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Their regular dinner date is coming up, but Gibbs prefers sharing a meal with Ducky when his old friend isn't on a crusade to get him to take better care of his team. Not that there's much chance of having dinner outside of the office at all right now. The MCRT is on a roll of back-to-back cases, each more horrific and draining than the one before. Thanksgiving was a total disaster, and the Christmas holiday in a couple of days isn't looking good. It's raining constantly in DC, making fraying tempers worse and evidence collection a nightmare. Gibbs hopes the weather breaks before the team does.

They've been here before, and everyone's acting true to form. DiNozzo's getting louder and louder, trying to distract them all from the fact that he's also working harder and harder and functioning on less and less sleep. He's getting on Ziva's last nerve, and she's becoming increasingly dangerous as a result. Gibbs knows she won't hurt Dinozzo. Tony can only play the people close to him if they let him, and Ziva is still letting him. But Gibbs dare not leave her alone with a suspect, or even a witness, which is inconvenient at best and very, very bad at worst.

McGee's good at calming Ziva with his own brand of quiet tolerance, but his typing is no longer so quiet, and he's stopped eating again. At first, Tony brought donuts and sweet pastries each morning, and ordered Tim's favorite takeout for every weary deskbound meal. It worked, for a while, but the run of cases has been going on too long. Now Tim won't join them at all, and they're casting worried glances at him while they eat, listening to the clatter of keys and not knowing what to do.

They're the best, but even the best can burn out. Gibbs is going to have to intervene, to try and get them all functioning again. Ducky is pursuing him around the office with increasing determination in his eyes. Gibbs is expert at avoiding him, but it is rather draining, and he needs his energy for catching scumbags.

He decides to tackle McGee first. Not because he's easiest. He really isn't. Tim has almost as many layers as Tony; he just hides them more quietly. But there's a hierarchy to their problems, and Gibbs senses that Tim's are most urgent. He sends DiNozzo and Ziva off to re-interview the ex-wife of the dead Petty Officer (it's always the wife, at least in The World According to DiNozzo), and takes McGee out for coffee. He buys an enormous blueberry muffin and deposits it in front of McGee with his non-fat latte.

"That obvious, huh?"

Gibbs just looks at him, trying not to glare. Tim pushes the muffin away.

"I can't, boss. I just can't. I'll eat when we're off rotation. I promise."

Gibbs shakes his head.

"I don't know when that'll be, McGee. I need you functioning properly. You'll start making mistakes soon, and you know we can't afford that."

Tim looks ashamed, but he doesn't look at the muffin. Or the coffee.

"Sorry boss."

"Nothing to be sorry for. Not yet. But you can't function without food. I need to send you to the shrink?"

Tim doesn't even look horrified.

"I'll go if you want, boss. When I have time."

Gibbs shakes his head and despairs. They walk back to the office in silence, hands full of cups for the team.

Leaving the rescued muffin and a coffee on Tony's desk, Gibbs goes to pay tribute to Abby. She takes the enormous Caf-Pow from his hands and puts her head on one side.

"Thanks, Gibbs. And try Ziva."

He looks at her, but she's turned away. He tries to hold back the glare. She is his favorite, after all. Allegedly.


"Try Ziva what?"

"Try Ziva with Tim. I've tried, Tony's tried, Ducky's tried, Jimmy's tried, and now you've tried. I take it he didn't eat anything?"

Gibbs shakes his head, and wonders what on earth Palmer had thought he could do.

"That only leaves Ziva. We all have to try, Gibbs. We can't let him starve himself again."

Gibbs tries to remember what fixed his youngest agent the last time he stopped eating, and can't. God, he's crap at this.

"OK Abs, I'll talk to Ziva."

Abby nods, satisfied for now, and turns back to the Major.

His phone rings while he waits for the elevator. Dead navy wife. Gibbs argues with dispatch; they've already got a case. But they've been on it for a week now, getting nowhere fast, and NCIS is short-handed for the holidays. There is no choice.

Rock Creek Park is fucking miserable in the rain, even without a mutilated corpse. DiNozzo and Ziva meet them there. They have nothing from the ex-wife; her alibi holds up, and she's living her own life now.

Tony smiles in confusion as Gibbs hands over extra waterproofs. He must be being nice again. Better stop that, it'll just unsettle the team even more. He makes a point of snapping at DiNozzo's next vacuous movie reference, and they all relax a little. But it's nowhere near enough.

When Mrs. Kiley's body has been recovered, and what evidence they can fish out of the icy puddles is delivered to Abby's lab, Gibbs sends them all home. It's only 10pm, which is early for them with two hot cases, but they're all so close to the end of their individual tethers that he just dare not push any harder.

Abby and Ducky have already gone, with a promise to be back at 7am. Gibbs looks around for Ziva, but apparently she knows what she has to do. She's sitting on the edge of McGee's desk, talking quietly to him, persuading him to come home with her. McGee pretends to be horrified at the thought of her home cooking, but Gibbs knows McGee knows that Ziva can make really good food when she tries. Gibbs trusts she's going to try. Which leaves Tony.

"Come on, DiNozzo."

Eyes as dark as two holes in snow question him.

"You're coming home with me. Grab your gear, I don't have all day."

Tony closes his mouth and his computer screen, and races into the elevator just as the doors close. He falls into Gibbs's truck and is asleep before they leave the Navy yard. He wakes up again as Gibbs turns into his street. How many times have they done this over the years? Gibbs always sleeps a little more soundly with DiNozzo in the house, and usually does so in his own bed rather than on the couch or under the boat. But of course it's just the stress of work that draws DiNozzo in.

Gibbs leaves the truck on the driveway because there's snow forecast, and scraping the truck is easier and faster than shoveling the drive. Snow, on top of freezing rain. Just what the city needs.

He installs DiNozzo on the couch with the TV remote, and heats up some homemade lasagna left by his recently-hired cleaner. Jackson persuaded him to find someone after spending three days cleaning the house from top to bottom on his last visit. Gibbs was ashamed; living in filth is not his way, but work always takes priority.

Gibbs gets on fine with Mrs. Robbins – they rarely meet, and she seems to be able to interpret his scribbled notes with single words like "bathrooms" and "vacuum," and keeps the house clean enough for him. But she's picked up on his erratic lifestyle, and occasionally leaves home-cooked meals in his refrigerator. She asks for nothing in return, so he makes another mental note to send her a big Christmas check.

DiNozzo looks startled by the steaming plate when Gibbs calls him to the table. He'd obviously been expecting days-old takeout again. Gibbs takes pity and answers the unspoken question.

"Cleaner. She seems to like me. I've only met her twice."

"Wow boss, that's pretty quick work, even for you!"

Gibbs can't be bothered with the anticipated headslap, but DiNozzo gets the point and goes back to inhaling the food.

They clear the kitchen together, knowing that leaving the dishes is risky. The mess won't get too bad, as Mrs. Robbins will be back in a few days. But there's no need to scare the poor woman off with cures for cancer growing on the dishes.

Dinozzo stumbles up the stairs to the spare room. Gibbs knows he has a T-shirt and a couple of outfits in the closet there already.

"G'night boss."

Gibbs just nods in return.


Tony wakes in the dark, to the smell of coffee. He's surprised to find it steaming on the nightstand rather than beckoning from the kitchen. Gibbs is sniper-quiet, of course, but Tony rarely relaxes enough to let anyone that close while he's sleeping. He sticks an arm out from under the blankets to grab the mug, and is surprised to find the air is unpleasantly cold. Freezing, in fact. Gibbs is minimalist about many things, but he's no Scrooge, and the house is usually warm in the mornings.

Gulping the coffee, Tony decides to brave the cold quickly, and bolts out of bed, grabbing a change of clothes on the way and scurrying into the bathroom to turn on a hot shower. He's dismayed to find the water coming out cold. He gets dressed anyway, and winces as he starts to cough. He takes a moment to control his breathing before heading downstairs.

Gibbs looks up from the mug he's holding in both hands. He's bundled up in at least two sweaters and a jacket, and winces at the sight of Tony's thin shirt.

"I left some warm clothes on your bed. Go put them on."

Tony's halfway up the stairs when he processes the next part.

"Sorry about the cold, the heating's out. And the hot water."

He grabs the sweater and pulls it on over his head. It doesn't smell of Gibbs, but it smells of his laundry, which will do just fine for Tony. He squeezes into the fleece, and isn't sure that his jacket will fit over the top. But he tries anyway, and it just about does.

There's no snow on the ground, but the truck and the driveway are covered in a thin layer of treacherous ice. They scrape the ice from the windows together, leaving the engine running, and Tony's never been so grateful to jump into a metal box that's only a little warmer than the air around it. He grabs for his inhalers and tries to hold his breath long enough after each one. Gibbs looks concerned but doesn't mention it, much to Tony's relief. Tony relaxes a little as the air warms up.

Ziva and McGee arrive together, but Tony has calmed enough to keep the teasing to a single comment about saving on gas. Ziva looks a little less tense, and McGee a little less pinched, and it's really none of his business how they reached that state of affairs.

They spend the day running around on both cases, chasing down half-leads that lead nowhere. Ducky finds that Mrs. Kiley bled to death from multiple wounds, none of them bad enough to be the single cause of death. An agonizing way to go.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Kiley is deployed on a top secret mission and can't be contacted until tomorrow, however much pressure Gibbs puts on Vance and the team. Tony throws himself on the fire of Gibbs's anger again and again, and he's not sure how long he can keep it up. Then he misses a difficult moment (he was in the mens room), and McGee takes the flak for failing to find anything in the Kiley's financial records. The pinched look returns to Tim's face. Tony looks down when he sees Ziva's reproach, and winces when she gets up and stalks to Gibbs's desk.

"I am taking Tim out for coffee."

She stands still, chin held high, daring Gibbs to disagree. Ziva is even braver on behalf of others than she is for herself. Tony holds his breath.

"Bring some back for us. And a Caf-Pow."

Gibbs turns back to the file he was reading. Tony is just wondering how to broach the subject of treading a little more lightly when Gibbs gets up and heads for the elevator. Hopefully he'll talk to Ducky and blow off some steam, but Tony fears Gibbs might get a lecture instead. It is kind of Ducky to intervene, but a telling off would do nothing to improve Gibbs's mood.

Ziva's phone rings, and for lack of anything better to do, Tony answers it. Her contact won't give a name, but he says Mrs. Kiley was having an affair with a neighbor, and Officer Kiley knew about it. Tony gets the neighbor's name, and is about to call down to autopsy when Gibbs storms back into the office. Tim and Ziva reappear moments later, so he's able to bring them all up to speed. He is careful to apportion credit to Ziva, and Gibbs takes her with him to speak to the neighbor. Tony runs a background check on the neighbor while Tim checks out the finances. Neither finds anything suspicious.

Gibbs and Ziva return, with a sullen young man (much younger than Mrs. Kiley) in tow. He lasts exactly seven minutes in interrogation with Gibbs, before breaking down and confessing that his lover had wanted to end their affair on her husband's return from deployment. They were going to try to make their marriage work. He tried everything to change her mind, including torture, and ended up killing her by accident. The lack of evidence was more luck with the weather than any actual judgement. Gibbs's disdain is palpable.

They write up their reports wearily. Gibbs keeps casting glances at the plasma, which is showing a picture of the dead Petty Officer. Tony prays he won't order them to work on the unsolved case tonight. Partly because he can't think of anything they can actually *do*. And partly because he has officially Had Enough for one day.


Gibbs can't think of anything he can get the team to do on the other case at this time of night, so he reluctantly decides to send them all home again. Which is when he remembers that his house has no heating or hot water, and it's freezing outside. He can probably fix it himself, given some sleep and enough time. But, as usual with an open case, there is no time. And he'll find it hard to sleep in a freezing house.

DiNozzo is standing in front of his desk.

"Boss, come back with me. My apartment has heating, and hot water, and food."

And only one bed, thinks Gibbs. Can't do it.

But Tony won't take no for an answer, and he's actually too tired to fight him. Tony can be really stubborn when he wants to be. Gibbs insists on driving, just to prove a point, but by the time they make their way wearily up the stairs, he can't remember what that point was.

Tony pushes him into the bathroom first, switching on the shower and producing fluffy towels and slightly-too-big clothing before he departs.

Gibbs is being pulled two ways. Towards the bedroom. Towards the exit. The idea that he could just take the shower and the clothes and the food and the couch, and go back to work tomorrow like nothing had happened? Impossible. That's why he never does this. Never comes here. Somehow, he can handle Tony in his house, and keep his longing to himself. But being here, in Tony's space, he just can't hide any more.

How long has he been standing here, pondering uselessly? The bathroom is full of steam, but he's no cleaner and the hot water might run out before it's Tony's turn. He takes the quickest shower in history, not bothering to read the labels on the expensive-looking bottles. He just uses the soap.

Reluctantly, he turns away from the offered clothing and puts his own back on. He's not staying, after all. He'll eat, then leave. He can sleep under a pile of blankets in his own house, and call someone from the office tomorrow to come and look at the heating. Perhaps Mrs. Robbins can let them in.

His resolve falters as he enters the kitchen and sees a half-naked Tony stirring something in a pan on the stove.

"Oh, hey boss. Soup's almost ready, and there's garlic bread in the oven. Should be done when I'm out of the shower. Help yourself to coffee."

There aren't many people who'd fire up their coffee machines in the middle of the night for him, but apparently DiNozzo is one. Gibbs grasps the enormous black mug like it's a lifeline. Stay, leave, stay, leave, stay, leave. He honestly doesn't know what he'll do if he stays, but he's certain it's something stupid. He has almost resolved to run for the door (and wasn't even going to leave a note – second b is for bastard after all) when Tony reappears, looking sleepy and warm and neat in his grey bathrobe. Or he would look neat if his hair wasn't sticking up all over the place. Gibbs thinks he looks adorable. But he often thinks that, and he's trained his heart not to pound like it's doing now.

Tony pours soup into bowls and pulls apart garlic bread and even Gibbs isn't rude enough to leave without eating. The soup is delicious, and the bread is hot and melting, and Gibbs wishes he could just do this.

"Boss, is everything OK?"

Gibbs wonders what gave him away. He's not exactly known for being chatty, after all. He settles for a non-committal noise, but DiNozzo is still staring at him.

"Food's good."

Still staring. Gibbs puts down his spoon. He doesn't want to do this now, or ever, really, but it's about time he said something, and with his head doing weird things to him perhaps it's for the best.

"Tony, I can't do this."

DiNozzo is looking puzzled.

"Do what, boss?"

"Stay here. With you. I can't do it."

"Why not? I've stayed with you loads of times. Now I'm returning the favour."

Now he's looking faintly hurt, and the expression on his face is pulling Gibbs in a third direction.

"Because I might do this."

Gibbs leans across and touches his lips to Tony's, quickly, and just once. And then pulls back and waits for the punch.

Instead of punching Gibbs, DiNozzo drops his spoon, with a clatter that makes them both jump.

Gibbs gets up.

"Guess I'll be going then. I'll pick you up at 6am."

Somehow, Tony reaches the door before him, holding out his arms to stop Gibbs getting past.

"Oh no, you don't get to do that and then just leave!"

Gibbs sighs heavily, and waits for the punch again. Instead, he gets another kiss. And this one is a whole lot better. So much better that it ends with both of them on the floor in the hallway, with Gibbs's hand tangled in Tony's hair. He tugs lightly, getting Tony to let up for a minute so they can talk. But Tony's not in the mood for talking. Instead, he gets up and pulls Gibbs towards the bedroom. Which is just fine with Gibbs.


Tony wakes at 5am (just habit), and is momentarily surprised to find Gibbs's hair tickling his nose. When memory hits, he feels a bit dizzy with... something. Relief? Amazement? Joy? Probably all of the above.

Gibbs is sleepy and not very coherent, but somehow they muddle around each other and start to get ready for work. There are a *lot* of interruptions.

Then Tony looks out of the window, seeing that several feet of snow have fallen overnight. The roads are completely blocked and there's no sign of any snowploughs. It takes him a moment, but then he realizes.


"Yes Tony?"

"Merry Christmas."