Hi! This is based in the Stillwater Universe found in this AU. I wasn't planning on visiting this story again, but the muses had their own ideas. This chapter was previously posted at Live Journal for the Tibbs Yuletide Advent Calendar event. Spoilers for "Faith."


Stillwater Christmas

Everyone heard the car long before it arrived in town. The rumbling engine cut through the peace that only a small town in winter can have. The roaring got louder as it approached Stillwater, making heads pop out of doors and faces show in windows, to wonder what and who was headed their way.

Tony was shrugging out of his coat when he heard the car. Tossing it over the chair behind his desk, he walked to the window facing the street, watching as the fastback came into view. The car fanatic in Tony admired the sharp red muscle car as it drove past the Sheriff's office, but the cop in Tony tingled that it, or rather its driver, was probably trouble. That car did not belong in Stillwater, home of beat up pickup trucks and soccer mom vans. The car slowed as it reached Stillwater's main drag, creeping along the road until it came to the General Store. Tony kept the car in his sights as he pulled his coat back on.

"Something wrong, Boss?" his deputy asked, coming out from the back and walking to the window. The other man whistled low at the sight of the car. "Sweet ride."

"Not a local, though," Tony said.

"Never seen it before, Boss, and I think we would have noticed."

Tony nodded. Both officers watched as a figure got out of the car, heavy boots crunching on the snow. The man was big, dressed in denim, with a blond buzz cut and wraparound sunglasses on his face. Tony watched as the driver stood next to his car, peering up and down the quiet sidewalks of Stillwater's main drag, patting the pocket of his jacket before starting toward the store.

Tony unsnapped the strap over his gun holster. "I'm going to see what's up, Ben," he told the deputy. "Run the plate and let me know what you find," he added, leaving the warm office for the cold of the outdoors.

He paused for a moment to survey the main street of Stillwater. As usual, the county had gone all out in their decorations, the bright garlands spanning the street, ivy racing up every lamp post, and the huge living tree in front of the courthouse decorated with lights and ornaments. At night, Stillwater played host to local choirs and to Tony, who had lived most of his life in big cities, the place was as close to Bedford Fall as you could get without actually being George Bailey. But while the town and the season was important, Tony knew it was the people in his life that now made his life a truly wonderful life.

He kept an eye on the now vacant car as he moved quickly but calmly down the sidewalk, taking a quick mental inventory of where these people in his life were at this moment. McGee had told him this morning that Abby was home with the babies. Both Ruby and Bobby Jack had colds and Abby didn't think they needed to spread their germs all over the General Store. Plus McGee said she was looking forward to Christmas at Tony and Jethro's place, it finally being their turn to host the yearly holiday party, and vowed to have her children healthy by then. McGee, after meeting up with Tony and Jethro for coffee, had taken off for the neighboring county to assist in an embezzlement investigation. Jethro had left both men at the coffee shop to go to the barber shop, telling Tony he'd stop by the Sheriff's Office before heading home.

That left Jack alone at the store. Tony quickened his pace and was just crossing the street when the gun shots rang out.

xxx

"Take all the time you need, girls," Jack said to the two girls heading toward the back of the store. "I'm just going to stack these shelves and straighten out a few things. Let me know when you're ready."

"Sure we can't help, Mr. Gibbs?" one of the young girls asked.

Jack shook his head, stifling a laugh at the other girl's reaction to Emma Dobson's offer to work on their Christmas break. "You ladies just look around and let me know if you need anything."

Emma flashed a smile, showing a pretty set of even teeth that Jack remembered were covered with wire just a few years ago. He wondered where the time had gone. All the kids in Stillwater seemed to have grown up overnight. He glanced at the play area set up by the front window, happy with the knowledge there was another generation coming up, even if they both had colds today. Jack missed Abby and the children when they didn't come to the store, but he understood they couldn't always be there, especially when sick. He knew if he needed company he could always go over to the Sheriff's Office and spend some time with Tony. He sure liked that young man, and blessed the day he first came into the store, both for himself and his son. The past three years had been the happiest Jack and Jethro had spent together since Jethro's mother had died, and he placed all reasoning on Tony's shoulders.

He was contemplating what to make for the Christmas party coming up when the rumble of an engine pulled his thoughts back to the store. He peered out the window, watching as a strange car pulled up outside the store. He walked past the door and rounded the counter just as the bell over the door rang. The stranger paused just inside the doorway, whipping off his sunglasses and scanning the store.

"Can I help ya?" Jack asked. His gut was churning, but maybe, just maybe, the man was here for something other than trouble.

The man's eyes turned toward Jack, a tight smile on his face. "You sure can, old man," he said, reaching a hand into the pocket of his jacket before pulling out a gun. "You can help me empty your register and your safe." The gun was held steady in the man's hand, barrel pointing at Jack.

Jack's eyes hardened at the site of the gun, but knew money wasn't worth dying for. He lifted a hand and pressed a few buttons on the register, the machine pinging a few times before the cash drawer opened with a schwoop and a rattle of change. "Take it all," Jack indicated, stepping back from the money. "No safe, all the cash is there."

The stranger moved to the counter, reaching across and grabbing the bills from the register. "Not much there," he said, shoving the bills into his pockets and even taking the rolled coins.

"It's early yet, not many customers." Jack worked to keep his voice calm.

"Huh," the man said. "Almost not worth it, but…" The stranger stopped speaking, attention drawn to the other side of the store. "What have we here?"

Jack knew what he'd see before he turned. Emma and her friend were on the floor, huddled together in a tangle of arms and legs. "You leave them be," he warned the thief.

"Shut the fuck up, old man," he said with a short laugh. "This will make up for the lack of cash." He reached down and grabbed Emma's wrist, wrenching the girl up and against his body. The girl screamed, trying to wrest away from the man's grasp. "Go ahead and scream, little girl," the man said, lowering his head to run his tongue obscenely along Emma's lips. "I like it."

"Let her go," Jack warned, moving back towards the register and reaching below the counter.

"I don't think so," the man said, running the barrel of his gun along Emma's chest. The girl had stopped trying to get away and was shaking with terror. "At least, not for a while."

"I said LET HER GO."

The stranger paused at the sound of the Winchester being cocked. He turned toward Jack, loosening his grip enough for Emma to break free. Jack saw the girl tumble to the ground and be enveloped by her friend, both girls tucking their heads down.

"Well, well," the stranger said. "You got the guts to shoot, old man?" He raised his own weapon and took aim at Jack, finger squeezing the trigger.

Rifle held steady in his arms, Jack did the same.

xxx

Tony slammed through the door of the store, gun in hand. He spied Jack off to the side, two weeping girls in his arms. The stranger from the muscle car lay on the floor, hands clutching the wound in his chest, the blood pulsing strongly between his fingers and onto the floor. He approached the man, kicking a gun near him out of the way. "Jack, tell me what happened," Tony asked, taking off his coat and pressing it against the man's chest wound.

"Came in to rob me," Jack said, his voice shaky. "Started toward the girls…told him to stop…"

Tony looked up at Jack's strained voice, concern for his all-but-in-the-legal-sense father-in-law coming to the forefront.

His deputy had rushed in and came up to Tony. "Ambulance on the way, could be ten or fifteen until it gets here."

Tony nodded, indicating for Ben to hold the rapidly soaking coat on the stranger's chest. He rose and went to Jack and the girls, keeping his bloody hands out of their sight. "Jack, take the girls upstairs," he ordered softly. He waited until they'd left before turning back to the man on the floor. He again knelt beside him, ordering Ben to keep the onlookers out of the crime scene. "Even if we take you to the hospital in my car, you're not going to make it," he told the injured man simply. Tony had seen gun shots like this before—way too much blood pumping out of the man for the bullet not to have nicked his aorta. "Do you have anything to say? Anyone you want me to contact?"

"Something to say," came the whispered reply, blood bubbling at the man's lips.

Tony bent down to hear better, taken back a bit when a bloody hand rose and grasped his uniform shirt. "What is it?"

"Fuck you, cop," the man said before reaching with surprising strength toward Tony's hip and grabbing his gun.

Tony wrenched free of the bloody grip on his shirt just as the gun exploded between them, the impact causing him to fall to the floor just as Jethro came into the store.

"Tony!" Jethro slid to the floor at Tony's side, eyes shocked at the sight of blood on his lover's shirt. "You cannot die!" he said, pulling at the uniform shirt with shaking fingers. "I can't…not again…"

Tony coughed, twitching in pain. "I won't," he said hoarsely just as Jethro got the uniform shirt opened, revealing the Kevlar vest underneath.

Jethro sat back on his heels. "A vest?"

Tony scanned the store and saw Ben kneeling by the stranger, taking Tony's gun out of the now dead man's hand. "A vest," he said, trying to sit up and groaning with pain. The vest might have caused the bullet to skim off Tony's chest, but the impact still hurt like hell.

Jethro once again reached out, running a hand along Tony's protected middle. "Tony…" he sputtered. "What…how…why?"

"Merry Christmas," he whispered.

With a sigh of relief Jethro held Tony close, mindful of his sore ribs but needing to feel the younger man in his arms. "Best Christmas present ever," Jethro declared. And not caring that Ben was nearby and ignoring the growing crowd of Stillwater residents hanging in the doorway, Jethro pulled Tony's mouth to his for a long, wet kiss.