A/N: This is the first of about a dozen Christmas stories that I am writing for friends on LJ. They will span 4 fandoms and about 7 different pairings (which will be an interesting writing experiment in and of itself), and range from slash to het to gen. I hope you enjoy them.

A Thousand Words

"Tell me again why we're here?" Tony asked Gibbs.

"We're waiting for the suspect to make the exchange."

"It's Christmas Eve, Gibbs."

"So? If the guy is smart it would be a perfect time."

"The guy has a wife and two kids. If he's smart, he's probably crouched on the living room floor trying to put his daughter's Barbie Dream House together. But that's not what I meant. I meant, why us?"

Of course, Tony actually knew the answer to that. Gibbs wasn't exactly the Grinch, but Tony had never seen Christmas figure high on his list of celebrations. Actually, these days Tony wasn't sure exactly what Gibbs would consider worth celebrating.

Gibbs gave Tony a sharp look. "If I'm not prepared to take on the shitty duty, how can I ask the others to?"

"Yeah, but Ziva doesn't even celebrate Christmas ..."

"What, you'd rather I spend tonight with her?"

"No, but ..."

"What's the matter? Did you have plans, Tony?" Gibbs asked with a sarcastic edge.

Tony looked away because, actually, he did - and they involved Gibbs. He fingered the package he had in his pocket, felt the paper bunch and crinkle under his grasp, and he wondered about the wisdom of proceeding. He wondered because, no matter how hard he tried, nothing he did ever seemed to be enough. It was the story of his life.

Sure, he could dazzle for a while with the camera-lights-action of his silly, humorous charades, but eventually people's eyes adjusted and he faded. Because, really, what was he hiding behind the flimsy stage backdrop that served as his facade. What had he ever been, except ... not enough.

At first he thought it would be different with Gibbs - that he had actually changed him. And he had ... for a while. After they first got together (and how many years of faithfully having his six had ithat/i taken), his taciturn lover had seemed lighter, smiling more, less second 'b' for bastard and more human. But then the holidays had crept up and Gibbs had retreated back into his shell.

Yeah, the sex was still mind blowing, but at least in Gibbs' case that wasn't very hard to manage. Mind blowing doesn't take much when your mind is only halfway there in the first place. But Tony kept hoping, kept telling himself ... maybe tonight, maybe if he did this, said that, or tried the other ... maybe then he could break through the wall Gibbs was once again building around his heart.

But it wasn't enough. He wasn't enough. Maybe he never had been in the first place.

So here they were on Christmas Eve, sitting in a nearly empty building on a nearly empty street, far from home, saying nothing and waiting for some piece of crap criminal to show up, knowing all the while that even the bit of human detritus they were waiting for was probably spending a more gratifying holiday than they were.

And Tony's hand still rested on the package in his coat pocket. The package that hung there feeling far heavier than its actual weight would seem to dictate.

Something about the quality of his silence must have finally alerted Gibbs to the fact that this was not just another one of Tony's theatrical whines. Something was really bothering the younger man, so Gibbs dragged himself out of his current slough long enough to look at him more carefully.

In a gentler voice, he asked again. "Did you have plans, Tony?"

"Yes ... no, well ... not plans, but ..." Finally, he pulled his hand out of his pocket and held the little, paper wrapped bundle out toward Gibbs. The cheerful, red, snowflake-flecked paper looked oddly out of place in the dark and dusty room. "I ... I got you something."

Gibbs held the present on his lap for a moment, just staring at it. Then he slowly unwrapped it ... and stared some more. It was a photograph. Taken, if he remembered correctly, by Abby, sometime shortly after he and Tony had finally overcome their mutual misunderstandings and gotten together.

He remembered the day. They had all been down in the lab - Tony, Abby, even Tim and Ziva had been there - fooling around after a long case, striking silly poses and snapping pictures with the crime scene cameras. When he had walked in, able to hear their high jinks long before he came through the door, he had tried to give them one of his patented Gibbs stares. But Tony had pounced on him right away, sliding an arm around his shoulders and using his fingers to force Gibbs' mouth up into a smile. He hadn't had to try very hard because in all actuality, Gibbs had been having a hard time keeping a grin off his face.

And Abby had snapped a picture.

And Tony had framed it ... and wrapped it ... and then had to wonder about giving it to him. Because, really, not only was the second 'b' for bastard, but the 's' was for selfish, or self-involved, or whatever the right word was for the way he became when his past weighed too heavily on him. When he forgot about those around him in favor of those who lived only in his memories.

And it wasn't fair. Not to Tony, and not even to himself. But still he sat there, running one finger over the faces under the glass as Tony continued to babble despondently.

"I know you get down around the holidays," his lover said, "and I just wanted to give you something to cheer you up ... but maybe it wasn't a good idea ... because, you know, I'm not ... them ... and I get that. I know I'm second best, but I thought ... well, hoped, really ... that maybe ... maybe that was ..."

"Tony stop. Stop. Because you've got it wrong."

"... good enough," Tony finished before he realized that Gibbs had spoken. "What?"

"Come here," Gibbs said.

And Tony did. Because there wasn't any option in the sparsely furnished room, he knelt next to Gibbs' chair, leaning gently up against his leg, and waited while Gibbs took another moment to gaze at the picture and collect his thoughts. Then he looked right into Tony's troubled eyes as he spoke.

"Don't ever say that. Don't even think it - that you're not good enough. Because you are. It's not a matter of comparisons. Yes, what I had with Shannon and Kelly was different, but that's it, just different, and you need to remember that. You're not second best ... not instead of, more in addition to."

He reached out a hand to caress Tony's head before he took a deep breath and continued. "Really, it's my fault. I've been alone for so long, alone until you came into my life, that sometimes I forget. I forget that the people who are here are the important ones. But that's my problem, not yours."

Then he held up the picture. "This is the perfect gift because it's just what I need to remind me of what's important the next time I ... forget."

Then he laid the picture gently down on the floor and stood up, pulling Tony up with him. He reached out with both arms, folding his lover into an embrace, one hand threading its way up through Tony's hair as his mouth found his lips. Their kiss was deep and long, not so much passionate as ... heartfelt.

Even after their lips parted, they remained standing together, arms wrapped around one another. After a moment, Gibbs could feel a smile quirk the corners of Tony's mouth. The younger agent pulled his head back and grinned at Gibbs.

"You know, Boss, I've got another present I could give you," he said as he ground his hips up against Gibbs.

Gibbs chuckled, then lightly slapped the back of his head. "DiNozzo, do I have to remind you that we're still on duty?"

As Tony stepped away, he grinned at Gibbs unrepentantly. "Can't blame a guy for trying."

"Besides," said Gibbs as he reached out to give Tony's cock a quick squeeze through his jeans, "I wanna save something to ... uh ... open tomorrow."