I first started the idea of a ‘featured stories’ page years ago with General and Doctor Sheppard. However, it fell by the wayside as I became totally engrossed in writing NCIS fanfic. I’m resurrecting it now, as I like the idea of revisiting some of my old stories, discussing the thoughts behind them and the writing process, and also, perhaps, fishing out a lesser known story and featuring it. Please feel free to leave feedback to the featured stories, or discuss them, or reminisce about when you read the story or where you were at in fandom at that point – or just view it as an opportunity to re-read an old favourite! And by all means send me suggestions for any stories you’d like to see featured – I’ll do my best if I have anything interesting to say about them.
December 16, 2015
In 2013, I did a poll on my readers’ favourite Christmas story, and I wasn’t surprised to see Frozen win by a considerable margin. So, I thought it would be fitting to feature Frozen as this season’s featured story.
“I’ve fought in wars. I’ve been a sniper behind enemy lines. I’ve been a federal agent for years. I survived all that. Why *this*? Why now?” Gibbs shakes his head. “Didn’t add up to me, Tony. I’ve seen soldiers get PTSD. I understand it. I just couldn’t figure out how the hell it had happened to me.”
Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
This story is about what happens when a man so strong and stoic, and so much the stable rock upon which the entire NCIS team is built… falls apart. This being Gibbs, I felt he’d fall apart in an entirely Gibbsian way – by taking himself off to a remote mountain top, to live in the snow and ice where he couldn’t possibly cause any damage to anyone, to lick his wounds and try to heal himself.
Yet it is the kindness and company of others that eventually unfreeze Gibbs. First, the kind Emmylou, who offers him the company and affection that he thinks he doesn’t want but takes anyway. He knows he can’t give her anything back, and never promises that, and she finally gives up, recognizing that he’s too frozen inside for her to help. Then there is the puppy that Gibbs rescues – Digger. Digger gives Gibbs something to take care of – because Gibbs thrives most when he has something to be strong for, whether it’s his family, or his team, or a half-drowned puppy who needs him in order to survive. Yet Digger takes care of him as much as he takes care of Digger. It’s Digger who stands guard over Gibbs when he’s experiencing a PTSD attack, and Digger who keeps him warm and offers him comfort until they pass. Digger is perhaps Gibbs’s first inkling that he doesn’t always have to be the strong one – and that he can still be loved in the midst of what he perceives as his own weakness.
Finally, of course, it’s Tony who is necessary to melt the frozen core of Gibbs’s heart. When Tony finally shows up, he pushes and prods at Gibbs until we learn the truth about what happened between them, and Gibbs faces up to his problem. For Gibbs, that means understanding that he doesn’t always have to be strong for everyone. That other people can be strong for him. That he doesn’t carry the whole world on his shoulders, and the only solution isn’t to withdraw from everyone completely because of his condition. He has to re-evaluate his place in the world, and particularly in Tony’s life. He isn’t the strong, invincible man he once was, but that doesn’t mean he has less value to the people who love him.
“You wanted strength and certainty, Tony. You didn’t want someone who gets the shakes every time a car backfires in the street. You wanted someone who knew how to do his damn job and could take care of you, not someone who pukes and hollers like a baby at random moments for who knows what goddamn reason.”
After all that he’s been through, it’s surprising that Gibbs hasn’t experienced some kind of PTSD in canon. He’s been blown up in Iraq, lost his family in the most tragic, violent way, seen a member of his team killed in front of him, and been shot at and physically hurt numerous times. He has taken it all stoically, but the trouble with a man who can’t bend is that he runs the risk of breaking, and that’s what’s happened to Gibbs in Frozen. He didn’t see it coming, he doesn’t understand it, although he tries, and he can’t see his role in a world that demands that he always be strong and capable. He doesn’t see what use he can be to Tony, especially, in Tony’s own time of need. The only answer, for Gibbs, is to retreat and regroup – but in doing that, he hurts everyone he loves.
Tony goes on his own journey in this story. He has finally admitted his deepest feelings to the man he loves, only for that man to walk out on him without a word, which to Tony, with all his abandonment issues, is the worst thing that could ever happen. Tony has to face up to himself as much as Gibbs does during the course of this story. When they finally meet, they are both in a very different place. Only once the anger is out of the way can there be understanding, healing, forgiveness, and finally the chance to make a new start. They are no longer the men they once were, but they retain a fierce love for each other.
I love the sparse language I used in this story. I think it works for the frozen state Gibbs is in, combined with the much terser language I usually use when I am writing from Gibbs’s pov anyway. Like Tony, I have a tendency to be verbose (you might have noticed!), but Gibbs is a functional mute, so it felt clean and refreshing to pare everything back to basics.
Eagle-eyed NCIS fans will notice I quote Michael Weatherly’s own creation in this story, the song Bitter and Blue. And it fits! I love it when I can work in details like that.
There is so much going on in Frozen, with its themes of mental illness, isolation, betrayal, forgiveness, and love. Amidst all of that was the chance to explore who Gibbs and Tony could be away from NCIS. What lives would they lead? Who are they? Gibbs’s mountain hideaway could never be sufficient for Tony in the long-term, but Tony’s urban longings wouldn’t work for Gibbs, either. In the end, I came up with a compromise. Gibbs agrees to move half way down the mountain, and Tony decides to spend part of the year in the city. They are finding ways to be happy, with each other and alone. They know who they are and what they need, and that’s a good place to leave them.
Frozen is a Christmas story – we measure Gibbs’s time on the mountain by the Christmasses he lives through. He spends the first one alone, the second one with Digger and the third – and every one thereafter – with Tony. It is Tony, finally, who unfreezes him, who finds a way in, culminating with a literal way in during their love-making in front of the fire. He doesn’t heal Gibbs completely – this isn’t that kind of story. Gibbs still has PTSD, and maybe that won’t ever completely go away, but with Tony’s help and Digger’s unconditional love, he learns to re-evaluate who he is as someone living with that condition, and finds that he can lean on other people and still be Gibbs.
I should point out that I wrote this story long before the movie Frozen came out, but I rather think that movie resonates with this story – they are both about self-imposed isolation, and while I can’t quite imagine Gibbs singing Elsa’s signature song, it kind of works for him, too. Someone once sent me feedback to this story saying that whenever she read the title, she couldn’t help thinking of the movie. To which I obviously had no choice but to reply that she really should let it go…
This brought me close to tears so many times. A heart-wrenching story that resonates with the souls of these two men.
It’s hot and beautiful.
What a lovely story, and you handled the subject of PTSD so wonderfully. Many people don’t realize that it can be the result of multiple traumatic events finally coming to a head. I loved the slow progression of their relationship, and I appreciate the fact that Gibbs didn’t magically get better overnight and want to rejoin society. The story was definitely hot, but there was so much more to it; very complex. Thank you for sharing.