Holiday Spirits (A Tibbs Christmas Carol)
Chapter 1: A Ghastly Visitor
Jethro was dreaming fitfully. He tossed and turned as he tried to find a comfortable position. Several times he had half-woken up, plumped up the hard pillow and then nodded off again. The lumpy couch that served as his bed never left him feeling fully rested, but neither did sleeping in the guest room with its overly empty queen-sized mattress. He hated sleeping in it alone; it felt too large for just one person. The master bedroom was also out of the question. It had been left untouched since his last marriage. It didn’t feel right to have temporary lovers in it. As odd it seemed, Jethro was a bit of a traditionalist. In his own way, he considered the marriage bed sacred.
He eventually sank deeper into sleep and his dreams were swarmed with images of Jenny Shepherd. Memories of her flashed in random, fleeting glimpses, but somehow the memories were warped. They sounded similar to conversations they’d actually had, but the meanings were completely different than he remembered.
“Get your head into the bedroom, Jethro.”
“Some people need someone to love.”
“I never could read your mind.”
“Sometimes you can control the outcome. Sometimes you have to look at the reality in front of you and change it.”
“We’re looking you. At all of you.”
The images of the past faded as he opened his eyes. He found himself on the couch looking up at the ceiling. There was movement out of the corner of his eyes and froze as he saw Jenny appear in the picture window above the couch. She was looking in at him with an expression of accusation and sadness. She was pale and gaunt and looked ill. If he didn’t already know she was dead, he’d suspect she was dying. The night behind her was pitch black. No street lights illuminated the neighborhood but the grey light that emanated from her allowed him to see the snow falling through her apparition. Jethro didn’t believe in ghosts but at that moment he doubted that belief. She seemed quite real.
Her mouth was moving as if she was talking but he couldn’t hear her. All he felt was an overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness as he watched her. She was clearly distressed as she tried to communicate with him. Her countenance became angry when Jethro didn’t respond. Suddenly, she reached through the glass and tried to grab his throat.
He jerked awake.
His heart was in his throat as he attempted to catch his breath and tried to make sense of what had happened. He’d heard about people dreaming they were awake, but he had never experienced it before. It left him feeling disoriented.
The clock chimed midnight. He looked warily out of the window as if he expected Jenny to be standing there but there was no one outside. The street lights were on and he noticed the snow was beginning to pile up. He guessed there would be at least a few inches on the ground by dawn.
He wiped the afterimage of Jenny away from his eyes and got up. He glanced at the Christmas tree he had put up in the event his father had decided to make a last minute visit. He hadn’t and the tree now irritated Jethro. He hated the reminder of a holiday that meant little to him. He’d chosen to leave it up in case Tony visited on Christmas Eve as he usually did. This was the first time in a number of years that Jethro doubted Tony would come, but it had become a tradition so he was going to keep his door open for the young man.
If he did visit, it would be the first year Tony would see a tree at Jethro’s house that Jackson had not put up. He wondered idly how the man would respond. ‘Probably a quote from It’s a Wonderful Life or some other old holiday movie,’Jethro thought. He laughed to himself. ‘Themore appropriate movie would be A Christmas Carol.’ He knew Tony would wonder what made Jethro ‘Scrooge’ put up a tree.
Scrooge. That’s how Jethro felt at times: an old, bitter man.
“Well…I’m mortal, and liable to fall,”he muttered aloud, remembering a quote from the 1951 version of the film. Jethro chuckled thinking of how Tony would have gotten a kick had he heard Jethro actually quoting a movie.
A small draft chilled him and he looked around, still spooked from his dream. Maybe Jenny was his own Marley coming to warn him.
Being reminded of her focused his thoughts back to Jenny. Not that he was one to dwell but he hadn’t thought of her in some time. He felt odd he hadn’t mourned her more. He knew she had made her choices but her choices had affected everyone around her. She had been her own kind of Scrooge; as selfish in death as she had been in life. Tony had taken the brunt of both.
Jenny was dead. Of that, there was no doubt. It had been several years since Jethro had dealt with the consequences. He wondered why she was on his mind. He could think of no recent cases that were similar nor did he recall seeing anyone that resembled her. He rarely dreamed and when he did, he rarely remembered much about them. He didn’t understand why this one was hanging on. He avoided looking out of the window again in case she reappeared.
He considered going to the basement to work on his latest project but it held no appeal. He found himself a touch restless but not energized enough to actually do anything. Instead, he wandered into the kitchen to make some tea. Like dreams, he also rarely had tea but it was too late for coffee. He cheated and used the bags Tony had left in the cabinets instead of properly brewing a pot in accordance to Ducky’s instructions. Jethro had no patience for it.
He found yesterday’s paper and sat down at the table. He absently dunked the tea bag as he stared at the Sports section. He was looking at it, but not really seeing it. His mind kept floating back to Jenny.
Actually, his thoughts weren’t of Jenny herself but of the fallout of her actions. The team had been disbanded: McGee to the basement, Ziva to Israel and Tony exiled as an Agent Afloat. Jethro had been handed an inexperienced team that turned out to not only be ineffective but under suspicion for treason. It has been one of the most difficult times in his NCIS career. Jethro’s life had been turned upside down as he trained agents he didn’t want while he worried about his A-Team. McGee, at least, had stayed in D.C. and in touch with Abby, but Jethro had felt it was a step backwards in the promising young man’s career. Ziva was used to being reassigned but it had been a step backwards for her emotionally. She had been finally settling into the NCIS family. To be told she wasn’t wanted or needed was a blow to her. But of all of them, Jethro had worried most about Tony. Being sent off as an Agent Afloat where he had no friends or support system certainly felt like punishment to Jethro.
Jethro wasn’t sure why Tony hadn’t resigned the moment Vance gave him his new orders. He wasn’t military. Tony had had every right to quit and yet he stayed and took an assignment he had no desire to do. He’d left his previous jobs for lesser reasons. Jethro had been waiting for the call that would have notified him that Tony had left the agency. Jethro wouldn’t have been able to blame him. It would have been Jenny’s fault for putting Tony in the position of betraying his Director’s orders or betraying his protection detail. Either decision would have been catastrophic for the man. If he had ignored his orders, Jenny would had reprimanded him or possibly even fired him for insubordination. Following her orders had gotten her killed. Jethro found he had little remorse about not grieving for her.
So Jenny was most certainly dead. Mostly when he remembered her now, his thoughts turned to Tony. He had had to watch as Tony blamed himself for her death. It had shaken his confidence and Jethro hadn’t known how to reassure him it hadn’t been his fault. Tony took it as a sign of Jethro’s continuing disapproval that he had been last to be returned to the team. There had been no way for Tony to know that Jethro had fought for him the hardest. It had been Vance that had been determined to keep Tony where he was.
The thought of Jenny’s death brought those feelings back; feelings of loss, destruction and abandonment. She hadn’t confided in him. She had taken his team away in more ways than one. She had even managed to taint the more positive memories he had had of her during their earlier partnership when he had realized how much she had used him as she climbed her way to the top. The fact she regretted it later didn’t change anything.
Jethro had always found it hard to trust people and he found it harder since her betrayal. Particularly lately, he was finding it hard to even be civil to anyone. He blamed his irritability on the lack of decent sleep, the holidays which always wore on him and the recent events with Tony’s father. DiNozzo, Sr. bothered Jethro. He couldn’t understand how Tony could continue to hope for reconciliation or forgive Senior so easily. Jethro suspected their issues were far deeper than anyone knew. He would never be able to forgive the man for the neglect he subjected Tony to his entire life but he attempted to tolerate Senior for Tony’s sake. Tony was one of the few people who tolerated Jethro’s temper.
Most other people ignored or avoided Jethro when they could. Few asked him how he was or requested he spend time with them. Abby visited rarely and neither McGee nor Ziva came to the house on their own or without reason. If they called, it was because they needed him. Only Tony and Fornell braved the lion’s den on a regular basis to just see how Jethro was.
Jethro didn’t mind. He actually liked to be alone. It made it easy to keep people at a distance so it wouldn’t hurt when he lost them like he had with Mike…with Kate…with Shannon and Kelly. He couldn’t bear to lose anyone else close so he kept them away and closed himself off as best he could.
He focused on his job and saving other people’s families so he didn’t have time to think about his own loneliness. The holidays made that more difficult. Usually he spent some part of it with his work family but it wasn’t the same as a real family. He knew he was someone for Ducky to share some Christmas goose with, someone for Abby to spoil if she couldn’t be with her brother, someone for Ziva to discuss her family traditions with or someone for Tony to be with just so he didn’t have to be alone. While he appreciated the company, he also wished he were their first choice as a holiday companion, not their last hope for one.
This year he wasn’t expecting anyone to visit. Ducky had made plans to travel for a change and Abby, Ziva and Tim had all been able to go home. He suspected Tony would spend it with his newly repentant father. Tony hadn’t said anything specific about it but neither had he asked Jethro when he wanted Tony to come over. It would be the first time in years that he and his second hadn’t spent some portion of the holiday together. He tried to ignore the disappointment he felt at the thought of not having Tony with him for Christmas.
He still had mixed feelings about his role in reuniting Tony and his father. Senior clearly didn’t deserve a son like Tony but Tony just as clearly needed a father that was good to him. Jethro was half afraid Tony had been seeing him that way over the years. That was last thing Jethro wanted even when he sometimes found himself slipping into the role. He didn’t know what he wanted to be to Tony since he knew it was more than just being his boss, but he knew for sure he didn’t want to be a substitute father. Fathers eventually left their kids to their own lives. He never wanted to have Tony not be in his life in some capacity even if he knew it would happen eventually. Tony couldn’t stay on Jethro’s team forever. Tony deserved his own team. He deserved his own life, as all his agents did, but somehow Jethro couldn’t see himself doing the job without his senior agent by his side.
He shook his head. How did his remembrances about Jenny turn to Tony once again? How did most of Jethro’s thoughts turn to Tony at some point?
He needed to stop. For some reason he cared more for Tony than his other agents and it wasn’t fair to the team. He knew that sometimes went overboard trying to prove he didn’t feel that way. It wasn’t just that they’d been together longer. There was something about Tony that pulled at Jethro. As hard as Jethro tried to keep people at bay, Tony had found a way get under Jethro’s skin.
He finished his tea and went back to the couch. He turned the TV back on in the hopes it would distract him from his thoughts but it took a long time for sleep to find him.