New Year, New Hope by ceilidh
A/N: Hello again, all, and season's greetings!
This story was written originally for this year's Secret Santa for the NFA. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
You'll find the whole gang here, and there aren't any spoilers as such. But if I say that the story takes place on the Christmas after the events in Judgment Day, you'll know there's one very sad absence. Life for the rest of the team must go on, of course, and Christmas is such a joyous time. So let the festive fun begin!
New Year, New Hope
When he'd been little, Christmas morning for Tim McGee had followed a reassuringly familiar routine. He'd stayed snuggled up in his bed, for as long as his excitement allowed, before padding downstairs – giving each parcel a careful shake, then unpeeling just enough of its wrapping to see what was inside.
He'd been too young then, of course, to understand the disciplining concepts of patience and tradition. The question of who'd been naughty or nice had never occurred to an insatiably curious mind. At six years old, he'd just wanted to find out what 'Santy Claus' had brought him, and how it worked.
If his parents had ever suspected this innocent naughtiness… well, they'd never said anything. They might have traded fond, indulgent smiles as they watched him officially open his presents, but for every childhood Christmas that he could remember, they'd never let on that… yes, they'd known.
They'd indulged him and forgiven him, of course, as only doting parents could, but for just one time – well, even now, over twenty years later, there was one Christmas that he would never live down.
Giving a chemistry set to a budding Einstein would only ever lead to one inevitable conclusion. A big bang, an even bigger mess, a lot of smoke – and one completely ruined Christmas dinner.
If, and when, he ever found the girl of his dreams, and settled into the dream of happy marriage – oh yes, Tim had already resolved that he'd be treating mom to something that she really liked. When it came to embarrassing secrets, even the most dutiful son wasn't above face-saving blackmail.
Still smiling at the memory, Tim then sighed as he continued a pensive study of his bedroom ceiling.
He'd already met the girl of his dreams, of course. He'd met her several years ago, and worked with her almost every day, and… no, McGee, not now. Not today.
Moping over what might have been wasn't going to do him any good. It never had. It never would. Besides, it was Christmas morning, and you could never be miserable on Christmas morning.
And, Tim now noted through a helpless smile, it was as exciting for dogs as it was for little boys – especially when that dog found his first present, and found out just how useful his claws could be.
A pause, then, followed by the unmistakeable clatter of trotting claws on polished floorboards, and –
– and ninety pounds of slobbering German Shepherd bounced ecstatically onto his chest.
He could protest, of course, if he could draw enough breath into his lungs to do it, but – no. No, right now, he needed all the breath he could find for the vital necessity of… well, breathing.
And as experience of doggy-hood had quickly taught him, it wouldn't get him anywhere anyway. Pinned beneath ninety pounds of happily slurping dog, he'd just be licked into giggling surrender. Instead, caught up himself now in the joys of Christmas morning, he pulled Jethro into a gentle hug – laughing in the genuine pleasure of a favourite game as he wrestled him through the bedclothes.
It was a hopelessly one-sided contest, of course, and the winner would only accept one reward, but – well, as he gently shoved that happily panting victor away from him, Tim didn't mind that either.
Dryly noting that Jethro had already trotted off to fetch his leash, he just shook his head and smiled. No, he wouldn't mind this victor's reward at all. In fact, he'd been looking forward to it.
Late last night, it had started to snow, and Jethro had been fascinated by these falling flecks of white – standing on his hind legs, his forepaws propped on the window sill, so he could see it more clearly.
He'd have loved to take him out in it then, but – well, you couldn't leave a defragging computer. But that defrag was complete now, and this morning had dawned bright and sunnily clear. And glorious mornings like this had just been made for taking Jethro out for wintertime walkies.
This would be his first experience of snow as a normal, non-working dog, and – oh yes, this was going to be fun!
Or maybe not, Tim corrected himself, pulling a face as his cellphone chirped for his attention. Recognizing the name that flashed up on its screen, he then grinned in anticipation – his cheery greeting barely making it past the first syllable before Abby's voice interrupted him.
"Timmy, I – I need you at my place! Hurry!"
She'd sounded unnaturally panicky. Not scared, or in any kind of threatened distress, but – no, something was clearly wrong.
As he grabbed his keys and his coat, Tim could only silently hope that it wasn't anything serious.
Studying the haz-mat suited figures in front of him, Tim McGee now faced a considerable problem. If he displayed any kind of amusement, he knew how dire the consequences would be. At best, he'd be tickled into a shrieking heap. At worst, he'd face Abby's ultimate threat.
But if he made too much of this situation, he'd only upset her more than she was already – and threat of 'I-can-kill-you-and-leave-no-evidence' regardless, he would never stand for that.
Instead, he slipped his arm around her shoulders, and pulled her into a gently comforting hug.
Jeez, of all the mornings for Abby's neighbour to find out she had an infestation of mice, serious enough to call the fumigators in – especially when she'd put so much planning, and effort, into that year's traditional get-together.
Those plans now lay in ruins, and – yes, now he understood why she'd called him in such panic. Everyone was counting, on her, for Christmas lunch. Now he had to find a very fast alternative. Mom's famous food parcels, and his equally famous common sense, made that thankfully easy.
"I know it's upsetting, Abs, but… well, it's gonna be okay-" he said at last, still hugging her – managing, for once, to over-ride her usual protest through his sweetest, most distracting smile.
"I've got loads of food at my place, and… well, plenty of room, too. For everybody-"
Needless to say, she still didn't look happy. Needless to say, he had a remedy for that as well.
"And, uh, Jethro would enjoy it too-"
As he'd hoped, and expected, she was grinning now, giving this change of plan her squeal of approval. Any reason to see her other beloved Jethro would always be fine with her.
It had its downsides, though. In her excitement, she was now trying to sweetly kill him - her stranglehold hug around his neck broken only by a subtle cough, and the constraints of time.
If truth be told, he could stand in this snuggling hug all day, but – well, he had work to do!
Phone calls first, of course, to let everyone know that they had to come to him now, and – yeah, knowing Gibbs and Ziva, they'd be screeching up at his place before he got there himself.
Still, if there was one thing that he'd raised into an art form through the years, it was multi-tasking – hugging Abby, assuring her it would be okay, and making those calls, as they walked back to his car.
Judging by the way she snuggled up to him during the journey home, he was quite the comforter too – all the gratitude that he could ever ask for right there, in her eyes, as she leant closer to kiss his cheek.
"This is so sweet of you, Timmy! I love you already, you know that, right? But I love you even more for this-" she said at last, snuggling happily closer.
Resting her head back on his shoulder, she didn't see the bittersweet smile that settled on Tim's face. For such a simple word, he reflected, glancing briefly down at her, love was damn confusing.
It had so many definitions, and conditions, that – well, didn't always meet your idealistic dreams.
If Abby was at all aware of his conflicting emotions, then she was just too cosy to say anything. And he loved her too much, in his still silently idealistic way, to spoil such a special day for her. Instead he concentrated on his driving – a genuine necessity in such wintry conditions as these.
Even with such a powerful car as his Porsche, though, he would never be a fast or reckless driver. He would gladly leave that death-defying, hang-on-for-dear-life speed to Gibbs and Ziva, and – yes, even with the extra distance they'd had to cover, they'd still managed to beat him home.
Tim had to smile at that. Jeez, how these two avoided speeding fines was nothing short of a miracle.
At the other extreme, of course, you had Jimmy's notoriously lousy sense of direction and navigation. By the time he and a gently exasperated Ducky arrived, it was far too late to start cooking turkey.
But then, this wasn't going to be their usual Christmas lunch. For Ziva's sake, it would be… different.
The agreement, for both their hosts, had been to bring some food, or drink, that was special for them. Gibbs, of course, had brought his favourite coffee. For Tony, it had been rich and buttery panetonne. Not to be outdone on the dessert front, Ducky had brought a massive Dundee cake that filled its entire tin.
They'd be spoilt for their starters too. Jimmy's selection of his mother's canapés would see to that.
For Ziva, so far from her own country and traditions, it had been a poignant but simple choice – two boxes of deliciously fragrant food now proudly taking their place on an already laden table.
"Latkes and sufganiyot-" she explained at last, clarifying further for six politely puzzled faces.
"Potato and onion pancakes, and jelly donuts… both favourites at Hanukkah, and… Tony!!"
That heart-melting smile might have worked during those childhood raids on Mama DiNozzo's cookie-jar. But with a gently stinging hand still holding the evidence against him, it wouldn't save him now.
And not even the goodwill of Christmas could save him from the inevitable consequence.
From where he sat, slouched in his favourite armchair, Tim McGee glanced around him, and smiled. Six well fed, now happily sleepy guests. At his feet, one equally well fed, now comfily curled dog.
For such an unconventional, hastily re-planned gathering – yes, it had all gone surprisingly well. And after such a glorious meal, the term 'Christmas stuffing' had taken on a whole new meaning.
As host, of course, it was really down to him to organize the traditional, post-meal entertainment, but – no, happily full of smoked salmon, his mom's turkey pie, and finest panetonne, he just couldn't move.
Besides, he dryly reflected, playing Twister on seven over-fed stomachs would not be a good idea.
So yes, letting all that wonderful food settle in this peaceful calm was much more sensible, and –
"Look! It's snowing again!"
– maybe not, he corrected himself, cranking an eye open, and ruefully squinting it in Abby's direction. As he knew, from years of experience, snow and Abby Sciuto was a cold, and messy, combination.
He really was too full, and comfy, to face a snowball fight, and - oh yeah, McMutt, way to go.
Yes, his traitorous dog was now bouncing excitedly around his feet, barking him into submission – two dubiously helping hands sealing his fate now, as Ziva and Abby hauled him out of his chair.
"We need the fresh air, McGee. And the exercise-" Ziva told him, practically throwing him into his coat.
Knowing better than to argue, not daring to even try, Tim just nodded and led them out to the yard – trying not to think about the hidden, back-yard horrors that lay under such a thick blanket of snow.
Thermal gloves would keep out the cold. Two layers of haz-mat latex would keep out everything else.
Ducky had clearly thought the same, since he now selflessly withdrew from the forthcoming battle. Well, the first round of Gunners versus Geeks held no place for a medical doctor. Besides he'd seen what had happened last year, and had inevitably needed to deal with the fallout - a sprained ankle for Tony, and six stitches for poor Timothy.
"I'll, um, referee-" he grinned, laying out the rules of engagement from behind a shield of trash-cans.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I want a good clean fight, with no aggressive or excessive-"
Silence. Appropriately dead silence. A dignified wipe of snowified glasses. Then, from a bravely waving hankie, all hell let loose.
"Hey, McMutt! Stop eating the ammunition!!"
"Oh, good shot, Timmy!!"
"Damn it, DiNozzo! I'm on your side!!"
"Um, g-guys? Time out here? I've… um… lost my glasses-"
"Hey, Palmer, your aim's better without 'em!"
"You were saying, Tony?!?"
"Yeah, eat snow, McYeti!!"
"You know, I could find a way to kill with this snowball-"
"I'm sure you could, Zee-vah, but just for now?"
"Just throw the damn thing!!!!"
If he said it out loud, he'd be in serious trouble, but – yes, Tim McGee had to admit, that had been fun.
He was soaking wet, of course, and had snow in all sorts of tingly places, but – oh, it had been worth it!
For starters, fifty minutes of snowball warfare had burnt off the worst of that bloating excess of food – leaving just enough room to thaw them all out again, with steaming hot chocolate in front of the fire.
Jethro, too, had thoroughly loved his first experience of playing in 'leisure-time' snow. The drying-off part, though? Well, that had ruined all semblance of canine street cred.
He'd shaken off the worst of it outside, but with such a dense coat, he'd had to be thoroughly dried – the hairdryer that Sarah had left behind on her last visit put to unusual but surprisingly effective use.
The result? A ninety pound, sulking puffball that now cast its owner a baleful glare of promised revenge.
'I'll get you for this-'
He would, too. That lie-in the next morning? Oh yes, Tim ruefully reflected, he could forget that. Hell had no fury like a macho German Shepherd that now looked like a giant, four legged dust-pole.
Resigning himself to a week of especially early pre-work walkies, Tim moved on into his kitchen. Pacifying a sulking German Shepherd wouldn't be easy, of course, especially with all those teeth.
Luckily, he knew the fastest way to win back this McMutt's favour was through his stomach – a peace-making rattle of doggie-bix met with a brief swivel of ears, just a flick of fluffified tail.
No fruitful movement towards it, though. As Tim now dryly noted, that would be far too easy. Reconciliation, and that precious lie-in, would only come with all-out, personal waiter service.
'Pack leader?!? Me?!? Yeah, right-'
Rewarded for his pains with a semi-forgiving lick on his hand, Tim then guaranteed its completion – giving Jethro's ears a really good scratch, and rewarded by Jethro's latest attempt to lick his face off, before returning to the kitchen to refill everyone's drinks.
He had to watch the milk, of course, to make sure it didn't boil over and burn into the hob – so it took several moments for him to realize, with a start of surprise, that Abby had joined him.
She'd always been a hugger, he knew that, so this gentle snuggle around his waist wasn't unusual. And even with just one arm, she still had the strength to squeeze all the breath out of him.
No, it was what she was doing with her other hand that now had Tim McGee on full, 'uh-oh' alert. That hand raised above their heads, and that playful glint in her eye, could only mean one thing. Her favourite Christmas tradition – one that not even Gibbs, at his grouchiest worst, could escape.
A sprig of freshest, berried mistletoe – followed by a kiss that threatened to suck out his tonsils.
In the depths of a swirling mind, he could actually smell his lips burning from it, and… aw, damn!
For 'burning mouth' read 'burning milk', and – yeah, McRomeo, that's real smooth. Real romantic. Yeah, with domestic skills like these, he'd be beating off those would-be girlfriends with a stick.
To his surprise, though, Abby now gently caught the hand that instinctively reached for a dishcloth – using the other to cradle his face, brushing her thumb over his cheek, as she looked deep into his eyes.
And when she finally spoke, it came with a heartfelt smile that was meant purely, and solely, for him.
"Thank you, Timmy. For this, I mean… for today, and… well, for – for you. For everything-"
Thrown, as he so often was, for a total loop, Tim just blinked back at her, too stunned to speak – hopes that he didn't dare to voice out loud coming just a bit closer to reality as Abby kissed him again.
It was just a chaste peck on the cheek this time, but – no, the feelings beyond it were unmistakeable.
They weren't entirely surprising, though. It had been a painful, and difficult, year for both of them. Jenny's death had hit them both hard. So, of course, had the team-split that had followed afterwards.
Now, though, in bright green eyes and a hopefully expectant smile, everything felt good again. This painful year had made them stronger. Brought it all back into perspective. Brought them closer.
There'd always been that bond between them – one that had been so special, so uniquely intimate.
Too much of a free spirit then, she'd broken his heart, but still managed to keep his friendship. Through death, destruction and everything else this year had thrown at them, that bond had survived.
Now she was making the first move to commit to him, as much as he was willing to commit to her – a gesture of selfless courage that made him smile now, so gratefully proudly, as he kissed her forehead
"I love you too, Abs. Happy Christmas-"
Watching them in tactfully discreet silence, Gibbs then smiled, in wry approval, as he returned to his seat.
Okay, so that refill of drinks was on indefinite hold, and rule #12 looked set to be forgotten too, but – no, as he glanced back to a scene of precious hope behind him, Gibbs still felt his smile widen.
2008 had been a painfully lousy year. 2009 held a promise, though, of being so much better.