Chapter 21: Christmas
"This is it?" Abby asked, eyes wide.
"That's it." Tim nodded.
Abby stood in front of her Christmas tree, a tall, wide spruce, boxes of ornaments next to it, starting at the one lone ornament in Tim's hand.
"You have one Christmas tree ornament?" She took it out of his hands and looked at it. It was an abstract spire of red and clear glass, with the price tag still on it. "And it's from this year."
"Yes. Got it on the way over."
"And we will. They'll just mostly be yours. This is the first year I've ever bought one."
Abby seemed puzzled by this. Of course, previous to this year what Tim might or might not have been doing for Christmas was pretty much entirely private. Sure there was It's A Wonderful Life and dinner at Gibbs' place, but beyond that, she'd never asked and he's never told.
"Don't you celebrate Christmas at all?"
Tim nodded. "I send out emails and presents. A Wonderful Life at MTAC. Open the presents I get Christmas morning. Call my mom, sister, and Penny around lunch. Christmas dinner at Gibbs'. But, no, I don't decorate or anything."
"No stockings by the hearth?"
"No childhood ornaments?"
"I think my mom still has them."
Abby sighed. "I was kind of thinking the idea was decorate the tree, talk about Christmas memories, sharing stories that go with each ornament."
"I'll listen to your stories."
"None of your own?"
He shrugged. "How many variations of my dad was on a ship somewhere, and Santa never brought him home do you want to hear?"
"That was my childhood. Or how about during my teen years when he was home and we'd end up fighting because I wasn't turning into the perfect little sailor I was supposed to be? Or the massive, flaming, screaming argument the Christmas I turned down Annapolis and sent in my acceptance to Johns Hopkins?"
She stood behind him, wrapping her arms around him, and resting her head against his back. "I'm sorry."
She was still holding his ornament in the one hand, so he twined his fingers with the fingers of her free hand. "That's long past. But, no, I don't have any Christmas ornaments, and I don't have a lot of happy, warm, fuzzy Christmas memories."
She held him a little tighter.
He squeezed her hand. "So tell me about your Christmasses. You and Luca and stockings by the chimney with care."
Abby pulled back from him, ornament in hand, and laid it carefully on the table by the tree. "We'd always start with the lights. That's how Christmas began, the first Sunday of Advent, finding the box full of lights..." And while they wrapped the lights around the tree, Abby told him about midnight mass, Reveillion Dinner, Papa Noël, bonfires on the levees, and opening presents with her brother on Christmas morning while her parents sipped coffee with chicory.
Each ornament had a story. Tales of aunts, uncles, grand and great grandparents, many of which Abby had never personally met, made blown glass orbs come to life.
She talked about the family she no longer had, and here and there Tim remembered some of his own better memories and started to tell her about them: laying under the tree, looking up at the lights, eating candy canes with Sarah. The Christmas he was sixteen his dad was once again on a float, so their mom took them to the mountains, because they were stationed out of San Fran, and there's no snow in San Fran, so they were up in Northern California, in a cabin, watching the snow fall and drinking cocoa.
The tree looked pretty done to Tim, but his ornament was still lying on the table.
Abby looked it over, critically eyeing their work. "The last one is yours. Where does it go?"
One of the higher up branches appeared fairly empty, and it was near the ornament that had been Abby's favorite as a child, so he reached up and hung his there.
"It's like a family tree of memories. Not names or dates so much, but ideas, and bits of histories, and traditions." She says while wrapping an arm around him. He gazed down at her, brushing his palm against her cheek. "You belong on my tree, McGee."
She reached up to kiss him. "You don't have to thank people when you come home to them. Home's where you belong. And you belong here."
"Yeah, I do."
Midnight Mass isn't precisely something Tim's eagerly anticipating. Not the least because Tony was late with It's A Wonderful Life, so it's already 11:30, which means driving straight to St. Sebastian's on his own, instead of heading over to Abby's, hanging out for a bit, and then going together.
But Midnight Mass is part of what makes Christmas for Abby, so he's driving across DC, hoping that the place isn't so packed that he can't find parking.
The last time he went to church for anything that wasn't a wedding or funeral was six years ago, when Ziva was asking about how Christmas was celebrated, and they were telling her, and she asked, "Is there not some sort of worship service?" A quick survey of DiNozzo, Sciuto, and McGee rapidly found that yes, church was often involved, and given this particular group, that church would be Catholic.
So, that year, Abby, the only one of the group with a church she regularly attended, took them all to Mass, and they talked Ziva through the Christmas service. They ended up finding out that there are pretty large differences between Tim's Irish Catholic background versus Tony's New York Italian Catholic, and Abby's New Orleans Creole Catholic.
The one thing they all agreed on was large quantities of food would be involved as well as some sort of evergreen and lights.
He pulls his car into a spot, luckily not too far from the church, and heads for the door. He's feeling horribly underdressed. Mass with the Admiral always meant wearing a suit, but Abby's promised him that he's fine in jeans, a jacket, and a nice button down.
"Sister Rosita says God doesn't care about what you're wearing," she had said, "just as long as you come."
He sees Abby waiting by the door for him. She takes his hand, and begins to lead him in. She's heading toward a front aisle seat, and while he's got nothing against the front, he knows communion is going to be an issue if he's sitting near the aisle. So he steers them toward the far edge, where an entire pew full of people won't have to step over him to get to the Host.
They sit. "Why are we over here?"
"I don't take Communion, and this way no one has to trip over me to get to it."
She nods. He's guessing she's about to ask why he doesn't take communion, but the lights go down, the Priest comes forward, and suddenly they're in a softly glowing candle-lit chapel, filled with beautiful music.
It's true that Tim doesn't have a lot of use for church. He thinks that might even be true if weekly attendance hadn't been a sticking point for the Admiral. Hard science degrees at John Hopkins and MIT weren't exactly kind to religious faith, and his own need for logic and rules to explain what happens and how don't particularly mesh well with mysteries and taking things on faith. But he's also old enough and has seen enough to believe that grace, whether human or divine, does indeed exist. So, these days, he considers himself a confirmed agnostic.
And sitting next to Abby, singing the hymns, kneeling when kneeling is called for, in a room decked with sweet, cold smelling pine, lit by candles, and filled by people celebrating love and family, he certainly understands the beauty of this, and the desire for it.
After, Abby introduces him to her pet nuns. An immensely serene woman, Sister Rosita, clasps his hands, smiling, and says, "You're Abby's McGee! We've heard so much about you over the years. I hope we'll be seeing you again."
And while it's true this isn't something he would do on his own, he's feeling very sure this is something he will be doing again, so he says, "Yes, I think you will."
She left the Christmas tree lights on. So as they settle into bed, her room is lit by the glow of hundreds of tiny yellow-white lights.
He's on his side, spooned up against her, snug under warm blankets, feeling extremely content and peaceful. His right arm is under her neck, the left draped around her waist, hand clasped with hers, curled under her chin.
Abby kisses the tip of his index finger and asks, "So, why don't you take communion?"
He thinks about how to put that into words. Better yet, words that sound like something more intelligent than 'I don't want to be my father.' He kisses her shoulder, buying himself a few more seconds.
"Symbols should matter. If you're going to get up there and partake, it should be important. Maybe you don't have to literally believe that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ, but the idea behind that should matter to you. It should be important to who you are and how you understand the world. It shouldn't just be an exercise in going through approved motions to look like everyone else in the herd."
"And those symbols don't matter to you."
"No. Not for a long time, if ever."
"Then why go at all?"
"They matter to you. And going with you is another symbol, one I do believe in, that I'll be there for the things that are important for you."
He can't see her face, but he can feel her smile at that. She kisses his fingertips again.
"What symbols do matter to you?"
"Words... They're the tool we use to try and expand the universe we know and see. How we share it with each other."
She squeezes his hand. "They're good symbols, McGee."
He's dreaming of sixty-nining with Abby. It's lazy and slow, and so so good. It's the kind of sex he can only have in dreams, the sort where he's completely focused on how good it feels, but still able to pay enough attention to what he's doing to keep her happy too.
He loves sixty-nine, but in real life it's an either or sort of thing. He can either pay enough attention to what he's doing to get her off, and miss a lot of what she's doing to him, or he can lay back and just enjoy it, which results in some less than coordinated tongue work on his part.
But in the dream, he's more or less swimming in sex. Her body is all around him, wet, fragrant, and beautiful. He can taste, see, feel, smell and hear sex. And it's perfect.
Sliding out of the dream takes a while. Probably because at least half of what he was dreaming about was happening, so he was having a hard time sorting out what was real and what was imaginary.
But eventually he figured out he was in bed, Abby sucking away on him, doing wonderfully erotic things with her tongue. He sighed and said, "Best possible way to wake up."
She let go of him, running her tongue up his dick in one long sweep, and said, "Merry Christmas," with a wide grin.
"Merry Christmas. Is this my present?"
"One of them."
"I like the way you do Christmas presents." She licked him again. "Flip around?"
She sits up so she's kneeling between his legs, shimmies out of the mistletoe bedecked boxer shorts she had slept in, keeping on the dark blue flannel pajama top she'd stolen from him, and flipped around to straddle his shoulders.
He sighs again when his lips make contact with her pussy. Regular sex happens kind of far away from the parts of him that he experiences most of the world through. Oral sex means that all of his sense organs are up close and involved in making love. Add in her going down on him at the same time, and it's full body, full brain, sex.
And it's also clear that this is going to be done a whole lot sooner for him than it is for her. She likes going down on him, enjoys it, but it doesn't turn her on the same way going down on her turns him on. She's just getting warmed up by the time she's got him on the edge of getting off.
So he relaxes back into it, letting it flow over him, licking and sucking because he enjoys it. Because the taste of her on his tongue, the sight of her pussy against him, and the smell drive him wild.
A few minutes later, when he's breathing normally again, he starts to work on her in earnest. This time focusing on her isn't an issue, so he knows exactly where his tongue goes and how fast it should be going when it gets there. He adds his fingers to the mix, because stretch, slide, and pressure are always a good thing, too.
And when she's crying out on top of him, high-pitched breathy sounds of pleasure, he's thinking this is definitely the best Christmas morning of his life.
Abby's stirring the roux while he chops onions and talks to his mom on the phone. She just about shrieked with joy at the idea that he's spending Christmas with his girlfriend, cooking at her house, getting ready for the yearly dinner at Gibbs'. Likewise his sister and Penny took the news well. Sarah seemed especially amused by this, probably because she heard about Abby the first time they were dating, and has paid more than enough attention to Tim to notice that he's been sweet on Abby for years.
A bit later, while the aromatics brown, she calls Luca and tells him about Tim, which wasn't much of a big deal, and Kyle, which involved about a two hour long conversation. Among other things, she's going to be sending Luca a few swabs and some sterile packaging, so she can find out if the three of them are biological siblings, or just her and Kyle.
Meanwhile he's rolling little balls of cookie dough, getting them ready to bake for that night.
Tim doesn't remember exactly when the first Christmas Dinner at Gibbs' happened. He knows it was the year the first day of Chanukah and Christmas were the same day, but he's got no idea which year that was. Ziva was new enough that she hadn't had an American Christmas yet, but had been with them long enough to have gone from an outsider to family.
The first year, it was just the six of them. And the tradition of doing it pot luck, each of them bringing something that meant "Christmas" to them was born. (Okay, Ziva brings Latkes, and now, in what is probably an ironic turn of events, it's not really Christmas for Tim until he's had a few Latkes.)
Tim makes cookies. Mostly because, while he's not a bad cook, he's also not a great one, and he can make a ton of really good cookies. They're just like chocolate chip cookies, but instead of chocolate chips he uses chopped up Andes mints. And, if they aren't anything that was part of any sort of traditional McGee Christmas, they're tasty, everyone likes them, and they travel well.
It's not Christmas for Abby without Jambalaya, so that's gently bubbling away on the stove.
Gibbs is always in charge of the turkey. It's his house, so he gets main course duty. (And often most of the side dishes.)
Tony usually brings mulled wine and cider.
Ducky brings shortbread and the traditional Mallard Christmas Carrot and Coriander soup.
And for two years that's how it went. Then Jenny joined the dinner. And eventually the Franks clan joined in. Leyla and Amira still come. Fornell, some years with Emily, some years without, started attending four years ago. Three years ago Palmer started to attend and last year he brought Breena. The year before last, Gibbs senior started to make it. This year LJ and DiNozzo Senior will be in attendance, as well.
It is, in all the best possible ways, a packed house.
Tim pulls up to Gibbs' place. Cars line the road and the driveway. He's not the last one there, but he's probably close. Heading from Abby's all the way across town back to his place (so he could pick up one of his own plates to put his cookies on, plus get some fresh clothing for today and another change for tomorrow) and then all the way back again to Gibbs', which is about fifteen minutes from Abby's, was annoying. He's thinking killing this whole stealth romance thing sooner rather than later is a very good plan. This weekend, definitely.
He walks in and notices one major change from previous years. This year, it looks like an entire grove's worth of mistletoe has been scattered about the place. Tim suspects that Senior had something to do with that. Not that he really needs an excuse to kiss the girls, but he probably likes it. Or maybe he's working on setting something up for Tony... The way he had looked when Ziva said she had never been to Tony's place certainly indicated he had plans for his son and Ms. David.
Tim's fairly sure that when Gibbs is in charge of decorating on his own there are just lights and a tree. But, like with the food, over the years the decor has changed, as well. Different members of the family coming over earlier and earlier to add to the atmosphere.
He knows Abby was here last week, adding her own touches to the place. He wonders idly if there's some special shop online that sells Goth oriented Christmas gear, because he frankly doesn't know where she got the little grim reaper in a Santa suit that she's got on Gibbs' mantle.*
It sounds like the party is in full swing, the buzz of many happy voices echoing out of the living room and kitchen. Tim threads his way through people, offering hellos and the occasional hug of greeting as he heads toward the kitchen. These days there are too many people for seated dinner, so it gets served buffet-style out of the kitchen, with everyone grabbing plates and nibbles.
Gibbs is carving the turkey in the kitchen, while Fornell stirs the gravy. Tim adds his plate of cookies to the piles of food on the table and says, "Anything I can do to help?"
"Green platter under the sink," Gibbs says, looking up and smiling a hello at him. Fornell sort of grunts something that could be taken to mean hello, or I'm still pissed you slept with my wife.
He grabs it, and takes the white one, now covered in turkey, putting that on the table and setting the green one next to Gibbs.
"Let everyone know food's on in five."
"I can do that." And he does.
He's leaning against the archway between the entry and the living room, talking with Ducky, feeling especially fine and mellow, (he's already had a few cups of Jackson Gibbs' addition to the menu: eggnog) when Abby walks by him.
"I think, Timothy, tradition must be served."
Tim gives him a questioning look, and Ducky points up at the mistletoe. It occurs to Tim that not only does Ducky know about the two of them, but he's had a few eggnogs as well.
His hand reaches out, fast, well before his brain got involved in the matter, and snagged Abby by the wrist, dragging her back a few steps.
"Ducky thinks we have traditions to uphold."
Abby smiles at Ducky, and he beams back, a very mischievous glint in his eye.
Tim looks at Abby, a small smile on his lips, tilts his head a little and raises one eyebrow just a bit. She smiles at him, so he leans over and kisses her on the lips. It's just a kiss. Not making out or anything like that. He's not hugging her or anything. The only places they're touching are their lips and the hand he has on her wrist. It's just two sets of lips touching for a few seconds, and okay hers might have been slightly open, and it's possible that his tongue might have snuck out and given her a very fast lick, but still, there was nothing obscene about it. Long enough to appreciate the contact, not so long as to cause talk. And then he pulls back, lets go of her wrist, and continues talking to Ducky as she went on her way, both of them acting like this was entirely normal.
A second later Tony's standing right next to him. "Woah, McHotlips! What the hell was that?"
He grins at Tony, enjoying this way too much. "Mistletoe, and if you don't want to get kissed, you should take a step back."
Tony takes a giant step back. "That wasn't just a friendly peck on the cheek. You got Ziva earlier tonight and Breena, too, and there was no lip on lip action."
Tim smirks. Yeah, this is way too much fun. Push him further? Oh yeah. "Got a somewhat different history with Abby." Tony's just staring at him, looking like he's not buying this. So Tim calls out, "Hey, Abby."
"McGee?" She looks over at him from talking to Amira and Emily. Gibbs had made Amira a chess set, and she's showing the girls how to play.
"I ever kiss you before?"
She laughs. "Yeah, couple of times." And goes back to talking to the girls like nothing just happened.
Tim gives Tony a happy and satisfied look. Tony continues to stare at him, and then says, "What's gotten into you?"
Tim looks at the cup in his hand. "About three of these eggnogs. I think I've figured out the Gibbs family secret ingredient. Bourbon to go with the rum."
"Bite your tongue, boy," Jackson says, joining them. "It's whiskey and nothing but!"
"Yes, sir." Tim nods. "And it's delicious."
"As well it should be. But even if it wasn't, anything that gets you kissing pretty girls is worth drinking!"
"Indeed!" Ducky says, and the two of them begin talking about their younger years of lying in wait at Christmas parties, hunting the pretty girls. DiNozzo Senior wandered over, and from there the conversation got fairly bawdy, which Tim was actually enjoying, but mortified Tony, who scuttled away at the first opportunity.
He's lying in Abby's bed again. This time on his back while she cuddles against his side, her head on his shoulder. His fingers are idly petting her hair, and she's gently stroking his chest.
"Good Christmas?" she asks.
"Yeah, that really was." He takes her hand in his, slipping his fingers between hers, watching the way they fit together. "How about on Friday, after work, I tell Gibbs about us, and then we take this full on public?"
"I'd like that. It'd be nice to show up at a party with you, leave with you, and really kiss you while we're there."
"Yeah, it would." He smiles and kisses the back of her hand. "Friday then?"
*For some reason, Tim hasn't actually read Hogfather. Why, I don't know, but somehow, he just hasn't. Perhaps one day Abby will take him in hand and remedy this frankly perplexing lack in his geek cred.