Gibbs strode off the elevator into the NCIS bullpen, secure in knowing that this late on Christmas Eve he would have the office to himself. The guard on the gate had said the on-call team, lead by Zack Balboa, was out checking a possible AWOL Petty Officer. That left him ample time to work on his overdue performance evaluations.
Taking a step toward their cubicles, he froze as he heard a very familiar voice raised in rare anger.
"Yes, of course I'll be there this year, Junior! Don't worry, I've already got my bags packed and my ticket's waiting at the airport. It'll be so good to see you again, Junior! Lying bastard!!"
The team lead barely had time to duck as a projectile passed dangerously close, hitting the wall behind him. Turning, he picked up the now shattered cell phone. He didn't have to see the spidered display to know who that last call was from – he'd bet a month's pay it was from DiNozzo Senior.
"Goddammit, why do I let him do this to me?" Tony growled. "Why did I let myself think it would be different--" He broke off when he realized he was no longer alone.
Gibbs placed the shattered cell phone on his second in command's desk then headed for the filing cabinet they shared. Opening the third drawer, he took out a new one, still in the packaging.
"Usually it's you handing me a new phone," he quipped, trying to keep the atmosphere light. He opened the box and placed the new phone on DiNozzo's desk.
"Shit," the younger man muttered, burying his face in his hands. "How long were you there, Boss?”
“Long enough to duck a flying cell phone,” Gibbs answered easily.
“Dammit. Boss I--”
“You weren't aiming for me,” the other man noted. “And if you were, you need some serious target practice.”
“Aim for you?” DiNozzo actually paled. “Never even crossed my mind, Boss."
"Think I don't know that? C'mon, grab your gear," Gibbs gruffly ordered, nodding toward the elevator. "I got a steak defrosting in the fridge and it's big enough for two."
Tony considered arguing but decided spending the evening with Gibbs, even if he had to tell about his father's latest disappointment, was better than stewing alone. He knew himself well enough to know that if he went home alone, he would likely drink to the point of passing out. And that just made him think again of his father, which he preferred to avoid.
"Coming, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, holding the elevator door.
"On your six, Boss." Grabbing his coat and backpack, Tony dashed to the elevator.
They rode down to the parking garage in silence. As the door opened, Gibbs said, "With me. Your car's fine overnight. We'll come get it in the morning."
The younger man's only response was a short nod as he followed Gibbs to his battered pick-up truck and got in the passenger side.
Gibbs pulled into a convenience store that was still open. As he parked, he asked, “Want anything specific?”
Tony considered but shook his head. Whatever Gibbs got would be fine and he trusted the older man not to let him drink too much. Frankly, he very seldom drank more than a few beers in Gibbs' company, too afraid the alcohol would loosen his tongue and he'd let slip how much he wanted the older man.
The drive to Gibbs' place was made in silence and once inside the house, both men shrugged out of their jackets. Before heading to the kitchen, Gibbs lit the fireplace, making sure it had a good blaze.
Once in the kitchen, Gibbs took out the steak, cut it in half then spooned more of the marinade over them. He knew Tony was watching and fought back a grin. The younger man was dying to know what he used to make his steaks so juicy and it frustrated DiNozzo that he couldn't get the details.
“Got anything in here for a salad, Boss?” Tony questioned, opening the fridge and peering inside.
“Should be some lettuce at least. Might be carrots and onion.” Gibbs shrugged “Help yourself. You know where everything is.”
By the time the steaks were cooked, Tony had put together two decent salads. They ate in companionable silence for a while, although Gibbs noticed Tony was pushing his food around the plate more than he was actually eating.
Gibbs considered ordering the younger man to talk but knew that would get him the run-around and it would take forever to get to the root of the problem. Better to wait DiNozzo out; he would eventually open up.
By the time Gibbs had cleaned up the kitchen and returned with a bourbon in his hand, Tony was on his third beer. He waited for Gibbs to take the seat next to him before he began speaking.
"I thought since he'd stuck around for Thanksgiving this time he might actually keep his word about Christmas." Tony laughed bitterly. "Should have known not to get my hopes up."
"Not easy for a leopard to change its spots," Gibbs responded.
Tony snorted. "More like a hyena than a leopard."
Gibbs couldn't argue with that.
With a heavy sigh, Tony pulled out his cell phone. Remembering it still needed to be activated, he got to his feet and headed for the kitchen, where he knew Gibbs' land line was located.
Gibbs followed, leaning against the doorway. "Need to cancel a date at this hour?"
"No, gonna call a cab. I've taken enough time away from whatever you're building in the basement these days." Tony picked up the handset, about to dial a number from memory, apparently.
"Got a perfectly good bed in the guest room," Gibbs said, taking the phone and hanging it up. "Not an imposition."
"Guest room? But I thought--" DiNozzo frowned. He knew Gibbs' father had spent last Christmas on the sofa because according to his son it "wasn't a guest room anymore". Huh.
"Thought what?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow, daring the younger man to challenge him.
Tony opened his mouth to answer, but a look at Gibbs' expression promptly killed what he had been about to say. After all, Gibbs was not a man to say what he didn't mean, and he'd been the one to bring Tony here anyway.
"Okay, you're the boss, Boss." Giving Gibbs one of his trademark smirks, Tony snapped off a decent salute.
The older man rolled his eyes before turning and heading for the stairs. Crooking a finger, he said, "Let's get you settled for the night."
As Tony instinctively fell into step behind the older man, he couldn't help thinking how he LOVED following that ass, and that he loved watching it, too. Of course, there were other things he wanted to do with it--
Knock it off, Tony! You're going to get yourself in deep trouble with thoughts like that. You know you suck at hiding from Gibbs.
Gibbs made up the bed with fresh sheets while Tony was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and washing his face. He hadn't missed the younger man's surprise when the guest room was mentioned. After all, for about a year it hadn't been usable. He had discovered a leak in his attic and had to move what he had kept of Shannon's belongings into the guest room. Once there, it was easier to leave them than deal with them again.
He had only recently converted the room back, missing Tony's once frequent visits. The younger man still came over but didn't stay as long without having a place where he could crash comfortably.
"Thanks, Boss." Tony eyed the bed warily. "I'm almost afraid to get in, though."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?" Gibbs knew there was a punch line. This was Tony, after all.
"Marine corners," the younger man explained, totally straight-faced. "If I roll over I'm likely to bounce and hit the ceiling."
The resulting head smack was more of a tap, and it made DiNozzo grin ear to ear.
"Just get to bed, DiNozzo. Remember, if you're still awake, Santa won't stop by and leave your presents."
"Aw, but we didn't leave him milk and cookies!" Tony grinned and ducked but there was no smack this time.
"See you in the morning." Gibbs shut out the light on his way out the door.
"Night, Boss!" Tony called after him, snuggling under the blankets. Feeling safe and welcome, he drifted off to sleep within minutes.
Gibbs headed down to the basement. He was between projects at the moment, having finished up the toys for the hospitalized children. On a rare spur of the moment idea, he pulled out the tablet where he sketched out ideas and grabbed a pencil.
After nearly two hours, he put down the pencil and gave the sketch an appraising look. It could be done. It could even be made in sections which could be put together at the final destination rather than transporting the unit as a whole.
He shook his head. He'd only ever gifted his projects to one other person, well... two, counting Kelly. So what did it mean that he was considering something on this scale for DiNozzo? Better no to consider that too closely right now. Though he knew he hadn't imagined the other man's increasing stares when he thought no one else noticed.
Deciding it was time for a break, Gibbs headed upstairs to the bathroom. As he passed the guest room, he heard Tony muttering. Frowning, Gibbs opened the door a crack. He couldn't tell what the younger man was saying but DiNozzo's tone was distressed.
Gently sitting on the edge of the bed, Gibbs reached out and brushed aside a lock of hair that had fallen onto Tony's forehead. He leaned close and whispered into the younger man's ear.
"It's okay, Tony. Go back to sleep. It's just a dream. Get some rest." He continued for a few minutes until finally Tony relaxed and snuffled deeper into his pillow.
Gibbs couldn't help grinning. That had to be one of the cutest moments ever. Even if he knew DiNozzo would deny it happening and insist he wasn't 'cute'.
He left Tony's room as quietly as he entered and headed to the bathroom. As he took care of business and washed his hands, an idea came to him. These days he wasn't much for giving gifts other than Ducky and Abby, but he wanted to make this Christmas special for Tony, especially in light of his father's latest failure.
Despite the late hour, Gibbs headed back to the basement with renewed purpose. Bypassing his work table entirely, he headed for the small storage room at the opposite end of the room. As he turned on the light and began pulling out boxes, he muttered, "I hope this stuff still works."
Tony woke slowly, not with the usual jolt of awareness that usually came with waking in a strange bed. Then he stretched languidly and smiled. He wasn't in a strange bed. He was in Gibbs' guest room, after all. And he'd been having the best dream about being held close in Gibbs' arms. Damn, he wished that part had been real too.
He shivered as he got out of bed. A hot shower was definitely in order. As he passed by the armchair he caught sight of a set of sweats and smiled. They were his, obviously left behind from one of his previous stays and placed there by Gibbs sometime during the night. Tony fought down a jolt of desire at the thought of the other man in his room, possibly watching him sleep. It should creep him out, probably... but it was Gibbs, after all.
After a quick but steaming shower, Tony dressed and headed downstairs, intending to cook breakfast for them. As he hit the bottom step and turned toward the living room, he froze, mouth dropping open in shock.
Gibbs' living room had been transformed in the few short hours he'd been sleeping. There was a modest tree standing in front of the bay windows, with multi-colored lights and if he wasn't mistaken, hand made ornaments. There was a garland hung over the window and also over the fireplace. Tony blinked, seeing the two Christmas stockings hung side by side.
On the mantle, a small Christmas village had been laid out, with lighted buildings on top of some kind of sparkly white fabric which Tony supposed was meant to look like snow.
Tony took a step into the room, for the first time seeing Gibbs sitting on the couch. The man was dressed casually in jeans and a USMC sweatshirt with his ever-present cup of coffee in one hand and the newspaper in the other. His legs were up the sofa and he looked as relaxed as Tony had ever seen him.
"Coffee's in the pot. Thought we could walk down to the diner a little later, get breakfast. They're open until noon today." Folding the newspaper, Gibbs looked up at his house guest. He raised an eyebrow, which in Gibbs-speak was usually either a question or a sign of annoyance.
Realizing his mouth was still open Tony snapped it shut, nearly catching his tongue in the process. He knew Gibbs would not want a big deal made of the decorations. The man had never celebrated Christmas in any way since Tony had known him. He couldn't begin to guess why now, but there was a fledgling seed of hope that it had to do with him being here and not just his dad cancelling their holiday plans.
Clearing his throat of the lump that had taken residence, Tony said, "I, uh, was going to cook breakfast. Think I saw enough in there for a good omelet."
"You're my guest," Gibbs reminded, swinging his legs off the sofa. "I can--"
"No, no!" Tony protested. "I like cooking and I don't get the chance very often. Let me? Really, Gibbs. I don't mind."
"Well, I'm at least going to help." Gibbs pushed to his feet and motioned for Tony to go on ahead. "Need more coffee anyway."
Tony got the last cup in the pot which he didn't mind. At the rate Gibbs drank coffee, it hadn't been there long. As he pulled vegetables, eggs, cheese and milk out of the fridge, he heard Gibbs pulling plates out of the cupboard.
"I had cheese in there?" Gibbs wondered. "Huh. Didn't even realize."
"Yeah, well... not as much cheese as I thought at first," Tony grinned. "But it'll do."
They worked together in the same companionable silence as they ate their meal last night, finally sitting down to a meal of omelets, toast and juice.
"That was pretty damned good," Gibbs said, pushing his empty plate to the side. He almost asked why the younger man had never cooked for him during any of his previous visits but figured Tony's reason was his own.
They had cleaned up as they cooked, and there was little to do after eating but wash the plates and put them in the drain to dry. Tony wiped down the counters while Gibbs made another pot of coffee.
By unspoken agreement they took their cups into the living room. This time Tony was feeling a bit more daring and so he openly inspected the decorations. After all, if Gibbs didn't want him to look, he never would have put them out, right?
"I can't believe you did all this in just a few hours, Boss," he said, shaking his head. "Where did you get it all?"
"Basement." Gibbs shrugged. "Except the tree."
Tony looked over at the other man, once again sitting on the sofa pretending to read the paper. That tree was real and there weren't too many places to get a real tree in the early hours of Christmas morning. Realizing Gibbs had spoken again, he focused on the words.
"--wasn't sure all the lights would still work. Haven't used 'em since--" Gibbs paused to clear his throat.
"Shannon and Kelly," Tony whispered, blinking rapidly. He had known that had to be the case, but actually hearing Gibbs admit it made his chest ache.
To give them both some time, DiNozzo took a closer look at the ornaments. He couldn't help the startled laugh as he gently fingered an alligator wearing a Santa hat. He knew there had to be a story behind it but wasn't sure he could ask. He nearly gasped when he felt Gibbs standing behind him.
The older man reached out his hand to the ornament but drew back before making contact. He opened his mouth to say something but had to clear his throat and try again.
"Shannon bought that when we visited New Orleans just before Kelly was born."
Tony didn't move, didn't want to even breathe for fear of breaking the spell keeping Gibbs in his personal space. It both exhilarated and terrified him. Drawing on years spent doing undercover work, he forced himself to slow his breathing and concentrated on not being aware of Gibbs still at his back.
"Thanks," he finally said. "This means more than you know. No one's ever done something like this for me. It's better than the most expensive gift."
"You deserve it, Tony." Gibbs took a step back. "Everyone should experience the magic of Christmas at some point."
"Magic." Tony laughed bitterly. "Not much magic in watching some professional company come in and decorate your house year after year. Found out later we didn't even own any of it. Company came back after I'd gone back to school and took everything away again. There was no significance to any of it."
Finally he turned to face Gibbs. "My gut tells me there's a significance to this. Am I right?"
"Think that might depend on the significance you're looking for," Gibbs answered with quiet calm. "You sure you know what you're getting into?" Three ex-wives attested to the fact that he wasn't easy to be with, after all.
Tony grinned. It wasn't one of the blindingly fake ones which did little more than bare his teeth. This one reflected in his eyes.
"Never more so." The younger man reached out, laying a hand over Gibbs heart. He lost the bravado for just a moment as he opened his mouth to speak again and had to clear his throat. "You?"
Always a man to prefer actions over words, Jethro pulled Tony closer and claimed his lips in a gentle but thorough first kiss.
"Merry Christmas, Tony," he whispered when they parted.
"Yeah, it is now, Jethro." Always greedy, Tony leaned forward to claim a kiss of his own.