Title: Christmastime in the City

Author: Tearsofamiko

Rating: K

Disclaimer: see first chapter

Spoilers: No

Summary: Six instances of Christmas madness, mayhem, and miracles.

A/N: I know that Nina Foch is dead, but it was mentioned in Silent Night that she was in a home, so I'm using what has been established as fact in the series. Besides, I love the old girl too much to simply write her off; Mrs. Mallard was a scream. ^^ See my profile if you wonder; most of the quotes are from her/dealing with her. ^^

Silver Bells

The house was quiet for once, the dogs having settled in various places around the room to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace. He sat in an old chair near the blazing fire, a snifter of brandy resting on the table near his elbow and a collection of classic Christmas stories lying open on his lap.

He'd been rereading The Gift of the Magi, a story he knew to be his mother's favorite, trying to capture some of the Christmas magic within the lonely old house. A small tree stood in the corner, its lights twinkling merrily, firelight winking off the blown-glass ornaments, heirlooms of the Mallard family handed down for generations. The only Christmas expression in the house lay in that tree and the music playing softly on the radio.

He'd had plenty of offers from many dear friends, invitations to parties and celebrations, family gatherings and friendly outings, but had declined them all. It was the first Christmas since his mother had moved into her new home and he felt a need for solitude. Relaxing back into his favorite arm-chair, he let his thoughts drift backward to Christmases past, smiling as the song on the radio happened to compliment his memories.

"Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile and above all the bustle you hear silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmastime in the city. Ring-a-ling, hear them ring; soon it will be Christmas day."

He hummed along to the tune for a moment, remembering younger days, when his mother had danced through the house singing Christmas carols as she hung bows and evergreen boughs. As a young boy, he'd thought December a most wonderful time of year, filled with warmth and light and sweet smells and breathless anticipation. In his empty house, after a long day working with the Navy's dead, he was more appreciative of the quiet stillness.

The old house held many memories for him and each paraded itself behind his eyes, flashes of bygone days. He felt no melancholy, no deep loneliness, just a simple sort of sadness as he remembered how things had been and the changes since then. Raising his glass, he toasted the memories, smiling softly as one of his mother's particularly eccentric moments floated through his mind.

A knock on the door intruded on his consciousness, driving the increasingly melancholy memories away. The book of Christmas tales slipped to the floor as he stood and he stooped to pick it up. Another knock sent the dogs into a flurry of barks and legs, tripping him slightly as he reached for the deadbolt and knob and pulled the door open.

"Goodness, Jethro, it's nearly midnight!" he exclaimed, only mildly surprised. Long experience had taught him his friend's irregular sleeping habits, but the ex-Marine usually kept to himself on Christmas Eve.

"Eh, figured you wouldn't mind the company – 'specially if I brought gifts," Gibbs replied, holding aloft a bottle of amber liquid in each hand. Gibbs cocked his head sideways in inquiry and he moved aside to let him pass. The dogs gradually calmed as the old friends made their way to the chairs near the fireplace, the warmth of the blaze soothing away aches borne of eventful years.

Silence returned to fill the empty rooms as they sat together, sipping their drinks and listening to the songs playing on the radio, each lost in their own memories. He frowned as he once again realized how different this scenario was from the ones that had played out in years past; each year he offered Gibbs a drink and simple company on Christmas Eve and each year he was gently, but firmly refused. Banking on the strength of their relationship, he finally broke the silence.

"Not that I don't appreciate your company, Jethro, but might I inquire as to the cause?" he asked quietly, as if it were of no consequence, to keep from pressuring a response out of the other man. The younger man made no move to speak, simply sat and stared into his glass, and he began to think no answer would come. Just as he opened his mouth to rescind the question, Gibbs spoke.

"The house was too full tonight." The reply was enigmatic, but he thought he understood what plagued the other man. For one who had lost so much, the memories would be numerous and invasive, filling the surrounding space to the point of claustrophobia. Yes, he understood who and how and why. Nodding, he let the silence fill the room again.

The radio continued to play as they sat together, discussing inconsequential things. They fell silent when the grandmother clock in the hall began to chime the hour, watching the firelight flicker around the room. As the last bell-tone died out, he looked his old friend in the eye, a small smile gracing his face.

"Merry Christmas, my friend."

Gibbs smiled back, blue eyes glowing slightly with the expression. "Merry Christmas, Duck."

A/N: Okay, so there weren't as many comical moments as I'd planned on in the beginning, but I'm satisfied with the end result. I just wish I'd finished it before Christmas. Ah, well, at least I finished it! ^^

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and that your new year is the best yet!

:D Tears