The dinner at Leyla’s had been wonderful, full of spicy exotic dishes Tony didn’t normally eat during Christmas but decided it was something to which he could definitely become accustomed. He smiled slightly as he recalled playing with Amira. Tony was, at first, a little hesitant about Amira but found that they did have something in common, namely, several Disney favorites. He found that she was a quiet child, very different from him when he was her age, but when you got her going he found that she had an incredibly infectious giggle. The best part of that giggle, though, was the look on Gibbs’ face, the broad grin only slightly offset by the trace of wistfulness he could detect in the familiar blue eyes.
When the evening was done and they left to return to Gibbs’ house, Tony found that the weather had turned even colder with that sharp tang in the air that said snow. Finally, Tony thought. He was pleasantly full and relaxed and figured he’d crash at Gibbs’ house rather than return home, sure that Gibbs wouldn’t mind. Upon returning to Gibbs’ house, he was surprised when Gibbs motioned him to the couch. He’d expected Gibbs to go down to the basement to work and just figured that he’d follow.
“Not going to work?”
“Tired. Starting a new project later,” Gibbs said and walked into the kitchen.
Tony frowned. Gibbs’ words sent up a flag but Tony shook his head deciding that even the Mighty Leroy Jethro Gibbs could get tired now and then. He heard more movement and figured Gibbs was making coffee. He thought about that and scrunched his nose deciding he didn’t want any right then. He briefly considered getting a beer but the thought of that didn’t work for him, either. Instead, he stood and moved to the ancient TV, flipping it on to begin channel surfing, hoping there’d be a game. He didn’t find a game but he did find a favorite holiday movie so he settled into the couch and began watching.
When Gibbs walked into the kitchen he automatically began making a pot of coffee. He was about to set the machine to brew when he had an idea and instead set the timer so that the pot would brew in the morning. He smirked as an idea hit him and he began pulling out ingredients for a different beverage, thinking that this drink ought to make Ducky happy because at least it wasn’t coffee or bourbon.
When he was done he carried both cups into the living room to find Tony completely immersed in a movie. He grinned and then handed Tony a cup. Surprise and sudden warmth filled Tony’s eyes which told Gibbs he’d hit the nail on the head by making hot chocolate. Tony took a sip and then gave him a broad smile in thanks.
“A Christmas Carol?” Gibbs questioned as he sat down on the other end of the couch.
“This is a great version, Boss, one of my favorite Christmas movies. It has George C. Scott playing Scrooge. It’s a real classic although there’s a lot to be said of the version with Patrick Stewart…do you know him? Star Trek? No? Well, anyway, while those versions are great I’d have to say that the best version is actually called Scrooge, 1951, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. Alastair Sim really nailed the character and is probably considered the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge…”
Gibbs let Tony rattle on for awhile, amazed as always at the depth of knowledge the younger man displayed. What struck him, though, was that for a man with so much baggage with the holiday, the way he threw himself into all of the trappings was surprising.
Gibbs contemplated his SFA while Tony watched the movie and spouted trivia through the various scenes. Tony looked better now that Christmas was over. His difficulty with the holiday was the same every year and every year he worried about him, worried that between the job and whatever issues he had, it would be too much. And every year he wished that he could just move Tony in with him until the rough time was over. This year had been particularly bad, no doubt due to the string of particularly grueling cases, so his concern had ratcheted up exponentially. He would not lose Tony, though. He needed him on his team and in his life. That had been the reason he’d allowed Abby’s involvement.
His eyes narrowed at the TV screen as he continued with his thoughts. He wasn’t sure if it had been a good idea but what’s done was done, he figured. He agreed to the offer Abby had made, the offer to stick a little closer to Tony this season, but he’d have turned her down if he’d known she’d get McGee and Ziva involved. The last thing he wanted was to make it look like Tony couldn’t handle himself. So far it didn’t look like he’d taken their involvement that way, but Gibbs still wondered how the dust would settle now that Tony seemed to be back on an even keel. He thought for a moment longer and wondered if it could also be due to the changes in Tony himself.
He thought back to when he first noted Tony’s subtle change in demeanor. It was sometime after the case of the Naval Commander with a GSW that turned out to be self-inflicted. He’d thought at the time that the Commander’s situation found a particular resonance in Tony. They’d learned that the Commander’s pending forced retirement had led the man to examine his life…and had found it lacking. He’d been in love with another man’s wife, a woman who wouldn’t have left her husband. Then, without the Navy, he’d felt he had nothing else. When that realization had sunk in, he took that last, drastic step.
Gibbs took a sip of the hot chocolate as he mused. There were a lot of moments in a man’s life that led him to take stock of where he was, what he ultimately wanted and what his future might hold. Some of those instances were pretty momentous like finding yourself a survivor of a battle you didn’t expect to live through. Maybe not as spectacular but equally life-changing was the decision to get married or finding out you were going to be a father. In his experience, though, those life-changing epiphanies were more the culmination of other, smaller moments in life. His Dad would have said it was just a process of growing up, maturing, but Gibbs wasn’t sure he agreed with that.
Coming to a life-changing realization didn’t mean you weren’t a mature adult to begin with. To him, it just meant that your path suddenly came into focus, like the minute adjustment to your scope so that your target was crystal-clear. So far it seemed that Tony had made the major adjustments and now just needed to do some fine-tuning. He glanced back at Tony and smiled slightly…his focus was more on the TV than anything else right now. Still, he figured that Tony had been doing what he needed to and while he didn’t know what conclusions Tony had reached, he knew Tony was finding some of his answers. Unfortunately, part of those answers resulted in that damned bucket list.
He wasn’t sure how he felt about performing, what were to him, sometimes frivolous tasks just to say that he’d done them. He had enough regrets in his life that never sailing to the Bahamas probably wouldn’t even make the list. And yet, his own father had felt the desire to visit Nepal and had done so, hanging the resultant pictures up in his store.
Gibbs thought about Tony’s bucket list. A lot of those things were definitely frivolous and many downright improbable if not impossible (finding Jimmy Hoffa and trying space tourism came to mind). Others were vague references to things understood only by Tony but were obviously things Tony fully intended to handle when the time was right. Despite that, though, with the exception of a few very real items, Gibbs got the impression that it wasn’t the full list, might even be a decoy with enough vague entries to both intrigue and satisfy his other three nosey team members.
So much of what Tony let the team see was either intended as smoke and mirrors or as a distraction for when work got tense. The real Tony was a lot harder to know and while he thought he had a pretty good handle on the man, Tony still found many ways to surprise him. Take, for instance, the man’s supposed love for the holidays.
One would think that with what he knew of Tony’s past and what Tony had let slip on his own, Christmas would be one holiday that Tony would ignore (if not downright hate) just as, for the most part, he did. Bright and happy memories were hard to handle when the loss of the focal point of those memories was so profound. For him it was getting better because his memories were good ones and he was learning that it was better to rejoice in those memories, cherish the times he did have rather than just lock them away. It was a hard lesson to learn but he was getting there.
Tony, on the other hand, seemed to have nothing good to associate with the holiday. He’d gotten his first inkling of what may have occurred when a very drunk Tony had talked about the chemistry set he’d gotten. He said that his father had started wailing but Gibbs knew even then that what Tony had started to say was that his father had begun whaling…on him. He was eight years old that Christmas Day. It was the same Christmas Day Tony’s records showed that he’d suffered a broken arm. It was also the same Christmas day that Tony’s mother had died in a car crash.
He’d looked into the report and saw that her BAC had been twice the legal limit at the time. Gibbs knew that year had been the final year that DiNozzo Christmas parties had made the social pages. Now, though, he wondered how the succeeding Christmases had gone. Not well, he imagined, wishing he could do some whaling of his own on Tony’s father.
“Hey, Boss…I should have asked if you even want to watch this movie,” Tony said, interrupting Gibbs’ thoughts. “You don’t look like you’re enjoying it much.”
Gibbs gave Tony a faint smile and realized at that moment that he’d been glaring at the TV. “It’s fine. Used to be one of Shannon’s favorites…”
“Really?” Tony asked but Gibbs could see that his answer made Tony even more skeptical about his choice.
“I like it,” Gibbs said, hoping to reassure the younger man. “Used to scare Kelly, though. It was the ghosts.”
“Yeah, I could see that although there was a Mickey Mouse version that came out in 1983. It was pretty good and the ghosts weren’t scary at all. The latest version with Jim Carrey probably would have scared her, though.”
Gibbs smiled when he saw Tony relax somewhat and knew there was still something on his mind. They watched the rest of the movie in companionable silence. When it was over, Gibbs stood up and stretched. He was beat.
“I’m heading up,” he said as he reached for his cup.
“I’ve got these,” Tony offered and Gibbs let him take the cup from his hand. “And then I’ll head out.”
“Thought you were staying.”
Tony looked down for a bit. “Yeah, well. Christmas is over now and I haven’t been drinking. No need for babysitting any…owww!”
Tony rubbed his head but Gibbs could see the warm gleam in his eyes.
“Not babysitting you, DiNozzo. Watching your six.”
Tony started to grin and then his eyes narrowed. Gibbs had always kept a closer eye on Tony during Christmas; he figured Tony would have known that he’d never bought into his act although Gibbs had to admit that this year Tony had played the frat-boy partyer act to the hilt. The drinking, though, had been far too real. He waited patiently for all of the split second it took for his SFA to figure it out. Tony wasn’t his SFA just because of his smile.
Gibbs just raised his eyebrow and cocked his head. Although the date that Tony’s mother died wasn’t in his records, Gibbs wasn’t in his job just because, either. He had thoroughly checked his boy out before hiring him.
“That long, huh?” Tony asked with no surprise. Tony looked down. “You hired me anyway…”
“Rule #5, DiNozzo. Besides, always figured you were watching my six, too.”
Tony smiled faintly and Gibbs looked at him in satisfaction. He’d known that Tony’s repeated holiday visits were two-fold: while it had worked to ease his own issues with the holiday, Tony had also been keeping him from being alone on Christmas. It put them on even footing…right where they should be. He saw Tony nod in acceptance.
Gibbs didn’t say anything else, just turned and headed for the stairs. “Leave ‘em,” he called over his shoulder as he climbed.
Tony watched Gibbs mount the stairs. “Goodnight,” he called and got a wave in return and he smiled faintly. He took the cups into the kitchen and rinsed them, leaving them in the sink and then shut down the lights. As he climbed the stairs he found himself humming “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and feeling a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. Although he couldn’t say he’d laid his own Ghost of Christmas Past to rest, somehow knowing that Gibbs understood made everything seem a bit more manageable.
Tony got ready for bed and wondered if Abby and everyone else knew about his mother, too. He frowned as he pulled on a t-shirt. He’d never told her and doubted Gibbs would have, so they probably didn’t. He doubted Abby would have dug into his personal history…she was too honorable for that. No, they didn’t know, he decided. Any conclusions they may have drawn about him and his holiday rituals came strictly from his own actions and, looking back, he realized that yes, he had pushed it too far this year.
With a grimace, he walked into the bathroom and began brushing his teeth. He looked at his face in the mirror as he brushed. There were still dark shadows under his eyes although they weren’t nearly as bad as they’d been last week. He’d lost weight and looked a little tired but again, it wasn’t as bad as last week. He was back on track now and he swore to himself that he wouldn’t let things get this bad again. No more of this babysitting thing. He paused in his brushing, thinking about that for a moment. It wouldn’t have been Gibbs’ idea. It had to have been Abby’s. And McGee and Ziva had gone along with it either on her say so or just because they decided it was necessary. Tony scrunched up his face. He didn’t like appearing weak, especially in front of McGee and Ziva.
“But you straightened your act up,” he told himself in the mirror and decided that maybe he hadn’t marred his reputation too badly. They’d solved their case based on his hunch (and no, he wasn’t going to think about that phone call just yet) and their Christmas dinner came together alright and Ziva was settled into her engagement with CIRay.
“And as long as you spend Christmas with Gibbs, it’ll all work out,” he told himself, feeling for the first time like it really would. He really hadn’t needed Abby to tell him their team was like a family, he’d felt that way for quite some time and, for him, Gibbs was at its center. He stared at himself in the mirror and blinked. Then, with a little huff, he shook his head slowly in amazement. That’s the answer. He then made a promise to himself: from now on you spend at least the two weeks before every Christmas with Gibbs…assuming he doesn’t kick you out before Christmas Day.
With a little laugh, he finished up and walked back into the bedroom. He crawled into bed feeling relaxed and better than he had in a very long time.
“And Gibbs bless us…everyone,” he said quietly in a terrible English accent. With a final grin, he fell easily into a dreamless sleep.
Gibbs finished getting ready for bed and then hit the lights. He settled himself under the covers but instead of closing his eyes he stared up at the darkened ceiling. Replaying the events of the evening in his mind, he saw Tony sitting with Amira curled up next to him on the couch as they watched a Disney movie. Leyla sat in a nearby chair, a small smile of contentment on her face. It was a good picture even if it did bring about a pang of longing deep in his chest. He missed that, the quiet evenings spent just being together with your loved ones at the end of a long day. He got that feeling whenever Tony joined him in the basement after they closed a case. He also got a hint of it whenever he visited Leyla and Amira, although it was always spoiled when the moment came for him to go home. Thinking about tonight, knowing how good it felt, he knew it was what he wanted for Tony. He deserved to have that level of peace in his life. He just needed to find someone who could give it to him.
He’d told Tony that he wouldn’t find what he was looking for in his basement and it was true. Tony needed to be out there looking for that person…that woman…instead of spending all of his spare time in a basement with a taciturn old bastard…regardless of how much that old bastard wanted him there.
Gibbs sighed and turned over onto his side to stare at the sliver of light coming through the bedroom curtain. He blinked sleepily but his mind was having trouble shutting down and he kept thinking about Tony.
Tony deserved so much more out of life, he mused. Maybe now, with his cup speech, he’d finally figured out how to get it. Just gotta make sure she didn’t try to make him choose between her and the job. That always ended in divorce. Spending too much time in the basement ended in divorce, too.
Gibbs yawned and again pictured Tony with Leyla and Amira and it struck him that if they hit it off, there’d still be room for him in that picture, too. He was, after all, Amira’s godfather. His eyes finally slid closed and his last thought was that Leyla was a good woman. If he couldn’t have Tony, she’d do.