A/N: Part of the "Guardian Angel" series, but you don't really need to have read the previous fics for it to make sense. Set in Season 8 but AU post mid Season 4. No Le Grenouille, Jeanne or Hollis Mann. Unbeta'd
Everything leading up to it happened so fast. Too fast. But somehow, that moment—that single point in time—had felt like an eternity.
If you could ask Tony about it, the younger man probably would've had a good movie scene to go with it. Tony did love his movies.
If only you could.
All you remembered was the gun, pointed at you from ten feet away, a scared little girl in a red dress with tears streaming down her face, and the blur that was Tony DiNozzo flying towards you, pulling you down with a grunt that sounded at the same time as gun fire.
That single moment in time ground to a halt, as you felt warmth and wetness blossom under your fingers that were resting on the back of the man lying on top of you.
You knew what it was, and in that very moment, your whole world shattered into pieces.
The second shot broke the spell and everything came rushing back. Lights of red and blue and white. And sounds. Sounds of people screaming, crying, talking…
"Tony? Tony!" You were running on pure adrenaline now as you scrambled to get up so you can assess the damage. "Why did you—Tony!"
You didn't care about the gun that was pointed at you; you didn't care about the scared little girl that you were supposed to be protecting.
The only thing you cared about was whether this man lying on his side right next to you would make it.
"Don't do this to me!" you screamed as you pressed hard on the entry wound on his back, blood seeping from underneath your fingers. "Don't you do this to me! Tony! Stay awake for me, Tony! Come on!"
His hand, bloody and trembling, reached for you. Your vision blurred as he gurgled bloody bubbles that splashed your face as you leaned close to listen and to let his hand touch your face, because you didn't dare take yours off of his chest and back just so you can hold his.
"I… love… you…" He struggled, coughing weakly at the end.
"No! Tony! Love you too! Please! You can't…" Your voice, thick and raw with emotion, trembled like his hand as he stroked your face once, twice. "Oh God… No, please don't…! Tony! Oh God…"
Someone pulled at your shoulder, trying to drag you away but you refused, pushing the hand away roughly. No. You could not take that hand away. If you did he'd bleed to death.
"Agent Gibbs!" You heard someone call you in a very brief moment of clarity. "Please step aside. The paramedics are here."
More hands appeared in your blurred field of vision, gentle hands that helped at controlling the bleeding.
"We've got him. He's bleeding heavily but the pulse is still strong. We need to take him in ASAP! I need an IV and gauze! Now!" Another voice sounded above you. "Can someone please pull Agent Gibbs back? We need room to work here!"
And before you knew it, someone yanked you by your shoulders away from him.
Away from the man that you loved.
From the only person that mattered to you on God's Good Earth.
"No! Tony!" You fought, but whoever had you was stronger. You tried to reach out to him, but your hands were bound.
You were hysterical—you kicked, you screamed, you twisted between the arms that held you down. "TONY!"
"Sorry Gibbs," someone said, and then with a sharp pain at the side of your neck, you drifted off and felt nothing.
Nothing, except for the millions of shards of your shattered heart, raining down on your soul like the snow dusting the ground.
Five Hours Earlier
"So, Tony. How are you spending your Christmas?" McGee asked, looking toward Tony's desk.
It was just before sixteen-hundred on Christmas Eve, which just so happened fell on a Friday this year. Most of the building had already cleared, only a skeleton crew, including the MCRT, remained to hold down the fort. Gibbs' team seemed to draw the short straw for Christmas every year to babysit the Nation's capitol against anything from petty theft by a marine to terrorist attacks of a Naval base.
"Nothin'," Tony tossed back as he leaned back in his chair and tossed his legs up on his desk. He reached into the cookie tin on his desk and pulled out another one. Hmm, double chocolate chunks, one of his favorites. "We're on call, what do you expect me to get done? I'm going to go home in—" he snuck a look at his watch, "exactly fifteen minutes, eat, and sleep until a phone call from dispatch wakes me up or I have to pee. And tomorrow, after I've finally gotten caught up on a year's worth of sleep, I'll veg on my couch and watch classic Christmas movie marathon on my new DVR. There, you happy?"
"So… You're not seeing your dad at all?" McGee asked carefully. DiNozzo Senior had always been a sensitive issue for Tony. Treading lightly wouldn't even cover it. "I thought you guys were talking again."
"My old man is spending his Christmas holidays in the Bahamas," Tony spoke with his mouth full of chewed cookie. "He called. Yesterday."
McGee shot him a dirty look like Tony was the most disgusting thing he'd ever seen.
Swallowing his mouthful of cookie crumbs, Tony went on the offensive. "And you? What's your plan? Gonna stay online and chat with your little elf-girlfriend until we get the call like last year?"
McGee squinted at Tony, his face flushed with embarrassment. "I'm in a serious long distance relationship with a fellow game 'enthusiast'. We don't always play games. We talk too."
"Oh come on, McGee! You haven't even met her in person! How would you know what she's really like?" Tony asked as if McGee had grown a third arm. "Help me out here, Ziva."
Getting no response from the former Mossad, Tony shifted slightly to peak over his monitors. Ziva had her headphones practically glued to her ears to block McGee and Tony out while reading… a romance novel?
The sound of Tony landing on floor couldn't be any louder. Even the few stragglers that hadn't left the office yet poked their heads out of their cubical for a look. "Fuck! Ow!"
"You okay there, Tony?" McGee asked, straining not to laugh.
"Hmm? What happened?" Ziva took an ear bud out and asked. "Tony, what are you doing on the floor?"
"Nothing!" Tony hissed, glaring at McGee who could no longer resist and was in the process of laughing his head off.
"Tony… fell off of… his chair." Wheezing between laughter, McGee managed before diving right into another laughing fit.
"Not funny, McGiggles." Tony held on to the edge of his table and pushed himself up. "I could be seriously injured there! I could have a concussion!"
"Well, you've had many concussions over the year and you've been fine so far," Ziva pointed out, "one small fall like that probably wouldn't do much damage at all."
"Oh!" Tony gingerly sat back down in his seat, hands over his chest like he'd been wounded. "That is low, Ziva. Low!"
Ziva rolled her eyes and went back to the book she was reading. At times like these, it was best not to engage Tony further. They were all just killing time, waiting to leave. Both Ziva and McGee knew that Tony was just bored—they didn't have a case, and the last ten minutes of the work on a "slow day" was always the worst. Tony would do anything to pass the time.
Watching Tony's movements out of the corner of her eyes, Ziva warned preemptively. "Don't you dare to toss that ball of paper at me. I will break your hand."
"I'm the only one allowed to break hands," Gibbs said, rounding the corner from the back elevator, just in time to stop an office war in the making. "DiNozzo!"
"Yeah, Boss?" Tony quietly slipped the ball of paper into his pocket. He'd use it later.
"Quit throwing things at people. Where are those paperwork you were supposed to be working on?"
Dang! How did he know? Tony cursed under his breath for his foiled attempt at payback. "All done, Boss!"
"McGee, Ziva?" Gibbs asked, sitting down in his chair.
"Same here. All done." McGee answered right away. Ziva nodded assent.
"Then go on, get out of here." Gibbs waved his hands in a shooing motion. "Keep your phones on."
"Got it, Boss."
The phone on Tony's desk rang just as the two junior agents began to pack up. "DiNozzo."
Tony listened, nodding and noting down details on his pad of paper before putting the phone back in its cradle.
"Don't bother, guys. That was dispatch," Tony said, pulling his backpack out from between the divider and his desk. "We've got a live one."
"What is it?" Gibbs asked, pulling his gun and badge out of the drawer.
"Bank robbery downtown."
"Why are they calling us?" McGee frowned. Bank robbery was Metro jurisdiction, FBI at best. Those types of cases didn't concern NCIS.
"Apparently they've got a rear admiral and what looked like his granddaughter in the bank." Tony sighed. It was always so much worse when kids were involved.
"Then let's go," Gibbs pulled his jacket on and led the way to the elevator with Tony right behind him.
McGee and Ziva gave each other a knowing look then both sighed before catching up to the two men just as the doors opened.
The tires of the Charger screeched as it came to a sudden halt at one end of the blockade. A second Charger rolled to a stop behind it a few minutes later.
"What do we have, Reynolds?" Gibbs called out to the NCIS agent walking out of the Mobile Command Center as soon as he exited the car, Tony right on his heel. McGee and Ziva were behind them, getting out of the second car.
"Hey Gibbs," Reynolds said, his greeting short and precise. "Silent alarm was triggered about half an hour ago by one of the tellers. They are still trying to establish communication with the inside. I don't know much else beyond that."
Gibbs wanted to snarl at the man for his lack of information, but he knew it wasn't the man's fault. He could tell by the movement of personnel around the blockade that the FBI had only been on scene for a short time, and the Metro PD SWAT team would be setting up right about now. No one knew anything, and it wouldn't do him any good to yell at Reynolds.
"Fine. Who's on scene from the FBI? And who's in charge of SWAT?" Gibbs asked, ruffling his hair before putting on his NCIS ball cap. The weather had been decent for the past two weeks, but had gotten steadily colder. On their way here, it'd started snowing and Gibbs wasn't overly happy about that. It was already getting dark, and if it snowed too badly, it'd make it hell for the snipers to get any good visual on the perps.
"That'll be me," a familiar voice sounded from behind Gibbs.
Gibbs looked up and sighed before turning around. "Tobias."
"Jethro." Fornell smiled smugly, holding out his hand. "How's business?"
Gibbs gave him a glare and ignored the hand as he stalked toward Mobile Command.
"Gibbs, NCIS." Gibbs identified himself, then pointed at Tony behind him. "He's with me."
"Tony DiNozzo." Tony assumed his normal PR duty and shook hands with everyone in the truck.
"Ted Monroe, Metro PD. Here," a man got up from the computer and handed the two men each an earpiece, throat mic and radio, "you're going to need this. We're on channel four."
"You in charge of SWAT?" Gibbs asked and Monroe nodded.
"I'm coordinating the Metro PD Tactical Squad. An FBI negotiator will be joining us shortly." Monroe tipped his head towards Fornell.
"What else do we have?" Gibbs signaled Tony to put on their radio equipment.
"Tactical units have been placed around all the entrances and on the roof from across the street on both sides so we can get a better visual, but if this weather keeps up…" Monroe spared a worried look outside into the flurry falling from the sky. "I don't know."
"How many hostages are in there?" Tony asked, flipping out his notepad. "When dispatch called, they told us that a Navy rear admiral is one of the hostages."
"Tactical on the ground counted ten hostages through one of the windows near the front, including your rear admiral and the little girl. We were only able to identify him by his uniform, we don't know who he is, exactly. The scout only saw three perps, but there could be more."
"All right. Thanks." Gibbs nodded, then turned to Tony. "DiNozzo, get McGee in here to help them. See if he has any way of getting us better visuals inside the bank. We need to figure out who they are. And tell Ziva to talk to tactical. I want her on the roof."
"On it, Boss." Tony turned smoothly on his heel, walking out of the truck with two extra radio units for his teammates.
"Okay, there we go…" McGee mumbled to himself, as always when he was focused on the inner workings of any computer systems. "Boss?"
"Yeah, McGee?" Gibbs looked over his shoulder at the young agent, away from his conversation with Monroe.
"Well, the cameras of the bank's surveillance system are all wireless, and they feed into a hub in the security office. I managed to tunnel into the wireless network and we now have feeds from the cameras in the main lobby and the vault," McGee said as his fingers fly over the keyboard. "Give me a minute and I'll pull it up on the screen here."
"Good. I want to know who's in that bank."
"On it, Boss."
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs pressed the button of his radio and barked into the throat mic.
"Yeah, Boss? You know, Gibbs, it's a throat mic. You don't have to yell." Tony's voice came through the earpiece, dripping with sarcasm.
"Report." Gibbs glared at the nearby shelf of equipment, as if his glare could be telegraphed to the younger man.
"Ziva's on the roof, and I'm out front with Fornell the guys on the ground. They can't get any closer without being spotted. McGee had any luck hacking the CCTV?"
"Yeah, we have a feed now." Gibbs said after a brief glance over to the computer terminal McGee was working on. "Listen, I want you to work with McGee once he's pulled the faces to identify the perps. Call Abby for help if you have to, just get me those names."
"Will do, Boss. Oh, and the negotiator just arrived. Fornell and I are bringing her your way."
"Roger that." Gibbs turned back towards Monroe. "Negotiator's here. They're bringing her here."
"Good. We've got the phone lines tapped, and we're ready to establish contact."
Gibbs stood just out side of the command truck, the snow coming down heavy and wet against his windbreaker. It was a good thing he'd worn his thick hiking jacket underneath.
He breathed in deep before letting it out. This was not the time to lose his composure.
They'd been on scene for four hours now, and it was getting close to the deadlines they'd been able to extend. The last call into the bank hadn't been answered, which was a very bad sign.
The tactical team was still on the rooftops, but the four snipers from the tactical teams had already declared that it was no joy. The snow was coming down too much and too fast for them to get a good visual. Ziva, however, remained convinced that she could do it, and Gibbs believed her—it was what she was trained to do after all.
McGee and Tony had managed to identify two of the three perps as having priors in all kinds of armed robbery. The third was unknown, and from what they were able to see, this was the leader of the three. Facial recognition hadn't revealed anything useful.
The FBI negotiator had successfully negotiated the release of most of the hostages in exchange for food, water, and medical help for one of the guards that had been shot by the leader, who called himself Koss. Most, except for the rear admiral, the little girl and two other men.
Damn. Gibbs cursed to himself.
"Boss?" Tony came up behind him. "You better come take a look at this."
"What is it?"
"I think the three of them are arguing. Can't tell because there are no sound and the picture isn't clear enough for lip reading, but it looked like they are arguing about something. By their body language, I'd say the other two are unhappy with Koss."
"And the hostages?"
"Scared, but they're still alive." "For now" were the two words that were pretty much a given but neither of them wanted to say out loud. The way the situation stood, it could get very volatile very fast.
Gibbs nodded, then left the truck to meet up with Fornell up front. Tony watched him walk away, then shook his head and followed.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Gibbs." Fornell was frowning when Tony came up behind Gibbs.
"What if they start shooting?" Gibbs almost snarled. "It is getting more volatile in there and we need to get her out!"
"Gibbs has a point," the negotiator said, looking from Gibbs to Fornell. "He's better equipped at handling any situation that may happen in there than that little girl."
"You can't go in there armed. What if they pull a gun on you?" Fornell shook his head.
"I'm willing to take that chance." Gibbs shrugged.
"Here," Gibbs unloaded his gun and handed it to Tony. "Call them. Tell them we want to trade."
"You can't go in there!" Tony pulled Gibbs back by his shoulder.
"I have to." Gibbs gave Tony a long look, fixing him with soft blue eyes. "Can't let anything happen to her."
"Gibbs…" Tony seemed stunned for a moment, before he sobered up and sighed, handing Gibbs' gun along with his own to Fornell. "Then I'm going in with you."
"Two is better than one. We can tell them to release one of the adults along with the girl."
Gibbs wanted to argue, but he found himself unable to. They'd have one less hostage inside, and he'd have Tony to watch his back in case things get hairy. He sighed, knowing he'd probably regret it later somehow. "Fine."
"Ziva, you have visual?" Gibbs asked quietly as he and Tony approached the entrance of the bank, hands up by their heads.
"The snow's pretty bad but I can still see." Ziva's calm voice came through the earpiece with static.
"Do you have a clear shot?"
"I can make the shot."
"Don't hesitate. Gibbs out." Gibbs traded a look with Tony. "Come on."
"Tony!" Gibbs woke suddenly in a panic, sitting up gasping Tony's name. For a moment there he wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't.
The glaring fluorescent light overhead forced him to shut his eyes and slowly opening them to adjust. The sharp smell of bleach and antiseptics told him that he was in a hospital.
What the hell was he doing in a hospital?
And then the pieces came rushing back to him.
Little girl in a red dress.
Tony tackling him.
The memory of Tony going down and him trying to stanch the bleeding hit him like a punch to the gut. He barely made it to the closest garbage can before the entire contents of his stomach came rushing out. He was bent over the rancid mess in the can and gagging for a good half a minute before he noticed someone behind him holding a cup of water in an out stretched hand.
He held onto the frame of the emergency room bed he'd been lying on and took the water, washing out the foul taste in his mouth before turning to the person. "Thanks."
"You all right there, Agent Gibbs?" The woman couldn't be more than five-two or five-three and a hundred pounds. Tiny little thing with a southern accent.
His mind went back to Tony, and his body began to shake uncontrollably, his knuckles white from gripping too tightly on the metal bar. "Tony DiNozzo. Where is he? What happened to him?"
"Agent Gibbs, maybe you should lie down."
"No! Where is he?" Gibbs barked, his breath quickening towards something like a panic. "What did you do with my Tony" was what he'd wanted to ask, but his rational brain caught himself at the last minute. "What is going on?" he asked, more calmly this time.
"They're still in surgery. I'm afraid I don't know any more than this." The nurse sighed but firmly pressed Gibbs to sit down and lie back on the bed. "Agent Gibbs, I'm going to have to ask you to stay right here, rest up and let one of the doctor look you over before I let you go. I don't want to make the doctor sedate you again so please behave yourself."
Sedatives. Well that explained his previously unconscious state.
"I'm Emma, by the way." Emma said as she gave Gibbs a pat on the shoulder. "One of your colleagues… a Doctor Mallard? He's waiting in the visitor's lounge. Should I go get him?"
"Yeah. Thank you." Watching Emma pull close the blinds and move away, Gibbs was tempted to just get up and leave. But he knew that if Ducky was here the old man would raise a stink and he'd be worse off, so he sighed and leaned his head back, and let himself sink into the bedding.
He never liked hospitals. Hated them, in fact. He didn't have a single good memory associated with being in a hospital.
Tony hated them too. He remembered that first case in Baltimore that they worked on together that landed them both in the hospital. Neither of them could wait to get out. And then there was the time when Tony was infected with the Plague. He felt the same kind of helplessness that etched itself down to the bone, only this time, he felt it ten times worse.
He lost his mother in a hospital. Acute leukemia, the doctor told Jack. It was too late for the doctors to do anything for her. They didn't know he heard them, but he did. They spoke in the hallway outside his mother's hospital room and they never realized that he was standing in the doorway listening.
It was spring, and it'd rained constantly for days. He remember brushing past the two adults and running out of the small regional hospital. He didn't stop. The rain drenched him through and through, and he kept running, as if getting as far away from that room as possible would make it all go away.
He remember tripping over his own feet and landing in a big mud puddle in the middle of the road. He sat there, at the edge of the road, and cried. And when he was too tired to continue, he walked back to the hospital, muddy and eyes red-rimmed. Jack took him home, told him to clean himself up and plopped a bowl of soup in front of him.
Later that night, he woke up thirsty and went to get a glass of water. That was when he saw Jack sitting in their bedroom sobbing into his hands.
He and Jack had never been close, and they drifted apart even further after his mother died, two weeks later in that hospital room. He remembered that it was raining that day too.
He was angry, and he blamed himself, blamed Jack, blamed everyone and everything. He knew, logically, that there was no one to blame. It was simply his mother's time. But his anger grew as time passed because why did it have to be his mother? Why, of all the people that this could happen to, it had to be them?
It'd always been worse when Christmas rolled around. His mother loved celebrating all the holidays but Christmas was her favorite. She'd spend the whole two weeks planning and decorating, much to his father's protest, and invite their friends and family for a big feast.
After she died, the tradition died with her. Christmas became just another day on the calendar, where he and his father sat silently at the table for dinner.
"Jethro?" Ducky's voice woke him from his memories. "How're we feeling?"
"Duck," Gibbs tipped his head and sighed as he sat up.
Gibbs shook his head. "Nah. I'm fine."
"You had us worried, Jethro. You and Tony both." Ducky sighed. "The paramedics sedated you because you were completely hysterical."
"I figured." Gibbs nodded before he looked over to Ducky. "Have they…"
"No, they're still in surgery. I'm sure Nurse Emma had brief you already?" Ducky frowned then shook his head. "Right, you don't trust them."
Gibbs glared at the older man but Ducky carried on. "I came as soon as I heard, and from what the paramedics told me, the bullet perforated Tony's lung, and there was a lot of bleeding. He's a survivor, Jethro. He'd pull through. They just need time to repair the damage."
He gave Gibbs a careful look, noting the tension in his body.
"You know what? I'll go talk to the attending physician and see if they'd spring you. It'll be more comfortable in the lounge than here."
Sitting in the padded chair in the waiting room, Gibbs stared into the cup of coffee that Ducky had procured for him. The doctor had sat him on that chair, left and came back with the coffee, stuffing the styrofoam cup into his hands then left again. Gibbs assumed he was going to check in with the doctors to get an update.
This wasn't the first Christmas they'd spent chasing bad guys, but it would be the first time that they wouldn't be celebrating. It just wouldn't be the same without Tony around. Tony and Abby planned the best parties. Even if they had to work, those two would set up something in the conference room so that they could at least have a quick celebration over food.
The past few years celebrating Christmases with the team reminded him of the time when he was in the Corps. Some of his fellow men weren't going home, so they'd decided to chip in and held their own little holiday celebration. It'd been nice—they chatted, some goofed around, and they became closer. Over the years it'd became a tradition of sorts for his cohort, and unless he was visiting Shannon, he was celebrating with his friends. Even as they got deployed, got married, they'd keep in touch and update each other on what'd been happening in their lives.
He'd always remember his first Christmas with Shannon as a newlywed couple. They'd married in the beginning of summer, Shannon a beautiful June bride, and she'd been so excited about creating new Christmas traditions. It'd been her that sent out the first Christmas card to Jack. They had argued over it, but as always Shannon won out in the end—he just couldn't refuse her.
Their first Christmas together had been a bit of a disaster.
Shannon had decided that even though it would just be the two of them, that they'd have a proper Christmas dinner since they'd missed Thanksgiving together with Gibbs away on some training exercise. She spent the whole day preparing food—the turkey and all the usual sides and trimmings, as well as desserts. Gibbs couldn't understand why she needed to make so much food, but he wasn't going to complain. Shannon'd been one mean cook.
The bird was supposed to take much of the day to cook properly, but they'd forgotten about the oven being problematic and by the time they noticed the smoke coming out of the oven, it was too late. The bird was already black and crispy.
Instead of getting upset, though, the two of them had had a good laugh over it, decided to buy a new stove in the new year, then gone to KFC and picked up a bucket of chicken to eat with the rest of the trimmings with their special occasion linen, good china and candle sticks. Gibbs' face morphed into a faint smile. That had been one of the most memorable Christmases in his life.
A tired voice jolted Gibbs out of his memories. Gibbs looked up from staring into his coffee to find the rear admiral standing at the door of the waiting room. The little girl was asleep in his arms; her angelic face with strawberry blonde curls framed her face.
"Rear Admiral Chase, Sir." Gibbs stood out of habit to greet the man.
"I wanted to thank you in person for saving all of our lives today." Chase reached out with his free hand. Gibbs shook hands with him without saying a word. "How was your agent? Agent DiNozzo, am I right?"
"Yes, he prefers Tony. I don't know anything yet, they're still in surgery." Gibbs spared a worried look to the doors leading to the operating room.
Chase must've saw the look on Gibbs' face because when Gibbs turned back to the man, he was looking serious. "Good men like you, the good Lord protects those who do good work. I'm sure he would pull through."
Gibbs gave him a pained smile. "I hope you're right, because I don't have much faith to hope for a miracle these days."
Chase patted Gibbs' shoulder, squeezing it lightly for reassurance. "He'll make it."
"Thank you, Sir," Gibbs said. "How is your…" Gibbs paused, realizing that he hadn't actually found out how they were related.
"This would be my adorable granddaughter Amelia." Chase looked down at the sleeping face and answered quietly. "She and her mother are staying with me and my wife while my son is serving overseas. They're waiting for us at home, actually."
"Your son, he is Navy?"
"Marine. Deployed a month ago." Chase sighed. "My little angel missed her daddy."
"She's a beautiful little girl, Sir." Gibbs nodded. "How is she? Has the doctors looked her over?"
"She was scared, but she's physically fine, thanks to you and your men. It'll take awhile for her to forget about this though." Chase said, smiling as he turned his attention back to his granddaughter. "You have kids, Agent Gibbs?"
"Had a daughter." Gibbs bit his tongue and swallowed down the sudden burst of emotions. He'd had his closure, and he'd moved on. He'd always remember them but he wouldn't let their ghosts determine his life anymore. Taking a deep breath, Gibbs continued, "she and my wife were killed in a car accident."
"God, I'm so sorry." Gibbs could tell by the surprise in Chase's voice that he was genuinely shocked.
"It's fine. It was a long time ago," Gibbs said nonchalantly, shaking his head. "Your granddaughter reminds me a little of my Kelly."
"What was she like?"
Gibbs thought for a moment, collecting his thoughts before he answered. "She was vibrant and feisty, like my wife was. Loved horses and the color pink. She looked so much like her mother, all red hair and bright blue eyes…"
Kelly looked so much like Shannon. Gibbs would always remember the Christmases they'd spent together, decorating the tree, hiding the presents while Kelly was asleep. They'd curl up on the couch and watch whatever Christmas movies happened to be on TV with a big bowl of Shannon's caramel corn. The rare years when it snowed, they'd go out and build a snowman, with silly faces that Kelly insisted was how it was supposed to look… damn, he missed his girls something fierce. It was why it'd always been so hard for him around Christmas time.
"You miss them."
"Everyday." Gibbs' smile was tinged with regret. "I love my country but I wish I had been here for them when they needed me, instead of out there in service of the country."
Gibbs always tried to make it home for Christmas to spend it with his girls, and for the most part, he was able to. The only exception had been the Christmas before he'd lost them—he was already deployed in Iraq at the time.
"It's never easy, Soldier." Chase smiled warmly but encouraging. "I better get going before the women got restless."
Gibbs chuckled. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?"
"Something like that," Chase grinned.
"Good night, Sir."
"Thank you again, Gibbs. I'll be praying for you and your man," Chase said at last before he left, leaving Gibbs alone again in the waiting room.
"Hey, Boss," a jovial voice rang loudly through the laundry room door. "Where are you?"
Gibbs ignored his visitor as he sat on one of his work chairs in the basement. He had a jar of bourbon in his hand as he stared at a picture of Shannon and Kelly. The skeleton of a boat sat behind him, a testament to his losses and his mourning.
"There you are," the voice said as it descended the stairs. Gibbs quickly tucked the picture away. The memories of his girls were his and his alone. No one had the right to intrude upon that. "What are you doing down here?"
Gulping down the remainder of his bourbon, Gibbs said. "What do you want, DiNozzo?"
Everyone he knew, knew that Gibbs didn't celebrate Christmas. In fact, he didn't celebrate any of the family holidays. Abby had tried for years to get him to at least join her for Thanksgiving but he'd flat out refused.
Everyone knew, but then when was the last time Tony did as he was told?
They'd been given the holidays off, and while Gibbs knew Tony wasn't close to his family, he neither expected—nor wanted—to see him here, in his basement. Tony had worked for him for two months while taking courses part-time at FLETC. He'd recruited the younger man straight out of Baltimore after the case they'd worked on together. Gibbs liked the kid a lot. He was smart, quick on his feet, one hell of a sense of humor and had a heart big enough to match.
But none of that was important right now. Gibbs wanted to be left alone to wallow in his own misery. The last thing he needed was for someone to try and cheer him up.
"Well, I went to get Chinese and Mr. Wong at the Wok gave me extras of everything because it's Christmas Eve. There's no way I'd eat all this by myself so I thought I'd bring it over and share with you." Tony held up the big bag of take-out boxes.
Tony was smiling brilliantly when Gibbs turned to look at his new probie, and he felt his resolve for being alone falter ever so slightly.
"Unless you have other things planned." Tony's face fell when Gibbs continued to look at him with a stern glare, giving no signs of a welcome. "That's okay…I'll just, you know, let myself out."
Gibbs sighed when Tony turned, his shoulders slumped. Why did he think he could hold out against Tony? "DiNozzo."
"Yeah, Boss?" Tony looked back over his shoulder, sounding disappointed.
"Plates are on the shelf to the right of the range hood," Gibbs said, his eyes trained on Tony's. He felt something came loose in his chest when the younger man's face morphed back into the infectious, brilliant smile he wouldn't mind seeing more often.
A shift in the air woke Gibbs, a product of years spent in combat. He looked up to find Nurse Emma standing over him.
"Didn't mean to wake you, Agent Gibbs," Emma said apologetically. "I thought I'd bring you a blanket so you won't be cold."
"Not a problem." Gibbs took the blanket from Emma. "Any word?"
"Not yet, I'm afraid." Emma gave him a sympathetic look. "I'll be over at the nurse's station if you need anything."
"Thanks." Gibbs stole a glance at the clock on the wall. Twenty-three-thirty. Tony's been in surgery for the past two hours, and he could feel his heart sink by the minute. Ducky had been called away earlier, leaving Gibbs alone in the waiting room. He must've dozed off, Gibbs thought as the dream came back to him.
It was the first Christmas after he'd hired Tony. He'd just finalized his third divorce then, and the holidays were hitting him particularly hard that year. It was always hard for him during family holidays. Without his girls, he just couldn't muster up the energy to feel festive.
What he hadn't counted on was the way Tony came barging into his life, all cheerful and bright smiles. He couldn't help being infected by the younger man's high spirit. Dinner had led to It's A Wonderful Life with caramel corn and Tony crashing on his couch.
After that, it somehow turned into a new Christmas tradition. Tony would drop by with food, and they'd spend Christmas in each other's company. Tony knew that he'd always had things on his mind, but he never pushed, never asked, never put him on the spot. He'd thought about letting Tony in on the memories of his girls, but it was already too painful to think about them, let alone talk about them.
And then Tony got sick, and Kate died. Their worlds were completely shaken up, leaving everything in pieces. Gibbs couldn't help shuddering at the surge of fear coursing through his body. They'd come too close to losing each other too many times, and yet, they both knew that they'd be much happier doing exactly what they were doing now.
When he came back from Mexico, all of his memories still ajar and messed up, it had been hard for him to readjust back into his life. It still felt like he'd just lost his girls all over again, and even after four months of looking, he still couldn't quite find the closure he was seeking.
Days went by, and before he was aware of it, it was Christmas. They'd been on call, as usual, and he was going to spend it in his basement, alone, waiting for the call.
And then Tony showed up at his doorstep with a bag of food.
"Hi, Boss. Thought I'd swing by and see how you're doing." Tony'd held up the bag and smiled shyly. "I brought your favorite?"
It was at that very moment that everything else came flooding back. All of the memories of Christmas past he'd spent with Tony came rushing in and it almost had him stumbling as he led the younger man to the living room. He remembered all of it—the first time Tony stepped down his basement steps, the first time he'd looked over to Tony working at his desk and let his gaze linger over the man, the first time he admitted to himself that he was head over heels in love with his second in command, as the younger man lay prone on a hospital bed.
He'd waited only long enough for Tony to put the food down before he wrapped the man in his arms, holding on tightly. He would never forget the way Tony held him back just as tightly, head buried onto his shoulder, and whispered, "Merry Christmas, Gibbs."
It wasn't long after that Christmas that they'd gotten together, and they'd celebrated together, properly, every year since. For the last two years, they'd even gone up to Stillwater to celebrate with Jack the few days after Christmas since they'd been on call as well.
He couldn't lose him, not now. Not after all that they'd been through, now that he'd gotten used to the warmth of his lover lying next to him in cold winter nights.
His phone rang, and he picked it up out of reflex. "Gibbs." God he sounded tired.
"Hi Dad." Gibbs' voice softened.
"Everything all right there, Leroy? You sound tired." Jack said, sounding concerned. "I thought I'd call to see how you boys are doing, since you couldn't make it up here."
"Dad…" Gibbs began but paused as he swallowed past the lump in his throat. "I'm at the hospital. Tony… he got shot."
He could hear the distorted gasp over the phone. "Is he all right?"
"I don't know. They're still in there." Gibbs bit his lips, hard.
"I'll come down in the morning."
"Dad, you don't have to. The weather—" Gibbs sighed.
"Leroy, I care about that boy too." Jack interrupted Gibbs' protest. "David's boy is driving down tomorrow with his fiancée to spend time with her parents in Raleigh, I can ask if they'd be willing to give me a lift to DC."
"Dad…" Gibbs was touched. "Okay. Call me when you get in."
"Thanks Dad," Gibbs said quietly before ending the call. He sat there staring at his phone, his mind drifting, until he noticed someone sitting next to him.
"He's got all of us worried. Again."
Gibbs smiled. "Gabriel."
"How are you doing?" Gabriel asked, leaning back in the chair. The immaculate suit he was wearing made a soft sound as he did.
"Scared and freaked out?" Gibbs looked over to the archangel. "Where did your wings go?"
"Well, I thought I'd put them away since I'm technically in a 'high traffic' area, you know? Don't want to draw attention to the fact that I'm an angel." Gabriel grinned.
"Will he be okay?" Gibbs asked, but he almost didn't want to know. He wasn't sure if he could live through losing Tony. Once had been enough.
"He'll be fine." Gabriel smiled, and Gibbs felt like he was going to pass out as he slowly let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Good thing about being a former angel, he's got the Almighty and the entire army pulling for him."
Gibbs buried his face into his hands, using the heel of his hands to rub his tired eyes. "Why? Why did he… God…"
"It's just how he is. Remember when I told you that he came down here for you? He might have no memory of his previous life up there, but his heart never changed. He's dedicated his life to protecting yours, and that's what he'd do." Gabriel clasped his fingers between his thighs, leaning forward. "It's instinct for him. And before you start blaming yourself for it, it's not your fault. It was his decision and his alone."
"So if I'm not around then he wouldn't need to… Ow! What the hell?" Gibbs glared at the angel, who'd just give him the mother of all head slaps.
Gabriel looked at Gibbs, sky blue eyes serious and more piercing than Gibbs' own. "He will find you. Never doubt that he will. And if you were to die or disappear, he wouldn't live long either. He may be a fallen and mortal, but he's still an angel. Angels dedicate their lives to watch over their charges. They'd fade to nothingness eventually if they have no one to look after."
Gibbs' felt his heart jump.
"Angels are ironic creatures. We're stronger than human, but we're more fragile than you would believe. Without faith, we become nothing, but with love?" Gabriel smiled, finally. "We are invincible."
The angel stood up, pulling his suit straight. "I should be going. The big guy sent me down to make sure everything's okay, but I have to go now," he said. "He'll be fine. Take good care of him, hmm?"
Gibbs nodded, standing as well. Before he could react, Gabriel had vanished.
"Typical." Gibbs smiled, shaking his head.
Gibbs didn't have to wait long. Half an hour after Gabriel left, the doctors finally came out, and told him that everything was fine. They'd managed to repair all of the damages, and Tony would be transferred to the ICU for observations.
"Can I go see him?" was Gibbs' only question.
"Well, normally, only families are allowed, but under the circumstances…" the middle-aged doctor sighed, then smiled. "Sure, why not. I'll send Emma to come fetch you when Agent DiNozzo's all settled."
"Thank you, Doctor."
"Tony!" Gibbs woke from his doze as soon as he heard the hoarse voice calling his name. "Hey, you."
"Wha—" Tony began coughing from the dryness in his throat before he could finish. He sucked on the straw hungrily when Gibbs held it to his lips. "What happened?" he asked with a groan as his movements pulled on the wound on his back.
"Hey, careful. Don't move." Gibbs held Tony by his shoulder to stop him from moving. They'd propped Tony up so he was sleeping on his side. "You were shot, remember?"
"Oh yeah…" Tony smiled weakly, but he sounded more awake than just a minute ago. "Ugh…I think the painkillers are wearing off too."
"Let me find the nurse." Gibbs got up from the chair he'd been sitting in, stretching a bit to loosen the knots in his shoulders. He glanced at the clock. Just after oh-five-hundred. He bent down, brushing away strands of loose hair on Tony's face before giving him a kiss on the temple.
The doctor and nurses came in to do their plethora of tests and checks as soon as they knew Tony was awake. After nearly an hour of bustling, the doctor was finally satisfied with Tony and left them alone.
Gibbs sighed, as he sat back down on his chair. He reached out to stroke Tony's cheek. "You gotta stop scaring me like this."
"I'm sorry." Tony gave him a sheepish smile. "I reacted on instinct. Guy was gonna shoot…"
"I was so scared. So scared that I'd lose you. So scared that this time we wouldn't be so lucky," Gibbs said, his icy blue holding his lover's green and his voice trembling ever so slightly. "Thank God you're okay."
"Is the girl okay?" Tony asked, with a yawn. Even though he'd just woken up, he felt tired like he'd been up all night. The painkiller they gave him didn't help either. If he had to guess, they'd given him something with sedatives in it.
"Yeah, she is. Everyone else is okay. Ziva got Koss right between the eyes." Gibbs patted Tony's cheek. "Get some rest. I'll be here."
"Guess we're gonna miss Christmas. That sucks. I was hoping to make everyone come watch Miracle on 34th Street in MTAC today," Tony mumbled, his eyes already fluttering close.
All the miracle I need is right here, Gibbs thought to himself. "If you're good, I'll reschedule it for after you get out of here at your place."
"Deal," Tony answered with a smile. "Merry Christmas, Gibbs," he paused, "love you."
"Merry Christmas to you too, Tony." Gibbs leaned in to give him a quick peck on the lips. "Love you too," he whispered into Tony's ear, watching his lover fall back to sleep.