The team worked at their desks finishing their reports on the case they had just closed. They each glanced at their co-workers occasionally.
“What?” Tony finally asked, looking over to Bishop.
“What?” she countered, shaking her bag of cheese puffs as she assessed how long she could make them last.
Tony nodded to McGee. “We know you type faster than us. If your report is done, turn it in.”
She looked to the upper level. “He’s still in with Vance. There’s no reason to finish it before he’s done.”
“How late does Jake have to work?” asked Tim.
Bishop sighed as she checked her cell phone for text messages. “He’s already home with a bottle of wine and a fire in the fireplace. How about Delilah?”
“She’s still at the office,” said Tim. “She’s waiting until Gibbs cuts us loose.”
Both of them stared at Tony.
“What?” he asked again. “Gibbs and I have plans. I guess. Our case is closed. He’s not going to make us stay late tonight. I promise.”
“And if he tries, you will convince him otherwise?” Tim questioned.
Tony straightened his tie. “I can be very convincing.”
“How’s your dad?” asked Tim.
“He’s good. But he’s out of the country.”
Tony shrugged. “He’s probably closing another deal.”
The moment Gibbs appeared at the top step, Bishop hit her print key and went to the printer to collect her report. Standing by his desk, she waited until he sat down to place her paperwork in front of him.
Tim was the next to drop his report in front of the boss, then Tony. All three stood beside the desk staring at Gibbs anxiously. He put on his glasses and glanced at the reports they had just turned in. Looking up, he shooed them away. “Go on. Get out of here.”
“Thank you Gibbs, have a Merry Christmas,” Bishop called as she grabbed her things and nearly ran for the elevator.
“Merry Christmas,” said Tim as he followed closely behind her.
“You can go home, too,” Gibbs said, seeing Tony was still sitting at his desk.
“There’s no reason for me to leave until you’re ready.”
“I’m going to read through the reports. It will be a while.”
“I can wait. After all, my plans do include you.”
Gibbs smiled as he grabbed Bishop’s report first.
“I’m surprised you didn’t make them stay until you read the reports and made sure they were okay.”
“It’s Christmas Eve, DiNozzo. They have loved ones to get home to.”
Tony sighed. “So do I. But my loved one is a workaholic who can’t be convinced to go home.”
“Lucky you,” said Gibbs, as he turned a page.
An hour later Abby stopped by to give them both hugs, kisses and holiday wishes before she left the building. Five minutes later, Gibbs signed off on the reports, and stuck them all into a folder.
“I’ll just drop these off, then we can get out of here.”
Tony nodded and watched Gibbs on his way to the Director’s office. There weren’t many people left in the building, but Vance was still there. Checking his watch, Tony wondered how long it would take Gibbs to drop off the reports. Fifteen minutes later, Gibbs returned.
“Let’s roll,” Gibbs said as he grabbed his coat.
Tony was more than ready to get out of there. “Should I follow you?”
“Do you need to go back to your apartment?”
Shaking his head, Tony said, “No. I already packed. My things are in my car.”
“Good. Follow me. I’ll grab my gear and we’ll hit the road.”
Less than an hour later, it began to snow as they moved their luggage to Gibbs’ pickup truck.
“We can take my car if you want,” offered Tony.
“The truck is four-wheel drive.”
“My car has a trunk,” Tony pointed out.
Gibbs looked up at the sky. “I have a tarp.”
Knowing he wasn’t going to win the argument, Tony placed his suitcases in the back of Gibbs’ truck. Gibbs climbed up and moved all of their luggage to the front of the truck bed, covered everything with tarps, and strapped it all down.
“It’s going to be fine.”
Tony was still unconvinced as he got into the passenger seat.
The sky darkened and the snow came down heavier with every passing mile. There were easily three or four inches of snow on the gravel road Gibbs turned onto.
“It’s still coming down,” Gibbs noted. “Your car wouldn’t make it through deep snow. There aren’t any snow plows this far out.”
Tony nodded and reached to pat Gibbs’ arm. “I know.”
Gibbs was driving slowly, making sure they didn’t slide off the narrow road to his cabin. It was pitch black when they arrived. Gibbs turned the truck around, so it was already pointing in the right direction when they were ready to leave.
“I’m glad you can find this place in the dark, Boss,” Tony said as he got out of the vehicle.
“Been here enough times. Don’t go inside yet.”
“Okay,” Tony answered, confusion playing across his face.
Like Gibbs’ house, the cabin had never been locked on their past visits. Gibbs always said there wasn’t anything worth taking. DiNozzo had pointed out that if the wrong people found it open, they could do a lot of damage without taking a thing. And, unlike Gibbs’ house, there wasn’t a street full of neighbors willing to keep an eye on things out here.
With Gibbs standing in the truck bed, he released all the straps and folded all the tarps. After another glance up to the sky, he handed the tarps to Tony, then began handing down their luggage, bags of food and cans of kerosene. After moving the cooler to the rear of the truck, Gibbs jumped down, pulled out the cooler, setting it on the porch before slamming the tailgate shut on the truck.
Tony was waiting on the porch, rocking on his feet with his arms wrapped around his torso. “It’s getting cold out here.”
Gibbs smiled as he reached into his pocket.
Tony finally noticed. “A lock?”
“Like you said, the wrong people could come across it and do some damage. Although, I think if they’re determined, they’ll still manage to break in. But this, I do for you.”
Gibbs placed his hand at the back of Tony’s neck and drew him close, kissing him. “Work day is over, Tony.”
“Yes, it is, Jethro.”
“Your Christmas present is in there, unwrapped. So, Merry Christmas,” Gibbs said as he unlocked the door.
Tony stood on the porch, staring into the darkness. “It’s not a bear or anything else dangerous, is it?”
Gibbs chuckled as he pushed past Tony. “No, nothing dangerous.”
Using his flashlight, Gibbs found the kerosene lanterns, filled and lit one of them.
Tony glanced around the cabin and his eyes settled on a new piece of furniture: a queen-sized bed with a hand-carved frame. “Wow,” he exclaimed. “This is beautiful.”
“And functional,” Gibbs added as he lit another lantern and started a fire in the fireplace. “It’ll warm up quickly. Let’s get everything else inside.”
The snow had lightened up significantly. The pair moved their things inside the cabin and closed the door behind them.
“Wood doesn’t ever get too cold to burn, does it?” Tony asked.
“No. It’s what people used before they had boilers and furnaces. We’re not going to freeze out here. I promise.”
Gibbs nodded to a stack of firewood inside the cabin. “When it gets low, we’ll bring more inside. I have plenty chopped and ready to go.”
“I hope we can find the outhouse,” said Tony as he cupped his hands and blew across them.
“Take a lantern. I’ll shovel a path in the morning.”
Tony sorted out his things while Gibbs put a grate across the fire and made hamburgers. Even though it was dark outside, Tony opened the shutters on the windows and looked out at the stars.
“It will stay warmer if you keep those closed,” Gibbs warned.
“I know. But the stars are beautiful. Sort of romantic.”
Gibbs put the burgers on buns and set two on each plate before taking them to the small wooden table. “Dinner is served.”
Tony grabbed two beers from the cooler, a bag of chips and condiments. “Happy Christmas Eve, Gibbs.”
“Isn’t it Merry Christmas Eve?”
Tony shrugged as he bit into his first burger. “Same difference. You think Santa’s going to stop by? With the fire going all night, he might burn his ass.”
“Tomorrow you can check the roof for evidence of reindeer and a sleigh.”
“And a jolly old soul.”
“If he shows, I might have to arrest him for breaking and entering,” teased Gibbs.
“Oh, you wouldn’t! Jethro! How Grinch-like of you.”
After they ate, Tony set about making hot chocolate with marshmallows and insisted on roasting a few marshmallows over the open fire. “They’re awesome,” he insisted.
“They look like a gooey mess,” said Gibbs.
“Haven’t you ever roasted marshmallows before?”
Gibbs suddenly looked sad. “Yeah. A long time ago,” he admitted as he got up to put a couple more pieces of wood onto the fire.
“With Kelly?” Tony asked softly.
Gibbs nodded and grasped his mug with both hands.
Reaching out, Tony patted Gibbs’ leg. “Don’t be sad. Please? Not on Christmas Eve. I wish your memories brought you more joy than sadness.”
Gibbs cocked his head. “The memories are joyful. Knowing they’re gone is always sad, thinking of what could have been.”
“You can’t change the past. If they were here, I wouldn’t be.”
Gibbs took a hard look at Tony.
“All I’m saying is, sometimes you have to live in the present and just think of the happy memories when you think of the past. You can’t change what was, only what will be. Instead of getting stuck in the sadness of their loss, I wish you would focus on building something with me, now.”
Gibbs finally smiled, leaned over and kissed Tony. “You taste sweet and a little bit sticky.”
“Sounds like a perfect romantic evening to me.”
“Sounds like the wind is picking up,” Gibbs said as he went over to the window. “Snow is getting heavy again, too.” Setting down his mug, he closed the wooden shutters over all except the window nearest to the bed. “I don’t want to freeze overnight, but you can still have your view.”
Gibbs watched as Tony heated more water over the fire, then washed out the mugs, dishes and his face. Afterward, they snuggled together in front of the fire.
At eleven, Gibbs scooped Tony up and dropped him onto the bed.
“What?” Tony asked with a yawn.
“It’s late and you’re exhausted. Get some sleep.”
“I want to stay up and watch for Santa.”
Gibbs tugged off Tony’s pants, then got undressed himself, before climbing into the bed. The fire was roaring and he had bought a couple blankets and a thick comforter intended for cold weather.
“Are you warm enough?” he asked.
Tony snuggled against him. “Yeah, plenty warm. Goodnight, Jethro.”
Gibbs kissed Tony’s forehead. “Goodnight.”
Tony slept until light streamed in through the window nearest to the bed. Sitting up, he yawned and stretched, then realized he was still wearing his shirt and underwear, but his pants had been removed. A pair of slippers was on the floor, beside the bed, waiting for him.
Looking across the one room cabin, he blinked his eyes. There were stuffed stockings hung over the fireplace, one marked for Tony and the other one for Jethro, and a small tree decorated with garland and a few ornaments stood nearby. More strands of garland were spread around the cabin, giving it a more festive appearance. The fire still crackled in the fireplace.
“Jethro, you’re amazing,” he said softly as he took it all in.
Unlatching the back door, he saw Jethro had cleared a path to the outhouse as promised. After slipping on his boots, he made a quick dash. When he returned to the cabin, he saw Gibbs replenishing the inside wood pile.
Gibbs turned to Tony and smiled. “You look like you’re about to freeze your ass off.”
“I had to go and I wasn’t expecting it to be quite that cold out there. I figured, why put on pants just to drop them again.”
“It’s your ass.”
Tony slipped his hands beneath Gibbs’ coat and hugged him. “Actually, I think it’s yours. Didn’t I give it to you last year?”
Gibbs kissed him and patted his ass. “Then stop freezing my ass off. Put some pants on.”
Tony dressed while Gibbs heated more water over the fireplace for what he called cowboy coffee. It was way too strong for Tony, who opted for orange juice and more hot chocolate.
“Merry Christmas, Jethro,” he said as they dug into the pastries Tony had brought for the occasion.
After they ate, Tony pulled the stockings down and they sat on the floor in front of the fire and dug through the treasures. Mostly, they were fruits, nuts and chocolates, but Tony didn’t miss the engraved dog tags.
Tony turned them over in his hands. On one side was etched Gunnery Sergeant, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, US Marine Corps. Then Tony turned it over to read the other side. “With all my love, LJG. “Thank you, Jethro. These are amazing,” he exclaimed as he pulled the chain over his neck. “And now, you will always be with me.”
Leaning over, Tony kissed Gibbs. Next, he rose to his feet and went over to one of his suitcases, retrieving a couple small gifts. After he returned, he set the packages down in front of Gibbs.
The first one was a coffee mug. One side read World’s Greatest Boss and the other side read World’s Greatest Lover. Gibbs smiled as he read one side and then the other.
“It’s dual purpose, Gibbs. You can use it at work and at home.”
Gibbs chuckled. “I’m not taking this to work.”
Tony shrugged. “Well, I washed it already so you can use it here if you want to.”
“That’s a good idea,” Gibbs said as he went to the fireplace. Using a pot holder, he grabbed the coffee pot and filled his cup, then drank from it. “It’s perfect, Tony. Thank you.”
The next gift was an envelope. He opened it to find a brochure, which featured photos of horses, cows, cowboys, a chuck wagon and a campfire. “Sending me to a dude ranch?”
“Vance said you have to take a vacation next year. Honestly, my first thought was a beachfront hotel in the Bahamas. Maybe a cruise.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t see that either. Then I thought dude ranch. But, when I went to talk to the travel agent, she asked about you and suggested this. It’s a working cattle ranch, Gibbs. So you get to ride horses, herd cattle, maybe do some roping and branding. She described it as a true cowboy experience including a weeklong trip that’s old style. You get to go on a cattle drive, camp out under the stars, and eat food prepared over an open fire.”
“That sounds,” Gibbs paused searching for the right words, “right up my alley.”
“Since you’re a paying guest, you get to decide how much you want to do. So, you can just go along for the ride, but you can opt to get as involved with the work as much as you want.”
“So, while you’re sipping margaritas on a beach in the Bahamas, I get to play cowboy?”
“Don’t be silly. I’m going with you.”
Gibbs’ eyes widened. “You? On a horse and camping out?”
“I have ridden my share of horses. Although I did ride English when I was younger, I was assured that Western would be an easy adjustment. And I have been camping before. With McScout. Besides, they said if you get saddle sore, you can ride in the chuck wagon for a while. They use it to haul all the gear and food.”
“It sounds perfect,” Gibbs said. “And I am glad you will be there with me.”
“So you can laugh at the city slicker?”
“Of course not. I like having you around. That’s why a built a bigger bed.”
Tony smiled and leaned against Gibbs. “This is perfect. I’m glad you talked me into spending Christmas at the cabin.”
“Me, too,” replied Gibbs, as he wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulder and pulled him close.
They spent several long minutes, watching the fire wordlessly as Gibbs sipped his coffee and Tony drank his hot chocolate.
Finally, Gibbs removed his arm from Tony’s shoulder and rose to his feet. “I am going to make that feast I promised you.”
“On an open fire. I can’t wait.”
“I told you, Skippy, that’s how people cooked for centuries.”
“Just saying. It wouldn’t hurt to get a camp stove or something.”
“Nah, that would take all the fun out of roughing it.”
“Yeah, where’s the challenge in that?”
“Indeed,” Gibbs agreed.
Tony stood up and walked across the room to his suitcase. “While you’re cooking, I’m going to get a little exercise.”
“The snow is a little too deep to go running, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but I can go for a walk.”
“Don’t get lost.”
Tony pulled on a pair of jeans and changed to a flannel shirt before pulling on his boots, coat and gloves. “No worries. I’ll just follow my footprints back.”
Jethro walked to the door and pulled Tony into an embrace before kissing him. “Be careful and remember that it gets dark early out here.”
Tony reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out a flashlight, flicking it on and off to prove it worked. “All set. Fresh batteries and everything. And I expect to be back well before dark.”
Over the years, Gibbs had perfected his skills in cooking over an open fire. He could tell how much wood to add and how far from the fire something should be. He had a good idea of how long things would take to cook. Between the two grilling grates and the hooks he had added to the fireplace, he was able to have multiple things cooking all at once.
He was lost amid his chopping, mixing and cooking for a couple of hours before it occurred to him that Tony should have been back. When he tried the cell, he heard Tony’s phone ringing from across the cabin, near the bed.
“Dammit, DiNozzo!” he said aloud.
After checking his watch again, he decided to give Tony a little while longer before going out and searching for him.
Another hour later, he pulled on his boots, coat and gloves before venturing out into the cold. It had started snowing again and the wind was blowing briskly. Between the two, Tony’s footprints were barely visible.
“He’s lost!” Gibbs exclaimed. “The wind covered his tracks and he’s lost.”
The sun was hiding behind a massive group of clouds as Gibbs set out. He followed Tony’s footprints until they were lost beneath the blowing snow.
In the middle of a field, he stood and looked around. “Where the hell are you, Tony?” It was then that he realized that he hadn’t brought a flashlight or lantern with him. It was too late to go back to the cabin to get anything. It would be dark by the time he went to the cabin and returned to the field.
“DiNozzo!” he yelled as loudly as he could. “DiNozzo!”
There was no answer.
He stood for a few minutes, getting his bearings. He looked around and saw smoke rising in the distance. The snow was getting ever deeper and the wind grew stronger every few minutes. But he trudged on.
“Broken branch,” he said aloud. “He lost his way and broke branches to mark his path.”
Every few steps, he called out Tony’s name and stopped to listen for an answer, but he heard nothing. An hour later he was approaching a house as the daylight was quickly fading. Long before he reached it, he noticed the two sheriff’s cars and a handful of SUVs and pickup trucks around the front.
At the front door, he knocked the snow from his boots. He was about to ring the doorbell when the sheriff came outside.
“Come to help?” the sheriff asked.
Gibbs read his badge, noting his name. “Sheriff Duncan, I own a cabin a couple miles away. My friend went for a walk and never came back. I was hoping someone had seen him.”
“Yes, Tony DiNozzo. He’s here?” Gibbs asked.
“No, he’s not. The Stevens’ boys went out to play, sledding a couple fields away. One of them got hurt. When the wind came up, they got turned around. Tony found them. He sent Johnny back to get help and he’s out there somewhere with Michael. We were hoping the snow and the wind would tail off, but it’s only gotten worse.”
“We need to find them before it gets too dark.”
“Johnny is exhausted. He’s not sure exactly where they are. All he knows is that they’re taking cover under a pine tree.”
Gibbs glanced toward the horizon. It was a mix of trees and fields. There were a lot of pine trees.
“Your friend is a hero. Johnny didn’t want to leave his brother, but your friend promised to keep him safe. He told Johnny someone had to go for help.”
“He’s getting warmed up inside. Is your friend carrying a cell phone?”
“I wish he was. It’s back at the cabin. I guess he didn’t think he’d need it. I’d like to help search, if someone can loan me a flashlight.”
“If you’re up to it, I will gladly appreciate the help. Does Tony have any survival skills?”
“He’s been known to be pretty resourceful, but he just went for a walk. I don’t think he even took a water bottle with him.”
The sheriff nodded and turned around. “Jim, this is Gibbs. See if you can find a spare flashlight for him. Go ahead and take him with you. I’ll team up everyone else.”
Jim nodded and waved for Gibbs to follow him. The deputy reached into his trunk and handed Gibbs a flashlight. “Are you up for a rough trek in deep snow?”
“You set the pace, I’ll keep up.”
“Gibbs, is it?”
“I don’t recall seeing you around before.”
“I own a cabin off a dirt road near the Millers’ farm.”
“How did you hear about the search? Police scanner?”
“No. I have a friend staying with me. He went for a walk hours ago and never came back.”
“Oh, and the sheriff thinks he’s the guy out there with Michael?”
“Yeah, we’re hoping.”
It had grown dark before they found Tony and the boy snuggled up beneath a large pine tree. Tony had built a windbreak with branches and snow.
“DiNozzo!” Gibbs called.
“Boss! Am I glad to see you! I think the kid broke his leg sledding with his brother. They said they took a bad tumble. I tried to carry him out, but the snow was too deep.”
“Why didn’t you put him on the sled?” Gibbs asked.
“It’s pretty trashed. They think they hit a rock, then got thrown into the trees. Johnny seemed okay and thought he could find his house. He just didn’t want to leave his brother alone.”
“So you offered to stay with him.”
The deputy pulled out his radio and called for help. “We need to get the ambulance and rescue team out here. Michael has a broken leg and will need to be transported.”
The kid looked pale as he sat shivering under the tree. “You’re going to be fine,” Gibbs assured him. Turning to Tony, he added, “You, too.”
“I’ll wait here if you guys want to start heading back to the house. Maybe you can help guide the rescue team this way. I have a flare gun. They can call on the radio or fire off a gun if they want me to shoot off a flare.”
Gibbs nodded. “Are you okay?” he asked Tony.
“Yeah, Boss. Michael, it’s been a pleasure. Take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will. Thanks for helping me, Tony.”
“And come spring we’re going to go fishing.”
The boy’s eyes lit up. “I can’t wait!”
As he and Tony walked away, Gibbs asked, “Fishing?”
“What? You like fishing. I thought we could take the boys out fishing if it’s okay with their parents.”
“I don’t know what’s come over you, DiNozzo. Roughing it at the cabin over Christmas, signing yourself up to take a cowboy vacation with me and now fishing?”
Tony leaned close enough to kiss Gibbs on the cheek. “Maybe you’re a good influence on me after all.”
The weather developed into a full-fledged blizzard as they struggled against the snow and wind. When they met the rescue team, they pointed them in the right direction. By the time they reached the porch, Tony was exhausted.
“Maybe we can sleep in their barn,” he suggested as he collapsed in a chair on the porch.
“It’s going to be mighty cold in the barn tonight,” warned Gibbs.
“I don’t think I will have any problem going to sleep tonight.”
“We need to get you back to the cabin and warmed up,” Gibbs said as he knocked on the front door. “Sheriff Duncan, I wanted to return your flashlight.”
“Thanks, Gibbs. After we get Michael squared away, I can drive you back to your cabin. You’d never make it on foot in this blizzard.”
Gibbs looked at Tony sprawled across the porch chair with his eyes closed.
Mr. Stevens came to the door and asked, “Is this the guy? Come in, please. Get warm. Mabel, pour a couple cups of coffee.”
Gibbs offered his hand to Tony and pulled him to his feet.
Johnny was wrapped in a blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace, holding a mug in his hands. Looking up at Tony, he offered, “Thanks, Mister.”
“It’s Tony. And you’re very welcome. I’m glad I could help.”
Mabel insisted on giving Tony and Gibbs a dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, green beans and pumpkin pie for dessert. “I can’t thank you enough,” she said.
“I’m glad the boys are going to be okay,” Tony said.
After they ate, Mabel insisted that her husband drive them back to Gibbs’ cabin in their truck. “It won’t take long,” she insisted. “We can’t send them out on foot in this weather and the sheriff has work to do.”
Tony sat in the middle, but leaned his head onto Gibbs’ shoulder. “Bed’s going to look mighty good tonight.”
Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulder. “You’ve certainly earned it.”
They thanked Mr. Stevens for the ride and walked inside the cabin. Gibbs lit a couple more lanterns and closed up the window shutters. Tony collapsed on the bed while Gibbs added more wood to the fire.
“It’ll warm up soon,” Gibbs promised.
“Smells good in here.”
“It’s a roast, potatoes and some vegetables. I even brought pecan pie.”
Tony sat up. “I could eat a little bit.”
“You just ate a feast.”
“I’m sure we burned off a ton of calories trudging around in the snow.”
Gibbs smiled as he set the table and warmed up their dinner.
After they ate, they sat on the floor beside the fire, snuggled together. Gibbs drank his coffee while Tony settled for hot chocolate. They both gazed at the flames flickering.
“You thought I got lost, didn’t you?” Tony asked.
“Next time, take your cell phone.”
“I didn’t think it would get a signal.”
“Then maybe I will get us a couple walkie-talkies.”
“I knew where I was the entire time. I just couldn’t leave that kid out there alone. I knew you’d come find me eventually.”
Gibbs kissed Tony’s temple. “I’m glad you’re back where you belong.”
“Merry Christmas, Jethro.”
“Merry Christmas, Tony.”
15 Nov 2015
© 2015 by Jacie