The Almost Christmas Story



You want me to what?” Tony DiNozzo angled a glance up at Tim McGee and shook his head firmly. “Sorry, Probie, I don’t do the camping thing anymore. Got enough of that when my dad decided he wanted to be like all the other dads in our neighborhood and spend time with his kid. Trouble was, dear old dad never realized that going camping actually meant spending time together not just dumping your kid in the woods with all the best camping equipment money could buy and then going to spend the weekend at the nearest luxury hotel with my next prospective stepmom.”

He really did that?” Tim looked like he wasn’t sure if Tony was joking or not and Tony couldn’t really blame him for that. He had yanked the kid’s chain once or twice a time too many maybe. This time, however… He just nodded and gave a shrug the way he always did when talking about his past. It was over after all. No point still being upset about it. At the time though he’d been a scared twelve year old on his own and he’d spent the entire weekend awake, too frightened to even move away from his tent to go exploring, so no camping, no way no how.

I’m not your probie anymore and it’s not really camping, Tony,” Tim said, perching on the corner of his desk. “There’s a cabin and a lake. It’ll be frozen this time of year. We could go skating and tobogganing…” Tim’s eyes took on a faraway dreamy look and Tony guessed that Tim’s childhood memories were maybe at least a little happier than his own. “Besides,” Tim said, standing up, “we had a bet and you lost. You said I got to choose the penalty and this is what I’ve chosen. Come on,” his tone turned wheedling, “”it’s three days. It’ll be fun.”

Tony groaned. “It was a sucker bet—”

Then you shouldn’t have taken it, DiNozzo,” said a voice from behind him and Tony turned and frowned at his boss.

Go on,” Gibbs said, giving a hint of smile. “Go with Tim. You might actually enjoy yourself.” Gibbs gave him an assessing look. “You could use the break. It’s been a tough year for all of us. Christmas is only a week away and I can't remember the last time we actually didn't have to work a case over Christmas. You need to learn to take a break whenever the opportunity presents itself.” Gibbs stared him down. “Do I need to make it an order?”

I don’t think you can order me to go on vacation, Boss,” Tony said but he sighed and nodded. “Okay, I’ll go.”

Yes!” McGee pumped one arm in the air and grinned like a loon.

Settle down, McWhoopee, people will think you’re just trying to get me alone so you can have your wicked way with me,” Tony said dryly, grinning as Tim’s cheeks flushed a satisfying red.

Go on, get out of here,” Gibbs ordered as he got ready to leave as well. “Time’s a-wasting. You want to get on the road early tomorrow in case that storm front comes through.”

Yeah, that’s another thing,” Tony groused as he and Tim entered the elevator and he leaned forward to hit the button for the ground floor. “Who the hell goes camping in winter?”

Tim sighed. “We do, Tony, and I told you where not actually camping out. We’ll be in a cabin and there’s a lake and-“
“We can go skating and stuff. Yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time, Pollyanna,” Tony said. “I’ll pick you up at six,” he said as they exited the elevator.

Tim shook his head. “Better if I pick you up. My 4 wheel drive’s been fitted with snow tires and I know where to go. We’ll make better time.”

Yeah, okay.” Tony shrugged. “At least I can catch up on some sleep on the way there.”

~oOo~

You’re kidding me? This is the wonderful cabin you were raving about? You did notice there’s no lakeside resort and that this is apparently the only cabin within miles, didn’t you?” Tony didn’t bother to hide his impatience as he looked around what would be his home for the next few days. The carpet was threadbare at best, the walls painted a nauseating pale green. The windows looked as if they’d rarely seen a bottle of glass cleaner and the living room contained the sum total of a well-worn sofa, a coffee table and a small portable TV. There was at least a DVD player attached to the TV, Tony noted with some small sense of a ‘thank goodness for small mercies’ kind of feeling. He stuck his head into the miniscule kitchen, noted the somewhat grimy oven and cooktop and the patchy linoleum floor then turned back to McGee. “You’d never actually seen this place before you booked it, had you?” he said accusingly.

Well, no, not really,” Tim replied. He walked over to where Tony was standing, peered into the kitchen as well then accepted the headslap Tony gave him with seeming equanimity. “I’m sorry. The guy I rented it from is my cousin, Jeff. He told me it was a great place.”

Of course he did.” Tony snorted then shook his head. “Well, I hope you didn’t pay him too much, McGullible.”

Actually he wouldn’t let me pay anything,” Tim said. “He said seeing we were family…”

Well, at least that’s something.” Tony sighed then walked over to the front door and peered out at the lowering clouds. “Too late to head back now. Guess we’ll just have to make the best of it till the morning. You go get some wood for the fireplace. I’ll grab the rest of my stuff from the car. And McGee, please tell me you brought comfort food because I think I’m gonna need a lot of comfort to get through tonight.”
“Yep.” Tim gave a grin that suggested Tony would be happy with him for a change. “Soup, crackers, bread, cheese, you name it. Even picked up some beer, you know, just in case the bar in the resort wasn’t open…” His voice trailed off dejectedly and Tony had a moment of sympathy for him.

Sounds good, Tim. How about you get the fire going and start cooking dinner while I get the entertainment set up? You’ll be glad to know that for your movie edification I have brought with me not only ‘Six days of the Condor’ but also ‘The Great Escape’. Ah, McQueen and Garner together.” Tony smiled beatifically to himself as he headed back out to the car. “This might not be such a bad way to spend a night after all, McGee.”
~oOo~

It actually hadn’t been too bad at all, Tony decided the next morning, rolling over on the lumpy mattress in the so-called guest bedroom and looking out at what he could see of the snow-topped scenery outside the grimy window. Tim had proven to be a surprisingly good cook given what he had to work with and they’d had a great meal of soup and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches then settled in with beers, popcorn, and movies.

They’d talked a lot too and Tony had been surprised to discover that Tim’s childhood memories weren’t much happier than Tony’s own. In fact, Tim’s dad sounded just as distant and wound up in his career as Anthony DiNozzo Senior was. The only thing that had made it bearable Tim had confided was that he at least had a sister to keep him company. He’d given Tony an endearingly sympathetic look as he said it and Tony found himself wanting to pull him in for a hug. He hadn’t, of course. Just agreed that it probably helped having someone to share the misery with then turned back to watch the movie and pretended not to notice when Tim moved fractionally closer to him on the sofa so their shoulders were touching. Tony almost grinned when they reached into the popcorn bowl at the same time and he found himself holding Tim’s hand instead of the expected popcorn but a quick sideways glance at Tim’s furiously blushing face made him change his mind and instead he just pulled his hand out, dumped a heap of popcorn onto Tim’s lap then turned back to the movie as Tim spluttered indignantly about the butter all over his jeans.

Tony sat up on the edge of the bed and pulled on his jeans and tshirt. He was a little lost about it all himself. He’d known for most of his life that he was bisexual and he’d had as many male lovers as female. He’d wondered ever since he started working at NCIS if maybe he and Gibbs might end up together. But over time he realized that Gibbs was straight as they come (and had the marriages and girlfriends to prove it) and over the past year or so, he and Tony had settled into a relationship that was more mentorship than relationship and Tony had let that boat sail without too many regrets.

Tim though was a different kettle of fish entirely. He and Tony had started out with a somewhat antagonistic sibling rivalry type relationship that had morphed quite suddenly into one of real friendship in private and partnership at work, especially during the time Ziva had been away in Africa. Tony found he actually liked Tim’s company, sought it out in fact out of work hours and had been known to get into an actual sulk over on the occasions Tim had stood him up or been too busy to spend time with him. That had made Tony take a long hard look at what their relationship had become and so now here they were – Tony finally wanting nothing more than to take things a step or three further and Tim as oblivious apparently to Tony’s feelings as ever.

The smell of coffee tantalized him into throwing on the rest of his clothes and then he hurried out to the small kitchen and gratefully snatched up the cup of coffee Tim held out to him. “I could kiss you, McGee,” he said, noting with more than a little satisfaction the sudden twinge of pink that colored Tim’s cheeks at his words. So maybe Tim wasn’t as oblivious as Tony thought. He sat down at the table and warmed his hands around the cup, taking small cautious sips of the hot brew. “So what time should we head back?” he asked, surprised to feel a twinge of disappointment at the thought.

Yeah, about that.” Tim grimaced. “Um, we’re kind of stuck at the moment. Snow’s really deep and someone left the interior light in the car on overnight,” he cast an accusing glare at Tony, “and now the battery’s flat and the car won’t start. I called roadside service but they won’t come out till the snow eases up unless we’re actually like stranded in the wilderness.” He looked around at their meager accommodations and shrugged. “Which we’re technically not.”

Tony knew he should act disappointed at the prospect of being stuck even longer with Tim and he did his best impression of a grimace. Obviously he wasn't as good an actor as he'd always thought he was because Tim frowned suspiciously at him and said, “You don't seem as disappointed as I thought you'd be.”

No? I don't?” Tony shrugged nonchalantly and sipped at his coffee while he tried to think of a believable reply. “Look,” he said finally as he finished his drink and stood up to take the mug over to the sink, “I just figure if we're stuck here, we're stuck here. Nothing we can do about it. I've always been kind of a glass half full kind of guy. You know, make the best of a situation and all that.”

You have?” Tim asked. He stepped closer and reached out a hand to Tony's forehead. “You sure you're not coming down with something?”

And that's when Tony decided to hell with it and threw caution to the wind and then watched as his world went to hell in a handbasket. “Yeah,” he said, “I am if it means I get to stay here longer with you.” He grabbed Tim's outstretched hand and pulled him closer then before Tim could move away Tony leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips then stepped back and waited for Tim's response.

That response wasn't what Tony had expected or wanted. Tim's hand went up to brush across his lips and his cheeks flushed bright red then he turned on his heel and took off out of the cabin at a run, leaving Tony standing flat-footed with shock behind him. “Hey,” Tony yelled after him as the screen door banged shut behind Tim's running figure, “I'm not that bad a kisser, am I?”

Silence.

Tony slumped down into the chair at the table and buried his head in his hands. “What the fuck did I do that for?” he mumbled.

He waited for 30 minutes before he started to get worried. Well, okay, he admitted as he put on his jacket and gloves and boots, he'd started to worry after ten minutes but he'd figured he'd let Tim walk off his anger. He'd really thought that's all it would take. Tim would go for a walk and cool off in the way too chilly air, come back, and Tony would either a) apologize for kissing him or b) pretend nothing had happened and hope Tim would too. He hadn't yet decided which path to take but b) was looking best simply because Tony wasn't really the slightest bit sorry for kissing him, even though Tim apparently was sorry he had.

This stuff does my head in, McGeek,” he muttered under his breath as he set off in search of his absent friend. “I mean, you told me you'd broken up with Delilah for good because she found someone over there. I know you're bi because Dorney told me you told him you are—– ″

A sound off to his left had him biting off his words and stopping to listen. He turned slowly in that direction, focusing past the wailing wind. He squinted against the falling snow and then broke into a run as his eyes finally made sense of what they were seeing – McGee, chest deep in the middle of the lake, waving his arms and yelling.

Oh for crying out loud, McGoo!” Tony yelled as he reached the edge of the lake. “How the hell did you end up in there?” He stepped forward onto the ice but a shout from Tim made him stop.

W-w-wait!” Tim yelled, his voice shaking. “Thin ice. You need to go back to the cabin and get the ladder from the shed. Lay it down and then I can use that to haul myself out. My legs are numb from the cold already.”

Okay, okay. Just stay on your feet,” Tony called back, turning to go.

No, no, w-wait! Take the puppy with you. Put it in the cabin before it freezes to death.”

Tony looked to his right where Tim was pointing and made out a small bedraggled bundle at the very edge of the ice. He ran to it and picked it up. It was a puppy, all right. A small, skinny, wet, very cold and miserable puppy.

I managed to scoot it across the ice after I fell in,” Tim called out.

You fell in rescuing a puppy?” Tony asked.

Well, falling in wasn't part of the plan. Just get it somewhere warm please. I'd hate to think I went through all this and it died anyway.”

Fine. Wait here.” Tony managed a small grin at that. “Yeah, I know. Not like you're going anywhere. I'll be back.” He turned and ran back to the cabin, the puppy whimpering in time with the jolting of his steps.

He opened the door just wide enough to allow him to put the puppy inside then closed the door behind him and headed for the little lean to shed next to the cabin. Tim probably would have wanted him to make sure the puppy was warm enough but Tony's mind was engaged with getting back to Tim as quickly as possible. Once he had Tim out of the icy lake and safely in his arms then they could worry about the puppy. “The things I do for love,” he muttered to himself as he hauled the ladder out of the shed and then headed back to the lake with it as fast as he could.

How you doing?” he called to Tim, who seemed to shivering less than he had been before. That worried Tony more than if he'd been shaking the ice with his trembling from the cold. He knew it meant that Tim was quickly heading into hypothermia and that he'd exhausted enough of his energy reserves that his body could no longer even shiver in an attempt to keep his body temperature up.

O-o-kay,”Tim said, his voice a barely audible husky whisper now. He sounded exhausted and Tony wasted no time putting the ladder down and then sliding it gently across the ice to where Tim was. “Is the puppy okay?” Tim asked as he reached out to grasp the ladder.

The dog's fine,” Tony said shortly. “Probably peeing to its heart's content all over my clothes by now. Can you please forget about the dog for now and get yourself onto the ladder?”

O-o-kay, k-keep your shirt on,” Tim said but Tony was pleased to see he'd managed to inch his way almost half out of the water already. He watched with bated breath as Tim got himself completely out and settled on the ladder, praying the ice wouldn't crack under the extra weight.

It'll be f-fine,” Tim said shakily, as if reading his mind. “When I'm laying down along the ladder like this it means there's more total surface area and therefore less stress on the ice at any p-particular point.”

'Can the lecture, McEinstein,” Tony snapped back but he was relieved to observe that Tim was right and no cracks appeared in the ice under the ladder. Making sure Tim was settled he grasped the bottom railing and slowly and carefully inched Tim close enough to reach out and grab him. They ended up with Tony flat on his back, with an obviously exhausted, very wet and very cold Tim on top of him.

Eww!” Tony said, rolling Tim off to one side so he could sit up and then stand up and haul Tim to his feet. “You're wet.”

D'oh!” Tim said as he wrapped a trembling arm around Tony's waist for support. He turned his head and planted a cold and wet kiss on Tony's surprised but not unwelcoming mouth. “Thanks,” he said.

You're welcome,” Tony said, turning them both around and making for the warmth of the cabin as fast as possible.

Thirty minutes later they were in dry clothes and much warmer, thanks to the fire Tony had managed to start in the antiquated fireplace.

Once it was going to his satisfaction, Tony made a nest of blankets on the floor in front of it, pushed Tim down onto them and put the puppy in his arms so they could both thaw out completely. Then he brought over some cereal soaked in warm milk for the dog and cups of coffee for himself and Tim and sat down next to them.

So,” he asked, “why did you run out when I kissed you? I'm guessing you didn't mind too much seeing you kissed me after I got you out of the ice...” He let the question tail off and found himself holding his breath as he waited for Tim's reply. Had Tim simply been overcome with gratitude for Tony rescuing him? Or had he been simply playing tit for tat, messing with Tony's feelings and thinking if Tony wanted to kiss him then he'd pay him back with a prank kiss of his own.

I thought you were just messing with me,” Tim said, as he put the puppy down and watched it lap at the bowl of milk and cereal. "Dornie told me he'd asked you on a date and you'd said no and he thought it was because you were straight so I figured you wouldn't have any interest in me...”

I kissed you because Dornie told me you looked jealous when he told you he was going to ask me out,” Tony said with a smile. “I said no to Dornie because the only guy I'm interested in dating is you.”

Really?” Tim turned to look into Tony's eyes.

Tony leaned and kissed him hard then pulled back and smiled. “What do you think? You're the genius here. Did that feel like I was messing with you?”

No. Well, I don't think so.” Tim grinned broadly then lay down on the floor, grabbing Tony's arms and taking him down with him. “I'm not totally convinced yet. Maybe you should do it again to make sure.”

You're probably right,” Tony said as he bent forward to capture Tim's lips again. “We should definitely make sure.”

Tim held him back. “What about Gibbs' rule about not dating a coworker?”

Tony shrugged and leaned forward, hovering an inch above Tim's lips. “We'll burn that bridge when we get to it,” he said, swooping down and silencing Tim's mouth with his own.

The End!!