"A DiNozzo Family Tradition"

Chapter 1.

Disclaimer: They're not mine and remain the property of CBS, Bellisario and co.

Author's Note: I wrote this some time ago, prompted by the episode Silent Night where Tony excitedly plays the film "A Wonderful Life" for the team in MTAC. You know how I love to dwell on his childhood and invent possible scenarios that may explain some of his behaviour. I couldn't resist this one and intend to extend it to approximately 5-6 chapters, all set years apart. Somewhat angsty I'm afraid. Hope you like it.

Christmas Eve, 1978

The howling wind outside rattled the glass in the windows as swirls of snow danced across the lawn, creating drifts against the side of the house and burying the long winding drive.

Inside the big house, a small boy sat at the end of a long dining table, his mother sat opposite, as they waited silently for his father to join them for the meal. The table was carefully festooned with brightly coloured napkins, crackers and holly with candles flickering in the centre. It was Tony's seventh Christmas and his mother had excitedly helped their housekeeper, Sofia, prepare a special family dinner.

Every few minutes, his mother's eyes would stray to the clock on the wall and then she would paste that overbright smile on her beautiful face, turn to him and say, "Your father will be here shortly, Anthony, he promised."

Dutifully, Tony would smile back and nod his little head before turning his eyes back toward the window and the empty drive.

Most nights of course, his father didn't come and mother and son would eat their meal together, Tony chattering away incessantly as Gabriella only half listened, a distracted smile on her beautiful face.

Sofia appeared in the doorway and with a quick glance at the small hungry child sitting impatiently at the table, asked if she could begin to serve the meal. His mother's belief that her husband would soon join them was beginning to wane and her voice was unusually sharp as she instructed the housekeeper to keep the meal warm a little longer.

They continued to wait in silence, Gabriella positively vibrating from pent up tension as she attempted to smile serenely and appear calm.

The sound of the telephone ringing in the den had her surging to her feet and she ran quickly to answer the call. When she returned a few moments later the over-bright smile on her face, told him that his father would not be home to celebrate as planned.

Without looking at the elderly housekeeper hovering nearby, Gabriella said quietly. "You can serve the meal now, Sofia. Mr. DiNozzo will not be joining us, after all."

"But Mamma, what about the movie?" Tony asked in a small uncertain voice. "We always watch the movie, he promised he'd be home."

Gabriella reached an unsteady hand and refilled her wine glass, "It's a film, Anthony, not a movie and I know he promised but your Daddy's a very busy man," the ever present smile did not reach her eyes. "We can watch together, yes? We will finish our meal and go into the study and hopefully your father will be home soon."

"But you said it was tradition, Mamma," he continued. "No matter where we are or what we are doing."

"…and we will uphold the tradition, Anthony, but for this year, it will be just you and me."

Tony listened to his mother's words but his disappointment was plain to see, his shoulders slumped and his lower lip trembled as he fought to control the tears.

"Anthony, what do I always say?"

"Always smile, Mamma," the small voice recited. "Never…let…anyone see…your pain,"

"That's right, piccolo mio, pain is personal, it's private," his mother advised. "The more it hurts, the brighter your smile should be."

Tony nodded, forcing his lips to obey as he dutifully squeezed out his best impression of a smile. Satisfied, his mother lifted her fork and began to eat and after a moment's hesitation, Tony turned his attention to his meal.

When they were finished their meal, they moved into the study and after selecting his favourite Christmas film from the shelf, Tony slipped the cassette into the player. He pushed the play button and climbing up beside his mother, settled back into the deep cushions of the couch.

On the screen an enchanted storybook opened and with every turn of the page, a wintry scene unfolded, the film's credits framed on every page. A snow covered sign saying "Welcome to Bedford Falls" signaled the familiar opening scene and slowly, Tony felt the tension leave his little body and he began to relax, already lost in the magical world.

Beside him –unnoticed- his mother turned her head and stared out the window into the wintry night where swirls of snow dance across the lawn and piled high against the side of the house.

"It's a Wonderful Life, Mamma," Tony chimed in an excited voice.

Gabriella smiled absently and squeezed his little hand. "Yes, piccolo mio, it's a wonderful life,"