Chapter 1

Author's Note: I know its February, but I don't think a little bit of belated Christmas cheer should do any harm!

Gibbs parked up outside the small store. He almost didn't recognize it; it was submerged under layers of decorations and lights. He took a silent deep breath, and said to James, 'You ready?'

Finally, James nodded, and the duo left the car.

'Leroy! You're early! It's good to see you.' Jack said, pulling Gibbs into a hug.

'And you must be James! I've been looking forward to meeting you. You can call me Grandpa.'

James froze in shock. After a second he recovered enough to mumble, 'I'll get my stuff.' He made a hasty exit onto the street.

'Jeez Jack. Why? Why did you do that? He's gone and freaked now.'

'What? I was just trying to be nice, Leroy. You know, welcome him to the family.' Jack answered, but he did look concerned.

Gibbs ran his hands through his hair. Conversations like this, amongst other reasons, were exactly why he'd avoided his Dad all these years. He hadn't told Jack why he had suddenly adopted a kid, or what had happened to James, but Jack (he was related to Gibbs after all) had picked up on it – why else would you adopt a 10 year old?

'Dad.' Gibbs almost despaired, 'He has intimacy issues. Hell, he hasn't even hugged me yet. You introducing yourself as 'Grandpa' doesn't help. Damn.'

'I'll go talk to him.'

'No.' Gibbs said, firmly. 'Give him a minute.'

The father and son stood awkwardly, not making eye contact, for a painfully long time. In reality it must have been about 3 minutes.

Finally, Gibbs left the room to go and talk to James.

Jack was annoyed, he'd been looking forward to meeting James, and he'd gone and made a really bad first impression. He wondered around his store looking for something – James was a kid after all – perhaps he could win him over with food.

The attempt to lighten the situation using cookies by Jack hadn't worked. Gibbs hadn't said a word to Jack since. The duo had spent the next hour 'unpacking'. Jack hoped to make a good dinner instead.

Dinner was a tense affair. James' macaroni cheese was eaten more violently than it should have been. Conversation did exist though, and Jack got a rough snippets of the past. Jack couldn't help but be disappointed; he'd had high hopes for this holiday. He'd heard raised voices earlier from the exchange between Gibbs and James, but didn't know what had actually gone down.

Gibbs cleared the plates, leaving Jack alone with James. He took his chance.

'Look James. I know I made a mistake earlier. I panicked. I'd really like to get to know you, if you'll let me. Any chance we can start again?'

James stared at Jack a long time. The look had the same ferocious intensity as Leroy's.

'I'm not going to call you… that.'

'I know. Forget it ever happened.'

'I guess. Ok.'

….

Gibbs was up at the crack of dawn, a habit that had stuck with him from his days in the Marines. He was on edge, and no one else was up, so he left a note saying he'd gone for a run. He returned a while later feeling refreshed and more awake – it was a cold but clear day.

Jack was now awake and currently opening up his shop. It was around 7.15, Gibbs had been out about three-quarters of an hour, and James wasn't up. That was odd.

Gibbs helped his Dad set up for the day – another rekindled habit. They chatted about nonsense, neither of them looking directly at each other, as they were both still getting over the previous day. Gibbs couldn't get over the morning rush for such a small town – no shopkeeper would have opened at this time in DC, let alone have this many customers, on Christmas Eve. Gibbs began to mellow as he watched Jack interact with the regulars – he knew everyone's name.

Around 8.15, the shop became dead still again.

'Right. Breakfast!' Jack declared. Gibbs couldn't help grinning - his Dad had a thing for breakfast.

Gibbs sat in the kitchen and watched Jack produce the works for breakfast. He supplied the coffee. About 10 minutes later, he was presented with a plate full of bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms and toast. Both him and his Dad disliked tomatoes.

Gibbs finally let the previous day go, and the atmosphere became slightly more relaxed. After they'd finished, James appeared.

'Morning! Sleep well?' Gibbs smirked.

'Not bad. I dunno what happened – it's past 8.30!'

'You obviously needed it. Breakfast is in the oven.' Jack said as he disappeared to serve a straggling customer.

'Ah wow this looks good.' James said as he started eating. Gibbs gave James some coffee, who nodded his thanks. Gibbs had been unsure about such a young kid drinking coffee, but he'd come to the conclusion it was fine as long as it was controlled. James had one in the morning and some when he got home from gym in the evenings, so he probably ended up only having about 3 cups a day. And of course, he was never allowed coffee after 8.

Gibbs thought he should show James around. Jack was left in charge of the shop, and Gibbs promised to bring back some apple cider back for him. The whole town was festive, everyone had decorations up, and some shops had gone as far as to layering their roofs with fake snow.

James was full of questions about Gibbs' home town. Gibbs himself was hesitant at first, but eventually he was explaining some of his childhood to James. James also asked questions about Gibbs' room – he'd slept in there. Gibbs showed James his old school and where he'd used to play football.

James eventually said. 'Gibbs, we're getting a few funny looks.'

'Yeah, I know, maybe they recognize me from years ago. It's a small town.'

'Maybe.' James said. 'Or they think you're suspicious outsider. Like you said, it's a small town.' James said cheekily.

'Smart ass.'

They had almost circled the town when they got to the local park. As kids had the day off here, there were quite a few in the park. Gibbs smirked.

'You see that bent fencepost at the back?' he asked James.

James peered at the green metal railing. 'Yeah?' he asked curiously.

'I ran into it on my bike. It broke my brakes and bent my handlebars. My Dad was not best pleased.'

James was amazed – he couldn't believe it was still there. He opened his mouth to ask another question when he was cut off.

'You did it for a dare I believe Leroy.'

Gibbs spun around. He took in the man before him.

'Mike! How are you?' he asked.

'Not bad thank you very much. What brings you up here? I had to take four looks at you before I realized my eyes weren't playing up.'

Gibbs smiled. James watched the exchange in awe. 'I'm just visiting Jack for Christmas.'

'That's nice. I've got the family this Christmas for a change. Who's this fine man?'

'This is my son, James.' Gibbs didn't miss the look on James' face when he said that. 'James, this is Mike. He used to play quarter-back on the football team.'

James looked at Mike. 'It's good to meet you James. If you've got a minute Gibbs, we could grab some coffee? And if you're happy, James can go and play with my grandson, Chris.'

Gibbs and James were both unsure, but Mike had already called Chris over. 'Chris, James. James, Chris. Chris this is Jethro, I used to play football with him.'

Chris nodded at Jethro shyly and said hi. Gibbs reckoned James might get on alright with him. Both kids had realized they were meant to disappear now, but they'd only just met. And Chris had a group of friends waiting for him.

Some boys from his group shouted back, 'Hey Chris. You coming back? We want to have a race across the park.'

Chris looked at Mike, who nodded. Gibbs did the same.

'You game?' Chris asked. James grinned, and they ran off into the park.

Mike saw the look on Gibbs face, 'It's alright, Chris knows not to go out of my sight.'

Mike and Gibbs ended up chatting, and the kids playing, for just over two hours. Well, Mike mostly talked and Gibbs mostly listened. They talk a bit about the 'old days', Gibbs had only been on Mike's team a year or so as Mike was a good six or seven years older than him. Gibbs heard Mike's life story, including about his three kids and four grandchildren who were 2, 4, 9 and 11. Gibbs only answered in short sentences, but it pleased Mike nonetheless. Gibbs was on his third cup of coffee when he realized they should probably make their way back for lunch. Mike got the hint, and both of them called the kids over.

They were red in the face from the mix of running, excitement and cold air. 'You going to the lights tonight Leroy?' Mike asked.

The lights? Thought Gibbs. He'd never considered it, but possibly. 'Maybe. Not sure yet.'

'Please come! Grandpa, can we meet them?'

'You heard him Chris – he's not sure. You folks feel free to join us though; we'll be opposite Rock Diner.'

Gibbs and James nodded their goodbyes.

'Can we go? Please?'

'I'm not sure. Let's go get some apple cider for Jack.'

'Gibbs, I'd really like to go – please? Please, please, please?' he whined.

'James. I already said that I don't know. Quit badgering me.'

The rest of the day went quickly. Jack closed the shop up early at two, leaving the rest of the day free. Jack and Gibbs taught James some card games – he'd never played before. He picked up Rummy, Sevens and Patience fairly quickly and he thrashed them both at Chase the Lady. It was a good way to pass the time as it rained a bit.

After a bit, Jack declared that he needed food. 'You want to help me make pie James?'

'Huh?'

'Huh?' Jack asked, 'What sort of language is that? You say pardon. Anyway, yes, Pecan Pie. It can't be Christmas Eve without Pecan Pie.'

'Ok. I've never had it.'

'Then what's to lose? To the kitchen!'

Gibbs followed them to the kitchen. Gibbs watched as Jack started to instruct James on what ingredients to get out, just like he used to with Gibbs. The only difference was the James liked cooking, whereas Gibbs didn't.

'Leroy, there's wood in the garage. Feel free to use it.' Jack smirked at him, he knew Gibbs hated cooking.

'Thanks Dad.'