© 2020 by Jacie
Length: 3,350 words
Tony has a secret hobby. Or does he?
Don’t know them. It’s not true. I made it all up.
This was written for Cutsycat as part of the Happy Holiday's Challenge.
The Path... on AO3
Jethro had his hobbies, so Tony thought he may as well have his own. He should have something to occupy his time when Jethro had his head and hands wrapped around his boat. Right?
It started with hiking, but not wanting anyone to know he was actually hiking and communing with nature, he always told everyone he was going ‘out’ with his ‘frat brothers’. It is true that he had friends in the area, and when the weather was nice enough, he’d invited a couple of his buddies out to go hiking with him, but it wasn’t the same. They were loud, rowdy, and largely drunk a good portion of the time, when he really wanted to sit back, relax and enjoy nature.
Maybe it was all the hustle and bustle of being in law enforcement, having to chase down the bad guys and haul them in, then wading through a forest of evidence and reports. But there was something that started calling to him; something luring him away from the big city life of concrete, over-population and noise, and showing him a more peaceful way.
One year, he’d found a cute little rental cabin retreat that was relatively inexpensive. There was no actual bed, just a sleeper-sofa in a small single room with a kitchenette in a nook next to a tiny bathroom that lacked a bathtub or shower. There was only a small sink, medicine cabinet and a toilet. The cabin belonged to an older man who liked to go deer hunting, but health problems were slowing him down. In the beginning, Tony would rent it occasionally, if it was available. When he wasn’t there, the old man would often spend a week or two out there himself.
As time went on, Tony would spend more time out there and the old man spent less. Then one day, Tony received a registered letter from an attorney and found out the elderly gentleman passed away and had left the cabin and land to him in his will, along with a few thousand dollars. Although, he had missed the funeral, he’d ask the attorney for the location of the man’s grave, and did go to visit.
Knowing the man enjoyed nature, but considered flowers to be gifts for women, Tony found some interesting rocks from the property, brought them to the gravesite and arranged them on the headstone’s foundation. He smiled, thinking the man would enjoy that. It was not only a piece of nature, but also a piece of his property that would be close to his final resting spot for all eternity.
From then on, Tony felt okay making little additions to the property. It already had a well and some plumbing, although it did need to be winterized each year. Tony found a local guy named Austin willing to do that work at a reasonable cost. As he lived just down the road, Austin was also happy to keep an eye on the place for him.
The cabin also had electricity and baseboard heaters. Although it was smaller than Gibbs’ cabin, this one was rather cozy and stayed pretty warm no matter how cold it got outside. The electricity remained on year-round and the well did always work. Once the electric pump for the plumbing was winterized, Tony could still use the old-fashioned hand pump which was attached to the sink in the kitchen area. He’d never been in the cabin when it was too cold for the hand pump to work.
Other than hiking, Tony found that he enjoyed simply relaxing and reading. He’d purchased two comfortable, portable chairs that he could pack up and take on his hikes with him. That way, he could set up a chair wherever he pleased, sit down and read, or just listen to the birds as he watched the tree leaves waver in the breeze. And if one of his chairs got wet because he got caught out in the rain, then he still had a dry one back at the cabin for his next adventure.
As he began venturing out more and talking to Austin, the guy he’d hired to winterize the plumbing each year and other odd jobs, he met most of the neighbors. Some lived in permanent country homes, while others had small parcels of land for camping or deer hunting. One year, he met the owner of a rather large spread within walking distance, who mentioned he had three natural springs on his property. They went hiking together and the owner pointed the springs out to Tony, telling him that he was welcome to enjoy the babbling water any time he wanted to.
In the first few years that Tony owned the cabin, he took the man up on his offer as he enjoyed the calming sounds of water rushing over the rock beds. He loved sitting beside the flowing water and just thinking about all sorts of things. While a tough case would occasionally capture his mind on his time off, he did his best to use his time at the cabin to disconnect from the city and from work.
As the years went by, Tony developed a new hobby. He began writing. After all, if McGoofus could write a book, there was no reason that Tony couldn’t do the same. Rather than writing crime novels, Tony just began jotting down his thoughts about being surrounded by nature and finding his inner peace. He began purchasing journals which he would take on his hikes with him. As he enjoyed drawing as well, he bought some special pencils and a sketchpad, too. Eventually, he also bought a camera. He did enjoy taking a photo, then comparing it to his drawing later.
While he never really intended to write a self-help book, that’s what came out of his journals. One day, his thoughts threaded together into a coherent manuscript. The next thing he bought was an old-fashioned typewriter; one that didn’t rely on electricity. McTapper would be proud. Tony decided not to follow down Tim’s path of pipe collecting and wearing sweaters with elbow pads. Really, where did he even find those things? But he did enjoy sitting in the cabin in the evenings and typing his words into the old typewriter with flames crackling in the fireplace across the room.
It took Tony three years to wrangle his thoughts into something resembling a book, but he thought it was pretty good. It was his own personal guidance to decompressing after a hectic week at work. And if it helped him, why couldn’t it help other people?
So he showed it to his frat brother, Don, who happened to be an editor for a publishing house. And Don showed it to his boss, Amy, who fell in love with it and was very interested in publishing it. As Tony wanted to keep his writing life secret, he agreed to publish his work as Ozzy D’Notion. He wondered if Thom E Gemcity would figure out his nom de plume.
His first book did reasonably well. It was called, The Path I Seek, which he followed up with, The Path I Follow and The Path I Found. Each book was a mixture of short essays and poems on nature, hiking, and finding peace in one’s life, all accented with photos and detailed sketches from his hiking excursions.
The books sold well enough that he was able to build a newer A-frame building, with a full, contemporary kitchen and a larger bathroom, which included a large porcelain clawfoot bathtub, as well as a very modern walk-out shower stall. The new building also boasted a comfortable living room on the lower level, with a staircase up to the large bedroom loft. After swapping some furniture around, he turned the original cabin into his writing shed, while the A-frame was his home-away-from-home.
There was enough money to pay his friend Austin to dig out a trench, and line that with concrete covered with smooth, round rocks. At one end was a large fountain. He’d asked his friend to make it look as natural as possible, so it had the appearance of a six-foot waterfall. The water would splash down into a small holding pond, then would babble over the rocks along the concrete trench. At the bottom, two pumps were installed that would pump water back to the main fountain again.
Tony loved his waterfall, and the sounds of babbling water flowing over the rocks. On warm days, he could even venture out barefoot to dip his toes in the rushing water. He found it to be relaxing. It was perfect and his little secret. Or so he thought.
Tony didn’t go to the cabin all the time. After all, he did enjoy spending some time with Gibbs. It usually took about two hours to get there. Often, he’d tell Jethro he was going to hang out with his friends, and he’d just spend a weekend day at the cabin, then return home at night. When he did take vacations, he’d tell Gibbs he was going on a cruise with his frat brothers, when he was really going to the cabin alone to unwind and write.
He still found time to spend with his NCIS family, especially around the holidays. Whoever remained in town would gather at Ducky’s home for a large, communal dinner. Ducky would provide the main course, while everyone else was assigned a side dish or dessert to bring. They were like family. Only Tony got along with them far better than he did his own father.
Then one year, Abby begged Tony to go Christmas shopping with her. Linking her arm through his, she dragged him in and out of several shops. He nearly cringed when they were window shopping and there was a display featuring his three books. He did his best to pretend he didn’t see them. Abby was smiling, but there was no indication that she was focusing on them. Bullet dodged.
They visited several shops and stopped at a small café for lunch. When Abby asked what Gibbs was up to, Tony told her he was working on his boat, then hosting an ongoing poker game which included Fornell, Ducky, Palmer and another M.E. that Ducky had known for years. Tony found the poker games boring, so there was no need to hurry home and crash that particular party.
As they continued on their shopping trip after lunch, Abby asked him what he was getting for Gibbs as a Christmas gift. What do you get for a guy who has little and wants nothing else? His first thought was booze, but Abby pointed out he’d been giving Gibbs bourbon for years and it was really a boring, impersonal gift.
A few doors down the block they stopped off at the DC animal rescue where Abby’s newly found brother Kyle worked. Tugging at Tony’s arm, she dragged him inside to say hello to Kyle, who took them around to the various cages introducing them to all the cats and dogs.
Stopping in front of one of the cages toward the back of the store, Kyle explained how everyone wants puppies and kittens, and it was always harder to home older animals, especially cats. Pointing out a large, male marmalade with brilliant green eyes, he said the cat’s owner had been a fisherman who had recently passed away. The handsome feline was estimated to be about twelve years old. Tony noted he was a big, fat cat like Garfield at which Kyle declared his name was actually Captain Tigger.
The cat looked a bit surly, but seemed pleased when Kyle removed him from the cage, held him and kissed the top of his head. When the cat was handed over to Tony to hold, the feline immediately head-butted him, settled in his arms and reached up a single front paw that he placed on Tony’s lips.
Abby commented he was one smart kitty who already had Tony pegged for a chatterbox. She was all grins and bouncing on her feet until Tony asked what was up. She divulged that Captain Tigger would be the perfect gift for Gibbs. He actually liked the water and could swim. His previous owner took him out fishing daily, so he was perfectly comfortable around a boat.
Kyle explained how the man’s boat had a special shelf added to the back. If Captain Tigger ever fell off the boat, he could swim to the stern, get onto the shelf, which had a cat-sized staircase leading back into the boat. It even was covered with indoor/outdoor carpeting giving him something to sink his claws into if the water was choppy. Being an older cat, he was also low-maintenance, unlike a kitten. While he was a good companion when people were around, he wasn’t likely to tear up the house if left alone for long hours at a time.
At first, Tony hesitated, but the way Abby and Kyle were both staring at him with puppy-dog eyes, and telling him Captain Tigger deserved better than to be locked in a cage for another day, Tony finally caved and agreed to purchase him as a gift for Gibbs. It also meant he had to buy food and a litter box. After Tony made his purchases, he found the cardboard carrier he’d been handed must weigh about twenty pounds. Twenty-one, Kyle had said proudly.
Abby agreed to keep Captain Tigger at her apartment until Christmas, then she’d stop by their house in the morning. Her sparkling eyes and bright smile were infectious and Tony soon found himself grinning and quite happy to have found something so completely different for Gibbs this year; something that he certainly would never have suspected he’d be receiving.
When Christmas Day came around, Tony and Gibbs enjoyed a large breakfast with fancy pastries, scrambled eggs, thick-sliced bacon and fresh biscuits. Tony did most of the cooking while Gibbs lit a fire in the fireplace before sitting down to eat.
A few gifts were under the tree. Each man had small gifts from the team. There were gift cards from Ziva and Tim, booze from Ducky, as well as some hand-knitted socks and gloves from Abby. There was a single present left under the tree when Abby knocked on the door.
She pointed out to Tony that she’d promised to go help Ducky prepare the Christmas feast for the team and didn’t want to be late. She’d used wrapping paper to make the cardboard carrier look like a presentable gift. Tony took the carrier from Abby and handed it to Gibbs, wishing him a Merry Christmas and thanking him for all the gifts he’d received.
Gibbs opened the box and began laughing. Once the box was open, Captain Tigger jumped out and went over to investigate the tree. Abby filled Gibbs in on the cat’s background, then went out to her car to retrieve the food and litter box Tony had bought. Taking the litter box, Gibbs said he knew right where to put it and took it down to the basement.
Tony picked up the cat and followed Gibbs down into the basement, surprised to see there was already a litter box down there. When he asked how Gibbs knew, Gibbs simply reminded him that he was a world-class investigator.
Hearing a commotion upstairs, Tony set Captain Tigger down next to the litter box, then headed up the stairs, with both Gibbs and the cat on his heels. Once he was back upstairs, he saw that Ducky had stopped by with a large wrapped package. Captain Tigger took an immediate interest in the box, even to the extent that he used his claws to rip off a section of the wrapping paper until Tony grabbed him and scolded him. After all, the tag on the box said the present was for Tony, not for Captain Tigger.
When Tony got the rest of the paper pulled away from the top, a kitten popped out of the box and trotted off to investigate the tree. She was predominantly white with three large, brown tabby patches. Captain Tigger was immediately captivated with the young newcomer and started up a game that was a mixture of feline tag and wrestling. Despite his great weight advantage, he was incredibly gentle with the smaller cat.
Gibbs told Tony that the kitten was described as an adventurous young cat named Whisper, who loved car rides and walking in the woods. Her foster caregiver had even trained her to walk on a leash and to come when she heard someone whistle. When Gibbs mentioned he thought she’d be a good companion on Tony’s weekend trips, Tony was startled.
When Tony asked if he meant the cruise trips with his frat brothers, Gibbs held up a hand to silence him and admitted than he’d known about Tony’s private cabin getaway for years.
Abby reminded Tony that Gibbs is a world-class investigator, possessed a gut that was never wrong, plus he had full access to Abby’s skills and she was able to track Tony’s cell phone. There were a few weekends that Gibbs had followed him out to the cabin and saw that he basically just hung out alone at the cabin or went out on hikes. He didn’t want to approach and admit he’d been spying on Tony, but he enjoyed seeing Tony so relaxed and enjoying his time alone.
Shaking his head, Tony admitted he’d never known. Gibbs just smiled, pointed to himself and said, ‘Marine sniper,’ as an explanation.
Grabbing the final gift from beneath the tree he handed it to Gibbs. When he’d torn away the wrapping paper, Gibbs read the titles of the three books he’d been gifted, The Path I Seek, The Path I Follow and The Path I Found. He also noted they were all signed by the author, Ozzy D’Notion, in handwriting that was suspiciously similar to Tony’s.
Flashing his most brilliant smile, Tony came clean and told them what he’d been doing at the cabin all these years; how he’d found solace and beauty in nature, and that it was the perfect way to find and ground himself. He divulged he’d collected his thoughts, notes, poems, sketches and photos into three self-help life-guidance books, and how the publisher where his frat brother worked had asked permission to publish them.
Bouncing on her tall boots, Abby spilled that they’d all known about not only the cabin, but Tony’s books as well, but they’d all agreed to let Tony tell them of his secret life on his own whenever he felt ready to disclose his alternate profession.
Ducky and Abby excused themselves, stating they really had to get back to Ducky’s place and begin preparing the Christmas dinner. Ducky said he still had a disposable litterbox set up, so they were welcome to bring the cats along for the evening’s festivities.
As Tony and Gibbs cuddled on the couch and watched the cats playing together, they agreed the felines were the perfect addition to their home. Tony decided Wiz was a fine nickname for Whisper, and fit well with his nom de plume Ozzy, if shortened to Oz. While the path he followed wasn’t a yellow brick road, it had certainly brought him to a happy place in his life. And now that his life included a man that he loved, friends he enjoyed and the companionship of their two newly acquired cats, he felt more than ever that he’d found the right path all along.
He knew there would be more books, ones that would now include images of Gibbs and their cats. Perhaps one day they could all go sailing in a boat Gibbs had built.
Perhaps paths weren’t only in the woods, but on the open seas as well. Whether they were visible or not, Tony was always certain that no matter where or how far he and Wiz wandered, he’d always find the path back home.
© 2020 by Jacie