It had taken them forever to find an ornament they both agreed on.
Shannon had wanted something girly, maybe pink, with ribbons and a teddy bear on it. Something soft and cuddly looking that would always remind their little girl of happy moments and Christmas. Ever the Marine, Gibbs wanted something simpler, plain that said 'baby's first Christmas' and a date. Something that would last.
In the end, they finally agreed on a crystal ornament; a rocking horse with holly on the bottom and a saddle on it. One day, when money wasn't as tight and Jethro wasn't constantly being sent away on tours of duty, the couple wanted to have a place where they could give Kelly her own horse, instead of renting horses to ride at the beach. This ornament was a promise of that, to each other and to their precious child.
And though on her first Christmas, baby Kelly couldn't understand what she was given, over the years, she grew to love the shiny horse, always scampering around until her mother would unwrap it. The rocking horse had to be the last ornament on the tree, in a special place where she would know her Daddy would see when he came home. Kelly would spend hours picking out the perfect spot, only to come running back because the twinkle lights didn't make it shine just right, or another ornament was blocking the view. It was special, and it had to be in a special place.
And on that first Christmas without them, when he felt like his soul had been ripped out of his chest, Gibbs had searched for that ornament. In drawers, behind doors, inside boxes. The ornament just wasn't there. No matter how hard he searched or how many hours he tore his house apart, he just couldn't find where Shannon had placed it.
He needed that ornament, needed it almost as badly as he needed his girls. It wasn't a piece of glass to him. It was every Christmas they had spent together, every laugh and ribbon, every tear when he was away, and every tear when he came home. He needed to feel in his hands the cold crystal that would warm to tell him that the love he had had been real. But it wasn't going to happen. The last piece of love was gone.
As he stared at the Christmas tree Abby insisted on setting up, Gibbs couldn't help but think of that missing ornament. How much it had meant to his girls, how much he had needed it at the end. Over the years, he could never figure out what had happened to it. Had someone come and taken it away, afraid that it would cost him too much pain?
Taking a sip of his traditional bourbon, he poured his gaze over the tree, somehow hoping the ornament would show up there, but knowing the impossibility of that hope. Hearing someone enter the room, he turned to look, smiling as Tony came up along beside him, the noise of the girls' giggling in the kitchen softly becoming music in the background.
"Hey there," Tony said in a low voice, mellowed thanks to Ziva's special eggnog. As he slipped his arm around Gibbs' waist, the younger man pulled him in tightly, needing to feel the solid presence of his boss and lover.
Leaning into Tony, Gibbs asked with a gesture of his head towards the sounds in the kitchen, "The girls doing okay?"
"Yeah, they're having more fun with the frosting than they should. More of it has ended up on each other instead of on the cookies."
Gibbs smiled at that, turning back to look at the tree. He had been happy and almost grateful when Abby and Ziva had found each other. Each had been looking for the other without realizing it. Through trial and error, he had watched the two searching for someone to be happy with. And now, his girls – his other girls, he corrected – had found happiness with each other. As had he, with his second in command.
Worried, Tony gently shook him, saying, "Hey! You okay?"
"Yeah, just…remembering. And thinking. Wondering if Shannon and Kelly would be happy I found someone to love again, and would they approve that that someone is you."
Tony reached up and made Gibbs look at him. "From everything you have said about Shannon and Kelly, I think they would have wanted you to be happy, to find someone to love, regardless."
Gratitude shown in Gibbs' eyes as he heard the understanding from Tony. Leaning in, he pressed his lips gently against the other man's, needing to feel the love and comfort he knew he would find there. As their mouths moved together, Gibbs sighed, his breath combining with Tony's.
"Thank you for that. And…" before he could finish, his ears picked up that the giggling had gotten louder.
Turning towards the sound, Gibbs and Tony saw Ziva and Abby running in. Each of the girls stopped in front of one of the guys; Ziva to Gibbs, Abby to Tony. Almost in time, they reached up with the knife they had in their hand, spreading frosting over each of the men's lips. Leaning in, the girls gave them a deep kiss. Jumping back, they smiled and ran back into the kitchen, holding hands and laughing.
Shaking his head, Gibbs said, "You better make sure those two don't get into any more trouble in there."
"On it Boss," Tony winked. "But first, you have a little bit of frosting, right…there…" he said, before leaning in for a longer, more lingering kiss then before, their tongues dancing and tasting.
Whispering against Tony's lips, Gibbs said, "Make sure you don't let them waste all the frosting," desire for his lover blooming in his dark blue eyes. Giving him a conspirator's smile, a smile that spoke of the future beyond the night, Tony turned and followed the other two into the kitchen.
Before he left the room, Tony turned back, saying, "Merry Christmas, Gibbs."
"Merry Christmas, Tony," he replied.
Turning back again to the tree, Gibbs' eyes were caught by an impossible shine. Reaching up, he pulled down a crystal ornament into his hand. It was a rocking horse with holly on the bottom and a saddle on it. Not an imitation, this was the ornament he and Shan had picked out for Kelly, the ornament that had meant every Christmas memory to him, the ornament he was sure was gone forever. And now it was in his hand again.
Gibbs looked around confused, unsure of what to make of it. Then at once, understanding dawned. His girls were telling him that it was all right, that they were happy he had found love again and in so many forms; from Tony, his new love; to Ziva and Abby, his new girls; to Ducky, his old friend; and beyond. He knew that somehow, some way, Shan and Kell had left the ornament as a way of showing their love and approval.
Blinking the tears away that threatened to overflow, Gibbs whispered raggedly, "Thank you, my loves. You were my first, and you'll be my always. But thank you for showing me you understand. I will love you both forever."
With that, he put the ornament back on the tree, making sure the twinkle lights sparkled inside and no ornament was blocking it from any angle. Giving the tree one last look, Gibbs turned and followed the noise of laughter and love.