It was 8pm and the snow fell in feather like flakes outside the windows of the bullpen where the atmosphere was oozing with loud voices and the clinking of glasses. The office was shut down for the day, because no new cases had popped up - nothing left but some smaller paperwork, which Vance thought could easily wait for a couple of days. So he had actually allowed the team to celebrate the Christmas month, leaving the office as an open playground for the hardworking agents to explore and as he said: 'Strengthen the professional bonds'. Work morals were important, so in confidence he had allowed Gibbs to order some catering and shove some tables together and just enjoy good food and good relations - and even eggnog. By the tables sat Abby, Gibbs, Tony, McGee, Ziva and Ducky - all enjoying the roasted duck with gravy which the catering firm had brought to the doorstep of the bullpen. Hadn't been cheap, but they had all chipped in, throwing coins and small bills in a bowl which had been standing on Tony's desk throughout the month of November. It had originally been Tony's idea to throw a Christmas party which pretty much everyone had been somewhat against, but as time passed he had been able to convert everyone - even Gibbs and thereby Vance - that a workplace could also be a FUN place. Tony had even brought a boombox along with several CDs, which played in the background - and Abby had been running around, plastering strings with mistletoe attached to them from pretty much everywhere.
Everyone stopped talking and looked up from their plates at Ducky who was suddenly standing up holding his glass with eggnog and a spoon. He cleared his throat and Abby couldn't help but let out a chuckle. Normally she hated speeches, and so did the rest of the team, but everyone was in a good mood this evening, not letting anything affect their almost childish appreciation of this event.
"As you noticed I intend to hold a speech by tapping this glass twice... A tradition which began hundreds of years ago. I assume that tapping it twice instead of once is a way to ensure the dear listeners that it was not indeed an accident. Which this clearly wasn't as I am sure you are all aware of at this point," Ducky said and cleared his throat once more. Abby was listening carefully while Gibbs had an amused grin on his face and Tony was more or less just studying his glass with eggnog, which had to be his fourth or something like that. His head was already starting to buzz slightly.
"And while I still have your attention I want to express my gratitude of being able to work with each and every one of you. You are the best team one could ever wish for. May it stay that way always. Abby with her slightly worrying overuse of Caf-Pows and odd music, which is ticking Jethro off..." Ducky began and Abby laughed as she looked at Gibbs, who nodded.
"Tony with his always prominent elevator-stare whenever the female species is around..." he continued, and everyone looked at Tony, whose glance suddenly jumped from his eggnog glass to the faces turned towards him. Gibbs could almost swear he saw a hint of flushed cheeks on the younger man.
"Is it that obvious..?" Tony asked almost horrified, and around the table everyone joined each other in a big 'YES'! Tony tilted his head slightly and then nodded, a grin unable to be stopped from spreading on his face. Gibbs smirked.
"McGee kicking Bill Gates to the curb when it comes to IT and of course all of his computer games, what was it - you're a Wizard..?" Ducky asked with a smirk and McGee shook his head with a smile:
"I'm a warlock now," he said rather proudly and the team chuckled slightly.
"I'd call you an IT wizard any day..." Ducky said calmly and cleared his throat once more.
"Ziva kicking various bad guys' behinds and driving like an utter maniac..." Ducky continued and Ziva shook her head, both amused and a little annoyed that everyone was always picking on her driving skills.
"Jethro... The dear stubborn, head-slapping Jethro whose gut feeling sometimes seems to overpower all evidence and still be right..." he said and raised his glass towards Gibbs, who smiled and lifted his cup of black coffee in return. Only eggnog had been secretly allowed by Vance - not anything else alcoholic, not in an official government building... And Gibbs couldn't stand eggnog.
"And of course yours truly, who is utterly delighted to have been able to capture your attention for this long! And I will now end your misery and suggest a toast to our collaboration and professional bonds as colleagues - may it last as long as I am old! Cheers!" Ducky finished and everyone immediately stood up and lifted their glasses in a toast, Gibbs looking a little out of place holding just a coffee mug.
"CHEERS!" they all yelled and drank their eggnog - and coffee.
"Merry Christmas!" Abby shrieked and downed the rest of her eggnog along with Tony, who was having trouble admitting to himself that he was starting to get a bit tipsy. He still felt a bit embarrassed about his almost daily stunt here in the bullpen... the elevator-stare. But he thought to himself that it was good for Ducky to actually bring it up. Keeping up appearances was an important thing in this day and age... and in this job in particular. Why couldn't he just...
His chain of thoughts was abruptly broken when there was loud applause for Ducky's speech, and Tony quickly joined in on the clapping.
"Who wants more eggnog?" Abby asked with a broad grin on her face and held it up in front of Gibbs, who immediately shook his head in disgust.
"I do! Whiskey would be better though..." Tony burst out before he knew it, and soon his glass was again full. Staring at the yellowish fluid he started to drift away in thoughts again of what would never be... He wouldn't say he was depressed, no, another word fit better - deprived, maybe. Longing, maybe. He suppressed a sigh and took another mouthful of the eggnog.
"Aww, Gibbs, why don't you want eggnog?" Abby asked pleadingly and was about to pour him some, but with a grin Gibbs pushed the pitcher away.
"Because it tastes like the inside of a road kill chicken, Abs," he said which was accompanied by laughter from everyone at the table - besides Tony, who was busy with his philosophical thoughts and downing eggnog. Gibbs noticed, but didn't address it. This wasn't the best time. Gibbs looked at his watch - it was already 10pm.
"I happen to like road kill," Abby muttered with a hidden smile and downed an eggnog just to prove her statement. She was quite tipsy herself after numerous 'shots' of eggnog and she poked Tony on the shoulder, which finally seemed to burst the bubble he was in.
"Come with me...!" Abby whined excitedly and pointed into the air in a direction Tony couldn't quite place.
"Where to? A place with proper liquor?" he asked a bit dumbfounded, and Abby put her hands on her hips, looking pouty:
"To the copier, of course! No Christmas party is complete without a trip to the copy room!" she grinned and pulled Tony's shirt lightly. Tony looked flabbergasted for a few seconds.
"I may be drunk, but..." he started, but Abby tilted her head:
"Chicken?" she asked and stuck out her tongue. Tony frowned a bit and shrugged - 'why the hell not', he thought. He knew that there was absolutely nothing but friendship between him and Abby, and he might as well go... That way he didn't have to sit here and look at...
"I have proper liquor," Gibbs suddenly butted in and both Tony and Abby looked at him. Abby stomped the floor with her right boot with a crooked grin:
"Gibbs, did you smuggle liquor in here...? If Vance finds out..." she started, but Gibbs shook his head:
"No... No, Abby, I didn't," he just said and his glance found Tony again who was looking rather confused. For the last hour or so Tony hadn't uttered a word, he had pretty much just been staring at his eggnog. Now something seemed to dawn on Abby:
"Oh..." she uttered under her breath. In retrospect she knew that Tony had been acting kind of weird... Like he was depressed or something. Certainly detached from the social things that were going on. Hell, Ziva had done a roundhouse kick in her short skirt, showing her undies - and he hadn't even watched. Abby nodded to Gibbs as a sign of understanding, and then she hurried to Ziva's side of the table - determined on being accompanied to that damn copy room. Tony just sat there, a little too drunk to fully understand what just happened. Everyone else was talking away, having their own conversations - except for Tony and Gibbs, who were placed by the end of the long table, made of multiple tables.
"Then where's the liquor?" Tony suddenly asked, a little slurred, and emptied another glass of eggnog. Gibbs tilted his head a bit, looking at the senior agent.
"Come and I'll show you," he said and got up from his chair. Tony followed, almost tipping the chair over as he planted two open palms on the table in order not to fall down. He was more drunk than he had thought. A little wobbly he followed Gibbs to the exit, barely managing to keep up with his boss.
"Going for some air!" Gibbs said loudly into the room, and everyone around just nodded and kept on talking.
"I thought you said liquor..." Tony mumbled as the cold winter air hit him straight in the face as they walked outside. The crispy snow quirked under their boots as they walked down the parking lot in the dim light of the lamp posts. Still snowing the night sky had a light brownish color and Gibbs headed straight for his car, Tony following him but falling behind slightly. The cold air seemed to multiply the effect of the alcohol and Tony started feeling dizzy, his legs almost skidding uncontrollably to and fro. He uttered a small grin.
"Slippery out here, boss..." he said as he finally managed to catch up with Gibbs by the car.
"Oh, so you hid it in the car!" Tony said surprised and laughed.
"Sneaky, sneaky!" he said, but one of his feet skidded to the side on the snowy asphalt - and Gibbs barely managed to catch him on his way down. Tony's face got pressed against Gibbs' chest as he broke the fall, and two arms were suddenly around him, steadying him. For a few seconds they just stood there with Tony's face buried in Gibbs' chest, but eventually Tony stood back up, looking a little ashamed.
"Eh... Slippery..." he mumbled, but Gibbs wasn't smiling. Instead he stuck the key in the lock and opened the car door.
"Get in, DiNozzo," he said and motioned for Tony to sit down in the seat in the passenger side. Looking confused Tony looked at Gibbs:
"But where's the...?" he started, but his boss immediately cut him off:
"You're drunk. I'm taking you home," Gibbs said and placed a hand on Tony's shoulder. Tony's entire body seemed to slump a little by his words. He thought to himself that he didn't see the problem in being drunk at a Christmas party... But at the same time he could probably use some sleep anyway. With a sigh Tony got in the car with a muffled "Sorry, Boss". To be honest he hadn't thought that eggnog could be that potent, but at the same time he didn't give a damn. As Gibbs got in the front seat and put the key in the ignition, Tony looked at him thinking: 'He lured me out here like a naïve child with a promise of booze...'
"So no liquor?" Tony asked, but there was no reply as Gibbs drove onto the street. However Tony noticed that he was driving in the opposite direction of his apartment. Squeezing his eyes shut and opening them again several times to make the street lights stop blurring, he looked at Gibbs:
"We're we going?" he asked and fought the urge to lean his head against the soft seat and maybe fall asleep. A minute or so passed, Tony had lost track of time. For once Gibbs actually smiled:
"Home," he said and turned down a quiet road. Tony concentrated as he looked out the windows as Gibbs came to a hold in a driveway. Tony blinked a few times.
"But this is your house...?" he asked dumbfounded and accepted Gibbs' arm as he almost skidded on the pavement while getting out of the car.
"Yup," Gibbs said shortly and unlocked the front door after supporting Tony up the steps. In his intoxicated state Tony didn't know whether to be flattered, surprised or scared. He had only been here a few times and he couldn't quite figure out why he was here NOW.
As they got inside the hallway Gibbs nodded for Tony to take off his coat and rather wobbly he managed to do so and hand it to Gibbs, who put it on a hanger along with his own. None of them spoke for a while, instead Gibbs just motioned for Tony to follow him down the stairs to the basement. Tony grabbed a hold of anything he could walking down the stairs in order not to risk tripping. He felt odd - and weirdly ashamed of being driven 'home' by his boss due to too much eggnog. He felt like the lamp in the middle of the room was spinning around in circles, and he slumped down on the nearest chair as Gibbs walked over to a small, wooden table with his back facing Tony. Just looking at the older man's muscular back under the fabric of his shirt, Tony damned himself for being so immature and unable to discard the feelings he had. Without Tony knowing Gibbs smiled a little and then turned around, holding a glass of whiskey in his hand. Tony's eyes immediately widened as he looked at Gibbs.
"So you DID have booze!" he burst out with a smirk. Of course he knew that Gibbs usually had a bottle or two in the basement, but he had to admit that he hadn't even thought about it.
"Yes, booze for ME, not you," Gibbs said with a small smile and took a sip from the glass. Tony frowned.
"But why can't I..." he started, but was cut off by Gibbs, who put a hand on his shoulder. He could feel Tony shivering slightly by the touch.
"Because you've had more than enough, DiNozzo. While I have been running on coffee all day," Gibbs smiled and sat himself down on a chair in front of Tony, who looked disappointed and pouty like a spoiled child. Gibbs narrowed his eyes a bit as he looked at the senior agent.
"So what's the deal?" he asked bluntly and sent Tony a stare that he was too intoxicated to decipher. Although the effect of the alcohol was beginning to slip out of his body, it seemed. The lamp wasn't spinning anymore at least. Tony blinked a few times.
"What do you mean?" he asked in an innocent voice, and again Gibbs could tell that Tony's glance was glued to the glass of whiskey. However Gibbs very well knew that Tony certainly didn't have an alcohol problem.
"I mean - what is troubling you?" Gibbs asked and moved his chair a little closer to Tony. If they weren't friends, Tony would have found it quite intimidating... and somehow he still did.
"Umm... Nothing, Boss..." he started, but Gibbs shook his head firmly, piercing Tony with his icy blue stare.
"I guess it's been a hard week...?" Tony said and his gaze started to dart around a little as if he was looking for an escape route. His mind was beginning to feel a little cornered even though he couldn't imagine that Gibbs knew. So he just had to play his cards right.
"I'm depressed I guess and seeing all the happy, happy happiness at the office... I just felt like I didn't fit in?" Tony said hesitantly, doing his very best to sound convincing. Gibbs sent him a crooked smile.
"Nah..." Gibbs said shortly and Tony's eyes grew big once more. Swallowing he found out that he was rubbing his hands and that small droplets of sweat were beginning to form on his forehead. He had to do something else.
"What, is this an interrogation?" Tony snapped and wanted to stand up, but before he could, Gibbs butted in:
"Pretty much," he said and looked Tony up and down. Tony's jaw dropped a little.
"Well, I'm not gonna play that game, I'm not a criminal just because I'm drunk!" Tony said, getting increasingly nervous about what the hell Gibbs was playing at. Had he figured it out? Impossible... He was the elevator-stare man!
"No, but I don't like when people are lying to me, DiNozzo," Gibbs answered and watched as Tony's facade slowly began ripping at the seams.
"Well, I don't care what you like..!" Tony spat and now he got up from his chair to head for the stairs, but a strong hand closed around his wrist, holding him back. Tony immediately stopped and turned his head incredulously, staring at Gibbs. His boss slowly got up from his chair and faced Tony, who was trembling slightly.
"Yes, you do," Gibbs said and tightened his grip a little when Tony tried to pull his hand away. He looked like a deer trapped in the headlights of a truck. Gibbs sent him a smile, which Tony didn't know how to interpret.
"You like me, don't you?" Gibbs then asked and Tony looked completely flabbergasted, frozen in his tracks.
"Umm, yeah, you're a good friend - not right now though...!" Tony said in a shaky voice, but Gibbs took a step closer, almost leaning against Tony.
"No, I mean... You LIKE me," Gibbs whispered in Tony's ear, which sent shivers down his spine. That was it. His cover was blown. How could he ever look at his boss again, not to mention work with him? Tony squeezed his eyes shut as if to wake up from a bad dream.
"I'm going home...!" Tony spat and turned around again, tearing his wrist free from Gibbs' grasp and walked towards the stairs.
"Tony!" Gibbs suddenly yelled, and the senior agent stopped dead in his tracks. Did his boss just use his first name? Not to mention the weird tone of his voice. Turning his head to look at him, Tony had a hurt look on his face even though he tried to keep up the angry facade. Gibbs lifted his arms a little bit as he looked Tony in the eye:
"What if I said I like you too?" Gibbs said in a low tone of voice. Silence fell and the expression on Tony's face displayed a state of pure shock and disbelief.
"Yeah, go ahead and mock me..." Tony mumbled as he turned around to continue up the stairs, but before he knew it, Gibbs was right behind him, grabbing his shoulder and forcing him to turn around. Tony was breathing fast and unevenly as he glared at Gibbs.
"I'm not mocking you, I mean it," Gibbs said and for the first time ever Tony actually thought he saw some sort of vulnerability in the icy blue eyes.
"What...?" Tony managed to utter under his breath and he almost twitched as Gibbs closed his hands softly around Tony's.
"I mean it, Tony," Gibbs said and let out a small sigh. Tony stared at him and again there was silence. Gibbs pointed to the chairs in the basement.
"Come and sit... Please," he said and pulled lightly at Tony, applying some pressure on Tony's hands as if to reassure him that it was okay. Without a word Tony obliged and slowly followed him down the last few steps of the stairs. Carefully and almost in slow motion both men sat themselves down on the chairs, facing each other. Tony's face was flushing with red and Gibbs looked serious but had a slight smile on his face. Gibbs had had this theory that Tony was attracted to him for a long time... But he had felt that the time wasn't right to confront him with this, even though he longed for it. Tony simply had not been ready. And Gibbs thought that he himself probably hadn't been either. But tonight everything had seemed to slowly fall into place, maybe triggered by Tony's drunken state, maybe not. But now was the time. Now was the time when it actually felt right.
"Are you scared?" Gibbs asked bluntly and Tony lifted his gaze from the floor, looking at him with a mix between shame, excitement and fear in his hazel eyes.
"No..." Tony said under his breath, but as Gibbs looked at him smiling, Tony sighed and started rubbing his hands again.
"Yes," he said and finally he looked Gibbs in the eye. Tony still wasn't convinced that his boss was being truthful, even though he didn't have the slightest thread of evidence to suggest otherwise. This seemed almost too real... so real that everything seemed surreal, like being caught in a Salvador Dalì painting. Tony looked at the ceiling lamp again, to check that it wasn't spinning violently - it wasn't, instead it was hanging there perfectly still. He had become completely sober after the incident on the stairs, and he was both happy about it but also worried... Was he dreaming?
"You don't need to be scared," Gibbs said softly, reaching out and rubbing Tony's nervous hands. Gibbs had to admit to himself that he was a little bit scared also, but in his heart he knew that this was the right thing to do. It was now or never.
"I would never hurt you," Gibbs said and sent Tony a serious glance accompanied by a reassuring smile. However Tony looked at little doubtful as if he still wasn't sure if this was for real or not. Swallowing Tony returned an insecure smile.
"Can I have that whiskey now?" he asked with a shaky voice.
"I think I need it," he added and let out a small sigh as he looked at Gibbs who smiled a crooked smile.
"So do I," Gibbs said and turned around on the chair to pour two glasses of the alcoholic, golden liquid. While he had his back turned towards Tony he could feel how the younger agent was looking at him intensely and Gibbs smiled, relieved that all this tension was finally dissolved... or partly dissolved between them.
"Here," Gibbs smiled as he handed Tony the glass with whiskey. Tony carefully accepted the glass, and for a moment their fingers overlapped. Freezing for a split second both men just looked at each other... The sensation of the soft skin was both new and intoxicating, and each of them secretly savored the moment. Then Tony slowly pulled away the glass and took a sip of the strong alcohol. Silence fell while they looked at each other. It wasn't an awkward silence or a tense one, it was more like unsaid expectations were floating around in the room.
"Why now?" Tony suddenly asked and broke the silence in the basement. Gibbs smiled knowingly and winked slightly at Tony.
"Because you weren't ready. I am not sure if you still aren't ready... But I couldn't wait any longer," he said and placed his glass between his hands in his lap. Tony frowned a bit.
"How long have you known?" Tony asked and looked Gibbs up and down with a slightly surprised look in his eyes. Gibbs shrugged.
"Long enough..." he smiled and looked at tony with a skew smile. Tony nodded, then frowned again:
"Wait, what do you mean you couldn't wait any longer?" he asked and Gibbs let out a small grin as if he had been waiting for the question for ages.
"Because I love you. I have for a long time, Tony," he said and looked at the younger man, who looked like someone had just hit him with a sledgehammer. Blinking a few times in shock Tony managed to smile broadly. This had to be a dream! Gibbs raised his glass.
"Cheers to new beginnings," he said and Tony smiled, raising his glass in return.
"To new beginnings..." Tony said as the glasses hit each other with a 'clinck'. Both men took a big sip of their drinks, both not completely believing that this was actually finally happening. Tony closed his eyes for a moment, just sniffing the air - a mixed scent of saw dust, old spice and coffee... and whiskey.
"I'm afraid to wake up," Tony then said lowly, looking at Gibbs with an almost sad smile. Gibbs placed his glass on the table and got up, reaching out his hand towards Tony. For a moment Tony seemed surprised, but then he also put down his glass and accepted Gibbs' hand. Pulling him up from the chair, Gibbs pressed himself lightly against Tony.
"Does this feel real?" he whispered in Tony's ear, holding him in a tight embrace. The younger man trembled slightly, swallowing a lump in his throat.
"Yes..." he whispered and felt how Gibbs' warm breath caressed his ear and lower neck.
"You're not dreaming then," Gibbs said under his breath and nibbled slightly on Tony's ear lobe. This sent shivers down his spine and Tony bit his lip.
"I love you," Tony whispered and now Gibbs pulled back a little, facing him with a smile.
"Merry Christmas, my love," he said and pointed his index finger upwards. With a frown Tony's glance followed the invisible line of his finger and looked up towards the ceiling above them. In the dim light of the ceiling lamp he could barely make it out. Narrowing his eyes a bit Tony finally identified what it was - a mistletoe. With a surprised grin he looked back at Gibbs.
"Merry Christmas...!" he smiled as their lips finally locked in their first, passionate kiss.