Jack stared out at the Pacific Ocean and tried to remember the last time he’d spent Christmas someplace warm, and the Middle East didn’t count. He made a promise to himself that he’d do it more often, especially here in Southern California. Who needed snow, black ice, and freezing temperatures?
He strolled down the pier, looking at all the boats in the marina, wondering if there were any for rent for the afternoon, and what the chances were he could get Daniel out on one. It was still a battle to get Daniel to his cabin, and Jack had stopped asking him to actually put a hook on the end of his fishing line years ago.
Not that Jack didn’t still feel like he’d won the lottery. It might have taken them a few years, and a lot of heartache, but they’d finally gotten their heads out of their asses, and just the memory of kissing Daniel for the first time made him as randy as a teenager.
This had been a good idea, the two of them going off somewhere together. Other than Jack’s cabin, this was the first time it had been just the two of them, able to do whatever they wanted. Of course what Daniel wanted to do right now was browse in a vintage used-book store, so Jack had left him to it, smiling at the look of sheer delight on Daniel’s face as he’d drooled over all the dusty leather bindings.
Jack liked to think he was the most important thing in Daniel’s life, but the truth of it was that what Daniel liked best was Jack in bed, surrounded by books. Jack had already spent many a night waking up when the book under his ass finally couldn’t be ignored any longer.
Snickering, Jack kept walking, coming to a complete stop when he saw a beautifully constructed boat. It looked to be about a thirty-footer, the craftsmanship on it deserving a second and then a third look. A gray-haired man was on the deck, fussing around in a storage compartment, his back to Jack. “This boat yours?” Jack asked.
“Yup,” the man said. He turned around, and when he saw Jack, one side of his mouth curved into a smile. “Well, hello there, Jack O’Neill, with two Ls.”
Jack stared up at him. “Jethro, that you?” Leroy Jethro Gibbs was a man Jack would never forget. His extraordinary sniper skills had gotten Jack out of a tough situation, not once, but twice. “How the hell are you?” He and Jethro had gone out drinking a few times after that, but it had been years since he’d last seen him.
Jethro waved at him, “Come on board. She’ll stand the extra weight.”
Not needing a second invitation, Jack stepped onto her deck, taking another appreciative look around. “She’s a beauty.”
“I built her myself,” Jethro said proudly. “Every last inch of her.”
Jack ran his hands along the polished wood. “Does she sail as good as she looks?”
“Got time to go out?” Jethro asked in answer.
“You bet,” Jack said. Daniel wasn’t likely to notice if several days went by; he’d probably be lost in that bookstore until the proprietor kicked him out for the night. In any case, they had made plans to meet back at the hotel at 7:00 for dinner, so even if Daniel managed to unearth himself, he wouldn’t worry too much if Jack was out of cell phone reach.
Jack had done some sailing in his time, so with minimal direction he happily played the part of first mate, and within a few minutes they were slowly motoring out of the marina.
Once they were out to sea, the shoreline still visible but far enough away to feel distant, Jack noticed the Christmas lights around the grabrail. “Nice touch,” Jack said, pointing at the lights.
Jethro rolled his eyes. “Not my idea.”
“’Tis the season,” Jack said. It was three days before Christmas, the first Christmas he and Daniel were spending together as lovers. They’d asked for vacation time, deciding they’d earned it. The Ori were kaput, Jack was sick of his job and thinking about retiring, and Daniel, for all the fact that he was a lot younger, was considering the same thing. Jack was using this vacation as a trial run, to see what his life could be like without the weight of the world on his shoulders, having a companion to spend his time with.
“Bah, humbug,” Jethro said, but there was a grin hovering around his mouth.
Jack recognized that grin. It was the same grin on Jack’s face as he left Daniel to his books. He chuffed out some silent laughter, saying, “Oh, the things we do for love.”
Jethro barked out a laugh. “Amen.”
Jack let the warmth of a southern California winter day warm his bones, so glad he wasn’t in Colorado under two feet of snow. The day was perfect, sunny and breezy.
“Ready to get the sail up?” Jethro asked.
“Aye, aye, skipper,” Jack said, getting to his feet, pleased at how easily his sea-legs were coming to him.
They raised the mainsail, leaving the jib sheet down. After a brief conversation, they decided that neither of them was in the mood for speed and rapid handling; the single sail would suffice. “God, this is great,” Jack said. As they raced over the water, no sound but the wind buffeting the sails and the occasional sea bird, Jack thought that retiring to someplace like this, where he could get a boat and put out to sea whenever the mood hit, would be a dream come true. “You retired?” he asked Jethro.
“No, just on vacation.”
Jack flicked a hand at the Christmas lights. “Not alone, though.”
“Nope, not alone. You? Are you retired?”
“Nope. Thinking about it, though. I’m tired.”
“What’s your rank?”
“General,” Jack said. “And the paper cuts are killing me.”
“I work at NCIS. Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs at your service. Been there for a long time, now.”
“Never thought you’d leave the service,” Jack said. “Thought you were a lifer.”
Jethro shrugged, and Jack saw a world of hurt in the gesture. He normally would have kept his mouth shut, but hanging around with Daniel was having a bad effect on him. “Who’d you lose?”
Jethro’s lips tightened, but then he said, “Wife and daughter.”
“Jesus,” Jack said. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“Stuff like that never goes away.”
Jethro sent him a piercing look. “What happened?”
“Lost my son.”
The look he got from Jethro was one of commiseration, not pity, and Jack took comfort in it.
“Never goes away,” Jethro said. “But it does get easier.”
Jack agreed with that. Daniel made it a hell of a lot easier. From the moment Jack had met him, Daniel had breathed new life into him. “Especially with someone who puts Christmas lights all over your boat?”
Jethro grinned, the smile actually reaching his eyes, and Jack was glad that Jethro had found his own version of Daniel.
“Never expected it,” Jethro confessed. “Got married three more times after Shannon died, and it never worked. But this? Never saw it coming.”
“I hear ya,” Jack said. If anyone had told him after he’d lost Sara that he’d be crazy in love with a man, he’d probably have decked them. Not that he was homophobic, but it was so far out of Jack’s imagination of what his life was supposed to be, it wasn’t even worthy of consideration. “Tell me about her?”
“Coming around,” Jethro said first, and Jack ducked as the boom came swinging around, nimbly moving to the other side of the boat, reaching to take the rudder as Jethro secured the boom. “Green eyes,” Jethro said after he was sitting again.
“Blue,” Jack said.
“Brown hair,” Jethro said.
“Me, too. Well, not me, obviously. Looks like we both lost that lottery.”
Jethro smiled. “Tall.”
“Young,” Jethro said with a roll of his eyes.
“How young?” Jack asked.
Jack’s eyebrows rose. “Fifteen?”
Jethro let loose with a strong laugh. “Oh, I wish you could see your face. Fifteen years younger than me. Not fifteen-years-old.”
“Glad to hear it.” Jack did some math in his head. “Mine’s thirteen years younger.”
“You dog,” Jethro said.
“Takes one to know one,” Jack said, making a pretend toast.
“That deserves a beer,” Jethro said, disappearing into the galley for a moment and returning with a couple of iced bottles. “There you go.”
Jack took it gladly, twisting the top off, taking a nice long swallow. “Perfect.”
“Where is this tall, young, blue-eyed beauty of yours?” Jethro asked.
“Bookstore,” Jack admitted. “Loves them almost as much as me. Where’s yours?”
“Shopping. Buying souvenirs for the rest of the team.” Jethro shuddered, as if the thought of shopping gave him nightmares.
Jack could relate. “Rest of the team? You work together?”
Jethro nodded, but didn’t volunteer any more information.
“You her boss?”
Jethro’s face squinched up, but he admitted, “Been offered a team several times, but they’d rather work with me.”
“You don’t need to defend yourself,” Jack assured him. “I work with mine, too, and I’ve been the boss for a long time.”
Jack was glad he’d said it when Jethro’s shoulders relaxed. “Couple of reprobates,” Jethro said.
Jack chuckled and took another long drink from his beer. “Happy?” He wanted his old friend happy. The man had saved his life years ago, and suffered the same kind of loss Jack had. Jack wanted for him what he’d found with Daniel.
“Yeah, I am. I never expected to be, but somehow I got lucky.”
“Good,” Jack said, and then ducked again, when Jethro announced another turn.
They spent a long while out on the ocean, tacking back and forth, no destination in mind, just a couple of old soldiers relaxing, talking a little, but mostly not. Jack felt himself finally relaxing even though he and Daniel had been on vacation for two days already. It was hard to leave the bullshit behind.
When Jack finally looked at his watch, three hours had gone by. “I should probably get back.”
Jethro glanced at his watch, too, and nodded. “I’ll be getting yelled at for sure.”
“Just plug in the Christmas lights,” Jack suggested. It wasn’t dusk yet, but they’d still be seen.
Jethro grinned and did as Jack suggested, and Jack smiled as the lights blinked on, a long string of multi-colored lights that started out shining in unison, but then started blinking.
“Merry Christmas, Jethro,” Jack said, and he reached forward to clink his beer against the other’s.
“Merry Christmas, Jack,” Jethro said in return.
As they neared the shore, they worked together to take down the sail, folding it carefully, and tying it up tight. Jethro turned the motor back on, and they made their way into the marina. Jack noticed two men on the dock, one of them looking very familiar. The other noticed the boat coming in, and Jack found himself smirking, thinking back over their conversation.
“You know, Jethro,” he said. “There was an interesting lack of female pronouns in that conversation we had.”
Jethro looked apprehensive at first, but then he followed the point of Jack’s chin, and saw the two men on the pier and started to grin. “Quite a lack of female anything, in fact,” he said.
“Maybe we could have dinner together,” Jack said. “I’d like you to meet someone.”
“That sounds good,” Jethro said.
They got close enough for Jack to see the other man’s face clearly. “You did all right for yourself,” Jack said. Jethro’s guy was gorgeous. He and Daniel looked good together.
“You too,” Jethro said with an admiring glance.
Jack sighed as he looked at Daniel. It wasn’t fair. He just got better looking every year. Of course, he said that about Jack, too, but Jack knew that was love talking.
When they moved alongside the pier, Jethro threw the rope to his friend who easily tied it off, then stood there waiting for Jethro to drop the anchor. “Have a nice sail?” he asked when Jethro’s feet hit the pier.
“Yes,” Jethro said, giving him a quick kiss. “Jack, this is Tony, Tony DiNozzo. Tony, Jack O’Neill.”
“Jack,” Tony said with a friendly smile. “I take it this is yours, then?” he said, gesturing to Daniel. “We’ve been getting to know one another.”
“Yes,” Jack said, pulling Daniel to his side and wrapping an arm around his waist. He was feeling bold, and ready to retire. Not that he was really worried about it. It wasn’t like anyone was going to drum him out of the service with a dishonorable discharge. Sometimes being a hero who saved the Earth a hundred times over had its benefits. “Jethro, this is Daniel Jackson. Daniel, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He goes by Jethro.”
Jethro shook Daniel’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“How’d you know I was here?” Jack said.
“Where else would you be?” Daniel said.
Jack was astonished Daniel had actually left the bookstore before dark. He felt flattered; maybe Daniel did love him more than books. “How’s dinner sound?” he said. “The four of us?”
“Sounds great,” Daniel said. “There’s a little Italian place right down the street. It smelled fantastic as I was walking by.”
In easy agreement, the four of them walked down the pier and onto the street that paralleled the sea. Tony and Jethro spoke quietly, while Jack got Daniel caught up on how he knew Jethro.
When they reached the restaurant, Daniel and Tony entered ahead of them, and Jack saw Jethro watching Tony’s ass the same way he was watching Daniel’s. Catching Jethro’s eyes, he said, “We are a couple of lucky bastards, you know that?”
“Believe me, I do,” Jethro said in all sincerity. Jethro entered the restaurant, and Jack had one foot over the threshold when he turned around and easily found Jethro’s boat, Christmas lights still blinking merrily. A wild joy filled Jack’s heart, and he stared a moment longer before following Jethro through the doorway.