Chapter 2

Disclaimer: I own none of the NCIS characters.

Gibbs was putting the finishing touches to his photo frame when James entered the garage. Gibbs saw him observe and absorb every detail of the room. Gibbs' basement was smaller, but this room felt more cramped. Gibbs liked order, every tool was in plain sight, whereas Jack's working room was less tidy. But it was still functional.

'Finish the pie?'

'Yeah. Jack says if you want any you have to come get it while it's warm.'

'I'm there.' Gibbs said as he left the room with James.

The pie was good. Jack told Gibbs how James had mastered the pecan decorations.

'Good. Bet he made a mess though.' Gibbs smirked.

'Hey! I'm not that bad.' James protested.

'You spilt a packet of flour on the floor!'

'That wasn't my fault! The bag caught on my knife and split!'

'Uh huh.' Gibbs grinned.

'More James?'

'Yeah.'

'Yes what?'

James glared at Jack. Jack calmly stared back at him.

'Please.' James said sarcastically as he rolled his eyes. Gibbs wasn't having any of that. Without thinking - just like he would with DiNozzo - he reached out to head-slap James.

Time stood still. The whole kitchen felt suspended and all the occupants had frozen.

Gibbs recovered first. He immediately started internally yelling at himself – how could he be so stupid as to not think before he acted? After a second, Jack came back to life, and made to tear Gibbs a new one before he saw James start to speak. Well, laugh, actually.

'Gibbs. That hurt.' James said as he rubbed the back of his head with a reassuring grin – he'd obviously known what was going through Gibbs' mind.

Gibbs could have cried with relief. Instead, the terror he had felt lifted. That obviously wasn't a trigger. He'd been lucky. Trying to act normal he stated, 'That's what happens when you're rude.'

'Yeah. Got it.'

They went to the lights in the end. James was so excited he was jumping up and down as they left the house. They had left a bit early, to take the longer (but more scenic route) over the bridge. They talked as they walked, and laughed a lot. Gibbs was amazed the holiday was going so well. He quickly removed the thought – he didn't want to jinx anything.

Mike's family was standing where they said they'd be. Mike introduced Gibbs and James to the rest of the family. All of Mike's family bought roasted chestnuts, and James got annoyed when Gibbs wouldn't let him have any.

'You've had pie today. No more – you know that.'

James didn't sulk for long, he was soon talking with Chris again – the two were inseparable. Jack mumbled to Gibbs, 'How come no chestnuts? It's Christmas!'

'He shouldn't. It's gym policy – to make sure they eat healthily. You know, get the right amount of carbs and stuff.'

'A diet at 10? I don't think that's right Leroy. He's just a kid.'

'He does gym sixteen and a half hours a week. The reasons have been explained to him. He's fine about it really. And it's not a diet. He's allowed stuff, just in small amounts.'

'I don't like it.'

Gibbs counted to 10. He didn't want to get angry at Jack for James' sake. 'Ask him his opinion before you judge it.'

Jack noticed the clipped tone. It was probably best to change the subject.

'That's a heck of a lot of gym. He must be good.'

'He's only been doing it about 3 months. His coach says he has potential.'

James didn't throw Gibbs off when he held his shoulders during the count down to the lights. As he watched the chanting, Gibbs grinned, that was a sure sign of trust. It was the closest the two had been. The street broke out in applause when the tree lights were switched on and the surrounding areas burst into carols.

It was the 'most magnificent' tree they'd ever had. According to Jack.

….

'Bed.' Gibbs declared. They hadn't been back long, as it had been too cold outside to stick around for much more.

'Come on Gibbs. It's early.'

'It's 9.30. That's late.'

'I don't want to go to bed.'

Gibbs took a deep breath. 'One, two…'

James took a running leap at the door before Gibbs started 'three'.

'Whoa, he really didn't want you to keep counting did he?'

'Last time I got to three, he was in bed before 8 for a week.' Gibbs said simply.

'That sounds familiar.'

Gibbs kept his mouth shut and his eyes forward. Jack laughed at the reaction.

About 10 minutes later, Gibbs was sitting on the edge of his own bed. They'd had a brief conversation about James' day with Chris.

'Gibbs?' Gibbs looked at James, eyebrows raised.

'Did you… I mean, why does everyone here call you Leroy?'

'Leroy's my first name. Jethro's my second.'

James nodded, 'And…' Gibbs waited, not wanting to push James. That always made him clam up.

'Did you mean it?' he asked. Gibbs merely raised his eyebrows again, waiting for an explanation. However, he thought he knew what James was referring to.

'Calling me… your son?'

Gibbs ruffled James' hair. 'Hey. You know I don't say things I don't mean.'

The look on James' face was priceless.

Jack could see that Gibbs wanted to talk, but didn't quite know how to start. Well, luckily, Gibbs was still his son – despite them not talking for several years. So he knew how to make it happen.

'Leroy, everything alright?'

That statement almost blew Gibbs' mind. As a result, his head filled with childhood memories. He'd got into a fair bit of trouble when he was younger, and a fair bit more in his teenage years, which had led to several unpleasant 'chats'. But, he and his Dad had also had some good talks. You know, the ones where no one feels awkward or obliged to say anything, but when it always feels better to get something off your chest. Gibbs' was taken aback by the question, and Jack could see him processing. He continued in his usual way, 'Remember you can tell me anything Leroy.'

Jack left the room. That struck Gibbs again – he would bet 50 dollars that he'd come back in with grilled cheese sandwiches. It had been a sort of tradition with them, and they'd secretly both loved them until this day.

Gibbs' brain was working overtime, as unlike when he was younger; he knew his Dad's trick of trying to get him to talk. Well, thought Gibbs stubbornly, he didn't need any help.

True to his memories, Jack came through the door with a pile of grilled cheese. 'I haven't had these in ages,' he stated, 'it's been too long.'

Gibbs and Jack sat side by side on the sofa, munching on their food. A few minutes later, Gibbs hit the TV switch and a game came on. Jack groaned at the teams that were playing.

Gibbs grinned; he realized they both hadn't been this comfortable with each other for over a decade. What happened next was not what he expected though. Jack got drinks for them both.

'Life.' He said. Short and sweet.

After a few more relaxed moments, Jack stated. 'James is a great kid. Maybe challenging at times, but he's got a damn good spirit in him.'

'Yeah.' Said Gibbs, he couldn't help agreeing. Jack struggled not to smirk; he still had the ability to break through his son's defenses.

'He doesn't sleep much does he? I heard him go downstairs last night.' Jack asked, seemingly innocent.

Gibbs paused, fighting an internal battle of wills. He was torn between talking to Jack, his Dad, (and the man who knew him best) and his need to keep all his issues private. Ducky had tried - and failed - to get Gibbs to talk, and despite considering him a best friend, it just wasn't the same. Gibbs took a chance.

'Yeah, he has insomnia. It keeps him up a lot.'

'That must be hard.'

'Yeah,' Gibbs' continued. 'Sometimes I come downstairs in the morning and he's already awake, coffee in hand, waiting for me. Other times I come down and he'd made cookies, or bread, or something. And I can come down and see evidence of him drawing, but not actually see any drawings. I can only guess he doesn't want me to see them.'

Jack listened carefully; tonight wasn't his turn to talk. It was his chance to listen.

'He's just adjusting. It takes time.'

'I know that, hell; he hasn't even hugged me yet.' Gibbs said, in a low voice. Jack didn't say a word, but the repeated phrase from yesterday didn't go unnoticed.

'I just can't get my head around it. I've seen bad stuff, but this is different. He's a kid, and he's been through more than most adults have in a lifetime. He doesn't talk about anything about in the past, you wouldn't even know he'd been through 10 foster homes. 10. In 9 months. He was flown out of England the day his mother died. He has nothing left from then. God only know what happened to him before he got here. He's like a screen, you can't see through him. And he has this silver present in his room, unopened, I have no idea what that's about. It's just…'

Jack could feel his pain. He couldn't understand it either. 'I know. I know. It's unthinkable what's happened.'

'He's never spoken about any of it. Sometimes he just freezes on the spot. And I know it must have been worse than what we saw on the day we picked him up – his body's full of the evidence.' Gibbs paused, and looked down, embarrassed he'd said so much.

Jack sensed his emotion. 'It's alright Leroy; you know you can talk to me.'

Then, so quietly Jack almost missed it, Gibbs said, 'I just don't know if he's going to get better.'

Jack grabbed Gibbs arm. He spoke firmly but in a reassuring voice. 'That life is something you don't get over. He won't get better, but he can grow. And from the looks of your relationship, you too are only going to get closer.'

Gibbs still looked unconvinced.

'I know you'll do the best job you can. But what really matters, Leroy, is that you love your son.'