The air was crisp, their breath forming clouds of mist in front of their faces as they crossed the parking lot. The building in front of them was quiet; the only sign of life the faces flickering across the windows, peeking out from behind blinds. The snow glistened, and melting icicles dripped softly. The door opened before anyone had a chance to knock, ring a bell, or otherwise ask entrance.

"Tony!" A girl, looking like she was just about to enter her teens, threw herself at Tony, laughing as he caught her, enveloping her in a bear hug. Suddenly the house was full of life as children seemed to appear from the woodwork, running over to greet the family of men that was always around. Ziva, McGee and Abby stood back as the others fought their way through the door. A boy who looked like he was getting too old to remain in the orphanage grabbed Michael, swooping him into the kitchen where Ducky, Jimmy, and Jack were depositing their packages of cookies and other foodstuffs, preparing to cook the annual Christmas feast.

Gibbs, surrounded by a throng of children, quickly disappeared to the back yard, where an extremely loud game of ultimate Frisbee began. Tony smiled affectionately after him as he was almost shoved out the door, then turned to the three adults standing in the front door as if they were lost. "Guys. C'mon. They don't bite, I swear." The muttered "Much." was heard by all, as was intended, judging by the gleeful smirk on Tony's face.

Despite reluctance in Ziva's gaze, the three of them were quickly roped into the festivities; McGee had no sooner been introduced when he was coerced (with very little resistance) into joining the video game tournament taking place down the hall in the media room. When Tony checked on him an hour later, he had been chosen to lead the campaign, and all the children were differing to him, in awe of his prowess. Abby was also quickly integrated into the chaos, and disappeared into the rather spacious common area with the majority of the remaining children, leaving Tony and Ziva with the same girl who had tackled Tony, two identical little girls, and a boy who looked to be around seven years old.

Tony gently herded the kids upstairs to the smaller common room that overlooked the back yard, where they had an amazing view of Gibbs calmly snatching the Frisbee out of the air as if he had ordered it to fly directly into his hand. Ziva, who had tagged along silently, followed Tony's example and sat on the floor. Her expression, one Tony would forever lament not immortalizing on film, as the little boy promptly plopped down beside her and leaned against her, was shocked.

"Ziva, this is Karim. He has only been here for a couple weeks; before that he lived with his older sister." He reached over to smooth the dark curls, only smiling when the brown eyes watched him warily, internally thanking God when the child didn't flinch away as he usually did. "Karim, this is Ziva. She's from Israel, but she works for NCIS with myself and Jethro now. She's a super ninja!" His eyes widened for effect, and Karim's eyes widened in response, his head swinging around to face Ziva. Her own eyes belied her surprise when he rapidly started speaking Hebrew, his hands gesturing wildly.

Tony smiled and turned to the three girls, leaving Karim and Ziva to their newfound connection. "Emmalyn." He reached out to ruffle the straight brunette hair, laughing as she sat beside him and pretended to sulk, blue eyes laughing. "Rosalie, Lilliana, come here sweethearts. How are you?" The four year olds, dark auburn hair curling wildly and identical brown eyes peeking over liberally freckled cheeks and button noses, giggled and promptly sat on top of him and Emmalyn, cuddling into their respective chests and listening avidly as Tony and Emmalyn began telling them (for the umpteenth time) the story of two little girls who were all alone until one day a mommy and daddy with no little girls saw how pretty and sweet and kind and honest these little girls were, and they took them home and made them cookies and the new family lived happily ever after.


As everyone crowded into the large common area on the first floor with plates piled high with food, Gibbs was opening the front door to let in the many families joining them. Over the past couple years many of the children had been adopted, but some of the families were charmed by the tradition Jethro and Tony observed every holiday, and often participated. Several of the children who had moved out when they came of age also returned for the holiday. Tony, Jethro mused, had turned a sterile, normally hated institution into a home, much as he had with Jethro's own house. Jethro smiled as he let the last of the families in, turning to take Jackie Vance's coat and hang it on the far-overloaded coat rack. "Glad you could make it."

Last night he had called the Vance household with the intention of talking to the Director, but had ended up talking to Jackie in his stead, as he had refused to talk with Gibbs.


"Hello Jackie, it's Jethro. How are you and the kids?"

"We're doing well, thank you. They actually just finished their homework and are currently playing games with their father."

"May I speak with him?"

"Of course! He's right here!... What do you mean you won't talk to him? What's going on Leon?... If it's nothing then why don't you want to talk to him?... Well obviously it is!.. Leon!" She sighed into the phone as the sound of a door slamming echoed over the line. "Well, that didn't go as planned."

"That's quite alright. I was calling to invite the family to join myself and the other members of my team for a Christmas feast at the Orphanage. Tony and I have been putting together a large dinner for the children for a couple years, and this year we want to include everyone."

"That's a fantastic idea! I'm sure the kids would love that! They have several friends from the orphanage, and were going to invite them over to our house for dinner, but it seemed unfair to the rest of the children. What a great idea! We'll definitely be there. Oh, and Jethro?"

"Yes Ma'am?"

"What is going on between you and my husband?"

Jethro, well aware that it was underhanded but positive that it would drive the point home in the most effective way possible, had no problems educating Jackie about the recent misbehaviours of her husband, after which there was a civil goodbye and a promise from Jackie that she would "talk to him about it."

Now, as the children brushed by him with a cursory hello to track down their friends and food, and Jackie walked over to greet Ducky, Gibbs faced Vance. "Leon."

"Agent Gibbs." There was a moment when the two eyed each other, but it was broken when Michael toddled over to Gibbs's leg, patting it with a hand. "Papa… Papa!"

"Yes Ryan?"


"I'll eat with you in a minute Ry, go sit with your Daddy."

"'tay." Michael toddled off unsteadily, making chewing motions and humming to himself.

Leon's face was a mixture of anger, amusement and shock. "You know DiNozzo's son?" When Jethro shot him a look he blinked, pulling a toothpick out of his pocket. "Of course you knew. DiNozzo can't keep secrets from you. But why the personal call to my house?" Jethro's face remained unchanging, continuing to wait patiently for him to realize what it meant. It took a few minutes. "Seriously?! You and DiNozzo? No…" "It's reality Leon." "More like the crazy lies beneath reality." "More like the reality beneath the crazy lies." "This has got to be a joke."

Jethro finally moved, turning to head toward his family, "We'd like to contain this 'mess' Leon, so I'm confident that you'll keep this information to yourself…" Leon made a noise of agreement, though Jethro was sure it was more for fear of his wife's temper than desire to protect Jethro, Tony, or Micheal. "Oh, and Leon? Don't ever insult my son again." He walked away, leaving Leon torn between amusement and genuine fear.


Leon sat at the small table in the kitchen, nursing a glass of (unfortunately) non-alcoholic punch, and watching the scene in front of him. DiNozzo was once again goofing off, horsing around with the children, while Gibbs watched stoically from a chair nearby. His… son… sat with Ducky, seemingly enthralled by the story the man was telling him and the surrounding children. Abby and McGee were in another room, playing games with Leon's own children and their friends, and Jackie was directing the cleaning efforts, led by Jack, Ziva, and Jimmy and manned by several willing helpers.

It seemed as if everyone was going about their normal lives, and here Leon was, mourning the apparent loss of sanity surrounding him. I mean, this is friggin' not right! This is so weird… He looked over at Jethro, trying to fathom how reality had gone so wrong, and how the feared Leroy Jethro Gibbs, who's résumé of divorces had to be a world record, could be in a homosexual relationship with his brunette subordinate who has a child who he considers his own who he was smiling at… Leroy Jethro Gibbs was smiling… Reality was so wrong.

DiNozzo caught Jethro's eye and mouthed something Leon couldn't make out, but Jethro's eyes seemed to soften and his face lightened, shoulders straightening a little, seeming to drop years off his appearance. And yes, Leon could make out the reply Jethro almost imperceptibly mouthed back that prompted the brightest smile from DiNozzo that he had ever seen. Perhaps… Leon winced and gulped the last of his drink, staring glumly into the bottom of his empty glass, mourning the loss of his less-complicated reality-turned-illusion.

Perhaps… Michael's delighted laughter rang out and then he was toddling across the room to his Daddy, who swept him up with a loud laugh of his own and blew raspberries on his tummy and neck, prompting more laughter and smiles all around. Jethro's eyes softened further, even crinkling at the corners a little. He looked happy in a way that Leon had only seen once, and the Jethro in that picture had been much younger and holding a little laughing brunette girl. It was nice not to see his face closed off and his eyes haunted by loss.

Perhaps… Jackie was looking at them approvingly in a way that only a mother can. Her eyes reflected a myriad of emotions, not the least of which was relief, making Leon wonder if he had been missing some information about the agent he had worked with for years and respected. And then Jethro laughed, and Leon turned to the noise to see Tony draped over his shoulders, Michael seated in his lap and gesturing wildly to his Papa. That child was cute… he had waved at Leon during dinner and told him that he should smile more (or at least that's what Leon thought he had said… He was entirely sure; the majority of it had been a mixture of Italian and baby-speak). He looked back at Jackie, surprised to see satisfaction covering her face and tears filling her eyes. Then again, she had always seen straight into the heart of the pain in Jethro and Tony (the one time she had met him), and had often asked concernedly after them when she knew they had closed a particularly daunting case. Maybe now she would stop pestering him to invite them over or give them more time off... Oh, how he could hope.

Perhaps, he thought, standing to refill his glass, sometimes reality isn't all it seems; sometimes yours isn't truly reality; sometimes it takes a child to bring you back to it; sometimes it takes a grown man; sometimes is seems to fall short of your expectations and dreams; sometimes... sometimes it's just better.