Hi folks!

Okay so thinking I could have my mom spend the night over at my place on Christmas Eve , plus go visit all the family we had to on Christmas Day, AND finish this story, turned out to be not the best idea. So I hope y'all will forgive me for finishing this up a day late.

As I wrote the last bit of this story I found myself thinking of Gibbs, Tony and the rest of the team and how they make up an unusual family. I can't help but to feel that way about us up here in this little NCIS fanfic world.

So thanks again for all the well wishes you have been sending Laine's way and I hope y'all keep it up, even after my little story is done.

Merry Christmas!



Chapter Ten

It really was a wonderful life.


If the nurses had thought staying in charge of Tony's room was hard before, it was nothing compared to what it was like after word got out to the team that the patient was awake. At first they'd tried to hold back the tide but once they saw that the visitors weren't causing undue stress (in fact, the man seemed more relaxed when the entire group was crowded into his room), they let it go. If these people, none of whom were apparently actually related to the patient, wanted to spend their entire Christmas Day in a hospital, the staff decided to let it go.

"Boss?" Tony's voice came weakly from the pillow, barely audible in the somewhat noisy room as everyone found a place to settle in. After Tony's doctor came to check on him earlier and found his patient looking much better, he'd ordered the agent moved out of the ICU unit. Later in the afternoon, Tony had been taken to a room with two beds, though the second was empty. The team had come in not long after, happy for the extra space.

Gibbs himself had been a tad worried when everyone had come filing in, but he too couldn't deny that Tony seemed stronger when surrounded by his friends. Gibbs wondered if subconsciously he felt safer surrounded by people, after all those hours alone on that boat.

"Yeah Tony, you need something?" Gibbs asked, ready to push the call button for the nurse. Or simply let Abby run down the hall, knowing she would do so without hesitation if he even hinted that Tony needed something.

"Everyone doesn't have to stay…..if they don't want….," Tony said as Gibbs leaned in to hear the whisper, which was all the other man could muster at the moment.

Lying in the bed and watching everyone gathered round on what was supposed to be a family holiday, Tony couldn't help but to feel a little guilty. While it was true that he didn't want to be alone, nor did he want to be the cause of everyone missing out on having a normal day. Gibbs had already told him that the backup team had been put on alert. The Director took Gibbs' team off the roster thanks to losing one of its members to injuries. Luckily the other team hadn't been called out on a case, the day proving thankfully quiet. But now that Gibbs' team was taken off duty, it seemed a shame to have them waste their Christmas Day staring at him lying in a bed, no matter how much he may want it.

"Don't think I could make them leave even if I wanted to DiNozzo. As it was, Abby nearly caused a riot when they tried to instill a 'three at a time rule'," Gibbs replied with a slight smile as he said it just loud enough to be heard by everyone else.

"Ha! As if we'd leave you, Tony," Abby said from her perch at the end of his bed. She'd placed herself there ever since being allowed by her friend's side. Every once in a while she reached over to touch his leg through the blankets, as if to ensure herself that he was still there.

"Well it's not quite a turkey dinner or roasted goose but I think this will do," Ducky said, he and Palmer entering Tony's room with right then with bags in their hands. Pulling out the spare table from the unoccupied bed, they pulled out small triangle shaped boxes filled with sandwiches.

"We have turkey, roast beef, vegetable and egg salad," Palmer announced as he pulled out the packages.

If anyone thought the idea of a feast of less than stellar sandwiches and apple juice boxes from the hospital's cafeteria wasn't what they wanted for Christmas dinner, no one made any complaint. It wasn't until they all started digging in that everyone realized just how hungry they were. No one had really thought of food while searching for Tony or while waiting on word that he was okay after surgery. At that point, hospital sandwiches and juice boxes felt like a feast.

Not allowed anything more than some soup that the nurses had brought, Tony still enjoyed his dinner. Smiling and laughing, he joined in the lively conversations going around the room as much as he could.

When everyone was nearly finished, Ducky excused himself briefly. He returned a few minutes later and he and Abby smiled and winked at each other secretly. A while later, the nurses brought in bowls of pudding for everyone and even the invalid was allowed to have a bit of the special treat. The nurse and Ducky also shared a few significant looks, though no one in the room appeared to notice the extra attention given to which serving went to the patient.

As Tony dipped his spoon into the dessert, he heard an unusual sound and paused to pull something out delicately with his fingers. Ducky and Abby shared another smile, the forensic scientist recognizing the lucky Mallard sixpence that the ME had shown her a few years ago.

"That means luck, Tony!" Abby said, clapping happily. Everyone else now understood the funny looks and all smiled broadly at the subterfuge Ducky had managed to pull off without any of them being the wiser.

"That coin, my boy, has been baked into every Mallard Christmas pudding since the 1850's. Though this year I had to make due with the more plebian version of pudding I found in the cafeteria. Abby is indeed correct, it does promise luck to the one who finds it."

"That's great Ducky. Too bad I couldn't have found it a little sooner," Tony said with a smile and everyone chuckled. Making light of how close he came to dying was always part of Tony's routine when he got out of a scrape. Everyone appreciated the joke, knowing that it meant he was feeling better.

A couple hours later it seemed that the nurses had finally decided to give up on exerting any control whatsoever over the room containing the injured NCIS Agent. By the time two of them caught sight of a pair of pony tails bouncing down the hall behind the top of a small Christmas tree (complete with a tiny string of lights), they didn't even bother to raise an eyebrow.

"Now it really feels like Christmas!" Abby said, coming in with her burden and putting it down. Ziva helped to plug in the lights and Abby clapped as they came on.

From the side of Tony's bed (a spot he'd barely left since the moment Tony had opened his eyes), Gibbs smiled in satisfaction at seeing everyone in his family so happy. He would never be the type to show his joy as obviously as the others, but he was sure he felt almost the same. Now that Tony was awake and getting better by the second, he'd been allowed to relax and enjoy the day. Doing nothing but worrying over the younger man for over 24 hours had taken almost as much of a toll on him as it had on Tony. Now he could simply sit back and let everyone keep Tony's spirits up, while he still kept a watchful eye on him. Wary of any signs of undue stress or of the visitors taking too much out of the invalid, and Gibbs would be ready to kick them all out and call in a nurse. Whether Tony liked it or not.

For now though, Tony seemed perfectly happy; especially a few minutes later when McGee returned from a brief disappearance with a flat package in his hands.

"Thought we should have a little of the DiNozzo Family Tradition," McGee said with a grin as he opened the bag to pull out a portable DVD player. Next he pulled out a much smaller package, a copy of "It's A Wonderful Life."

"Aw thanks, McGoo," Tony said, a little touched that McGee would think of going to all the trouble for him.

McGee and Palmer got the movie set up while Ducky and Abby got more apple juice boxes from the cafeteria. It wasn't quite the hot apple cider that Tony normally served and there was no caramel popcorn, but considering all that had happened, he was more than satisfied with the substitutes.

Ziva turned off the overhead lights and as the sun had just set, soon the only illumination in the room came from the small strand of Christmas lights on the tree by the window and the glow of the DVD player.

As the movie began, Tony found that his eyes were barely on it. Instead he found himself looking around the room at his family. All his adult life, Tony had managed to live without a family. He'd done just fine on his own, even coming up with his very own "DiNozzo Family Tradition" of watching "It's A Wonderful Life" on Christmas and making his own hot cider and caramel popcorn. He'd started the tradition as something to look forward to on those lonely Christmas Days spent in his small crappy apartment when not on duty as a beat cop in Philadelphia. His only wish had been to someday have a family to share it with.

He'd love the classic ever since he'd seen it the first time as a kid, so making it into a tradition hadn't been that much of a stretch. He figured the reason he loved it so much was because he had often felt like George Bailey, especially as a younger child. So many nights he had gone to bed and wondered why he was there, what purpose did he serve, would it be better had he not been born? A father who barely looked at you after your mother died, it could make a boy feel like that.

Nowadays, Tony felt more like George Bailey at the end of the film. He knew for a fact that the world wouldn't be a better place had he not been born. Not that he was anything all that special, but he had saved a lot of lives and helped a lot of people. Now he knew that if he'd never existed, there'd be a lot of people who wouldn't be around anymore.

Strange as it sounded, Tony couldn't have asked for a much better Christmas. He was surrounded by those he truly considered his family, doing the one thing that had always made him happy on Christmas Day. As he dozed off (not even halfway through the film, the day having taken its toll on his still healing body), Tony felt truly loved. It was the love that he knew would help him get through and help him get better.

While he would have preferred to end the day in a lot less pain….and a heck of a lot less tubes running into his body, Tony was still happy as found himself drifting off to the sound of the old flick. He would heal with the help of his family.

As Gibbs looked over, he saw Tony's eyes close and felt relieved that the other man would finally be getting some rest. He too couldn't have asked for a much better Christmas Day. Since losing Shannon and Kelly, Christmas Day had always been about fighting back the pain that came with the memories of happier times.

The memories he'd always fought so hard to keep at bay, hadn't come to bother him today with all that had happened. Now, as he watched Tony sleeping peacefully and looked around at the rest of his new family, he felt joy he hadn't associated with the day in a long while. Rather than feeling guilty about pushing aside thoughts of Shannon and Kelly, he knew this was a good thing. His wife and daughter would never want him to spend the rest of this days feeling pain because of them.

Whether by blood or friendship, family was the most important thing to have during the holidays. Gibbs hadn't replaced his wife and daughter. He'd simply added new members to his family.

The movie came to its happy conclusion and as Zuzu declared that an angel had gotten its wings, Gibbs looked around the room once more and smiled. Lying side by side on the other bed, Ducky and Abby were sleeping on each other's shoulders with Ziva curled up at their feet. Their necks bent at odd angles and bound to protest the positions in the morning, Palmer and McGee were each sound asleep in the other chairs, snoring softly.

As Gibbs looked at the sight, he thought that George Bailey had gotten it right.

It really was a wonderful life.

Well there it is, the end. I hope y'all enjoyed it and I am planning on starting a new story soon. I'll be posting the Gibbs and Tony on horseback story I've been yammering about for months now, so stay tuned for that one.

In the meantime I'll be doing both of my blogs of course (links are on my profile page). The newest one I will start updating shortly, so stay tuned….

Till next time, thanks again to everyone who reviewed or sent messages to myself and of course to Laine. Y'all are the best!