Chapter 83. The Difference A Year Makes
Some things have stayed the same. Andes mint chip cookies and jambalaya, check. Though this year they decided to make something together, something to start their own traditions with.
And while it’s true that McGee loves sugar, he’s been doing a very good job of staying away from it, so they decided something to munch on that’s vaguely good for them might be a plan. He’d gotten down to 190 and was thinking 185 to 180 was probably where he wanted to be. So, one plate of cookies was enough, time for something healthy to go with it.
So this year, next to the plate of cookies and the casserole dish of jambalaya was a bowl of roasted root veggies with curry spices. It was tasty, took almost no skill to make, and meant that for once Gibbs didn’t make every single vegetable dish. (Not to disparage Gibbs’ cooking skills, but while the man is handy with a fire and a steak, or an oven and turkey, he has a tendency to cook veggies well-done.)
And like last year the house was bursting at the seams with happy people. Even more this year than last, Vance and his kids, and Gibbs’ “friend” Susan have joined the party. As Tim learned, if you referred to Susan as anything other than a “friend” you get the Gibbs stare of death, and depending on what other than friend you referred to her as, a headslap, too.
She’s the sort of “friend” who makes Gibbs smile. (When he thinks no one is looking.)
And once again, DiNozzo Sr. has decked the place out with every sprig of mistletoe in the greater DC area.
This year, as Tim’s leaned against the door jam between the foyer and living room, and Abby walked by, and his hand snaked out to grab hers, the kiss was soft and wet and open. He enjoyed not having to pretend it’s just friendly.
And this year, he wasn’t the only one to steal a kiss (or five) under the mistletoe. Tony and Ziva certainly took advantage of the license offered by the dangling evergreen. And so did Gibbs. When Susan was standing next to the mantle, talking with LJ and Jackson about something, under a sprig of mistletoe, he handed her a cup of eggnog and leaned in and kissed her full on the lips, soft and sweet. Much to the joy of both his father and father’s best friend.
And, of course, this year Fornell is glaring at Tim, again, but, and this was nowhere on the list of things he’d ever thought could piss the man off, it’s because he and Abby are engaged.
Well, sort of, it’s not the engagement so much as Emily reacting to Tim and Abby.
Tim was sitting on the sofa, Abby between his legs, leaning against his chest, (It’s not so much about being physically affectionate, because that was a bit more snuggly than they usually are with outsiders present, as it was the lack of seats and by sharing a space they both get to sit, without hogging too much of the sofa.) talking wedding plans with Emily, Kayla, and Amira. And between the ring, and the idea of a costume wedding, all three of them were staring at him like he’s pretty awesome.
He noticed a somewhat similar look of wary fear on Vance’s face, too, though he isn’t outright glaring at Tim. And if Mike Franks was still around, he’d probably be offering a similar look on Amira’s behalf.
See, the thing about being the father of a young teenage girl, is that, when said young teenage girls are at a party hanging out with an engaged woman and her fiancée talking about weddings, is that it gives teenage girls ideas.
The sorts of ideas that their fathers really wish they weren’t having.
And it only gets worse when Jimmy and Breena head over, and start talking weddings and babies. And if there’s anyone in this house doting over his significant other more than Tim was doting on Abby, it’s Jimmy with Breena.
So, it’s not anything specific to Tim or Palmer. Tony’d be getting that same why the hell would you do this to me glare from Fornell if Ziva was pregnant or talking wedding plans.
But she wasn’t. And Abby and Breena were.
And Emily was a pretty hardcore steampunk fan, so she’s really, really into the whole wedding planning idea and hanging on Abby’s every word, and they were sketching out a costume for Fornell, talking about him as an aeronaut, with Breena sitting right nearby adding extra help with the detailing. Finally as they were getting his hat and gloves designed, Fornell decided it was time to put a stop to this, because glaring at McGee, who just kept grinning at him, was not having the desired effect, so he headed over and said, “I’m sure Abby and McGee—“
Which is as far as he got in that sentence before Abby looked up at him, grinning and said, “Would be completely thrilled to have someone so into steampunk at our wedding. You’re on the invite list anyway, so bringing along Emily isn’t a problem.”
Fornell looked really puzzled. Gibbs mentioned something about it being a family only wedding, so he did not in any way expect to be attending this thing.
“I’m on the invite list?”
“Sure, Tobias. You and Emily, and maybe that boyfriend of hers—“ Emily blushed scarlet and shoved Abby gently. “—who apparently I’m not supposed to mention. And any date you might want to bring, too. You’ll come, right? You’re not going to leave Gibbs all on his own, are you?”
And faced with Abby and Emily, both beaming at him with intense come to the wedding vibes, Fornell found himself nodding.
Twenty minutes later, he pulled Gibbs to the side and said, “What the hell is steampunk, and why do I have to get dressed up for it?”
Gibbs shrugged. “Some sort of old west-fantasy thing. And you have to get dressed up because I have to get dressed up, and we’re both doing it because girls we love want us to.”
“I should have shot that little punk last year.”
Gibbs just looked at Fornell. That’s my son-in-law comes through loud and clear.
“Fine. This better not be stupid.”
The looked morphed to Of course it’ll be stupid, but we’ll do it anyway because we love them.
Fornell shook his head.
Gibbs looked over, Breena and Jimmy, Abby and Tim, Amira, Kayla, and Emily all sitting on the sofa or coffee table, talking. “They’re talking babies now.”
“Oh God. I’m telling you Jethro, this is going to kill me.”
“I hear it only gets worse from here.”
“Thank you so very much.”
“Go glare at Palmer, might make you feel better.”
“I suppose I could use this as an object lesson on how it’s supposed to be done: school, job, married, then kids.”
“Might work for that. They’re good men, Tobias. Probably not a bad idea to have her see how good men treat women they love, let alone what a functional marriage looks like.”
Good points. She doesn’t get to see that his home, or, since the reason he’s got her two Christmasses in a row is the impending divorce of Diane and Sterling, her mom’s house, either. “I know. It was just easier when she was into Raspberry Rumtart, My Little Ponies, and kittens.”
Gibbs smiled a little, and Fornell realized how much his friend would have liked to have gotten to the boyfriends and fashion part of this. Tobias squeezed Gibbs shoulder quickly, and said, “They’ve already got a costume sketched out for me for this thing.”
“At least it’s Steampunk. The first idea Abby and Palmer—“
|The bride and her man of honor.|
“He’s her... man of honor.”
Fornell sighed. Even with a pregnant wife on his lap, the look on his face was sincerely questioning Jimmy’s heterosexuality.
Gibbs nodded. His look answered with a sort of wistfulness for when men knew how to act like men. It’s not that he doesn’t think Jimmy’s straight (or cares one way or the other). After Lee, everyone at NCIS knows that about Jimmy, it’s just… Somehow Jimmy got to be thirty-six without anyone ever mentioning to him that there were certain things men don’t do, and being the maid of honor is one of those things. But Jimmy didn’t get that memo, and he and Abby are having a blast with wedding planning, so it’s Gibbs’ job not to roll his eyes too much.
“Their first idea was renfaire.”
“What’s that?” Fornell asked.
“The sort of thing we’d have to wear tights for.”
They stayed late to help Gibbs tidy up. Well, that was the official reason anyway. Both Abby and Tim were curious to get to know Susan better, and sticking around after the rest of the crowd left gave them a shot to do so.
They’re in the kitchen. Gibbs loading his dishwasher. Tim’s got drying duty. Susan’s washing up, and Abby, who really knows her way around Gibbs kitchen, is putting the dried pots and pans away.
Tim’s not really talking, just watching. Gibbs at home with a girlfriend is worth watching. Gibbs gets finished with the dishwasher, closes it up, takes two steps to the left, and gently strokes the back of his fingers down Susan’s neck, and smiles at her.
She smiles back, handing Tim another pot, turning her face into a waiting kiss.
As Tim rubs the towel over the sauce pot, he realizes one more change between this year and the last. Last year, this wouldn’t have happened. Well, maybe in front of Abby, this could have happened, but not in front of him.
Last year, he was somewhere in that liminal stage between friend/family/underling. And both he and Gibbs felt those walls, knew where they were, and made sure they stayed in place.
This year, watching the almost goofy smile on Gibbs’s face as Susan teases him a little, he knows those walls are gone. He’s home, with his wife, and the dad he’s always wanted, at ease, and happy.
He hugs Susan as they head out, which felt pretty natural. And he hugged Gibbs too, who looked a little surprised at it, but seemed to get what he meant by it, giving him a little squeeze before they headed into the cold to go to their own home.
And tomorrow there’ll be work, and Gibbs’ll be the boss and they’ll catch bad guys, and those walls will be back, because when they’re working they’re useful. But this space outside of NCIS is real now, and forever, and it feels awfully good.