This story (slightly edited from the original version) was written for thecookiemomma (Sara) during the 2014 NFA Secret Santa Exchange. She likes Tibbs (and Fibbs), so this is what happened. Merry Christmas, lovely readers!
Title: Something Special
Rating: FR13, for swearing
Genre: Fluff, angst, romance
Pairings: DiNozzo/Gibbs, Gibbs/Fornell (past)
Prompt: Have yourself a merry little Christmas. It's someone's first Christmas. Either on the team, as a couple, or some other reason. Maybe Gibbs' without Jack. Someone else works to make it "merry."
Summary: While Gibbs struggles with his odd relationship with Tony, horrible communication skills, and the lingering loss of his father, Tony tries to keep it together (and fails at it. Sort of.)
written by K9Lasko
for Sara aka "thecookiemomma"
By now, he knows the way to Stillwater by memory alone, having visited two or three times before Jack's death. Not the congested highway route, but the back roads. Turns, one after the other, through small townships - one four-way stop kinds of places, with three or four homes studded with lights gleaming in the dusk. And in between, nothing but corn fields, muddy, stubbled and dead.
Trees whip by. Dilapitated wooden dairy barns, crooked fence lines, and plenty of cows, too - their stout bodies standing with bony backs to the wind and blowing snow.
On the radio Nat King Cole croons, "Although it's been said many times many ways..." Windshield wipers slap left, right, left, right. Defrost is set to high.
And Tony, hands gripping the wheel, knuckles white, speaks through clenched teeth to no one but himself and the bobble-head Jesus stuck to the dash, "Merry fucking Christmas to you."
Gibbs is shoveling the front walk when Tony eases the car into the freshly cleared driveway. It's still snowing, there will be a lot more work come tomorrow morning, but Gibbs seems unmoved by that. When he sees the unfamiliar car, he stops and rests the shovel in the foot high drift next to a "For Sale By Owner" sign.
If Gibbs is surprised by an impromptu visit, he doesn't show it. He only watches the car with an expression of cool control, even when the door opens and Tony pops his head outside. Gibbs says, "New car, DiNozzo?"
Tony slams the door shut and narrowly avoids brushing his coat against the white salt residue coating the paint. Smiling toothily, he turns to look at the car. It's small - tiny, really. Two doors and a hatchback. "I'm borrowing it."
"From who? The circus?" Gibbs isn't smiling, despite the joke.
"McGee's sister. I'm sure she'd appreciate that zinger, especially coming from you, Boss," Tony says. "What happened to your face? Is it frozen? Not happy to see me?"
Gibbs doesn't bite. "I want to know how that thing made it through the snow."
"It isn't half bad. Sarah isn't aware of my track record with vehicles, and I begged Tim not to tell her. But I'd rather not make the trip again."
"I figured." Gibbs shakes his head and picks up the shovel to continue his task.
Tony stands in the driveway, hands held awkwardly at his sides. The snow falls heavier. It sticks to his hair and coat. He has to blink it away from his eyes. Gibbs doesn't even look at him. "So are you gonna let me in?" Tony asks. He crosses his arms against the cold, tucking his bare hands into his armpits. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other to keep the blood flowing.
Gibbs acts like he hasn't heard, and maybe he hasn't. They aren't standing especially close.
"You're just going to have to re-shovel all of this, you know," Tony says louder, irritated.
Finally, Gibbs stops and walks to the open garage. Tony watches but doesn't move to follow, nor does Gibbs invite him to. The garage has been cleaned out, mostly. Just a few boxes left, but all of Jackson's tools are still hung neatly on the wall. There's barely enough room for Gibbs' old truck, peeling USMC sticker affixed to the salt-encrusted back bumper. Gibbs leaves the shovel leaned next to a wire rake.
There's actually a lot of things left unpacked.
Tony's still standing out in the snow; the coat he's wrapped up in is woefully inadequate. Gibbs turns and considers him from the garage. "Move the car out of the way. I might need the truck later."
That's as much of a welcome Gibbs is willing to give. Tony will take what he's thrown.
Inside, the air is warm and smells of woodsmoke, fresh paint, and pine needles. Gibbs watches from the corner of his eye as Tony sets his bag by the entrance way bench, unbuttons his coat, and explores the house. He doesn't wait for a tour invitation. He knows the house already, but he's eager to see the changes, Gibbs' handiwork. Tony moves from the mess of the half-refloored back hallway to the small Christmas tree in the living room. He stares at it. Gibbs has a small smile on his face, because Tony's nosy curiosity is so endearingly lately, Gibbs has been craving the familiar. He almost reaches out to grasp him for a hug, but Tony turns around, an inscrutable look on his face. "Nice tree."
Gibbs drops the smile and any expectation of physical affection. "By all means, DiNozzo, have a look around."
"No offers on the house yet?" Tony asks.
"A couple." Gibbs is evasive.
"It's a buyer's market. Everybody's lowballing or they want this or that. Figure I'd spend the time fixing things up." Gibbs moves to the fireplace. It's more a bed of dying coals than a fire, but when he sets a dry log on top, the flames rise up to lick the splinters. He feels Tony's eyes on him. He wants to avoid that gaze. It's so flinty. Cold. Fake friendly on the surface, but beneath there's an edge, an anger. He knows Tony isn't here only to wish him a Merry Christmas.
"What are you thinking?" He wants to ask. "What are you thinking now, Tony?" But he doesn't say, doesn't ask anything, and he considers the thought that maybe the silence is question and answer enough, for the both of them. He wants Tony's warmth, something that's usually given so easily. But not now. Not when Gibbs has been caught in a lie.
Betrayal, Gibbs then realizes. Tony is pissed, and he's come for retribution. This isn't the Tony he'd met all those years ago - bright-eyed and eager to please, if a bit played out. Nor is this the Tony he'd looked at months ago, after Jack's funeral, and told, "I want you," with dark bedroom eyes. No, this is a man with an ax to grind. Something wounded. And this something has teeth.
Tony's hazel eyes - dark, cold, no warmth - cut right through him, disecting his thoughts and maybe his excuses, too. Gibbs hates that feeling. He isn't in control; he's already on the defensive. He finds himself bristling despite his better judgment.
"You didn't want to sell this house," Tony guesses.
And DiNozzo's right. He doesn't. Jack may be gone, but to Gibbs, moving on is more optional than necessary. He's tired of moving on from people. From places. From things he thought would always be a given, things that would always be there for him.
He hadn't been ready. He hadn't been ready at all. Not for his dad's death. Not for selling this house - this house that his mother and father built from the ground up. He wasn't ready to say goodbye to any of it. He isn't ready. He's not fucking ready. Tony is right about that. Tony is right about a lot of things. Not everything, but some things.
"You were just looking for an excuse to leave," Tony then says, cutting through Gibbs' mental fog.
"Like I said," Gibbs says, almost a whisper. The colored lights strung on the tree cast a strange multicolor glow on Tony's face. "I'm making improvements."
"Okay." Tony turns back toward the tree. He reaches out to touch a papier mache ornament. It's strangely precise for the work of a child.
Gibbs can see Tony's hurt from across the room. He looks away. Damn it.
"Everybody misses you at work," Tony mentions.
"If you wanted to talk shop, DiNozzo, you could have just called. No need driving all this way." You shouldn't have bothered, he almost adds, but he doesn't.
"I don't want to talk shop. And even if I did, you'd have to answer your phone first. You haven't been. Rule 3, Boss. You've been unreachable."
"Then what do you want? Why are you here? Come out with it," Gibbs growls. He's leaning forward slightly, involuntarily aggressive. "You look upset. What do I owe you now?"
Tony's face remains mostly impassive, but the faux friendliness has long melted away. "I see the time off hasn't improved your mood any," he says.
Gibbs' hand twitches.
"Hitting me won't help," Tony taunts. "You're gonna have to use your words for this."
Gibbs stares at Tony. The challenge is clear, and Tony had to do little more than stand there and talk. But DiNozzo has always been good with words, a lot of them lies, but a few of them simple truths, too. Tony spins tales; Gibbs avoids, deflects, and omits. "What are you thinking?" Gibbs again wants to ask. "What do you think of me now?"
Tony doesn't think much of him now, apparently.
"I needed to take a few days," Gibbs starts. "Thought I'd get away for a bit. Gain some perspective."
"Dad. This house. Ziva, maybe." Gibbs runs his hand over the back of his neck. It's a rare, nervous gesture of his. "My job," he goes on. "You."
Gibbs keeps his gaze on Tony's face, watches the way his eyes are searching for the tells of a lie. "Then I started thinking. About the rules. My rules."
"You're lying," Tony accuses.
"You know the rules, Tony. You love the rules. There's a reason behind each and every one of them. You know that."
Tony doesn't need to say it. He knows all about Rule 12, the one rule holding their relationship hostage right now. He swallows a sudden feeling of rage that's been building in his chest.
Gibbs knows this has struck a chord, and he hopes for Tony to see the logic in it, not just the emotion. But Tony is Tony, full of heat and dormant hurt, and when fire catches, logic takes a backseat until things cool off. Gibbs goes on, "So yes, I wanted to take a few days to figure things out. Slow things down a bit. Come up here, work on the house and clear my head before I decide on anything drastic."
They both know that those few days had turned into a few weeks. Bereavement leave, Vance has been telling them all. A bit delayed, but bereavement leave all the same.
"I thought you'd understand." Gibbs leaves it at that.
"I would have, maybe, if you'd taken the time to talk to me," Tony says, voice strained. "But you didn't. Instead you left. You just left. Wouldn't answer my calls. You obviously answered Abby's calls, though."
"This why you've come all this way, then? To argue with me? So we can fight? So you can bitch about something or other I've done to you, or not done for you? Christ, Tony, if I knew dating you was half this complicated I'd've-"
"You'd've what? I was worried about you, asshole!" Tony yells. "You've been acting weird for months! Why are you blaming me? What have I done to you?"
"You made me fall in love with you," Gibbs thinks, and he comes a hair's width too close to actually saying it out loud. "I fell in love when I shouldn't have." Of course that wasn't Tony's fault. None of this was Tony's fault. All Tony'd asked for was some honesty and a little transparency, and what Gibbs had gotten in return was everything. It was intense. Gibbs had to count loving Tony as another thing he hadn't been ready for.
Tony does more than make him happy. Tony makes him feel like he's doing something good for himself. Something healthy. Tony is his perfect foil. He's the dawn that wakes him from the nightmare.
Except for now. Now, Tony being here and throwing everything in his face is the nightmare.
"What is it!" Tony's yelling again. It's too loud for the quiet house, and the harsh words seem to linger for longer than is necessary. "Look," he measures his tone. "I know things have been hard-"
"You don't know," Gibbs says, still defensive.
"Then tell me. Explain to me. Talk to me, Gibbs. I'm right here."
Gibbs turns away and heads for the kitchen. He finally shrugs out of his Carhartt jacket and leaves it on a peg.
But Tony's frustration has already risen to the surface, and once it's there, it's not as easy to quell. "Is all of this because of me?"
"It's not about you, Tony," Gibbs answers wearily. It's a half-lie, but he suspects that DiNozzo has already picked up on that. He's been something of a bloodhound concerning lies tonight. "Not everything is about you."
They meet in the kitchen, next to Jack's old liquor cabinet. Gibbs has the bourbon out, and he's reaching for two tumblers. Actual glasses, not jars filled with rusty nails. Reaching for the booze has been a daily affair, but Tony doesn't need to know that. Then again, he probably already does.
Tony is quiet. He's got that look on his face, that thoughtful look that means he's coming to some kind of final conclusion. The wrong conclusion, probably, and it frustrates Gibbs.
"Tony," Gibbs warns. "I'd think long and hard before saying anything if I were you. You've got the wrong idea."
"I've been so stupid," Tony says anyway.
Gibbs pours two glasses, a quarter full each. Neat. He pushes one toward Tony. The glass bottom makes a gentle thrum against the countertop.
Tony stares at it, and without looking at Gibbs he says, "I get it, I think."
"Do you now." Gibbs doesn't sound convinced.
"Just wish you'd've had the courage to say it to my face."
Gibbs slowly raises the glass to his lips and takes a mouthful of the amber liquid. He swallows without a flinch. "Courage to say what, DiNozzo?"
"That you're done with this." Tony gestures between himself and Gibbs. "I get it. It's okay," he swallows thickly. That's a lie, and Gibbs knows that immediately. Tony's not okay with it. And he shouldn't be. "But don't make me read your mind. Don't make me wonder and guess, Boss. I'm tired."
"Isn't that part of the game for you?" Gibbs drains the glass and sets it loudly on the counter. Tony hasn't yet touched his.
"Not anymore," Tony admits. "Getting too old for games."
Nodding, Gibbs refills his own drink. Too old. Too tired. They're alike in that way. Several times bitten, several more times shy.
Tony hates the silence. Gibbs knows he does, but he let's the silence eat at him anyway. He has no remorse tonight.
"Everybody leaves me, Gibbs," he blurts. "Eventually, they always do. I don't know what it is-"
"Hey!" Gibbs interrupts. He reaches out and grabs Tony by the sides of his face. "Shut up for a second and just stop thinking. For such a bonehead, you think way too much."
Startled, Tony stares at him. Gibbs' face is close. His own breath is thick with alcohol, but Tony's smells like coffee and cinnamon gum.
"Hey!" he says again, this time while giving Tony's head a rough shake. "Enough. You wanna call me a coward again?"
Tony does nothing but catch his breath. His hands grip Gibbs' elbows, but he doesn't move to shove him away.
"Do you? If you wanna say it, say it."
"Why'd you wanna leave me?" Tony asks, voice cracking.
"You're too busy being angry to see."
Tony pulls away from Gibbs' grip. He takes the glass of bourbon and dumps it in the sink. It's a silent kind of protest, but no less weighty than actual words. "I'd better be going."
"Not in that rolling tin can of a car, you aren't!"
"I'll find some place to stay nearby."
"On Christmas Eve? C'mon, Tony. Stay."
"I've done it before."
"Stillwater isn't exactly New York City."
He's already halfway out the door, bag slung over his shoulder.
"This is your problem, DiNozzo!" Gibbs yells after him, anger and irritation boiling over. "You're so damn stuck on yourself. Everything's about you. You, you, you! Selfish son of a bitch!"
The door has already slammed shut, and Gibbs is sure the wreath has been knocked off its hook. He hears a car start in the driveway. Headlights flash though the window before the view returns to black.
"God damnit!" Gibbs flexes his hands. He's almost glad he isn't back in his own basement next to his new boat. He's pretty sure he would have grabbed a hammer and splintered something by now.
Instead of destroying something, he pours himself another drink and throws a swig to the back of his throat. He finds an empty sort of comfort in the liquor's burn, like an old friend.
Merry fucking Christmas.
"Everybody leaves me," Tony says again in his head. It echoes around in his skull, the words hollow, desperate - or nearly so.
Gibbs could easily say the same thing as Tony. Because isn't that the truth? Like Tony said, "Eventually, they always do."
They always do.
"I'm no good at this," Gibbs says over a plate of cannolis in need of eating and a stack of casefiles in need of review.
"I know you're not," Fornell replies as he mops up some stray red sauce from his plate with the remaining tidbit of a bread stick. "But you've got one crazy DiNozzo somehow - impossibly, I'll add - in love with you, and you're gonna have to figure out what to do with that, Champ."
Gibbs nods. "Rule 12."
Fornell lends Gibbs a rueful sort of smile. "I figured that's how things would go. Poor DiNozzo. I kind of like him, you know. He's got a weird sense of humor. Damn annoying, though."
Gibbs snorts. "Poor Tony? Poor me. How am I gonna afford good bourbon and boat building on a government pension?"
That earns Gibbs a confused stare, then a look of understanding. "You're retiring, then? Really? Never thought I'd see the day. Well, I mean besides the first time, but-"
"DiNozzo is a pain in my ass, but," Gibbs shakes his head, smiles, and takes a large bite of cannoli. Through a full mouth, he mumbles, "Maybe I'm being stupid, Tobias. I'm prone to that when these things happen."
"Hey," Fornell levels a serious gaze on his friend. "Jethro, I know you. For you to even consider doing that, he must be something special."
Gibbs nods and swallows. "I still need to think on it. Objectively. Can't do that around him. He blinds me. It's like staring into the damn sun."
"Very poetic. And you say you're not good with words."
It's barely into November when Gibbs looks at Tony over the top of a newspaper he's been paging through. They're at the kitchen table, and Tony's shoveling cereal into his mouth. His hair's a mess from a quick run and an even quicker shower, and he's got milk dripping from lip to chin.
Gibbs smiles and squints while he sips from a favorite coffee mug and watches Tony. That's how it is, staring into the sun and basking in the warmth. Until the clouds come, anyway. And that's bound to happen. Even the sunniest days have to end at some point.
"What?" Tony asks, confused.
That morning, the conversation should have gone a little like this:
"Been thinking," Gibbs should have said.
"Yeah?" Tony would say.
"Been wanting to get the house up in Stillwater sold before the New Year."
Tony's nodding. He wouldn't see any fault in that.
"But it needs some work. Deck needs finishing. Exterior needs repainting, A few updates. Figure I'd take a few days. Few weeks, probably. Work on it."
And then Tony would say, "A few weeks!"
And then Gibbs should have said, "Oh, you'll live. You can come up and spend Christmas with me."
But that's not how the conversation went. Instead, it goes a little like this:
"Been thinking," Gibbs says.
"Yeah?" Tony says.
"Gotta sell the Stillwater house. Figured I'd go up there this weekend. Clean it up a bit. Put a sign up. I'll be back first thing Monday."
"You need help?"
Gibbs doesn't come back first thing Monday, and that's when Tony realizes he's been duped.
He's been left behind. Again.
And now, with another lonely holiday looming overhead, Tony is dead-set on giving Leroy Jethro "second B is for Bastard" Gibbs a piece of his mind.
Tobias Fornell - short-time lover, long-time friend - had given Gibbs one last bit of advice:
"And for God's sake Jethro, don't leave him in the dark."
Gibbs never was a good listener. Just ask any one of his three ex-wives.
When Gibbs looks into the kitchen of the old Stillwater house, he sometimes sees his mother standing in front of the sink, just like she had years ago. She always turns, same expression on her face, same smile, blue eyes warm like a summer sky, and notices him lurking in the doorway. Garland drapes the door frame; white lights throw an ethereal glow against the wall.
She says, "There he is. Leroy. What's wrong? You're always so serious."
"I love you," he whispers, although he can't tell if he's said it or not. There's a strange ringing in his ears.
His father sits alone in the living room, in the armchair adjacent to the Christmas tree. He's got a walking stick in hand and his cheeks are rosy like he's just come in from the cold. "Leroy, what's the problem now? That scowl's gonna stick permanently to your face if you're not careful."
"Tell me what I ought to do?" Gibbs whispers.
"You know what to do."
"I never choose the right thing. Not when it comes to this. Not since Shannon, and even then I made plenty of mistakes."
"Leroy. Family and job. Two different cups," Jackson says.
"That's right," Gibbs echoes something he thinks he's said before, in reply to something he thinks has also been said before. But not by him.
It's foggy in here.
"Answer your own question, kid. Isn't it obvious?"
It's not. Not when family and job are the same damn cup.
"Gibbs. Gibbs. Boss. Gibbs. Gibbs. Gibbs."
The voice sinks into his skull.
"Gibbs. Hey." A cold hand taps his cheek.
He grunts awake and stares blearily into a pair of bloodshot hazel green eyes, and beyond that, tree branches and multicolor lights and ornaments from decades past. A waft of pine needles, tree sap, men's deoderant clings to his nostrils. "The hell?" he slurs.
"Looks like you fell asleep under the tree." Tony. The voice belongs to Tony. "And while you make a fine gift, Gibbs, I don't think that's what you had in mind."
Gibbs blinks and licks his lips. He reaches up and pats Tony on the face.
"Yeah. You're definitely gonna need the DiNozzo defibrillator come tomorrow morning. C'mon. Let's get you to bed. The floor is no place for old bones."
"Who you calling old?" Gibbs suddenly asks, resisting being moved. He seems to have woken up fully - and sobered up quickly.
"Speaking from experience," Tony says. "If I sleep on the floor, I'm not right for at least three days."
Gibbs laughs, then he blinks in confusion. "Wait. Thought you left."
"So did I, but Sarah's stupid car got stuck a mile up the road. I wandered a bit. Found a church. Sat through midnight mass in the back pew. And as I was thawing out, I realized a thing or two."
"Tony, I have something to-"
"No," Tony interrupts.
It's only then that Gibbs realizes that Tony is kneeling on the floor, straddling Gibbs' legs. He still has his coat on. "Okay. Go on."
"I'm sorry, and don't give me any of that rule crap. Really, I'm sorry. I should have understood. I was being selfish, and ridiculous, and yeah, I was afraid, especially after what Ziva did to me."
Gibbs studies Tony's face. "You had it bad for her, didn't you."
"Yeah," Tony admits. "I did. But it's fine because I've finally found you. Or at least I thought I did. "
Gibbs reaches up and gently takes ahold of the sides of Tony's face. It's a far cry from the firm grip he'd had on him earlier. Tony lets Gibbs pull him down for a kiss, a bit sloppy, and Tony is laughing it off. "God, I've got so much to tell you," Gibbs says, voice quiet. "But I need your input before anything is final."
"Can't wait to hear it," Tony says. "And you know it's nearly three a.m.? Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Gibbs repeats.
Tony shifts to lie under the tree next to Gibbs. He looks up, admires the view, and remarks, "Hey, it isn't half bad under here. We've got a gift's-eye view."
Gibbs likes to say he doesn't make heartfelt decisions.
Most of the time.