis in his hands. Knowing how much Jack enjoyed the scent of freshly baked bread, Tony got him an electric bread-maker knowing he'd at least try it out. Unlike Gibbs who eschewed most things technological, Jack believed that "you had to stay up to date otherwise you concede to time, inch by inch." Tony would give him the gift when Jack visited Gibbs for Christmas again this year, just as he had for the past four years. Tony smiled, happy at the thought of seeing Jack again and especially at the thought of spending another Christmas with Gibbs. Being welcome in Gibbs' home meant the world to Tony and the fact that he was also welcome when his father was there brought a sweet ache to Tony's heart. He'd never had much of a family life before, had certainly never known any extended family members, so being with both Jack and Gibbs was an exceedingly precious thing. It was also a hell of a lot of fun.
He smiled anticipating Jack's inevitable grousing over cooking "a proper holiday meal". Gibbs will grouse back demanding to know what was wrong with steaks. Jack will answer that there wasn't anything wrong with the steaks except that they were for everyday meals, not holiday meals. Gibbs will roll his eyes and let Jack do whatever he wants and then he'll help Jack cook, both of them singing old Christmas tunes, while Gibbs hides in the basement. Gibbs will "accidentally" leave the door open and he and Jack will make sure to sing extra loudly so that he can hear them. There will be a comment about their vocal talents â€“ last year's word was "caterwauling" â€“ but Tony knows to look for that small, playful smile.
Tony will set the table with the Gibbs family china and then they'll all sit down to a baked ham or turkey, maybe a goose. It doesn't really matter since everything Jack cooks is always wonderful when the three of them sit down to enjoy it together. They'll still be sitting around the dinner table when Jack will begin to reminisce about Gibbs as a young boy or his family when he was growing up. Tony never tires of the stories of people he never knew and understands completely at the look of loss in the matching sets of blue eyes for the special people in the stories he'd never hear. Later, they'll find a game on TV and make silly bets about cooking breakfast or doing the dishes and then they'll yell or groan or laugh regardless of who'd won or lost. Plus, there'd always be a chess game going on which was fun even if he does always lose to Gibbs. God, he couldn't wait!
Buoyed by thoughts of how he'd spend his holiday, Tony returned to his search with renewed vigor. So, gifts, but just three more, not four. He needed to find something special for Abby, Ducky and, of course, Gibbs, but not Ziva this year. Even though Ziva had never celebrated Christmas, he'd always enjoyed giving her a gift just to see that little smile that meant she was pleased even if she claimed there was no need. He was going to miss that smile since the last they'd heard, Ziva was still traveling. Where or with whom he didn't know and he hated not knowing and wondering if she was all right.
He still felt a deep pang of loss at Ziva's decision not to return to NCIS. Although they'd never formalized any type of relationship, over the years he'd come to believe that he'd have a chance, that eventually she'd come to understand him and, finally, really trust him. He was wrong. He was loved, she'd said that last night and it had finally hit home. All that time he'd spent thinking that something more would grow between them but she'd never felt the same way. It left him feeling foolish. He sighed as his spirits nosedived.
Anton, his recently re-surfaced suspect from another case, really hit the nail on the head when he'd told Tony that just because you want something, it doesn't mean it was going to happen. Well, hell. "Walking poster boy here," he said morosely as he mentally added Ziva to the "wanted for a while but didn't get" pile, right alongside both Wendy and Jeanne. "Just another nail in the old â€˜abandonment issue' coffin," he added in a dark voice and then kicked himself for the pessimistic thought. No matter where she was, he still cared for her and considered her a part of his family. Just like Gibbs, Jack, Abby, Tim, Ducky and Jimmy, but unlike his father who seemed more like the strange uncle you saw occasionally but whom you were never really fond of. He huffed slightly, feeling chagrined and slightly guilty at that thought even though it was true.
What wasn't true was his response to Anton. He'd told him that he never quit trying to get those things he wanted but Gibbs was the prime example of the lie to that statement. He'd wanted that man ever since tackling him in Baltimore but he'd never tried to go beyond the line of friendship and family with Gibbs for fear of losing what he did have. And, okay, maybe he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed for even considering anything with Ziva but, in the long run, she was actually safer. With Gibbs he'd be exposing his heart to complete annihilation. He just couldn't help but wish the wanting part would go away.
Tony sighed as he walked while mentally kicking himself for insisting on pursuing such depressing thoughts when he was supposed to be having a good time shopping for the people he loved. He hunched his shoulders a bit in the cold and forced himself to the task at hand. After searching online for the final three gifts to no avail, he'd taken to the streets in search of inspiration although he knew Ducky and Abby would be much easier to find a gift for than Gibbs
Wow, Gibbs was tough. He'd long ago ceased giving the standard bottle of bourbon although he doesn't really remember when that became insufficient as a Christmas gift. Maybe the bottles had ceased to be an option when he'd taken to replacing Gibbs' favorite poison as they'd worked their way through them together, sometimes pretty steadily. Maybe he'd realized that he couldn't put Gibbs in the same category as his father. He grimaced because that thought was just wrong. Actually, it was probably when he'd stopped being afraid to let Gibbs know he was important to him. He shrugged because, in the long run, it didn't matter. So, in the past, he'd given him that pocketknife which was followed by the antique woodcarving set and then a leather-bound copy of Joshua Slocum's Sailing Alone Around the World. Hmm, he bought that Slocum book near here. Maybe there would be something similar in the same bookstore?
An hour later, he was still just as empty-handed as before. He had to keep trying, though. With a sigh, he turned down another street filled with small gift shops. His gaze was automatically drawn to a particular item in a shop display. The shop itself looked as though it had slipped through both time and space to arrive in present-day D.C. Tony stepped back to get a look at the entire storefront and then laughed out loud.
"You look like a set from Harry Potter," he said under his breath as his eye was again drawn to the snow globe in the window. Then, even though he doubted he'd find anything for Gibbs here, he stepped inside to the sound of a tinkling bell. A broad smile crossed his face as he took in all of the details of the store. Every shelf was packed with merchandise, mostly antiques, but he was lost as to the identity and function of some of the items. Regardless, it was a fascinating store so he began to peruse the offerings, starting with the snow globe.
That it was an antique there was no doubt. Although weathered with age, the metal base was in good shape, the large glass globe without a scratch. Inside the globe was a scene out of Victorian England depicting a garland-clad storefront with "Dervish and Banges" written on the glass pane in ornate gold script. There was an old-fashioned light post in front of the store beside which six carolers stood all lined up side by side, ankle-deep in the snow with their tiny little books held in front of them as they sang. Tony looked more closely and, with a happy chuckle, found that he could actually read the lines to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" inside the tiny books.
The carolers themselves were just as detailed. Four women and two men dressed in period clothes, their tiny little mouths opened in song. The first figure on the left was dressed in a brown overcoat that matched his top hat. He was only slightly taller than the four women in the middle. He had red hair under his hat and a horrible red and orange plaid scarf that made Tony smile. Next to him was a lovely little figure dressed in green to match her eyes. She was blonde, her hair in soft curls under a green bonnet. Strangely, she reminded him of his mother.
The next three ladies were all brunettes. The first was dressed in blue to match her eyes. She had a slightly pointed chin. Next to her and dressed in grey was a very slender brown-eyed woman. The last little lady had slightly darker skin and dark brown eyes. Her long dark hair hung over one shoulder. She was dressed in a dark purple gown.
Last in line was a man who was the tallest of the group. He looked very dapper in his long, dark overcoat and top hat. He had silvery grey hair and a wide, toothy grin. Tony cocked his head to one side as he looked at the older man who seemed to be eyeing the women in the group rather than singing. Again, a faint stirring of familiarity rang through him as he looked at the carolers, but he couldn't quite put his finger on why. Nevertheless, Tony was enchanted with the precise detail.
It was then that he noticed yet another figure. This very small figure was of a boy dressed in brown. He was standing off to the side, looking away from the carolers although he, too, had his mouth open. While at first glance he seemed to be singing as well, Tony realized he was selling the newspapers he held in one arm. He looked closer. There was something about the green-eyed boy that really intrigued himâ€¦
"Amazing, isn't it?"
Tony started slightly at the words and spun around to see an older gentleman, stooped with age and with a shock of long white hair that fell over his forehead. He wore a pair of very round eyeglasses but Tony noticed that he didn't look at him as he spoke, but instead peered at the item he held so carefully in his hands. He hadn't heard anyone come up behind him and, despite the gentle and unassuming appearance of the newcomer and his very cool British accent, he kicked himself for his lack of awareness. Still, the man's words were so very true. The snow globe truly was amazing. It occurred to him that only one other man would appreciate the attention to detail displayed in the workmanship even if it was a slightly odd thing to gift to another man.
"It is. How much is it?" he asked with a wide smile.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir, but that particular globe was loaned to us for display purposes only. There was a card that stated soâ€¦ Um, yes here it is," the shopkeeper said as he picked up a card from the display. Tony felt disappointment flood through him at the storekeeper's words and assumed he'd inadvertently knocked the card over as he picked up the globe.
"I do have other snow globes but I'm afraid they're not nearly as intricate or as old as this one. Nevertheless, they are quite nice. Would you like to see them?" The older man asked, his pale, watery eyes peering hopefully at Tony from behind thick lenses.
Par for the course, Tony thought to himself as he carefully put the snow globe back on its pedestal. "Maybe not a snow globe, but I'm still looking for some other gifts. I think I'll just look around a bit, if that's alright," Tony offered with a smile.
"Of course, of course. Please be my guest," the old man returned with a smile and a courtly wave of his arm towards the rest of the store.
Tony wandered through the aisles and, surprisingly, found gifts for both Ducky and Abby. The first was made of pewter. The twisted, thorned vine was actually a vase with three glass vials for flowers. It currently held three blood-red rose buds in mid-bloom, their color highlighted by the teardrop-shaped crimson crystals hanging from each holder and matched by pooled crystals set into the base. It was perfect for Abby. Moments later, Tony couldn't believe his find for Ducky. Although he wasn't sure how separated the familial lines were in Ducky's family, he believed Ducky would still enjoy the antique teapot adorned with the Mallard Family crest. Tony was pleasantly surprised to note that the cost of the items were well within his budget.
Pleased with his choices, Tony brought the items up to the counter. Concerned at his first sight of the ancient cash register, he was relieved to see the modern card-reader tucked in close to the side. While the shopkeeper wrapped his purchases, Tony again wandered over to the display to look at the snow globe. It really was remarkable.
This time he looked more closely at the last little figure. Funny, he thought the figure was off to one side but still in front of the store. In actuality, the figure was standing near the edge, as far away from the carolers as possible. Tony turned to look at the back of the globe and saw that the back of the store was painted in dark grey and black and looked like an alley. A closer look at the boy showed that his coat was stitched in places and didn't appear to be nearly warm enough in the cold environ depicted. Tony felt a chill crawl down his back as he noted the blue tinge to the fingers holding out the paper. The boy's lips also looked slightly blue. Shocked and dismayed at what he was seeing, Tony took a step back, away from the cold, pinched look of pleading on the boy's face. Just then the shopkeeper called to him to say that his parcel was ready.
Tony felt absurdly grateful to look away from the look of desperation and loneliness on the boy's face. Somewhat dazed, he turned to the smiling shopkeeper and took his package, the question brimming on his lips as to why anyone would put such a dismal scene in a snow globe. His question died unasked when the doorbell tinkled merrily signaling the entrance of another patron. It was enough to jar Tony out of his shock so, instead of asking, he thanked the man and turned to leave, stepping aside slightly to allow two women to pass. Almost against his will, he again looked at the snow globe but this time he noted that the small boy looked as though he was bundled up in a thick coat, one infinitely more appropriate for wintry weather within.
What the hell? Tony shook his head in horrified confusion. He knew he should move closer and verify what he thought he'd seen, but dread overrode his curiosity and he quickly left the store vowing never to step in the place again.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Coldâ€¦so coldâ€¦ Hospital? What happened? The carâ€¦where's Mama? Mama! MAMA!
Tony moaned and rolled over. He brought his knees up, shivering.
Boarding school. You leave tomorrowâ€¦ Worthless, end up in the gutterâ€¦ Get out! You're no son of mineâ€¦
Tony woke up sobbing, grief as fresh as on those days long ago pervading his soul. A nightmare, it was just a nightmare. He wiped away the tears that were still streaming down his face. Should be used to them by now, he chastised himself but found he couldn't stop the rising sense of self-pity. Angry now, he left his bed to get a drink of water, noticing as he did that it was two-thirty in the morning. He still had time to get some sleep so he walked around a little until he felt a bit calmer.
An hour later, he was wide awake and flipping through the channels on his TV. His thoughts were not on the overly-zealous voiceovers touting ShamWow or Snuggies, but on memories of his mother and how much the little caroler in the snow globe looked like her, a coincidence that was infinitely easier to deal with than the thought of the boy's appearance or his delusion that it had changed in the time he'd spent in the store.
A couple of hours later, the coincidence took on new meaning as the other familiar carolers suddenly had names: Danny, Jeanne, Wendy, Ziva and DiNozzo Sr. He scowled at the TV knowing he'd go back and verify what he thought he'd seen not only because it was, of course, a rule but because he wasn't crazy and he was damn well going to prove it to himself.
At mid-morning on Saturday, Tony walked up to the store display and stared at the globe in shock but not because of the miniature reminders of loss and betrayal. No, it was the boy. He felt his head reel as his heart sank into his stomach. The scene in the globe wasn't as he'd remembered it at all. It was, if anything, worse than he'd remembered. The pinched cold look on the boy's face was now highlighted by sharp cheekbones and shadowed green eyes that seemed to glow with a desperate sheen as the tiny boy stared directly at him. He thrust the tiny newspaper towards him, mutely begging him to buy the only thing he had of any worth. Tony turned horrified eyes towards the carolers but instead of standing in the straight line as they had previously, they now stood in a semi-circle, their backs turned firmly to the cold, starving boy at the corner.
Tony backed away and then turned and fled back to his apartment. His hands shook as he unlocked his door. It wasn't possible, he'd told himself over and over as he raised the temperature on the heat control. Without removing his coat, he moved into the kitchen to tear open the cupboard. He pulled out a can of soup and quickly heated it in the microwave, desperate to get some type of hot sustenance in his empty belly. But despite how hot the soup was, it didn't assuage the cold he felt deep inside. Stumbling over to his couch, he pulled the afghan Jack had given him the previous Christmas over himself and remained huddled underneath with the TV making noise in the background as he tried to regain some sense of reality.
After a couple of hours, Tony decided he needed to talk to someone so he decided to call Abby. Before he could even get into his story, though, he had to listen to her rambling discussion about her plans for the holiday. He was also reminded that Kyle, her newly discovered half-brother, was with her. It's so cool to have another honest-to-God brother, she said. As she rambled on about Kyle, Tony found that instead of cheering him up, Abby's excitement only served to make him feel even lonelier. Unaware, Abby continued on, detailing their plans to fly to New Orleans on Monday night and what she and her family had planned for their week together. Tony smiled at Abby's joy at the thought of the rest of her family finally meeting Kyle and he knew he couldn't rain on her parade with his petty issues. They hung up after awhile and Tony sank lower into his couch and pulled up the afghan a bit more to combat the cold.
He was contemplating getting a bite to eat when the phone startled him with its shrill ring. It was his father with an invitation to spend Christmas skiing in Aspen with him and his new lady-friend. Tony stared at the far wall in shock. He's got to be kidding, he thought as the deep voice rambled on in his ear.
Even though he knew his father had been in town at least once in the past year, he hadn't spoken with the man since the previous disastrous Christmas when his father had stayed at his apartment, his sanctuary, and had wrecked havoc. His father had even violated his bedroom. Disturbing images of his father and his neighbor knocking boots IN HIS BED forced Tony to donate it to charity rather than sleep in it again. He shuddered at the recollection.
His father had left, finally, but not before giving him the "family signet ring". The heirloom was always passed on to the next generation on the Christmas of the son's 21st birthday but Tony had never received it. His father claimed it had been stolen: 'I was mugged, Junior', he'd said, but Tony was sure he'd pawned it during the bad times. To have it suddenly given to him made his stomach roil but Tony had tried to accept the ring in the spirit in which it was given. Unfortunately, he'd given into his innate curiosity and took the ring in for an insurance appraisal only to have his suspicions confirmed. The ring was a knockoff. It was a good one, he had to give his father that much, and suspected it had been made exactly to his father's specifications. His own memories of the ring were rather fuzzy. Still, he put the ring safely away keeping the thought behind the ring, rather than the ring itself, as a symbol of his father's intentions to rebuild their relationship. Unsurprisingly, that visit was the last time he'd seen or spoken with his father. His own attempts at contact had been ignored so Tony did what he always did, namely, shoving all his hurt and bitterness into a tiny little box and then burying it, forgetting all about his father â€“ until now.
Listening to his father extol the wonders of Colorado in the winter, Tony found he was more surprised that his father was flush than at the invitation itself â€“ at least up until his father explained that he wasn't buying Tony a ticket, he was just inviting him along so that they could "spend some quality time together". Tony snorted softly. Yeah, whatever quality time was left over when he wasn't on display as "the REAL Tony DiNozzo's much-loved son". Tony never gave it a second thought as he declined, easily citing work as his excuse even though he and the rest of his team were off from Tuesday through Friday. Besides, Christmas with Gibbs and Jack beat skiing in Aspen in a heartbeat.
He thought about going over to Gibbs' place, especially after his father's phone call, but Gibbs would know something was bothering him and even though he wouldn't ask, Tony knew the truth would come spilling out. The only outcome of that would be a psych eval because there was no way in hell Gibbs would want a nutcase on his six. Instead, he watched movie after movie in an attempt to forget what he thought he'd seen and eating everything he had in his apartment. It was impossible, he told himself again as he consciously lost himself to his favorite comedies, getting up only to change out the DVDs. Much later, he went to bed only to again suffer more nightmares that night.
He waited, the guests started murmuring. He could see the pitying looks. No, NO! She promised, said she'd never leave me. The horrible sorrow on Danny's face; Paul, Wendy's father, walking down the aisle aloneâ€¦
The look in Danny's eyes when he'd confronted him about being dirtyâ€¦
Tony pulled the covers up, grasping the edge of the blanket with bloodless fingers. Cold, he was so coldâ€¦
Was any of it real? I wish I'd never met youâ€¦
Furious brown eyes glared at him. You wish I'd been killed instead of Rivkinâ€¦? Yes!
His lungs felt like they were going to burst. Gibbs' lifeless eyes staring out of the cracked windshieldâ€¦ Nooo!
"No! Gibbsâ€¦!" Tony sobbed in anguish as he struggled out of the damp covers. "â€¦not happenâ€¦no," he gasped and then rubbed the tears from his face. He groaned and sat up, turned to look at the clock. 2:43 am. Shit. He wiped his face and lay down, burying his face in his pillow in an attempt to return to sleep. It didn't work.
A short while later he again sat staring blindly at the TV as he tried to deal with the desperate loneliness and the pain of abandonment that pervaded the dark dreamscape of his subconscious. And, as if that weren't enough, randomly mixed together with memories he wished he could forget were horrifying moments of loss that had never happened. His subconscious, it seemed, was determined to screw with him. Over and over he dreamt that he walked into that shop and picked up the snow globe only to see that the scene had changed. Sometimes the boy was in the alley, hiding under a box with his thin arms wrapped tightly around his body in an effort to get warm. Other times, he was closer to the group of singers, his tiny hand out as he begged for something, maybe food or money. The boy seemed to beg for attention of any sort from the carolers but was consistently ignored. Again, Tony woke up sobbing. Again, he found himself on the couch trying to convince himself that he wasn't going crazy, that it was all just some wild dream.
Hours later and despite being exhausted, he went for a run as he usually did on Sunday mornings, because the last thing he needed on top of everything else was to gain weight. Running also helped clear his mind, something he desperately needed since all this craziness started. As he ran, he recalled the nightmares. Every single one had been accompanied by a deep, biting cold that told him the snow globe was the source of his unease although his father's phone call certainly hadn't helped. And, as ridiculous as it sounded, he couldn't seem to shake the idea that the tattered boy in the snow globe was him. Unfortunately, by the end of his run he'd come no further in understanding what was happening. Shaking his head, he realized that he needed to get Gibbs a gift, buy groceries as well as do his laundry.
Tony was on his way back to his apartment when he found himself inexorably drawn back to that little shop. Try as he might to fight the horrifying compulsion, his steps dragging every inch of the way, he kept moving forward until he again found himself in front of the store. This is impossible, he thought, as he felt his stomach fill with dread. Tony approached the display and stared, his eyes wide as he took in the carolers. The blonde caroler was gone. In her place was an ebony-haired singer dressed in black rather than green. The red scarf highlighted the deep red lips, which framed the mouth open in song. Green eyes and porcelain skin facing outward, her back turned firmly against the boy pleading for help behind herâ€¦
Tony ran all the way back to his apartment, his chest heaving, his lungs aching in the cold air. Gibbs, he needed to see Gibbs, but that was impossible. What would he tell him? No, he needed to avoid Gibbs until he could get himself under control. He needed to avoid everyone at this point because even McOblivious would be able to tell that something was wrong. He ran a clammy hand over his cold, sweaty face. Realizing he couldn't stay at home, he decided to go to the office believing that the cold reality of mundane paperwork would settle him down. He was almost surprised to find that being at his desk actually helped. He was able to look back at the day's events with some semblance of calm all the while telling himself that it had to have been some form of hallucination. Too much time alone, he thought, and decided he'd have to call McGee and arrange to have dinner or something on Monday night. Then, by Christmas Eve he'd be able to go to Gibbs' place.
Tony worked for several hours but eventually accepted the fact that he was getting nowhere on cold cases although he at least got a head start on his standard reports for the next two months. Satisfied, he mentally reviewed his gifts, especially the one for Gibbs. Desperately avoiding the shopping area where the snow globe was located, he had driven to a bookstore on the other side of town that specialized in naval, maritime and military subjects. Tony hoped the book was suitable â€“ if you considered the tragic personal journal of a commander and his men stuck on a frozen tundra and dying of cold and hunger a good gift for, well, anyone, actually. Still, he thought Gibbs might find the leather-bound reprint of The Voyage of the Jeannette: The Ship and Ice Journals of George W. De Long, Lieutenant Commander U.S.N., And Commander of the Polar Expedition of 1879-1881, interesting if nothing else, all the while adamantly refusing to analyze why he felt such kinship to poor old George.
Tony worked until he couldn't see straight and then went home. The nightmares came back with a vengeance. By three a.m., he was loading all the gifts he had including his gift for Gibbs and Jack into his car hoping that he could somehow talk his way into staying with Gibbs until he got his head on straight. Silently, he made his way into work.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
It was late Sunday evening as Gibbs carefully finished varnishing the wings of the small propeller plane he'd made. Setting it down to dry, he thoughtfully pushed the propeller and watched to make sure it still spun freely. Satisfied, he moved on to the next piece that needed finishing. There were still several pieces that he needed to work on but he wasn't concerned since he was a bit ahead of schedule thanks to Tony. It had taken a bit to talk him into helping but once Tony had started, he seemed to really enjoy the work and Gibbs enjoyed having him help. It was also becoming a tradition for Jack to help him out when he came to stay for the holidays so Gibbs made sure to have at least a few things that needed work. Between the three of them, the number of toys they dropped off had increased considerably.
What did concern Gibbs, though, was the fact that he hadn't heard from Tony all weekend. He'd worked on the toys alone, piece after piece, just waiting for the telltale sounds that told him Tony had arrived. Not having the younger man with him on top of not knowing where he was set Gibbs teeth on edge. His house was silent; waiting just as he was for the warm whirlwind full of laughter and light that had become a part of him over the years. Gibbs shivered slightly, surprised at the unusual chill. Where was Tony?
Thoughts of Tony brought about the now familiar rush of anger at Senior. The man had thrown away the precious opportunity he'd been given to try to make right his relationship with his son. Tony had welcomed his father into his home and although that hadn't worked out all that great, they had at least talked a bit and Senior had given Tony that ring. But while Tony had never actually said so, Gibbs knew Senior had stupidly shut that door when he left and he guessed that it had been nearly a full year since Senior's last contact. The look on Tony's face when McGee pointed out the picture in the social pages a few months ago had said it all. It was a picture of a big charity fundraiser held right here in D.C. and pictured there, smack dab in the middle of all those bigwigs, was Senior flashing his wide, toothy grin, as insincere as ever. If he hadn't been looking for it, Gibbs was sure he would have missed that quick flash of surprise followed by hurt quickly hidden. That told him Senior hadn't bothered to let Tony know he'd been in town. Instead, Tony had blown it off as another boring event like so many others in his past. He'd begun regaling McGee with anecdotes of other society events which had quickly annoyed McGee as intended and making him change the subject after a few derisive comments about Tony's silver-spoon upbringing.
It hadn't surprised him when Tony showed up in his basement later that night, babbling about some high society movie and cat burglars, a movie with Grace Kelley and Cary Grant that he'd actually seen. He smiled, remembering the bright, happy grin Tony gave him upon learning that he'd actually seen a movie he enjoyed. It made Gibbs' chest ache to know how little it took to make Tony smile like that â€“ and it made other parts ache as well. If it wouldn't give so much away, he'd make damned sure Tony smiled like that every day.
Gibbs glanced at his watch. It was past ten and Tony hadn't shown up all weekend. He frowned at that. He didn't like not touching bases with Tony at some point over the weekend, especially since it was so close to Christmas. Tony should have shown up to help with the toys, if nothing else. He felt his gut twinge but knew he couldn't just call to say hi or to ask if Tony was okay even if that's what he really felt like doing right now. He sighed and ran a hand over his face, telling himself that Tony would have called or come by if he really needed something â€“ unlike his father, Jack.
Gibbs grimaced, re-thinking Jack's last impromptu visit. Yeah, it had been for a good cause â€“ seeing an old friend who was dying â€“ but getting to the truth of the matter had been like pulling teeth. Shannon used to always say that he and Jack were just alike in that way: neither of them good with saying what was on their minds. It occurred to him then that maybe that's why Jack hadn't said when he was coming up during their last phone call.
Usually Jack planned his visit, gave a date and a time when he'd drive up but he hadn't done that, yet. Gibbs realized that he hadn't asked if Jack had gotten his driver's license back after having the Howard County PD yank it. He knew that Jack's insurance had covered the minor damage to the car he'd bumped into while accidentally trying to drive with his reading glasses on. Gibbs also had to allow that his father had been pretty worked up about going to see his dying friend, but that didn't change the fact that Jack still needed to get a new prescription before they'd give him back his license. He blew out a breath of frustration and not just at Jack â€“ at himself, too. Broke one of his own rules and assumed that everything was fine just because Jack hadn't said anything.
Looking at his watch again, he decided that he'd call Jack in the morning and get some specifics about getting together for the holiday. If need be, he and Tony would drive to Stillwater and either spend Christmas there or bring Jack back with them. With that thought, he put everything away and called it a night. The sooner he got to work the next morning, the sooner he'd know that Tony was alright.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Monday morning found Tony sitting at his desk at a ridiculously early hour reviewing cold cases since they had nothing active at present. The words blurred slightly as he tried to read so he rubbed his eyes and again looked through his file. Then, getting nowhere, he turned to his computer, once again reading up about hallucinations and their cause. Being drunk or high, or coming down from such drugs as marijuana, LSD, cocaine (including crack), PCP, amphetamines, heroin, ketamine, and alcoholâ€¦ "Nope," he muttered. Delirium or dementia (visual hallucinations are most common). "Wouldn't be the first time someone accused me of being demented, but probably not." Epilepsy that involves a part of the brain called the temporal lobe (odor hallucinations are most common). "While the shop was a little on the ripe side, the snow globe did not smell at all," he mumbled. Fever, especially in children. "That leaves me out." Narcolepsy. "Whatever that is," he said and then quickly looked up the symptoms for narcolepsy. "Daytime sleepiness probably fits, but nothing else does. Keep going." Psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and psychotic depression. "Maybe I should talk to Ducky," he mused but realized it would have to wait until after Christmas since Ducky would be leaving after their luncheon to visit relatives in Scotland. Sensory problem, such as blindness or deafness. "That one's out." Severe illness, including liver failure, kidney failure, AIDS, and brain cancer. Tony shuddered and then sighed. Except for being exhausted due to lack of sleep, he really doubted there was a physical reason for hallucinating but there was no way he could figure it out on his own. He closed out the browser and brought up his email and began to idly click through them, his red-rimmed eyes watering after another face-splitting yawn. "Damn it," he muttered, wishing it was already Christmas Eve because then he wouldn't need an excuse to be at Gibbs' place having the hallucinations head-slapped out of him.
"It was just your imagination," he muttered to himself for the millionth time as he straightened his Armani tie. "And if tonight doesn't work out at Gibbs', you've just got to make it until tomorrow." Yawning again, he decided it was time for more coffee and maybe a pastry. After a quick look at his Burberry watch, he realized with relief that the rest of his team would be in soon so he might as well bring something back for everyone. Pulling his fine woolen Loro Piana coat over his Brunello Cucinelli suit, he headed out.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
The minute Gibbs stepped into the bullpen, he knew something was wrong. It was obvious to him that Tony had already been at work for some time judging by the number of empty coffee cups in the trash. Since there was no sign of an overcoat, he guessed his SFA had stepped out for more. He glanced at his watch and figured he had some time before his meeting with the Director so he decided to go see Abby. He'd call Jack after his meeting with Vance.
After stopping for a Caf-Pow, he walked towards the lab, smiling at the loud, screeching noise she called music. He was, however, able to identify the irritating cacophony as Jingle Bells â€“ but only because Abby always started her mornings during the holidays with this particular brand of noise that she claimed was the old holiday favorite. He walked in just as she was turning on Major Mass Spec and wishing it a good morning. She whirled around and saw him, the resulting broad grin made him smile in return. She always had that effect on him. In seconds, he had his arms full of his favorite forensic scientist.
"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs! Good morning! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Merry Solstice, Happy HumanLightâ€¦"
Gibbs laughed. "Okay, okay, thanks for all of it, Abs," he said. "Back at â€˜cha," he replied which made Abby laugh in return. He handed her the drink he'd brought, smiling as she took a huge slurp of the overly-sweetened, highly-caffeinated drink to which she was addicted.
"Mmm, good," she said after a second long drink. "To what do I owe this pleasure? I don't have anything for you since you guys haven't given me anything although I hate saying that because it makes me sound as though I'm, like, totally greedy and this is so the wrong season to be greedy, not that you should be greedy at any time of the year, but especially right nowâ€¦"
"Abs," Gibbs broke in with a long-suffering sigh, "I just wanted to know if you had a good weekend. That alright?"
Abby's response was to throw her arms around Gibbs neck a second time. "Aww, that's so sweet, Gibbs! Thank you for asking and yes, I had a great weekend. Kyle and I finished all our shopping and then we delivered our gifts to Sister Rosita and the nuns and then we spent Sunday wrapping everything to take with us and finished up our packing. Kyle and I are taking off tonight to spend Christmas in New Orleans with our â€“ God, I love saying that! OUR family. Oh, Gibbs, it is so cool to have another brother!"
"That's great, Abs. I'm glad you had a good weekend," Gibbs said knowing now that Abby hadn't spent any time with Tony over the weekend. He'd have to do some more digging. His cell phone rang at that moment. Cynthia told him that Vance was in and was ready for their meeting. With a kiss to Abby's temple, he left for the elevator.
Gibbs exited the elevator near MTAC but rather than head straight to Vance's office, he paused at the landing to look down towards the bullpen. It looked like Tony had just returned from a coffee run because he was handing a cup and a pastry to McGee. Tony must have sensed something because he paused and turned to look up. He smiled and held up a cup in offering. Gibbs nodded and allowed a small smile to curl his lips when Tony made a show of dashing up the stairs to deliver the cup.
Gibbs accepted the cup from a lightly panting Tony and nodded once in thanks as he looked Tony over. Tony was wearing one of his ridiculously high-priced suits, the type he wore when he either wanted to impress someone or when he needed people to look at his clothes and not at him. Gibbs looked at him. There were shadows under green eyes that were also reddened from fatigue. Tension lines creased the spot between Tony's eyes and those sinful lips were thinned despite the overly-wide smile Tony threw at him. Oh, yeah, something was definitely wrong with his Tony.
"Busy weekend, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked casually. His initial thought that it might be some woman was immediately dismissed because Tony spent too much time at his place to cultivate any type of outside relationship. Gibbs took another sip of coffee while shoving down the satisfaction he felt at that possessive thought.
"Oh, you know how it is, Boss, last minute shopping and all," Tony said in such a way that Gibbs knew it was at least partially true. "Plus I needed to get the monthly reports done since we're going to have a few days off."
Again, Gibbs heard Tony tell only part of the story. The reports weren't due until several days after their return. Tony could produce them easily without having to come in on the weekend. What was Tony hiding? He wanted to ask if Tony was coming by to work on the toys but his phone rang again. It was Cynthia calling to tell him he was late. Gibbs felt the sudden urge to haul Tony into the meeting with him but he was already turning to make his escape.
"You've got your meeting with Vance," Tony said, one foot already on the next step down. "Don't forget the luncheon, Boss."
Gibbs didn't say anything and spared only a moment to watch Tony walk down the stairs with far less energy than he's displayed on the way up. Every instinct Gibbs had said to haul Tony off to a corner and find out what was wrong but he knew Tony would only claim that he was fine. Knowing he'd just have to wait until Tony decided to tell him, he turned to go meet with Vance.
The meeting with Vance became a protracted meeting with SecNav in MTAC. By the time Gibbs was done, it was nearly time for the luncheon and Gibbs still had to call Jack. Opting to get that done first, he ducked into the small alcove at the base of the stairs. A few moments later, Gibbs was rolling his eyes because Jack, as usual, was being stubborn. He hadn't scheduled a new vision exam because he insisted his vision was fine.
"We'll get it done when I get there," Gibbs insisted.
"Because I want to make sure you're all right, Dad. Family's important, you always said that and you're right."
"I also said Christmas should be spent with family. You bringin' Tony with you?"
That question stunned Gibbs although, as he thought about it, it really shouldn't have. Even with failing eyesight, Jackson Gibbs pretty much saw things as they are but, like him, he didn't always communicate it that well. That didn't change the fact that Gibbs wasn't quite ready to voice his deepening feelings for Tony, even if he had the inkling that the feelings just might be returned. He ran a hand over his face â€“ maybe on this trip to Stillwater?
It occurred to Gibbs at that moment that just because Tony had spent the last few Christmases with him, it didn't mean he was ready to head out of town for several days with no notice. That thought made Gibbs glare at the wall in front of him. Of course, Tony could always take his own car and go home if he didn't want to stay. Either way, he'd have to ask although he was sure Tony would say yes. He refused to think otherwise. For now he could only promise one thing: "Yeah. Christmas should be spent with family. I'll be there tomorrow afternoon."
They quickly ended their conversation allowing Gibbs plenty of time to get to the luncheon. Gibbs had brought everyone's gift except for Tony's since he planned to give it to him on Christmas Day. Knowing of Tony's love for jazz, he'd carved a chess set out of solid maple and walnut. Each pawn was in the shape of a musical note. The rooks were standing snare drums, the knights were saxophones, the bishops were string basses, the queen was a 1940's era singer complete with a box microphone and the king was a man holding a clarinet. He hoped Tony would like it. He imagined Tony's smile. He'd do anything for that smile and he looked forward to playing a game with Tony sitting across from him. His imagination now placed Tony near the fireplace at his dad's house. Anticipation shot through him and he felt a flutter in his chest, something he hadn't felt in a long time. He smiled at that.
First, though, he had to finish the last of the toys. He hoped Tony would come by to help so that he could drop them off on their way out of town. But, if nothing else, he was going to find out what was bothering his friend. With that last thought, he took off towards the garage at his usual ground-eating stride.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
Tony hit the print button for his reports and then tiredly rolled his neck muscles. He glanced over at McGee who was deeply involved in a phone conversation with his sister, Sarah.
"I'll be there, 7:30," McGee said reassuringly before hanging up.
Tony blew out a sigh. Looks like McBusy was making plans. "So, 7:30?"
"Why do you always listen in to my personal phone calls?" McGee answered in an irritated tone, which didn't mean anything. Tony worked hard to irritate him.
Tony snorted, refusing to answer such a ridiculous question. "So? What's up?"
Tim sighed, seemingly shocked. "Sarah got herself engagedâ€¦l"
"Whoa, McBro-in-law! Congrats to little sis... Or is this not a good thing?" Tony asked with a quirk of his eyebrows.
"Yeah, should be good except that she wants me to meet â€“ Steven â€“ first," McGee said the name with a faint look of distaste. "Feels hinky to me, Tony. Why would he need to be pre-screened?" he asked more to himself than to Tony as his fingers began to rapidly fly over his keyboard.
Tony moved to look over his shoulder to learn what he could in case McGee needed backup to confront Sarah's potential fiancÃ©e. A little while later, both McGee and Tony were satisfied that Steven looked okay on paper, so to speak. Still, McGee looked very intent.
"Looking a bit fierce there, McKnight in White Armor. You know that she loves this guy. Don't burn any bridges before you get to them." McGee rolled his eyes.
"I know you don't know what it's like, but she's my sister, Tony. Family. I'll check this guy out but I won't hesitate to give my opinion and she knows that."
Tony didn't even flinch at McGee's unintentionally hurtful remark. He may not have a sister, but he was sure he'd do the same thing if it was Abby. "Maybe that's what she's counting on, Tim," he replied softly but if Tim heard him, he made no sign since was again engrossed in what they'd found out about Sarah's boyfriend. "Be back in a few," he said not caring if McGee heard or not. He decided he was being overly sensitive. Having the sudden need to walk, Tony opted to take this time to drop off the other few gifts he had for some of their co-workers like Cynthia and a few of the security guards.
He was just coming out of the back stairwell when he heard the distinctive tone of Gibbs' voice although he didn't see him. He kept walking, listening in because, quite frankly, it never occurred to him not to do so. He was just like Gibbs in that respect.
"Because I want to make sure you're all right, Dad. Family's important, you always said that and you're right."
Tony smiled knowing now that Gibbs was talking to Jack. He felt warmth flood though him along with anticipation and relief in equal measures at the thought of being with Gibbs and Jack over the holidays. He stopped short, however, at Gibbs' next words.
"Yeah. Christmas should be spent with family. I'll be there tomorrow afternoonâ€¦"
A hole seemed to open up in Tony's chest. Gibbs was going to Stillwater â€“ alone. Family was important, he said, but apparently that didn't include him. Tony did an about face and walked back down the hall, suddenly needing some privacy.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
"A toast to the holidays and our families!" Abby cried as she raised her glass of iced tea. Everyone joined in the toast with smiles and equivalent wishes. Tony grinned broadly, adding his own wishes for joy and happiness to everyone and their families even though the tinkling of ice in the glasses sent a shiver down his spine.
"Are you okay, Tony?" Tim asked.
"Yeah, just feel a little cold," Tony responded while looked pointedly up at the vent.
"I'll ask them to turn up the heat," McGee offered and flagged a waitress. Tony was grateful because he just couldn't warm up.
"Anything else on Steven?" Tony asked quietly, emphasizing the name like McGee was doing earlier.
"Talked to Sarah again," McGee said with a roll of his eyes. "I wanted to know exactly why she wanted me to meet him first."
The eye-roll surprised Tony. "What?" he asked suspiciously, wondering what Sarah had been worried about.
"She was worried because â€“ get this â€“ he's Army," McGee said with a chuckle. "She was worried Dad wouldn't approve because he wasn't Navy or Marines. She figured that if I approved, Dad probably would, too. Sisters â€“ go figure," he finished with a laugh. "But you do what you have to for family. Right, Tony?"
"Yeah, you do," Tony agreed with a smile. He'd always done whatever he could for his team. They were the only family he had â€“ even if it didn't feel that way about him. He shivered again but ignored McGee's concerned look. "I'm fine," he repeated with a grin, having no desire to continue discussing families so he turned when Abby started everyone around the table talking about their holiday plans. Tony felt his stomach twist.
Abby talked animatedly about her trip to New Orleans with Kyle which they'd all heard before since it had been her biggest topic of discussion for weeks. Tony was really happy for her and was sure everything would go well. Jimmy spoke of spending the holidays with Breena's family. There was just a little touch of dread in his voice when mentioning his father-in-law and his strict viewpoint of the holiday which made everyone laugh and call him a worrywart even though privately they were sure he wasn't wrong to be worried but were positive Breena would get him through it. McGee talked about his family although Tony noticed he didn't mention anything about Sarah's engagement. Tony thought it was wise of him to keep quiet until he met the new guy later that evening and he wished Sarah hadn't kept Tim in the dark about the guy. It didn't bode well in his book.
"I do so love Scotland over the holidays," Ducky said with a soft smile and went on to reminisce about past holidays. No one interrupted which seemed to take Ducky a little by surprise but his happiness was obvious as he continued his story. When Ducky was done, Abby turned to Tony.
"How about you, Tony? You aren't going to be alone, are you?" she asked with a stricken look, as though it had just occurred to her that she hadn't even asked him about his plans before now â€“ which she hadn't. This time, it never occurred to him that he might be feeling overly sensitive.
"Aspen," Tony said with a wide grin. "I'm going skiing with my Dad." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gibbs scrutinizing him closely, but he wasn't lying. Well, not really. He did call his father but, as usual, his Dad was busy doing something and said "sure, sure, son. I'll get back with you on the details." Knowing his father as well as he did, the abstracted answer didn't bode well for their getting together in the immediate future. Still, he was all he had.
"Oooh, that's so exciting!" Abby answered with a bounce and a clap of her hands. "Give Senior a hug for me, Tony!"
Tony responded with a grin, doubtful he'd be giving his father much of anything for Christmas, let alone a hug. "How about you, Gibbs?" he asked instead, getting the group's attention off of him.
"Going to Stillwater," was Gibbs' reply.
Tony heard Abby talk about Jack but he missed her words. Instead, he found that steady blue gaze pinning him in place even though Abby continued talking. Steeling himself, he returned the look with a sunny smile that negated the icy desolation he felt inside.
Thank God for Ducky's mouth, Tony thought a moment later as he launched into a tale of unfortunate skiing incidents that lasted the rest of lunch. After that, they opened presents. Tony was glad to see that he'd done well with his choices, even the book for Gibbs about men withering away in a frozen expanse. It was a little awkward when Gibbs said that he'd left Tony's gift at home, but Tony let him off the hook since he hadn't told anyone about his last-minute plans with his father. Gibbs just nodded and Ducky came to the rescue â€“ bless him â€“ with tales regarding the Mallard Family crest which, as it turned out, truly was a part of his history.
"Was going to give it to you on Christmas Day," Gibbs explained as the party broke up later. "When do you leave?"
"I'm flying out this evening," Tony lied knowing it would be too difficult to be around Gibbs right now. "â€¦so I'm a bit strapped for time but don't worry, Boss. You can give it to me whenever you get a chance." That comment earned him a long look that made him squirm a bit. "But, because of the change in plans, I brought something for Jack. It's in my car, if you don't mind taking it with you."
Gibbs nodded but didn't say anything more except to wish everyone a happy holiday before walking Tony out to his car. Tony carried his gift bag full of goodies such as the wireless headphones that McGee swore would enable him to get true surround-sound quality without killing his neighbors, the Alfred Hitchcock box set from Jimmy and Breena which was matched by the Tarantino box set from Abby and the beautiful deep green cashmere sweater from Ducky. Tony stowed it all away safely and then pulled out his gift for Jack.
"Have a wonderful Christmas, Boss. Maybe give Jack a hug for me," Tony said with a slight smile.
Gibbs nodded. "I'm glad you're spending time with your father, Tony. Family is important."
Tony nodded, his throat tight too tight to respond. He swallowed thickly. "Merry Christmas, Boss," he finally said, truly meaning it.
"Merry Christmas to you, too, Tony," Gibbs replied and then turned to walk to his car.
Tony watched him drive away, a shiver working its way through his extremities as his heart broke. Slowly, his frozen body stiff, he got into his car and turned towards his empty apartment.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
It was well past midnight as Gibbs sat quietly in his basement, his fingers moving almost on autopilot as he finished the last of the toys. Pausing in his work to pick up his cup, he took another sip of bourbon and frowned, not at the spicy burn of alcohol but at the realization that he was jealous. DiNozzo Sr. didn't deserve to have Tony's company even if repairing their relationship was what Tony needed. That wasn't the only thing bothering him, though. A second sip brought another grimace. If Tony was off working on his relationship with his father, why was his gut still churning? And why had Tony felt the need to wear the extra armor today with that suit? Just what the hell was going on with his friend?
He picked up the last toy and placed it next to the box it would be packed in come morning. When everything was packed up, he'd load it in his truck and drop it off at the hospital first thing. After that he was free to hit the road back to Stillwater. Easy. So why did that seem so wrong? He shook his head. He knew damn well why. While he hoped otherwise, he couldn't help but think that Senior was going to screw up another chance with his son. Heading upstairs to get some sleep, he decided to check a few things out in the morning and then he'd go to Stillwater. Gut somewhat appeased, Gibbs went to bed.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
Tony fumbled with the keys. It wasn't the first time he'd had trouble opening his door but this time having had a few too many drinks wasn't the reason. His fingers were too stiff from cold to work the lock properly. Eventually, he was successful and stumbled into his apartment. He looked around, a little surprised to see that nothing had changed. Funny. It felt like his entire world had been reduced to a small, frozen orb. He automatically went to his thermostat and raised it another couple of degrees, idly wondering what his utility bill would be like the next month. The heat kicked on, but he knew that in the long run it wouldn't matter because no amount of warmth could melt his limbs or his heart. He ran a hand through his hair, surprised to feel it move between his fingers instead of being frozen solid. He should have icicles dripping off of him, his lips and eyes frosted over his blue-tinged skin. Chuckling humorlessly at his dark thoughts, he knew he should have at least put on some gloves while he'd been standing out in front of the small shop, but he'd been too horrified to think straight. Even now, hours later, the image in the snow globe seemed etched into his retinas.
The tiny figures had changed again. Next to the figures he'd dubbed Abby and Ziva stood four men, all wearing dark pants under their overcoats. One short, older-looking man wore a dark grey overcoat, plaid scarf and black gloves. He wore glasses over his blue eyes. His blonde/grey hair was a bit longer and grazed his scarf. His grey top hat matched his coat. Next to him was a young man, a head taller than the first. He had dark brown hair and also wore glasses. His eyes were darker, more hazel than brown. This man wore a light grey overcoat and matching top hat, his scarf and gloves were dark grey. The third man had very short hair that Tony noted was a light brown in color. His eyes were blue. Everything he wore was brown, from his very tall top hat to his brown shoes. Tony saw that his hat was easily the tallest of the four men.
"Hmm, compensating for anything there?" Tony asked the tiny man in brown but the humor fell flat in the icy air. His gaze moved on to the last of the singers. There was something about this small figure that spoke of discipline. His straight bearing made Tony imagine him dressed in full British military regalia complete with tasseled epaulets, medals and a sword strapped to his side. He wore a black top hat over his silvery-white hair. The crown on this hat was shorter than all the others and Tony wondered briefly if there was a specific name for that type of hat. This figure also had blue eyes but they were different from the blue used in the other figures. Tony felt drawn in to the sparkling blue that was highlighted by the deep blue scarf tucked into the black overcoat. Unlike the other figures, the man in black did not wear gloves. He held his songbook in hands that seemed strong despite their minuscule size. This figure broke his heart as he stood braving the cold with his back turned resolutely against the boy, now a man, who lay prostrate in the snow. One hand stretched out, palm open in supplication.
Tony closed his eyes against the memory, knowing now that he was the man laying face down in the snow â€“ alone, abandoned, forgotten. Why had he ever doubted it?
An electronic beep sounded behind him. There was a message waiting on his answering machine. As if in a dream, he pushed the button to play the message.
"Junior, I'm sorry but my plans have changed. I'm off to St. Bart's to spend some time with Al. You remember Al â€“ Prince Omar? I'll try to catch up with you after the holidays. Merry Christmas, Junior."
Tony huffed out a laugh that sounded strange even to his own ears. He pulled his coat more tightly around him and moved to the couch. He lay down, curling his long legs up tightly and pulling the afghan back over himself. He closed his eyes, never noticing the tears that were dripping down his face. He was so tired. A little sleep would be good, he told himself, even if only for a little while.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Gibbs struggled against a nightmare filled with snow, ice and death. An ice-filled storm had frozen everything around him. Tree branches broke under the weight of the ice and the roads looked like frozen rivers. A biting wind tore at his clothes as he fought his way forward in his desperation to find Tony who'd been lost in the fierce winter storm. Tony had been searching for something but had been lost. Gibbs knew, though, that there was a suspect out there, too, someone who had hurt Tony and would do so again if he didn't stop them. He had to find Tony first. Again and again, he called out against the howling tempest, determined never to quit. Finally, up ahead he saw Tony, fallen in the snow. He looked so hopeless and alone. "Tony!" he yelled out but Tony just turned away as the snow around him began to turn crimson. He fell down next to Tony and pulled the snow-covered body to his chest. "No, Tony! Don't leave me. I love you, Tony. I love you!" he cried only to hear Tony's faint response.
"It's too lateâ€¦"
"No!" Gibbs yelled and shot upright. Breathing heavily, he looked around his bedroom with the realization that it had all been a nightmare. He glanced at the clock. It was early but that was good. He'd get an early start. He eyed his phone and considered calling Tony but disregarded the thought. What would he say? Instead he got out of bed, determined to start his day.
NCIS NICS NCIS
Tony woke up, stiff and cold after another nightmare-filled night spent on his couch. Bleary-eyed, he looked around his empty apartment and he knew he couldn't stay there all week. He needed to get out, away from the cold that was eating him up from the inside. Packing a bag, he intended to drive to the airport and jump on the first plane out headed anywhere warmer than D.C. After a quick shower, he grabbed his toiletries and then began packing some clothes. He threw jeans, shirts and sweaters into his bag but, since he didn't know where he'd be, he also threw in a pair of swim trunks. Once that was done, he called his neighbor who would look after Kate while he was gone and then, after a final look around his apartment, he walked out the door.
The snow hitting his face was not a surprise. It was actually quite fitting he decided and threw his bag in the trunk. As he drove towards the airport, he contemplated which direction to go. Driving was slow because of the snow but that didn't bother him. He was on his own, as usual, with nothing but time on his hands. Red brake lights flared in front of him and he slowed down, surprised to find that he was on a city street, nowhere near the exchange that would get him to the airport. He looked around and saw with dawning horror that he was right outside the shop from hell. An impatient horn sounding behind him made him pull over into the nearest parking spot.
"No," Tony mumbled, his face turned down and his eyes closed. Without thought, his hands closed on the door handle and in seconds, he was walking towards the shop, his feet leaden in the deepening snow. Why had he never noticed that the streetlights were so old-fashioned in this part of the city? He had the sudden feeling that he had he somehow been finally, truly locked within that damned snow globe. He sucked in an icy breath, his chest aching from the cold. Or was the pain from his heart thudding so painfully inside? Looking at the people rushing by him, he realized that he was actually surprised not to see long skirts and tall hats. Everything was so surreal and he wanted to turn back to his car. He needed to get away from this madness but instead found himself being drawn inexorably closer to the shop. His eyes were drawn to the globe that seemed to have grown in size. In seconds, he was inside.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
The snow had started to fall early that morning and was only an inch deep when Gibbs dropped the toys off at the hospital. Although he kept telling himself he should get on the road so that he'd be in Stillwater before the worst of the snow storm hit, his gut wouldn't let him rest until he'd stopped by Tony's place. It wouldn't take too long, he knew, even with driving more slowly due to the slippery road conditions.
A short while later Gibbs glared at Tony's empty parking spot. The fact that the car was missing didn't anger him, though. It was the light dusting of snow in a large rectangular shape that indicated the car had been moved very recently that pissed him off. It meant Tony hadn't left last night to meet his father. Instead, he'd left his apartment a short time ago, after it had started snowing. Did Tony take a later flight? Maybe, but he was sure Tony would have taken a cab to the airport. There was no way he'd leave his car in long-term parking. So where was he?
He didn't hesitate to pull out his phone and dial McGee. Even while on vacation, his younger agent would never leave home without his laptop. It only took a few minutes for McGee to identify that Tony's GPS signal was not in Aspen, but was actually still right there in D.C. Tony was, in fact, downtown in an area Gibbs knew contained several shops and restaurants. He hung up on McGee before he could ask what Tony was doing there. He didn't know the answer to that right now, but he would soon.
Less than an hour later, Gibbs spotted Tony's car. He drove passed looking for a place to park. Seeing a spot open up, he swung his truck in, ignoring the angry blast of someone's horn.
"Shoulda' been done with shopping by now," he growled at the angry man who'd rolled down his window to shout his indignation. The man tried to spew some more crap but Gibbs walked away, looking at the various stores on the street. Many were still open for last-minute shoppers like the jerk in the street but he knew Tony wouldn't still be shopping. His SFA prided himself on getting everything done long before Christmas Eve. Why would he be here?
He walked down the street, looking in various windows to see if Tony was inside. When he got to one store called "Dervish and Banges", he hit gold. Standing next to the front display was Tony holding something in his hands. He walked inside.
NCIS NCIS NCIS
Tony stared down into the snow globe and saw himself standing cold and alone in the exact spot where the small boy had once been. Without even a jacket to keep him warm, Tiny Tony looked as utterly alone and bereft as he felt right now. Ragged and barefoot in the snow that was blowing around him even though Tony hadn't shaken the globe, both Tony's stared at the group of carolers, the people he thought of as family, all with their backs turned firmly against him except for one. Tiny Gibbs looked on emotionlessly while Tiny Tony struggled in the snow. Then, still without any display of feeling, the tine figure actually moved and purposely turned his back on Tiny Tony â€“ on him. He felt a sob tear its way through gritted teeth. Tears stung his eyes at the desolation he felt when Gibbs, of all people, turned away from him. He felt his heart shatter again as it had when he'd overheard that conversation. But, he wondered, why should that surprise him? He'd always been left by the wayside, even by his own father. It shouldn't surprise him that everyone had a life away from the job, a life with people they loved â€“ a life that didn't include him. He was alone, as alone as his mini-me in the globe who had fallen into the snow.
"What do you see when you look inside?"
His surprise that Gibbs had appeared beside him was a distant thing. "I see myself. Abandoned, alone." Tony looked up from the globe but the blue eyes he expected to see watching him were instead fixed on the globe in his hand. "What do you see?"
"I see the same thing," Gibbs whispered and then pointed to a spot inside the snow globe. "You're there, alone, bleeding in the snow. My fault â€“ but I can't get to you."
"How is that possible?" Tony asked, his eyes narrowed in fear and confusion since he didn't see what Gibbs obviously saw but knew he couldn't deny Gibbs' words. He had the horrible feeling that both he and Gibbs were looking at his future. He shook his head, desperately negating both options in the globe although, of the two, he preferred the thought of dying rather than facing such a hopeless future.
"No. Not going to happen, Tony," Gibbs bit out and Tony tore his eyes away from the horrid scene to look at Gibbs who stood with pale features, furious blue eyes glaring at the globe. "I won't let it. I can't lose you, too."
"No, Tony. You listen and you listen good," Gibbs began and then turned to face Tony. He grabbed him by the biceps and glared into his eyes. "You are not alone, never will be as long as I'm alive."
"What are you saying?" Tony asked quietly as he stared at the determined blue eyes. Shock warred with hope but he was terrified to let it build.
"I'm saying I need you, Tony. Need you with me, on my six. Always."
"You have that, Boss. Always have," Tony replied cautiously and, despite his fear, hope began to gain a little ground.
Gibbs closed his eyes. "Not â€˜Boss', Tony. I need you. Me." He looked up and Tony saw something more in the blue eyes, something he'd always wanted but never thought he'd see. He felt his heart start to pound. Hope and insecurity were present in the sea of blue but above all, Tony saw love there, too.
"I love you, Tony."
Tony smiled and saw the answering smile on Gibbs' face a split second before he was pulled in for a searing kiss that began to melt the ice in his soul. Need and desire blossomed between them, a precious heat that warmed Tony throughout. Then passion flared and was quickly followed by a slow, sensual burning promise that made Tony gasp into the kiss. He pulled back to suck in a breath of much-needed air and then heard someone call out a long "hellooo!"
Tony spun around in time to see a small woman come around the corner of a display cabinet. She had wild hair held back by a scarf and large, round eyeglasses with thick â€“ very thick â€“ lenses. She had this strange half-gypsy/half-bag lady thing going on with a thick shawl thrown over her shoulders.
"Are you finding everything you needâ€¦?" she asked with a wide smile.
"Yeah," Gibbs answered definitively. "We're good."
Tony glanced at Gibbs and smiled. "We're great," he added.
"Oh, dear," the woman said suddenly after eyeing the snow globe. "You do realize that particular item is not for sale?" the woman asked worriedly.
"Yes," Tony answered. There was no way in hell he wanted the thing in his hands. He looked down at the snow globe and nearly dropped it. The scene had changed yet again. He looked at Gibbs with wide eyes. "What â€“ what do you seeâ€¦?" he asked quietly. Gibbs glanced down and Tony saw his eyes narrow.
"Well, I see," the woman answered first with a strange emphasis on the word â€˜see', "a group of carolers. Five men and two women. It's quite lovely, actually, although they haven't enough books. They all appear to be great friends â€“ or possibly family, I believe."
"Family," Gibbs said with certainty.
Tony, still too shocked to speak, could only nod, tears stinging his eyes because that's what he saw, too. It was Ducky, Jimmy, Tim, Abby and Ziva and, at the end, Gibbs and him standing all together singing. And Tiny Gibbs was sharing his book with Tiny Tony and had his arm around him. He had to agree with the woman and Gibbs, though. They did look close. Just like a family. His family.
"Lovely. Well, I'm afraid we're about to close. Was there anything I can help you with, gentlemen?" she asked politely.
"No, thank you," Gibbs answered as Tony carefully placed the snow globe back on its pedestal. "We have everything we need."
"Wonderful. Merry Christmas!" she said happily as she walked them to the door. Tony and Gibbs both replied in kind and watched as she locked the door and turned the sign to "closed".
"Before we go any further, G â€“ Jethro, I need to tell you that I love you, too. And, I wasn't going to see my father. He, uh, well, he left again."
"Good â€“ to both," Gibbs said as he put his arm around Tony's waist and pulled him close.
"Yeah," Gibbs said with a firm nod, "because you're coming to Stillwater with me. Families should be together at Christmas."
Tony's only answer was a wide smile.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
It was late Christmas night and the fire in the fireplace was burning brightly keeping the room warm in contrast to the thickly falling snow outside. Being in the warm house with the cold environment outside seemed almost odd to Tony in comparison to the last few days of being constantly frozen while indoors. Now, Tony reveled in the blanket of warmth that covered him from the fire, the new zippered pullover Jack had given him and the look in Jethro's eyes as they played chess. Upon that thought, he tried â€“ but failed â€“ to stifle the smile that again took control of his lips. Tony was positive that he looked like a grinning loon at this point and was surprised Jack hadn't commented. It had all started on their drive to Stillwater.
After he and Jethro had left the shop yesterday, they'd swung back to Tony's apartment and dropped off his car. Together, they drove towards Stillwater in Jethro's truck. Along the way, Tony related everything that had occurred with regards to the snow globe. In return, Jethro had been surprisingly forthcoming about the dream he'd had. Moments later, Jethro pulled the truck over onto the shoulder, took off his seatbelt and launched himself at Tony. Fierce and possessive kisses initially stole Tony's breath away before he got with the program and returned Jethro's ardor with his own equally passionate response.
"Can't bear the thought of losing you," Gibbs panted when things slowed down. He ran his work-roughened hand over Tony's face in a gesture that was as tender as his earlier kisses had been demanding.
Tony, equally breathless, said, "You won't, Jethro. If I have anything to do with it, I swear you won't. I love you."
Gibbs nodded. "Love you, too. Don't know if I can keep my hands off you for the next few days, though," he admitted ruefully after several more tender presses of his lips to Tony's.
"So maybe we go home a couple days early," Tony had suggested and Jethro agreed. They both then proceeded to wipe away the condensation that had formed on all the windows before they could get back on the road.
Ever since their arrival, however, Tony had guiltily wondered if maybe they could leave even sooner. He felt himself blush lightly at how desperately he needed Jethro's touch but forced himself to concentrate on his next move instead.
Eventually, Tony sighed as he realized that his only plausible move would sacrifice his one remaining saxophone. The move would, however, take out Gibbs' string bass. Tony pushed the saxophone into place and then smiled when Gibbs frowned. Even though he'd probably still lose, Tony contented himself with the knowledge that he was playing his best game yet against Gibbs.
"Want some more cocoa, Tony?" Jack asked from the kitchen.
Tony would have loved to have said yes, but he was too full from dinner and the cinnamon roll he'd had as dessert. He smiled at Jack while declining the offer, feeling as though he'd never be hungry again. He was still amazed at how good the rolls were that Jack had whipped up that morning after making the dough in his new bread machine. He smiled in pleasure at the memory of Jack's face when he'd opened his gift. Between the excited smile Jack had given him and the love he'd seen in Jethro's eyes, Tony had felt warmed through and through. He was still smiling when Jethro delivered checkmate twenty minutes later.
Both men retired to the couch after their game, each taking an end seat. Jack ambled out of the kitchen a few moments later and sat in the recliner with a sigh. Tony looked at the men that made up his family and then thought of Abby, Tim, Ducky and Jimmy, his extended family, and smiled knowing he'd never feel alone again. The family of men sat quietly for awhile, the only sound the hissing and crackling of the fire as they relaxed after their long day together. Being slightly overheated from his earlier proximity to the fire, Tony shivered slightly so he snuggled further into the corner of the couch.
In moments, Jethro was up and opening the cedar chest that Tony knew held the extra crocheted afghans Jethro's mother had made. With a few quick moves that were no less gentle for their efficiency, Jethro had Tony covered from neck to toe. Tony smiled in thanks, feeling warmer just from the look in Jethro's eyes. He was startled from his thought by Jack's sudden cough.
"Well, I'm going to bed so, for God's sake, Leroy, go on and get close to that boy before you get the notion to leave early or some other foolish thing."
Protests of "Dad!" and "Jack!" rang out simultaneously.
Jack laughed and reached into the pocket of his cardigan. "It doesn't take a mind-reader to know what's going on here, so let's cut to the chase. I approve," he said before tossing something to Jethro who caught it automatically. "Now you two stay warm and I'll see you in the morning. I set the bread-maker on delay for some cinnamon raisin bread for breakfast. Good night."
Tony choked out a good night around a shocked laugh as he watched Jack make his way upstairs. Turning to Jethro, he looked at what his hopefully soon-to-be lover held in his hands and found himself laughing again as Jethro held up the small sprig of mistletoe.
"Come on, Jethro, warm me up," he said while holding up one corner of the afghan. Jethro quickly complied by sliding in behind Tony.
"Never let you get cold again," Jethro said quietly, his breath warm on Tony's cheek as he wrapped his arms securely around him.
Tony leaned forward to taste Jethro's lips, the simple act enough to start a fire building up deep in his core and he knew it was true.