DECEMBER 25

Presents!

He can't help it. He saves all his presents. Anything Tony gets from anyone gets held onto and put under the tree or in his stocking for Christmas morning. People always want him to open the presents in front of them, but he just can't. His parents were adamant about the whole "nothing is opened until everyone is up and properly attired." While that might seem a little like a micro-managed Christmas, Tony did have to admit that it really REALLY added to the whole excitement thing. And when you're alone on Christmas morning it's just a lot more fun to open up a pile of presents than it is to realize that you've opened everything already and will have to spend the morning channel-surfing while you wait for football to start.

Tony tossed the milk that had been sitting out overnight and got himself a fresh glass. He took that and the plate of cookies to the tree and sat down on the floor to open gifts. Tony started with the gifts he kind of knew about.

He got a variety of calendars from his frat brothers every year – it was its own little tradition that they sent each other 'girlie calendars' for Christmas. This year, Tony received the "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit" calendar, the "Stewardesses 2007" calendar (he chuckled at how much Kate would have hated that one) and the annual "Girls of Ohio State" calendar. He generally never even used the calendars, but tradition was tradition. Each calendar also came with an Armani gift card, which Tony DID use. He carefully tucked those away in his stocking so as not to lose them.

The next gift he chose was the annual biography from Kimmy. This year she'd sent him "The Pursuit of Happyness" by Chris Gardner. She'd put on the card, "I know you'll go see the movie. I thought you might also want to read the book." Argh. Now he had to decide whether to ruin the book by seeing the movie or ruin the movie by reading the book. That was so Kimmy. (And part of the reason they broke up, now that he thought about it.) He smiled and put the book on the coffee table next to the others he was reading.

Next up was the gift from his father. It had taken almost eight years for Tony to make clear to his father the futility of sending him power tools, chrome desk accessories or Home Depot gift cards for Christmas. DiNozzo Sr., clearly frustrated, had finally thrown his hands in the air and said, "Fine – what would YOU send YOUR son?" Thus began the tradition of season tickets to the Redskins (or whichever football team Tony was closest to at the time). It was a gift Tony really enjoyed, and one his father could certainly afford. Plus, it had the added bonus of taking virtually no time to purchase (an electronic renewal form simply had to be approved) and did not require wrapping or mailing, as they were sent directly from the season ticket office to Tony each year. It was a perfect gift, from the standpoint of Anthony DiNozzo Sr.

A couple of years ago Tony had managed to coax the old man into coming down to DC for a game. They'd had a great time until Tony's phone rang and Gibbs called him into the office. After nearly two decades of his dad pulling the old, "I'm sorry, but I have to go into work" thing on him, there was a kind of interesting symmetry in Tony making the same excuse to his father. And for the first time, Tony discovered how annoying it was to be the one who had to leave and endure both the wrath of the boss ("Took you long enough!") and the chiding of the one left behind ("You have to go in now? It's a Sunday!"). That was one of the first times that Tony understood a little bit of what it was like to be his father. And, probably, that Tony's father understood what it had been like to be Tony.

With the Redskins tickets peeking out of his stocking, he'd come to the end of the "I know what this is" gifts, so it was on to the mystery packages.

Tony didn't really exchange gifts with the NCIS team. Gibbs had instituted an informal "no gift" policy years ago (Tony suspected it was one of The Rules) and everyone stuck to it. When they gathered for dinner at Tony's place each year, they all brought wine and food and other treats that everyone could share, and that was considered to be more than enough. Tony did, however, exchange gifts with Abby. They'd been doing it since the year they met, mostly because Tony had been trying to win her over that year. He'd gotten her a small Goth-inspired action figure for her lab, which she'd loved. She felt so badly about not having gotten him anything that she went overboard the next year with insanely expensive concert tickets. They came to an understanding after that and kept their gifts to a "$20 or less" rule.

This year, Abby had made the perfect choice – a "Chocolate Voo Doo Doll." The doll was packaged with a selection of spells and recipes, a short history of voo doo, and instructions for "safe use." Tony immediately named the doll 'Ziva' and tucked it away until he really needed it.

Abby had also gotten him an autographed copy of "Deep Six : The Further Adventures of LJ Tibbs", which made Tony laugh uncontrollably. He was absolutely certain that McGee had no idea who Abby had bought the book for and had simply autographed it for her as a favor. The elaborate and flowing signature of 'Thom E. Gemcity' caused another convulsion of laughter. Abby had certainly outdone herself this year.

Liz's present was next, a flat, square box wrapped in paper that was covered with cats in Santa Claus hats. Tony chuckled. He tore open the wrapping, opened the box, and pulled out a Burberry scarf. Just like Liz to choose a classic. It had a light grey background with small stripes of dark grey, navy and brown running through it in an oversized plaid, guaranteeing that it would work with any coat he owned – from the brown bomber jacket to the black trench to the dark blue pea coat. Excellent.

Terri's gift was even more of a surprise. She'd gotten him a small, framed pen-and-ink drawing of the US Capitol dome. He recognized it as the same one he'd seen at an art show on the Mall last summer. He and Terri had been wandering through the booths when they came upon a local artist who specialized in architectural drawings. Tony had spent an hour going through the various drawings, trying to choose which one to buy. Just as he'd finally narrowed it down, Gibbs had called with a new case, and Tony had had to leave. Terri had obviously stuck around and purchased the piece for him. He chuckled to himself. It must have nearly killed her, keeping it a secret that long.

Next up was Jess. She'd sent three packages, all wrapped separately, with numbers on them. He opened #1 and burst out laughing. She'd taken a normal 'Ken' doll and created "NCIS Ken". The doll was dressed in a grey suit that looked a lot like the one he'd had to destroy during the Y Pestis thing; he was holding a gun in one hand and a teeny tiny "Sexual Harassment" manual in the other. Additional accessories included a laptop computer, a ball cap with 'NCIS' painted on it, and even a bullet-proof vest that she'd made herself. The box had been reworked just enough to add the "NCIS Ken" logo, and to add some hilarious commentary on the contents. Tony shook his head. Jess definitely had WAY too much time on her hands.

Box #2 contained a "Junior CSI" kit. It had a blacklight for finding blood, some red safety glasses, several pairs of gloves and all sorts of other usable items, like fingerprint powder and swabs. He'd have to show it to Abby. She'd love it.

Box #3 was a toy of a different type – Jess had sent him a new watch. It had a classic look to it, but had two faces, so that it could be set for two time zones at once. She'd set one face to his time zone in DC and the other to hers in Alaska. Attached to the watch was a note, "Check this before you call!" (The last time he'd called Jess, he'd called at 8:30 a.m. his time, which was about 4:30 a.m. her time. She was less than delighted to hear his voice.)

Tony's final gift was from his grandmother. She'd passed away years ago, but had left behind several family heirlooms for Tony, with strict instructions to release one per year to him on Christmas. They always arrived a couple of days before the holiday, beautifully wrapped, and bearing a sticker that admonished "Do Not Open Until Christmas." Opening his grandmother's gift was usually the highlight of the Christmas season for Tony. The gifts were of varying sizes and had held a diverse range of items. One year, he'd gotten his grandfather's roll-top desk; the next year, a set of crystal champagne flutes with the family crest. Last year, he'd received a shadow box of items from his parents' wedding. It was always something unexpected, wonderful and filled with memories.

The box this year was small – less than six inches long. Tony carefully unwrapped it. Inside was an exquisite Limoges Santa Claus box. It was only a few inches tall, but Tony could clearly remember seeing it on the mantle at his grandmother's house every year. It was his favorite of all her Limoges pieces because Santa was holding a puppy. Tony had wanted a puppy from the time he was old enough to say, "I want a puppy." His parents never gave in to his pleading. But every time he visited his grandmother, she'd make sure to take him next door to play with the two golden retrievers her neighbors had. And when Jess had gotten a mutt from the Humane Society in 7th grade, the two friends spoiled the dog rotten until they left for college and had to leave him behind. Tony could still remember Jess calling him in tears the year after he'd graduated college to tell him that Caruso had died. (They'd named him Caruso because he howled constantly during the first weeks she had him.)

Tony looked at the small Limoges figurine with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes. Who would have thought such a small thing could bring back such big memories?

With the opening of his grandmother's gift, Christmas was over. Well … not really. There was still a round of parties to make it to today, including what was sure to be an outstanding Christmas Tea at Ducky's (provided he could keep Mrs. Mallard's hands off the brandy and the dogs off of him). As Tony cleaned up the living room and picked up all the wrapping paper and ribbons, he took another look at the small porcelain Santa figure, now carefully placed near a photo of his grandmother on the mantle.

"Buon Natale, Nonna," he said softly.

And then he hurried off to get ready for the rest of Christmas Day.


And there you have it. The twelve days of Tony's Christmas. As I see them, anyway. Wishing you all a happy 2007! (And no … I have no plans to write "Tony's Shiny New Year." Maybe I'll do that NEXT December.)