A Christmas Miracle
01. A Christmas Miracle
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A Christmas Miracle

“Any change?” Startled, Gibbs looked up at the pretty young blonde haired woman who had just walked into the room and set a cup of coffee down on the table next to him. He must have zoned out again, since he hadn’t even heard her come in. He was doing that a lot lately, and at any other time, that would have worried him.

“No, none,” he said, straightening up in the chair he’d been slumped in. “How’s Mikey?”

“About as good as can be expected.” Gibbs nodded his understanding. ‘As good as can be expected’ - that statement pretty much summed them all up. “I insisted Rick take him home for the evening about an hour ago. He’s still blaming himself, no matter how many times we tell him there’s absolutely no reason to.”

“Might be better if you can keep him from coming back here tomorrow. Maybe some distance will help him gain some perspective,” Gibbs told her.

“We plan to, but that’s easier said than done. When was the last time you tried arguing with an adolescent boy?” A small wry smile played on her lips.

“I argue with Tony every day,” Gibbs answered, in a poor attempt to lighten the mood. Unfortunately, the mention of Tony only increased the pressure in his chest. Sue seemed to sense that.

“Jethro, you’re dead on your feet. Why don’t you at least go to the lounge and try and get some sleep in one of the recliners? He doesn’t have to be alone; I’m sure the nurses will let me stay here with him, in your place. I promise I’ll come get you if there’s any change, whatsoever.”

“I’m fine,” Gibbs grunted, sitting up even straighter in the chair, as if to prove his point, although the slight tremor in his hand when he reached for the coffee belied his words.

“No, you aren’t,” she said, shaking her head, taking in the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. “You’ve barely left this room for the last four days, and I can’t remember the last time I saw you eat anything that wasn’t first wrapped in plastic. You can’t keep going like this forever.”

“I can last as long as I need to,” he insisted as he sipped at the coffee she’d brought him.

“This is the last thing Tony would want. You, making yourself sick over him. You need to get out of here for just a little while. Go home, make yourself something to eat, sleep in your own bed for one night.” She stopped talking when she realized Gibbs’ face had gone stony. “Forget I said anything,” she said, raising her hands in surrender. “At least when you collapse, you’ll already be in a hospital,” she muttered under her breath. Gibbs glared at her, to let her know he’d heard that comment.

“You should go home, too, Sue. Take tomorrow off. Do something with your kids. I don’t need a minder.” She just crossed her arms. Immovable force had just met immovable force.

“I’m leaving after this visit, but neither Rick nor I are about to leave you here by yourself for any length of time, Jethro. We may have only met you in person a month ago, but you’re important to Tony, and that makes you important to us, too.” The expression on Sue’s face told Gibbs there was no point in arguing. Instead, she contented herself with moving behind Gibbs and placing a hand lightly on his shoulder.

Gibbs just nodded his understanding, then turned his attention back to the hospital bed. Lying under the covers, eyes closed, attached to a terrifying number of monitors and assorted medical equipment, lay Tony DiNozzo. Tony was his senior agent at NCIS, but that was the least significant role Tony played in Gibbs’ life.

'It was funny how quickly things changed,' Gibbs thought, as he sat in the hard, straight-backed chair. One month ago, all Gibbs would let Tony be was his senior agent. Then came Thanksgiving, a paintball war, a stumble in the woods, and suddenly everything was different. When they’d gotten up from the ground, there had been very few questions about what they both wanted, had wanted for a very long time. By the end of that night, there were no more questions. They’d rarely been apart since then, and rather than hamper their effectiveness at work, as Gibbs had once feared, it had merely enhanced it. The bond they had always felt was deeper now, their ability to innately know what the other intended more finely honed, making them a deadly combination when in the field. Although they had always watched each other’s back, there was a hyperawareness now. Sometimes Gibbs felt like he could see Tony, even when he wasn’t looking at him, the depth of their connection scaring him. And yet now, here he sat, with absolutely no idea what was going inside Tony’s head, and he was even more afraid.

Gibbs must have done something that alerted Sue to his distress, because she tightened her grip on his shoulder, giving him reassuring squeeze. “He’s going to be alright, Jethro. No way he’s giving up now, not after he finally got what he most wanted.” She squeezed again.

Normally Gibbs would be embarrassed about being so transparent, not at all comfortable with having his relationship the subject of conversation, but not tonight, and not with Sue. Rick and Sue were Tony’s best friends. Actually they were more than that; they, and their children, were more like Tony’s adoptive family. It had been made very clear to him from the start that Tony kept very few secrets from them, something that amazed Gibbs, since the face Tony shared with the rest of the world was often nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Tony was the only completely private extrovert he’d ever met, although you had to listen closely to what Tony said to realize he wasn’t really telling you anything about himself. All the joking, endless pop culture references, and bragging were nothing more than an elaborate form of deflection. Tony was good at it - better than good, actually - more like a master. And Gibbs was no better than everyone else; he’d bought into most of it, for a very long time, but not anymore. Now he knew what each and every one of Tony’s smiles really meant; the smirk that really stood for, ‘That hurt, but I’ll never show you’, the wide toothy grin that stood for, ‘That’s just what I wanted you to believe,’ the lascivious, almost obscene leer designed to make someone change the subject immediately, while Tony’s mask was still firmly in place, and all the others. But now, as he lay there unconscious, his face completely unguarded, looking far younger than his years, all Gibbs could see was naked vulnerability.

A nurse came in to let Sue know that the ten minutes allotted for visits each hour had expired, and she paused in the doorway, silently studying Gibbs, as Sue gathered her things. Gibbs was an enigma. Oddly enough, no one tried to apply the rules to him, and even more strange, no one seemed to know why. She couldn’t explain it. It wasn’t as if his concern and grief was so much greater than any of the other worried relatives and friends who came to see their loved ones every day, she mused. He’d never shed so much as one single tear, as far as she could tell. And it wasn’t as if the patient, Mr. DiNozzo - ‘Tony,’ rested more peacefully with him there. Tony had been comatose ever since he arrived in the ICU, four days ago. Maybe it was because Tony had been the only one admitted to the floor on Christmas Day, and no one had the heart to chase Gibbs away, she thought. Not on a day that should be filled with love and joy, not pain and sorrow. When she’d worked Obstetrics, the Christmas babies had always held a special place in all their hearts; perhaps this was the ICU’s version of that. She didn’t know how it had started, she only knew that when she’d come on duty the day after Christmas, he’d been there, quietly sitting by Tony’s side, and the supervising nurse had told her to just let him be. And he’d been there, pretty much nonstop, ever since.

She wasn’t even sure of what kind of relationship they shared. She knew he was listed as Tony’s ‘Next of Kin’ and was his medical advocate, but she didn’t think they were really related. She also knew they worked together, that Gibbs was Tony’s boss, but that didn’t explain his presence here, day in, day out. No work relationship, no matter how good, merited this kind of devotion. It had become the subject of gossip on the ward, with half of them convinced they were lovers, while the other half maintained they were only best friends. She didn’t know which guess was right; it really didn’t matter to her. What mattered was that Tony had someone who cared enough for him to be there, twenty-four hours a day, and she hoped he would wake up and have the chance to discover that for himself.

Once she was ready to go, Sue held up a hand to the nurse, indicating that she would be through in just a second, then she leaned over Gibbs and pressed a light kiss on his cheek. “Are you sure you won’t reconsider going out to the lounge and getting some proper sleep? I really could stay longer.”

“I can sleep right here,” Gibbs told her, the tone of his voice telling her there was no point in arguing.

Sue sighed. “Rick and I won’t be here tomorrow until the afternoon. Mikey has a follow-up appointment with his doctor, and after that we’re taking both he and his sister to my parents’ house for the weekend. I’m hoping you’re right, and that a change of scenery will do him some good. I hate to think of you all alone here. Maybe it’s time to tell some of the others what’s happened? At least Abby or Ducky?” she suggested.

“No,” Gibbs said forcefully, turning in the chair until he could look directly at her. “Let them have their holidays. They don’t get this much time off very often. The last thing Tony would want would be for them to spend their vacation sitting in a hospital waiting room. There isn’t anything they could do for Tony right now anyway, so what’s the point in worrying them?” Sue bit her lip. It hadn’t been Tony she was hoping they could help. Then it struck her that had been such a ‘Tony’ response. Trying to protect everyone else, regardless of what he himself needed. 'Does Gibbs realize how alike he and Tony can be at times?' she silently wondered.

“I’ll have my cell phone with me all morning. Call us if there’s any change,” she told him. Gibbs barely acknowledged her; his attention was focused almost solely on Tony again. She gave his shoulder one last squeeze, then turned to follow the nurse out of the room.

“Alone at last,” Gibbs said to Tony, once she was gone. “Not exactly the down time we’d hoped for, though. Guess the ski lodge will have to wait until next Christmas.” He paused, and when there was no response, he continued. “You need to wake up soon, Tony. New Years Eve is in three days, and you’ll be pissed at yourself if you sleep through it.”

He had taken to talking to Tony when there was no one else around to hear. Tony liked to talk, which worked out well, since Gibbs liked to listen to him. So if he couldn’t do that right now, then Gibbs had decided he’d do it for him. As a matter of fact, he was fairly sure he’d talked more to Tony in the last four days than he had in the last six months combined, and every time he did it, he hoped that Tony would answer him back.

After the first night at the hospital, Gibbs had been appalled at how much time the patients in ICU spent alone. Logically, he understood that it wasn’t necessary for the nurses to constantly be in the room. The innumerable monitors attached to each patient ensured that someone sitting at the nurses’ station would be able to tell exactly how each patient was doing at any given point in the day. That didn’t replace the human need for companionship, though. Gibbs knew all about that, even though before he and Tony had gotten together, Gibbs’ normal form of recreation had consisted of working on a boat, in his basement, all by himself. But that was after he’d spent all day talking to other people, whether it be his team members, or the people he was interviewing in order to solve whatever case he was working. His isolation had been by choice. He had elected to spend his nights alone because he didn’t think he could be with the one he wanted to spend more time with. Then Thanksgiving had come, and he’d discovered that he’d been wrong, that Tony did want him. Since then, he’d had very few nights alone. He still worked on his boat, but now, Tony was there with him, talking.

It still kind of stunned Gibbs how quickly his life had changed. One minute he was just Tony’s guest at his traditional, day after Thanksgiving paintball war, and the next, they were back at his house, and he had Tony pressed against the front door. They hadn’t even bothered moving to the sofa in the living room. What Gibbs had intended to be a kiss, filled with promises of the things to come, had turned into the start of the most mind blowing sex Gibbs had engaged in for more years than he cared to remember. Once he had begun, he just hadn’t been able to stop. If he’d been thinking with anything other than his dick, he would have known that was going to be the way it played out. He’d wanted Tony for too many years to wait, once he got the chance, and there had been no way Tony was going to be the voice of reason.

Tony had been almost nonverbal the entire ride back to D.C. from his friend Rick’s house, his face flushed, his body taut with anticipation, and his pupils completely blown with lust. He’d muttered, “Hurry,” when they first got in the car, and had repeated it a few times on the drive, but other than that, he’d contented himself with staring hungrily at Gibbs, with a look that said everything that needed to be said. It hadn’t been until he was buried, balls deep in Tony that the younger man had spoken again. “I knew it would be like this. So good, Boss. Never want you to stop,” he’d breathed.

“Don’t plan to,” he’d grunted as he thrust again, hitting Tony’s sweet spot just right. As Tony mewled and writhed below him, he’d added, “Not for any length of time, at any rate. Want to fuck you every day, forever.” That might not have been a very romantic declaration of commitment, but Tony had moaned in response, raising his head, demanding a kiss.

He’d been true to his word, too, every day since then, until Christmas, the day they’d planned to spend with Rick, Sue and their two kids, exchanging gifts, eating too much, visiting, and giving thanks for everything they had.

“Guess you know that Sue and Rick were here again today. They had Mikey with them this time,” he told Tony’s inert body, back in the present once again. “I don’t think they wanted him to come, but Rick said he put up such a stink they were afraid not to bring him along. Guess he’s pretty headstrong, must take after his godfather in that respect. He isn’t old enough to come in, but just being here seemed to do something for him. Don’t know. Maybe it was just the reassurance that if you were in the hospital, then you were still alive.” Gibbs paused, again waiting for the response that didn’t come.

“He’s somehow managed to convince himself that this is all his fault, and doesn’t seem to want to see it any differently. You need to talk to him. Maybe you’ll be able to make him understand better. He doesn’t want to hear it from any of us.” Gibbs paused, as he remembered his earlier conversation with the boy.

Gibbs had decided to go take a quick shower in the doctors’ locker room while Rick and Sue were in the ICU, keeping Tony company. He’d taken to doing that every day, ever since Tony’s neurologist had told him about it, on their second day at the hospital. He’d even gone so far as to appropriate one to the empty lockers to store the personal hygiene products and clean clothes that Sue had brought to him. When he’d stuck his head into the lounge, intending to say a quick hello to Mikey, he’d found the boy pulled into a tight ball on one of the chairs, tears trickling down his cheeks.

“Hey kiddo.” The boy had looked up at him, running a hand across his face quickly to try and hide the tears. “You don’t need to do that. No shame in showing your emotions,” he’d told the child. “We’re all worried about Tony.”

“Wish I could go see him, to apologize,” Mikey had sniffled.

“No reason to apologize. This isn’t your fault,” Gibbs had assured him.

“It was my idea. If it hadn’t been for me, Uncle Tony wouldn’t have been in that store,” Mikey muttered.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Gibbs had disagreed. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, except the bastard’s who shot Tony. But if you really want to affix blame, you could just as easily say it was my fault.” The boy had looked up at him in confusion, not following Gibbs’ train of thought. “I’m the one who brought a gift that required batteries, but forgot the batteries.”

“I should have waited until the next day, like Mom said, and not acted like such a brat. Then Tony and you wouldn’t have driven me to the Quick Mart to get them, and it would never have happened,” he’d said, hanging his head. That had pretty much ripped Gibbs up.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Gibbs asked him. “Christmas gifts should be played with on Christmas. I screwed up, but I don’t think it’s my fault Tony got shot,” he’d lied, “any more than I think it’s yours.”

That had been too much for Mikey, and the tears he’d been trying to hold back burst forth, and Gibbs had reached out and pulled the boy to him. As he’d stood there, holding the sobbing child, he tried without much success, to push away his own memories of Christmas.

They’d gotten a later start on the day than they had originally planned, partially because they’d been up so late the night before, and partially because they’d been distracted. Since they were spending Christmas day at Rick's and Sue’s home, they’d decided to have an intimate celebration on Christmas Eve, just the two of them. Earlier in the day, Gibbs had dug his old ornaments out of the attic, and they’d put a tree up together that evening, a tradition Gibbs hadn’t followed since Kelly and Shannon had been killed, though he hadn’t told Tony that fact. Just like always, though, Tony had somehow known that this was a huge step for him. He’d been hesitant when he’d suggested the tree the day before, and the look of relief on his face when Gibbs had agreed to the plan had been heart rending. That was what had driven Gibbs to go in search of all his old decorations. He hadn’t looked at a one of them in eighteen years. As he had pulled the boxes out, he had remembered how Shannon had always packed away the ornaments with such care each year, wrapping each ornament individually, in layers of tissue, and Tony had shown the same reverence when unpacking them.

Many of the ornaments were well over one hundred years old, since they’d been passed down in Gibbs’ family, generation to generation. His father had given them to Shannon on the first Christmas they’d been married, and Shannon would have eventually passed them on to Kelly. When Tony pulled out an old rustic miniature wooden baby cradle, he’d laughed and told Tony that had been given to his parents by his grandfather, to commemorate Gibbs’ first Christmas. That was all Tony had needed to hear. After that, he’d demanded the story behind every ornament, and had listened with rapt attention when Gibbs told him what he knew about each. Gibbs had been amazed that Tony was so interested in a bunch of old family stories, until he remembered that Tony probably had never had anything like this as a child. Family had clearly not been important to Tony’s parents, outside of the careful documentation of any and all prestige associated with their lineage. They would most definitely never have put up a Christmas tree decorated with old, often handmade, folk art styled ornaments. From the few things Tony had let slip about his childhood, that would probably have been labeled as sentimental tripe, something the DiNozzos would never be accused of, Gibbs knew.

So Gibbs had indulged him, racking his brain to recall the stories his mother had always told him about the ornaments as they’d set up their tree each year when he was a child. As he stood there, looking back, he remembered how Tony’s hand had stilled when he’d uncovered another wooden baby cradle, more elegantly crafted. Gibbs hadn’t even needed to see it, to know what Tony had just found. The look of pain and panic that flashed across Tony’s face had told him what he needed to know.

“I made that for Kelly, for her first Christmas.” Tony had looked at him, trying to gage his reaction, not lifting the ornament out of its wrapping.

“It’s beautiful,” he’d told Gibbs softly. After a pause, he’d added, “Would you like me to wrap it back up?”

“No, put it on the tree.”

Tony had carefully pulled it out, and crossed over to the tree, where he’d searched and searched for somewhere to place it. Finally he had found a spot that pleased him, and he’d hooked the tiny cradle right next to an ancient, hand blown glass ornament of a little angel child. Neither of them had commented on his choice, but it would have been impossible to miss the significance. Things had relaxed again after that, and Gibbs had resumed his story telling. Finally, two hours later, the tree was done. As they were sitting on the couch, drinking a beer, admiring their handiwork, Tony had said, “Thank you for this amazing gift, Jethro. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you.”

Gibbs had reached out and put an arm around Tony’s shoulders, pulling him close. “I have something to celebrate this year.” Tony hadn’t answered; he’d just pressed a soft kiss to Gibbs’ neck. “Something’s missing though,” he’d told Tony after a bit. Tony had looked over at the tree, trying to figure out what Gibbs was talking about. “Presents, Tony. There aren’t any presents under the tree. Why don’t you go up to the closet in the spare bedroom. Think you’ll find a large shopping bag. Maybe we should bring it down here.” Tony had surged off the sofa, and rushed up the stairs. Gibbs was still chuckling when Tony reappeared in the living room, a brightly decorated shopping bag Gibbs had never seen before in his right hand, and the one Gibbs had hidden days before, in his left, and his eyes dancing with excitement. “Looks like I wasn’t the only one who had the Christmas spirit,” Gibbs had commented. “Did you buy those back in September?” he’d asked, referring to the boast Tony had once made about getting his holiday shopping done early.

“Just one of them,” Tony had told him with a smirk. “Think you’ll be able to tell which one it was. How about we do away with tradition, and instead of putting them under the tree, I just bring both bags over to the sofa, and I’ll give you my bag and you can give me yours.”

“Don’t think so,” Gibbs snorted, wanting to prolong Tony’s anticipation a bit longer. “Put them under the tree for now. Dinner’s almost ready; we can open them after we eat.”

“It can wait,” Tony’d objected. “I’m not really that hungry right now, anyway.”

“Well, I am, DiNozzo,” he’d told him, and Tony had rolled his eyes, but complied.

Gibbs’ mind had just moved on to remembering the actual gift giving, when Mikey had begun to pull out of his arms, forcing Gibbs to refocus on why he was standing there. “Feeling any better?” he had asked the boy.

“Yeah,” Mikey had said, clearly embarrassed by having succumbed to tears.

“What did I tell you about crying? It’s only natural when you’re worried about someone you love who is really sick,” Gibbs had told him.

“How come he hasn’t woken up?” Gibbs had swallowed. That was the ten million dollar question, wasn’t it? The question that kept rolling around in his mind, as he sat, staring at Tony’s sleeping body. It was the question he kept asking the doctors, even though they always gave him the same answer " that Tony would wake up when his brain was ready for him to, and not before. Somehow he had doubted if that answer was going to satisfy Mikey any more than it satisfied him. With nothing better to say, though, he had been just about to parrot what the doctors said, when Mikey had asked him another question. “Have you ever had someone you love die, Gibbs?”

That had punched him directly in the gut. He hadn’t been prepared for that question. No one had ever asked him something like that before. That was the thing about kids, though. They tended to say whatever was on their minds. “Yeah, I have,” he’d managed to answer Mikey.

“Did you cry?” the boy had wanted to know.

‘Did you cry?’ That didn’t begin to describe his reaction. Yeah, first he’d cried, then he’d zoned out on the meds the doctor had prescribed, eventually replacing them with booze, which he’d drunk himself into a stupor with, night after night, and finally he had tracked down the bastard that had killed them, and put a bullet in his heart " just like the man had done to him. None of those were going to be options for Mikey, however, should Tony die. No one was going to prescribe strong tranquillizers to a thirteen year old, and he certainly couldn’t go out and buy himself liquor. And even if he had a gun, and knew how to use it, he wouldn’t be able to exact revenge for Tony’s death, because Gibbs had already done that, having put a bullet right between the eyes of the perp when he’d rushed into the convenience story, gun drawn, after hearing the report of gunfire from the car. Of course he’d been too late, Tony was already lying on the ground, with a bullet in his skull, and Mikey lay on the floor behind him, unconscious from having hit his head too hard on the ground, when Tony had shoved him out of the line of fire.

“Sure I cried,” Gibbs had managed to choke out, even though his throat had constricted. “But Tony’s not going to die, Mikey, you need to believe that.”

“Do you?”

“I have to,” Gibbs had told him truthfully.

“Do you love Uncle Tony?” he’d asked, startling Gibbs.

‘What does it say about our conversation, when I’m actually glad to get that question?’ he’d asked himself. He wasn’t sure what Rick and Sue had said to Mikey about the two of them. The boy was definitely old enough to be aware of homosexuality, or bisexuality, or whatever term you wanted to apply to their relationship, but he had no idea how open they were with their kids. Finally he’d decided that anything less than the truth would be a disservice to Mikey, and a dishonor to Tony. “Yeah, I do,” he had told the boy.

“Does he love you, too?”

“I hope so,” Gibbs had answered.

Mikey had nodded solemnly. “Then maybe it’ll be okay.”

Gibbs had blinked. He hadn’t understood where that had come from. “What do you mean?” he’d asked the child.

“If you love Tony, and he loves you, then maybe God won’t take him, since you’ve already lost someone else that you loved,” he had explained to Gibbs. “Not at Christmas time.”

‘From your mouth to God’s ear,’ Gibbs had prayed to himself. “I think you’re right,” he’d told Mikey, and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze. “You going to be okay if I go get cleaned up?”

“Yep, I think so. You go on. You need to hurry up and get back in there, so Uncle Tony can wake up.”

He’d almost run out of there. The purity and faith of Mikey’s reasoning had touched him, and he didn’t want to give the boy an opportunity to ask another question that would blow it all to hell. It would be nice to think God wouldn’t be so cruel, but Gibbs didn’t think God had anything to do with whether Tony lived or died. He wasn’t even sure if God involved himself with those kinds of decisions at all. He’d seen too many truly good people die over the years, not to mention Shannon and Kelly, to think that God protected the kind of heart. The most Gibbs could bring himself to hope, was that God at least welcomed them into Heaven when they passed, and made their eternal life better than their corporeal one had been. Gibbs was a firm believer in the idea that God helped those who helped themselves. That was what he was counting on. Tony was a fighter, and he loved life. He would do everything he could to stay alive, and Gibbs intended to be there, by his side, to lend him any strength he could.

Gibbs pulled himself back to the present. It seemed that he was spending as much time in the past as the now, these last few days. “Not sure, but I may have opened a can of worms that Sue and Rick weren’t prepared to deal with,” he said, as he stood so that he could see Tony better. “I had a little chat with Mikey this afternoon, while his parents were in here with you. When he asked me if I loved you, I just couldn’t bring myself to brush off the question, to find some stupid-assed neutral answer, so I told him yes.” He reached out and smoothed Tony’s bangs off of his forehead. Gibbs wasn’t sure how they kept falling down there. Tony barely moved, and there were bandages on one whole side of his head, hiding where Tony no longer had any hair. Yet every time he looked at him, his bangs were in his eyes again. “You need a haircut, DiNozzo,” he muttered distractedly, then pulled himself back to what he’d been discussing. “I don’t really know what your friends have told their kids about us. Guess it never mattered to me, until today. Don’t want to hide anything, Tony. Told you before, I’m not ashamed of us, and I don’t want to act like we’re doing anything we need to apologize for. You know how I feel about apologies,” he joked. That had become a running gag between the two of them.

They’d had a disagreement not long after their relationship had changed. It had been dumb, as most arguments are. Tony had wanted to drive to Virginia on a Sunday, to visit Rick and Sue, and Gibbs had wanted to spend the day alone together. He’d told Tony that they didn’t get a lot of time off, and that he didn’t want to waste a whole day of it right now, by spending it with people he barely knew. They’d squabbled about it for a few minutes, and finally Tony had pointed out that he’d be more than willing to spend some of his time off with Gibbs’ friends, and he’d snapped at Tony, “Yeah, well that’s a pretty safe offer, since it isn’t very likely to happen.” Tony had immediately dropped the subject, and they’d spent the weekend together, at Gibbs’ house. But Tony had been different, less gregarious, his smiles too quick and easy.

Thinking back on that weekend now, he couldn’t believe how oblivious he’d been. He hadn’t even realized that Tony was behaving any differently until late Saturday evening. So much for Gibbs, master investigator. It wasn’t until they had been in the basement for a few hours, he working on the boat, and Tony reading, that he’d gotten a clue that something might be wrong. When he said, “Want to call it a night?” Tony had looked up from his book, and said noncommittally, “Sure, if you want to.” That was when he’d finally realized that something was off. Tony’s response had been indifferent. Tony was never indifferent, and he had never been anything less than enthusiastic about going up to the bedroom.

“Something wrong?” he’d asked.

“Nope, just tired,” Tony had said, closing his book, his head down so Gibbs couldn’t see his face. Gibbs had taken him at his word and had let the issue drop.

They hadn’t set the world on fire that night. Tony had been little more than compliant, docilely giving Gibbs access to his body, while holding back on his real self. When he was lying on his back, spent, the blood slowly returning to his brain, allowing him to think again, he’d reflected back over the past couple of days, trying to figure out what was going on with Tony. “Are you still pissed because I didn’t want to go to Rick’s and Sue’s?” he’d finally asked, since that had been the only thing he could think of that they’d disagreed on recently.

“Never was,” had been Tony’s muffled reply, from where he lay on his side, his body turned away from Gibbs. He’d reached over and grasped Tony’s shoulder and pulled, rolling him onto his back so that he could see his face. It hadn’t helped, though. Tony had just laid there, his head on the pillow, gazing up at him; his face had been implacable, absolutely impossible to read. Then he’d smiled and said, “Don’t think I’m ready for another round right now. Can’t believe you are either.” That had led to some lighthearted banter, and Gibbs had shelved his concern.

The next day things seemed better. Tony had been more talkative, and his sense of humor seemed to have re-established itself. Gibbs had almost convinced himself that he’d been imagining that there was a problem. That afternoon, they’d been at the grocery store, restocking on basics for Gibbs’ refrigerator, when his phone had rung. It had been an old Marine friend that he hadn’t seen in several years, who was in town for a few days. He’d called to suggest they get together later for a drink, so that they could catch up. Gibbs had told him he thought that would be fine, but he’d call him back to confirm. When he hung up, Tony had asked who had called. “An old friend. Wants to get together for a drink this evening. That okay with you?”

You had to be watching very carefully, or you would have missed the slight tick in Tony’s face. Gibbs had been. He’d been watching Tony closely ever since last night, bothered by Tony’s behavior, even though he’d claimed everything was just fine. As soon as the tiny flinch had passed, Tony had grinned at him and said, “Yeah, that’d be fine. Great, actually. I need to get caught up on laundry, and some other chores around my place, anyway. You know, all play and no work makes Tony a very messy boy.”

“You don’t want to go?” Gibbs had asked him then.

Tony’d looked at him in surprise, his face suddenly open and vulnerable. “Were you asking me to?”

“Well, yeah DiNozzo. What did you think?” he’d grunted.

“What about not wanting your friends to meet me?” Tony had asked softly. Gibbs had stared at him, completely stunned.

“What in the hell are you talking about?” he’d demanded, once he’d found his voice. “When did I ever say anything like that?”

“Never mind, I must have misinterpreted you,” Tony had said, clearly embarrassed that he’d said anything about it at all.

“No, I want to understand this. What was it I said, that you ‘misinterpreted’?” he’d pushed. Tony had fidgeted and looked away. “Tony, explain this to me.” He’d reached over and grabbed Tony’s chin, making him look at him.

“Gibbs, we’re in the grocery store,” Tony had objected, trying to pull away.

“I don’t give a fuck. Tell me what you were talking about,” refusing to let go of Tony’s face. Somehow he had known that this was the root of Tony’s troubles the day before.

“The other day, when we were talking about going to Rick’s for the day,” Tony had muttered, then fell silent. Gibbs had given his chin a little shake, to indicate that he should go on. “You said it wasn’t very likely that I’d get to spend time off with your friends,” Tony had finally clarified, his eyes too bright as he rolled them away from Gibbs.

“Aw damn it, Tony. Did you think that meant I was ashamed of you, of us? I didn’t mean that at all. I just meant I don’t have a lot of friends, so the chances of us having to give up time together to be with them, was pretty slim. I guess I didn’t make that very clear. I'm sorry, Tony,” he’d said as he let go of Tony’s face.

Tony had been looking at him, a small, but sincere, smile on his face. “You just apologized to me.”

“Well, yeah,” he’d said, not getting it.

“Isn’t that a sign of weakness?” Tony had asked.

“On the job, Tony. Not when it’s about us. If I screw something up with us, I’m going to be sorry. Hope you feel that way, too.” Tony’s smile had gotten bigger then, but was just as honest. Looking at him, Gibbs couldn’t believe he’d bought into the fake ones Tony had been giving him for the past couple of days, and had vowed he wouldn’t let himself get fooled like this again.

“Yes, I feel the same way. So, let’s just not do anything that makes us have to apologize,” Tony had said.

“We can try, Tony. We can sure as hell try.”

He remembered wishing they hadn’t been standing in the middle of the canned vegetable aisle in the grocery store, because he’d wanted to pull Tony into his arms. Ever since then, “Don’t make me apologize,” had become their private joke.

Tony had coughed then, pulling Gibbs’ attention back to the now. He’d been doing that, on and off, ever since he’d gotten up to the ICU. The doctors had said it was because he wasn’t moving around, so mucus had a tendency to collect in his lungs, and that the coughing was his body’s way of getting rid of the buildup. The first time it had happened, Gibbs had panicked, thinking back on when Tony had contracted the plague, but when the coughing hadn’t gotten any worse, he’d begun to relax. “That’s it, Tony,” he said encouragingly. “Get all that stuff out. You’ll breathe better.” He pulled a tissue out of the box beside the bed, and wiped at the spittle around Tony’s mouth. Actually, Tony was breathing surprisingly well. Despite the fact he hadn’t awakened yet, he was getting enough oxygen with just the aid of a nasal cannula. Gibbs held on to that as proof that Tony would wake up soon, and be just fine, even though the doctors weren’t willing to make that promise.

The neurosurgeon who’d removed the bullet had been very careful to explain to Gibbs that although the surgery had gone very well, the bullet had seemed to miss anything vital, and there hadn’t been major bleeding in Tony’s head, they were going to have to wait until Tony woke up to assess what damage had really been done. “We just never know with brain injuries,” he’d said. “Sometimes people wake up, and it’s as if it never happened, and others, people we thought were going to be fine, are severely impaired. We just don’t fully understand how the brain works yet.” So now Gibbs just waited, sitting on pins and needles, not knowing what would happen once Tony was awake. His gut wasn’t telling him anything, and he didn’t know if that was a good thing, or a bad thing.

As he stood, softly carding his fingers through the remains of Tony’s hair, he could hear Christmas music coming from the CD player the nurses kept at their work station. Frank Sinatra’s voice was crooning, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Gibbs thought back to the last time he’d heard that song.
When he and Tony had finished eating their dinner on Christmas Eve, Gibbs had decided to take pity on him, and had suggested they take their coffee into the other room. Tony had been as exuberant as a puppy, and when they’d gotten to the living room, he insisted on lighting a fire and putting on Christmas music. He’d been singing along softly to the radio as he began to distribute the packages he’d grudgingly placed under the tree before they’d gone in to eat. Tony took time to examine each and every one of his gifts, sometimes succumbing to the urge to shake them in search for clues as to what they were. The gifts he’d gotten for Gibbs were lovingly placed in a neat pile in front of him. When the floor under the tree was bare, he’d come back over to the couch and sat down.

“Looks like Santa was good to us this year,” Tony had commented, looking at the heap of packages surrounding them.

“I don’t know Tony,” he’d asked, inspired by the song that had been playing at that moment, “Were you naughty or nice?”

Tony had smirked at him, with a look Gibbs was sure he’d learned from him, then had run his tongue lightly over his lips before answering, “I thought you liked it when I was nice and naughty.”

“Oh, I do, trust me, I do,” he’d answered. “We could hold off a little while longer on opening the gifts, and you could show me just how nice you can be.”

“I don’t think so. You made me wait to open presents, now it’s your turn to wait.” He’d reached over to Gibbs’ pile and pulled out a small package. “Here, why don’t you open this one first. It’ll give you something to think about.”

Gibbs had unwrapped the present as Tony had watched, a smile on his lips. Inside was a small tin of Kama Sutra Honey Dust. “Is this the present you bought me before Thanksgiving?” Gibbs had teased.

Tony had shook his head, then admitted. “I did buy it before Thanksgiving, I just didn’t have anyone I wanted to give it to.”

“And I’m glad for that,” Gibbs had smiled. “Why don’t you see what’s in that one” he had then suggested, pointing to a rectangular shaped package wrapped in red and green plaid paper.

Tony had ripped the paper off and laughed when he’d seen what was inside. It had been a box set of flavored massage oils. “Looks like we’ve got a theme going,” he’d commented.

“Look inside the box,” Gibbs had urged, watching as Tony pulled the flap out, to discover a folded piece of paper tucked in beside the bottles of oil. ‘This card entitles the possessor to unlimited applications of the contents found within this box, redeemable at any time of night,’ the card had said.

“Get ready, I’ll be putting in my first claim on this tonight,” Tony had said, tucking the card in his back pocket.

They had gone a little overboard in buying presents for each other, and it had taken them almost an hour to open all their gifts. That was the nice thing about living alone in a house that was already paid for, and having only one hobby, Gibbs remembered having thought. Over the years he’d banked far more of his paychecks than he had spent, and he’d had lots of spare money to spend on Tony. He had no idea how Tony had afforded all the gifts that he had purchased. There had been a wide assortment of presents, some of them were personal, like the Honey Dust and massage oils, some more practical, like the leather gloves and soft cashmere wool winter scarf Tony had given him, or the deep green turtleneck sweater he’d given to Tony. Some were intended to be funny. He had given Tony a new knife, attached to a retractable pocket clip, a silly reminder of the time Tony had lost his knife, and Tony had given him a package of chocolate covered espresso beans, to be consumed in times of emergency, when there was no coffee readily available. He had opened one gift and found a bottle of Jim Beam’s Black Label, the same gift Tony gave him every year, and knew he’d found the one present Tony had bought for him long in advance of them getting together. Finally they were left with just one gift each, the ones they’d prevented the other from opening earlier.

Gibbs knew that these were the important ones, the ones he always thought of as the big gesture. It had taken him a while to settle on what to get Tony, and as he’d sat waiting for Tony to open his, he hoped he hadn’t made a mistake. He had remembered how, back when Tony had been on that disastrous undercover mission for Jenny with Jeanne Benoit, he had started to wear a bracelet. After the mission had fallen apart, along with Tony, the bracelet had disappeared, and Gibbs had not seen it since. Gibbs had wanted to replace that bad memory with something good, something that was real. Towards that end, he’d gotten Tony a sterling silver and titanium bracelet in a dull gunmetal grey. He’d thought long and hard about what he was going to have engraved inside it, and had finally settled on ‘Carpe Diem’. Seize the Day, to him that symbolized what he and Tony had done together. But as he’d sat, watching Tony pull away the wrapping paper, to reveal the box within, he’d begun to second guess himself. What if it was too much? What if it made Tony uncomfortable? Worse yet, what if, rather than replacing a bad memory, it merely opened up an old wound? As Tony had lifted the lid, he’d been holding his breath.

Once he saw what was inside, Tony had stared at the bracelet for what had seemed like years to Gibbs, without saying a word. Then, still wordlessly, Tony had gently lifted the bracelet out and looked at the inside, reading the engraving. Gibbs had been afraid to disrupt the silence, dreading what Tony might say, when he did speak. Finally Tony had looked up at him, his eyes glistening. “It’s beautiful. Thank you. Would you help me put it on?” he’d asked, holding his right arm out to Gibbs. Surprised that his hands weren’t shaking, Gibbs had taken the bracelet from Tony, opened the latch, then wrapped the bracelet around Tony’s wrist, and fastened it in place. That had been four and a half days ago, and the bracelet still sat on Tony’s wrist, right next to the hospital wristband.

Then it had been Gibbs’ turn. His package had been almost the same size as the one he’d given Tony, and he had been sure it would be a watch. Tony had watched him quietly, his eyes wide, his fingers rubbing across his new bracelet as he nervously watched Gibbs pick up the gift, and Gibbs remembered wondering if that was what he had looked like while waiting for Tony to open his present. When he had the present in his hands, he realized it was too light to be a watch, and his curiosity had intensified. “Well, my first guess is probably wrong,” he’d said to Tony with a smile, as he’d begun to untie the ribbon wrapped around the gift.

“Oh yeah? How can you be sure?” Tony had asked.

“I thought maybe it was a watch, but this doesn’t weigh enough.” He’d then held the package up to his ear and given it a gentle shake. “No help there,” he’d grunted. Finally, deciding it was time to put Tony out of his misery, he’d begun to open the present in earnest, stripping away the foil wrappings until he had revealed the jeweler’s box within. Inside had lain a simple gold link chain; a medallion, upon which was engraved the Marine emblem of an eagle sitting atop a globe pierced by an anchor, hung from the chain.

“Flip it over,” Tony had urged, then sat chewing on his bottom lip while Gibbs had complied. ‘Semper fidelis et audax’ had been engraved on the back, along with the date. “That’s how I think of you,” Tony had said quietly. “Always faithful and brave. I know it’s not exactly the Marine motto, but I think it describes you even better.” When he hadn’t responded quickly enough, Tony had asked, “Do you like it?”

“Nope,” he’d told Tony, waiting just a second before he’d added, “I love it.” Tony had heaved a sigh of relief, and Gibbs had pulled him to him, capturing his mouth with his own.

Tony had melted into him, his body so warm and enticing, as he had opened up to allow Gibbs’ tongue in. It had been so perfect that Gibbs had wanted to freeze time, stay in that moment forever, nothing to worry about, no responsibilities, just he and Tony, together, close enough to feel each other’s heart beating. Gibbs had finally moved, separating them just long enough for him to reach across Tony to snap off the lamp on the table next to the sofa, making the glow from the fire and the twinkling of the Christmas tree lights the only illumination in the room. They’d sat there, in the flickering light, making out like a couple of teenagers, in no particular hurry to take things to the next level, until the fire had burned down to nothing more than little red embers.

“The fire’s almost out,” Tony had eventually said in a voice that was husky from a combination of disuse and need. “Maybe we should take this upstairs.”

“Sounds good to me. You go on. I’ll turn off things down here and be up in a minute,” he’d said, kissing Tony one last time, before standing and grabbing their empty coffee mugs to take back into the kitchen. When he had gotten back out to the living room, Tony was gone. He’d immediately crossed to the coffee table and picked up the box with the necklace from Tony in it. Lifting the chain out, he’d swung it, watching as the lights from the Christmas tree reflected off of the medallion. It had been beautiful. He had no idea where Tony had managed to find it. Pulling the chain over his head, he’d let the medallion slid down his chest, until it nestled right above his heart. The chain was the perfect length, he’d thought, as he looked down at the gift. Then he’d sighed, and tucked the chain under his t-shirt. Once he had turned off the tree lights, he’d gone back over to the stack of presents, intending to grab the Honey Dust and massage oils. He’d had to smile when he discovered they were no longer there.

Upstairs, Tony had been lying on the bed, wearing nothing but his new bracelet. The massage oils and the container of Honey Dust, along with its feather applicator had been placed on Gibbs’ bedside table. He’d quickly disrobed, and had then climbed up the bed, until he was hovering over Tony’s body. “Do I get to pick which one I put on you?” he’d asked.

“Kind of thought I’d put the Honey Dust on you,” Tony had said, reaching a hand up towards him, pausing for a moment to touch the medallion, before he ran his fingers across Gibbs’ chest. “Thought I’d put some here,” he’d said, tweaking one of Gibb’s nipples, “and then make a trail all the way down to here.” Tony’s hand had slid down his chest, along the length of his body, until his fingers were brushing lightly against the crown of his cock. He remembered how he’d involuntarily thrust against Tony’s hand, wanting more direct stimulation. “Patience,” Tony had tsked at him. “I want to be able to redeem my present, too.”

“Then you might want to go first,” he’d said, his voice straining when Tony had suddenly encircled his dick with his entire hand, and had squeezed.

“Do you think so?” Tony had teased him, as his hand had let go of Gibbs’ cock, only to reach lower and gently cup his balls.

He had lowered himself all the way down on Tony then, trapping his hand between their bodies, as he’d wrapped his arms around Tony’s head, and pulled it to his own, lips to lips. As he’d hoped, Tony had forgotten all about the teasing, and had pulled his own arms up to encircle Gibbs’ back, his need to connect stronger than his desire to play. As much as Tony loved to touch, he loved to be touched even more. Tony craved physical contact; seemed to need the reassurance it brought him. That was the reason Gibbs had gotten him the massage oils, knowing that Tony would revel in the feel of them being rubbed into his skin, the anticipation of them being licked off only heightening the sensation. When Tony had become pliant, sweetly allowing Gibbs to take control of their lovemaking, he’d pulled up a bit and whispered, “Roll over.”

As Tony had turned onto his stomach, he’d reached over and grabbed one of the bottles of massage oil, not bothering to look at what flavor he’d managed to snag. As soon as Tony had settled, he’d opened the lid, and drizzled a generous amount down the length of Tony’s back. Then he’d flipped the top closed again, tossed the bottle out of the way, and reached out with only his fingers, moving the oil around on Tony’s back, in an intricate series of swirls and circles. Little goose bumps had formed on the younger man’s back, chasing his fingers as they continued on their circuitous journey across Tony’s skin. He’d slid back onto Tony’s thighs as he was doing this, allowing him to slide his fingers lower and lower as he went, until finally they were brushing across the firm, round globes of Tony’s bottom. Tony had raised his ass to meet his hand, an invitation with no words, his soft whimpers saying all that was needed. Bending down, Gibbs had replaced his fingers with his tongue, letting it follow the trail of what he discovered to be peppermint flavored oil, back up Tony’s body, while his oil slicked hand snaked around Tony’s left hip, and had begun to slide up and down on his shaft. Tony’s whimpers gave way to louder moans, and once again Gibbs had whispered, “Roll over.”

No sooner had Tony complied, then Gibbs had bent down and taken his peppermint flavored cock into his mouth, moving up and down like he was sucking on a candy cane. When Tony had begun to helplessly thrust up into the wet warmth of his mouth, drawing his legs up towards his body to give Gibbs more access, he’d reached between his legs, and slid two of his well lubricated fingers into Tony’s hot, tight heat. That had been all it took; with a shout and a shudder Tony had spurted his hot cum down Gibbs’ throat, while his muscles had tightened around Gibbs’ fingers, holding them in place, as wave after wave of pleasure coursed through his body. It had been all he could do, not to join Tony in his release. Knowing he wouldn’t last long enough for Tony to play with the Honey Dust, he’d quickly pulled out his fingers, replacing them with his aching cock. He could still feel the after quakes of Tony’s orgasm as he thrust deeply once, twice, and then came himself, the flash of blinding white lights obscuring his vision. When he had finally regained some semblance of balance, he’d looked down at Tony, who was lying on the bed, looking up at him with a Cheshire cat grin on his face. Tony had reached up, wrapped a hand around the medallion that was dangling in the air between them, and with a gentle tug, had pulled Gibbs down into a warm, lazy kiss. “Thank you for the massage,” he’d said between nibbles. “I feel much more relaxed now.”

Gibbs remembered how he’d staggered to the bathroom to get something to wash them both off with, after reluctantly pulling himself off Tony. “I’m afraid the Honey Dust may have to wait until morning,” he’d said, as he had gently dragged a warm cloth first across Tony, then himself, and then tossed it onto the floor beside the bed, and reached out and pulled Tony close to his side.

“I can probably be convinced to wait,” Tony had murmured, as he’d snuggled up next to him, his eyes already fighting to close.

It almost physically hurt as Gibbs remembered how Tony, when he was almost asleep, had brought his arm up and unconsciously traced a finger around the raised design of the medallion, then gently closed his hand around it, and whispered, “I love you.” Gibbs wasn’t even sure he’d been awake to hear him, when he’d whispered back, “I love you too.”