"It's no go, you guys," says Jimmy, living up to his name by standing there, palms out, shrugging apologetically. "We're looking at major delays."
"Like how major?" asks Abby, blowing her nose.
"Eight hours? Maybe more? The snow's gotta stop before they can clear it."
"Eight hours? That's...that's...that's..." stutters Tony.
"Crappy," Tim fills in. "Seriously? At least we'll be flying into the past."
"We're still gonna barely make it home for Christmas. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to stick around until Christmas Eve?"
"You did, Tony. You said that the extra date would give us more exposure and help us to break into the European market. And now we cannot break out." Ziva does an air drum roll. Tony grimaces at her.
"Look on the bright side, guys," says Abby, "at least this terminal has chairs that won't break your spine in interesting ways. Ooh, a couch!" She makes for the big, red, recently vacated couch before anyone can say anything. Tim shrugs, picks up his carry-on and heads after her, the rest of them trooping behind.
"Did you have Christmas plans?" Tony asks Gibbs when they're settled.
"Nope," says Gibbs, and that seems to be that.
Tony sighs. Abby's coughing and doing her best impression of Rudolph. Ziva's feeding her lozenges and they're doing something weird with their fingers and a piece of string that could be some kind of soul trap for all Tony knows. He looks around. The terminal is jammed with people all going exactly nowhere. They're filling up the seats, milling about the shops, but there's a muted sensation to it all, like the snow that's coming down thick and fast outside is blanketing everything and not just the jumbo jets waiting impatiently and uselessly at the gates.
He turns back to Tim, who's doing something with his phone. "Whatcha doing?" he singsongs.
"Here, gimme that." Tony snatches the phone before Tim can stop him. Tim's latest offering to the exciting world of the Internet reads only, "Stranded. Sucks." This is in no way proportional to the anguish of potential boredom Tony is already feeling. Besides, Jethro is waiting on them and also Tony had plans for his and Tim's Christmas. Plans that involved a high level of nudity that would not be acceptable in so public a space. He signs out of Tim's account, feinting away as Tim lunges for him and then jumps to his feet, jogging around back of the couch. Tim rolls his eyes.
Tony types, "Abandoned by hope at Heathrow T5. Christmas is cancelled and happiness is on notice. You have been warned." He pauses, considering. Yeah, that's just melodramatic enough and speaks to his inner pain that's definitely not indigestion from that English breakfast he'd stuffed down in five minutes before leaving the hotel. He hits Tweet.
Ziva's laughing at a tangled mess of string on Abby's fingers and Tony can only presume it's because they've accidentally mangled a soul they've taken--somewhere in this terminal, a perfectly nice human being is feeling dead inside and it's all Ziva's fault. "Why are you so happy, Ziva?" he asks, tugging her hair. "Aren't you pissed we're not going to be home for Christmas?"
She slaps his hand away. "Tony, I know you have a brain the size of a pea," she demonstrates with finger and thumb, "but it cannot be so difficult to remember that I am Jewish. Please. Be smarter than you look."
"Oh. Yeah. Still. I put happiness on notice, so if you could tone it down?"
"Of course, Tony," says Ziva in the demure tone of voice that means 'No way'.
"Can I have my phone back now?"
Tony glances down at the screen and refreshes his @replies. There are a couple expressions of sympathy from folks already ensconced with their families and loved ones in the States and it serves only to make him even more pissed off. "Sure," he says and wanders back over, dropping down next to Tim and handing the phone over. He leans his head on Tim's shoulder. "Wanna go home," he says.
"I know," agrees Tim. "We'll get there." He puts an arm around Tony and kisses his hair. For a second Tony lets himself believe it's just the two of them.
"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with 's'", says Jimmy.
"If it's snow, I'm going to rip off your balls and feed them to Jethro as a belated Christmas gift," snarls Tony.
"Um. Okay. It's...it's not snow."
"Well, okay then."
There's a long pause.
"Snow," says Ziva.
"You got it!"
"I hate everything," says Tony.
"Everything?" Tim tightens his grip.
"Okay, maybe not everything," Tony concedes, "But most things. If we were flying business class we could be in the VIP Lounge sipping champagne right now."
"If we were flying business class we wouldn't eat for three months," says Gibbs. "If you think cheap champagne could sustain you for that long, go upgrade."
"I hate everything minus one."
"Hey, I didn't do anything," Abby protests. "Why do I get the Tony-hate?"
"You're trapping souls with your fingers. I could be next and I have no wish to be dead inside. Although if we're stuck here more than eight hours I'm not answering for the consequences."
Everyone stares at Tony. "What? Don't blame me, blame the string." He points at Abby's hands.
Abby frowns, looks down at the string wrapped around her fingers and then giggles. "You weren't supposed to know about the soul-trapping," she says with a sidelong glance at Ziva. "We've been made, toots, we'd better lay low till the heat is off."
Ziva opens her mouth as if to disagree, but Abby waggles her head hopefully at her. "Yes, of course," she says instead. "The evil properties of cat's cradle could not stay hidden forever. I shall dispose of the evidence." She unwinds the string from Abby's hand and shoves it in her jacket pocket. "There. Now we are the picture of innocence and we do not have to go on the goat."
"On the lam," says Tony, but his heart's not in it.
Tony wonders if it would be illegal to throw his carry-on at Jimmy's head.
"So I get that if they were casting Snow White right now, you'd be going up for the world's tallest Grumpy, but could you snap out of it, Tony, please? We're here for the long haul-" Tim hisses in a breath. "-Sorry. We're here for a while, so I guess we have to make the best of it."
Tony straightens up with another gusty sigh. "You're right, you're right, of course you're right," he says. "Shall I lead everyone in song?"
"No need to go that far," says Gibbs. "Why drive away potential fans?"
"If you hadn't shipped the instruments, I could've provided the assembled, miserable masses with my tear-jerking rendition of Carol of the Bells for acoustic guitar."
"Ding, fries are done," says Tim with a grin, lightly shoulder-barging Tony, who barges back.
"How can you have a bell carol with a guitar?" asks Ziva, and Tony waves in Abby's direction to tell her to take this one.
Abby's about to launch into an explanation when there's an, "Erm," from behind Tony's shoulder. He twists around to see a couple of girls, probably in their mid-twenties, one with a cheerful, red-cheeked round face and the other tall with long dark hair cut jagged over one eye.
"Hey," he says. "Can I help you?"
"Well, we..." the girls look at each other, then back at Tony. The round-faced one continues, "We heard you'd, er, cancelled Christmas, so we thought maybe..."
"We'd see if we could persuade you to bring it back?" says the long-haired girl. "Here." She reaches into her bag ("Oh my god, it's a Bag of Holding," whispers Tim, awed) and pulls out a little red book. "For you," she says, holding it out to Tony. "Happy Christmas, and...stuff."
Tony takes the book on automatic pilot. It's small, pre-loved with dog-eared corners and very red. "The Little Red Riders book," he reads, opening the book and flipping through it. "Oh, wow, this is awesome." He grins up at the girl who scrunches up her face and grins back.
Tony's eye is caught by something on the page. "David Hasselhoff wanted a life-sized cutout of David Hasselhoff? That might be the best thing I ever heard. Hey, Gibbs..."
"No," says Gibbs, "You cannot have a life-sized cutout of yourself at every gig. One Tony is enough, Tony."
"That was two Tonys. In that sentence there." Tony keeps going against Gibbs's blank stare. "You said one Tony was enough, but there were two...Tonys...in the...Spoilsport," mutters Tony. And then, "Wait, where did you come from again?"
"We saw your tweet," says the red-cheeked one. "And we were, like, stuck here and stuff, but we're not so far from home and we-" she reaches for the other girl's hand and squeezes it, "-well, we have each other, so, yeah. We love you guys, you totally rock, and we just wanted to see if we could help Christmas be more..."
"Christmassy," finishes Dark Hair.
"You are so sweet," says Ziva. "Come and sit with us?"
The dark-haired girl tucks her hair behind her ear. "Really?"
"Really," says Abby, moving up on the couch and patting the seat beside her. "Tell me all about yourselves."
"Maybe I should tweet and ask for a million dollars," says Tony, as the girls step gingerly over assorted bags.
"Maybe you shouldn't," says Tim.
The girls turn out to be Bethany and Christie, trying to make their way home to Edinburgh after a meet-up with some friends in London for the purposes of seeing the Ya Think! gig. "The trains are screwed, too," says Bethany.
"Wrong kind of snow," agrees Christie with a shrug.
"What's the right kind?" Jimmy wants to know.
The girls exchange looks. "Tell us when you find out," says Bethany. "It's been like this every time it's snowed since we were kids."
"But you made the trip for us," says Ziva. "And then you got stuck and gave us a present. You are very kind."
Christie curls her shoulders and twists her hair between her fingers. "You gave us stuff, too," she says. "Your music. You know."
"Sammy Davis Junior wanted an assortment of groovy chicks," says Tony, pulling an impressed face. "Now that's my kind of guy."
"What have you done?" Tim asks the girls, pulling the book out of Tony's hands and tapping him over the head with it.
"Um, hey?" says a new voice over by Gibbs. Tony looks around.
"Hey," says Jimmy. "And you are?"
"A fan?" The kid, fifteen at most, waves sheepishly. "I saw the hashtag and I was kind of doing nothing and my sister is seriously the most annoying ever and I could do with the break? Anyway, I brought you this." He turns to Abby and opens his closed fist.
"Oh! A teeny tiny Goth bunny! For me! Thank you!" Abby launches herself at the kid and it sets off a coughing fit and it's a while before she's calmed down and by then the kid is sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning on a couple of bags explaining that he crocheted it himself no matter what his sister should say if she even comes over.
"Hashtag?" asks Tim. "Like on Twitter? What did you do, Tony?"
Tony holds up his hands. "No phone, McSpicious. I didn't do anything."
Bethany bounces a little on the couch. "Wow, it's working. Is it trending?" she asks the kid.
"If you're set to London, yeah."
Bethany and Christie make a noise Tony can only liken to a pig having a difficult birth and flap their hands in a way that has Tony fearing for everyone's eyes. "I've never made anything trend before," says Christie, wide-eyed.
"What hashtag?" asks Tim, patient.
"BeayathinkT5santa," the three chorus.
"You're kidding me," says Tony. "For us?"
"Can you feel your heart growing three sizes, Grinch boy?" asks Tim.
"There may be a slight swelling. And before you say anything inappropriate, we're in the presence of a minor, okay?"
"Heh, swelling," says the kid with a dirty chuckle.
"Too late," says Jimmy.
And then there's a commotion and Tony turns towards it to see three people all attempting to be at the back of their very small crowd at the same time as shoving the others forward.
"We don't bite," calls Gibbs. "Come on over."
"I wanted to wear a Santa hat," says the shortest, "But they said it would be too dorky."
"So dorky," says the one in the stompy motorcycle boots, rolling her eyes. "Excuse Katie, she's kind of a Christmas freak."
"Me, too," says Abby. "I'm glad to meet you, Katie."
The tiny girl beams a smile so wide that Tony figures she stole it from someone way bigger. It's working for her, though. He can't help but grin back.
"Lemme guess," he says. "Hashtag?"
"Totally," nods the third girl, black twists of hair bouncing. She's got her hands behind her back and Tony wonders what's in them. He doesn't have to wonder long because Katie pokes her in the ribs and, after a brief heated exchange conducted entirely in whispers and what appears to be a new form of semaphore, she comes over to Tim and holds out her gift.
"Batman Inc. Issue 3," says Tim, reverently taking it from her. "It's not even out yet. How did you-?"
The girl shrugs. "I know some people," she says. "Like, influential ones. It kinda rocks to be me."
Tim nods vigorously. "It must," he agrees. "Thank you so much-?"
"Efe," says the girl.
"Thank you so much, Efe, this is sweet."
"My pleasure," says Efe. "I think you'll like it."
"I already do," says Tim, getting up and hugging her.
Motorcycle Boots is giving Jimmy a little bear dressed in a red hat and a blue coat and Gibbs an elf-sized bottle of some brown liquid Tony presumes is alcoholic.
"He eats marmalade," Motorcycle Boots tells Jimmy. "The bear, not Mr. Gibbs."
Tony can't help but laugh at the mister business. Tim shuts him up with a well-placed elbow.
"We thought maybe no one would think of you two," she continues. "We didn't want you to feel left out. You're special, too."
Gibbs smiles--that rarest of sights--and Tony's pretty sure Motorcycle Boots falls in love on the spot. "Thank you," he says. "You're pretty special yourself, right, Palmer?"
"Yes!" agrees Jimmy, clutching his bear. "I love marmalade. We'll get along just fine. Thank you. What's your name?"
"Shannon," says Motorcycle Boots.
"Then I name this bear Shannon."
"Knock yourself out," grins Shannon. "He's pre-named Paddington, but Michael Bond probably isn't going to throw a hissy fit if you change it. Shannon's pretty gender neutral."
Shannon laughs. "I'd be honored," she says. And, "Katie, stop grinning and give them the stuff."
"I like grinning," says Katie mildly. Still, she opens her bag and pulls out a net of golden coins. "Ziva, I know you don't celebrate Christmas because, hi, Jewish, but you could pretend it was still Hanukkah and that these were real?"
Ziva's smile matches Katie's. "That is very thoughtful," she says. "And a perfect gift." She takes the little bag and turns it over and over in her hands, eyes wide and glistening just the smallest bit.
"Oh!" says Katie, "I almost forgot." She digs around in her bag and pulls out a Ziploc full of cookies. "My sister made these. She is seriously awesome at baking, believe me. You need to try them."
"Cookies!" Tony's mouth waters and it occurs to him he might have finally gotten over the breakfast of champions.
Katie starts passing them around and then someone says, "Crackers!" just behind him and Tony jumps half a mile in the air.
"I mean. Sorry. I'm not good at this meeting-your-idols thing, but, yeah, crackers. There's no Christmas party without crackers." The heart-attack-threatening voice belongs to a woman wearing glasses and a t-shirt that declares 'Everything is easier said than done. Except for talking. That's about the same'. She has a point. About the talking thing, not about the crackers. Maybe she's crackers.
He settles for a, "Huh?"
"Crackers!" The woman waves a box in the air. The front is transparent and Tony can see the box is filled with green and red tube things.
"I don't-" says Tim and the woman's face flips through confused, understanding, disappointed and pleased in the space of a millisecond. It's impressive.
"Oh, I forgot you guys are cracker-deprived," she says. "They are so unbelievably not worth it. There's bang, but no buck." She frowns. "I don't think that's right."
"They're like awesome crap," says Bethany. "You get to the point where the worse the joke is, the better."
"You'll see," says the woman, coming around to kneel by Tim and opening the box.
And then the tubes are being handed around and some dude with a beard is throwing packets of turkey and cranberry flavored chips at everyone in a non-threatening way and another couple of people turn up with food and drink and then glasses chick is explaining how to pull the crackers. Tony shares one with Tim and on the count of three they pull and the bangs are pretty impressive for such small things and bits of paper go flying and everyone's scrambling for them and brightly-colored paper crowns are being worn and the same bad joke (Why do birds fly south in winter? Because it's too far to walk) is read out what seems like a million times and there are tiny plastic toys (why are so many of them fish?) everywhere and Tony has a mouth full of chips and gingerbread latte (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and, okay, his heart has definitely grown the whole three sizes. Maybe even three point five.
"We should totally have crackers," he says to Tim, wiping away the crumbs he sprays over his face.
"Only if I get to keep all the fish," says Tim.
"You are so weird."
"Says the guy wearing three paper crowns."
"Hashtag parties are the best," Tony says. He raises his voice. "Okay, you guys, you win. I declare Christmas to be uncancelled."
There's a rousing cheer and solid evidence that British dentistry is finally catching up with the States.
"You know what we need," calls Abby to Tony over all the hubbub.
"Off you go then, no one's stopping you."
Tony shrugs. "No guitar."
"I have mine," pipes up Goth Bunny kid--Tony thinks he's called Zeph, but that can't be right, surely? "Gimme two minutes."
He's out of breath when he returns, guitar clutched in his hand. "Who wants it?"
"Ding, fries are done," says Tim and Tony side-eyes him.
"It's not Carol of the Bells time, Tim."
Abby holds out her hands.
"Okay. How about O Holy Night? Can you do that one, Abs?"
"I can do anything," says Abby, and it's not a boast, just a simple statement of fact.
"When you're ready, then."
Abby plays the introduction, and Tony suffers a momentary stab of stage fright mixed in with embarrassment. They're in a freaking airport terminal, not at a gig. There are literally thousands of people in here who have no clue who Tony is and who care even less. He really, really hopes they're managing to cling on to a handful of Christmas spirit. He takes Tim's hand and squeezes hard.
Clearing his throat, Tony starts to sing. "Oh, holy night! The stars are brightly shining. This is the night of our dear savior's birth." He sings the first verse, realizing he has no clue what comes next, but when he launches into it a second time, new voices join his: his band, some of the hashtag wonders and, if Tony's not mistaken, a couple of scattered voices from further afield. He grins.
They power through all the old standards and when Efe and Said Than Done Lady are leading everyone in the Coventry Carol, he takes the opportunity to get his breath back. Only it doesn't really work, because he turns to look at Tim, his too-long-between-visits-to-the-barbers bangs flopping over one eye, the other eye shining with unexpected happiness, and the sight of him steals what's left of the air in Tony's lungs. Screwed up planes, trains and automobiles be damned. He has his Tim right here and that makes him luckier than most.
"Hey," he says, leaning over to take a quiet kiss. "Happy Christmas."
"You're not getting your book back," says Tim, but his smile is soft and he traces Tony's cheek with a finger. There's a squeak from somewhere off to his right, but Tony ignores it.
"Not even if I promise to walk Jethro for a week when we get home?"
"Happy Christmas, Tony," says Tim and kisses him back, sweet and slow.
The carol finishes and then Jimmy points at the windows and says, "Now would you look at that. It's stopped snowing. Maybe we'll get home for Christmas after all."
The impromptu Christmas party cheers for a second time.
Tony looks at Tim and then around at all the faces--those he loves like family, those that are new to him, but suddenly, stupidly dear--and he says, "You know, I think we already are."