Ducky woke slowly, to a gentle hand shaking his shoulder.
The lights were off and the fire had died down to embers, glinting golden on the Christmas ornaments and flickering on the blanket-covered lumps scattered around the living room.
“Jethro?” he asked, blinking up at him. “Is something wrong?”
Gibbs smiled. “I just figured you’d be more comfortable if you didn’t sleep in that chair.”
“Perhaps I intended to stay up to catch a glimpse of Santa Clause,” said Ducky, teasing, as he sat up properly.
“He’s already been here,” said Gibbs.
Now that his eyes had adjusted to the dim light, Ducky could see new packages among those already under the tree – he couldn’t see the tags in the dim light, but he knew there was a thoughtfully chosen gift for each member of their little family.
“So he has,” Ducky agreed. “Well, then, I guess we should head up to bed.”
“I’ll catch up,” said Gibbs.
Ducky rose from the chair, but paused at the bottom of the steps, watching as Gibbs spread the embers of the fire to cool and locked the door – tonight, there was something worth protecting in his house – then went to check on the children. Gibbs tugged the blankets back over Abby and Ziva, sprawled at opposite ends of the couch, then pressed a kiss to each of their foreheads. He wiggled the dark-screened phone from McGee’s lax grip, rescued Jimmy’s glasses before he could roll onto them, and put an extra pillow beside Tony, so that he wouldn’t kick his partner in his sleep.
“What?” Gibbs demanded, when he turned around and saw Ducky still watching him.
The ME smiled – he didn’t understand why the other man continued to pretend that he was he was a hard-hearted bastard. “Merry Christmas, my friend.”