Disclaimer and Spoilers: This chapter contains missing scenes from S6 Silent Night as well as some actual dialogue from the episode. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: This is the final chapter in my little Christmas story. I so hope that you have enjoyed the journey and have laughed and cried in all the right places.
I have really appreciated all the support and kind reviews so warmly offered by my FF friends and wish each of you a wonderful and love filled Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year!
Washington D.C Christmas Eve, 2008
Tony had parked the dark blue charger in Constitution Gardens, a reasonable distance from the Wall but close enough to afford them a good view of the Vietnam Veteran's memorial. It was quiet today, only a handful of visitors and tourists making their way along the granite memorial.
If Ducky was right, they'd easily spot Ned Quinn if he decided to pay his respects to his fallen comrade.
In silence, he and Ziva waited, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Tony reflected on the recent events, particularly yesterday's disconcerting arrival in the bullpen by Metro Detective Justin Kemp. Talk about your blast from the past.
He'd never liked the man, too sure of himself, too smug for his own good. The fact that he'd married Tony's ex and stood to inherit a massive fortune - via his wife – had nothing to do with it, of course. Well…maybe just a little?
No, it was more that as a cop, Kemp had a track record for being too willing to accept things at face value, take the easy route and disregard anything that didn't quite…add up.
He wondered what his life would have been like had his relationship with Kemp's wife lasted. Would he have remained on the police force like Kemp? Would he have joined NCIS? Or would he have accepted some cushy executive position in one of his father-in-law's many corporations and spent his days gracing boardrooms and eating expensive power lunches?
An involuntary shiver ran down his back at the thought and he grimaced. If he'd wanted that existence he would have joined his father's business years ago.
He thought about the Taylors found murdered yesterday morning and wondered what it was about the festive season that seemed to invite so much family tragedy? Wasn't it supposed to be a time for peace on earth and goodwill to all men?
Tony shook his head slightly in denial. If he lived to be a hundred he would never understand it.
"He does not dress like a cop," Ziva said quietly, as though aware of where his thoughts had been.
"Who?" Tony feigned disinterest as he stared out the side window.
"Your Detective Kemp," she replied.
"You are…a little fascinated by him," Tony decided to try a diversion.
Not to be put off, Ziva ignored his comment.
"He come from money?"
"Married it…," he snapped. "We're missing the office Christmas party," still he refused to turn around and stared out the window at the Wall.
"That could have been you. What's her name?"
"Guy in the blue hoodie, go check him out," he was not having this conversation with her.
Ziva lifted the binoculars to her eyes for a moment as she zoomed in on the object of Tony's attention and replied.
"Ah, too young, too fat, too female. Answer my question…is she pretty?"
He sighed. "Gorgeous," he admitted. "She was perfect ok? Witty…smart. That was twelve years ago, she's had kids. God knows what she looks like now".
Ziva hesitated, wanting to ask but uncertain how to go on.
"So…what happened? Do you ever regret… not having a wife…and kids, especially during this time of year. Hanukkah's all about family…is it not the same at Christmas?"
Jeanne's laughing eyes and wide smile flashed into his mind and he felt something cold unfurl in his gut.
He'd had enough. Tony reached for the handle and opened the car door.
"I'm gunna go check out the guy in the hoodie," he climbed out without a backward glance, hoping that his partner would take the hint and stay in the car.
"It is a woman," Ziva cried to his retreating back.
Hours later, Quinn was in custody, the prime suspect in the murder of Avery Taylor and his wife but Gibbs' famous gut was working overtime with a gnawing suspicion that they'd arrested the wrong man.
They'd learned that eighteen years ago, suffering the indescribable torments of war and wracked by a drug addiction, Ned Quinn had decided that his family were better off without him and so he'd faked his own death. If that was a crime then he was certainly guilty but he insisted that he had not murdered the Taylors.
In fact, he said that he'd tried to save Mrs. Taylor by applying CPR and the findings of Ducky's forensic examination certainly supported that claim.
It didn't add up and the former Marine Gunny was convinced that the corpsman, was telling the truth, that he was innocent and that the real killer was still at large and, having bought some time before handing Quinn over to Metro, the lead agent was determined to clear the veteran's name.
When Gibbs swept into the bullpen and announced that they'd be working around the clock to solve the case, Tony couldn't hide his groan of disappointment. He'd been looking forward to his traditional Christmas Eve. Over the years it had lost it's sadness and had become a time for him to reflect and be grateful for the highpoints in his life.
But disappointment quickly turned to a guilty pleasure as he realised that, for the first time, he may actually get to spend the holiday with his team whose own plans had been delayed, if not ruined.
An idea began to form in his head and he smiled, when he went out later that evening to check a lead, he made a small detour and swung by his apartment.
2030hrs Christmas Night
By Christmas evening they'd finally solved the mystery; the Taylor's home security guard had been taken into custody by Metro Police and charged with their murder. A relieved Ned Quinn had been cleared and released, Tony and McGee were putting the final touches on their reports and Ziva was bemoaning the loss of her Christmas plans to a concerned Abby who gave her a sympathetic smile.
"I've met your neighbours, Ziva, they are totally cool, I'm sure they understand why you couldn't join them tonight."
"I hope so, Abby," Ziva sighed. "I must admit that I am quite disappointed, I was looking forward to experiencing my very first traditional American Christmas dinner."
"If you want tradition, you just have to spend Christmas with me next year!" Abby enthused with her eyes shining brightly. "My extended family is coming up from Louisiana and we'll be celebrating Christmas, New Orleans style!"
"I did not know that New Orleans has its own Christmas traditions," Ziva replied.
"Oh yeah! First we place hundreds of tiny fairy lights in the giant oak tree out the back, to symbolise the Celebration in the Oaks at City Park. When the lights come on, it looks just like a magical fairyland," Abby explained. "Then we build a huge bonfire, just like they do on the levees in New Orleans to help Rudolph lead Santa, or Pere Noel as he's known in the French Quarter, into the bayou."
"It sounds wonderful, Abby," Ziva smiled.
"Oh, it totally is! Except… for that one time when Uncle Larry built the bonfire too close to the oak tree, which caught fire and spread to our neighbours garage and woodshed before the firemen gained control and extinguished the flames."
"My goodness! Was anyone hurt?"
"Oh no…unless you count my cousin Millie who sprained her wrist trying to avoid the stampeding ox," Abby admitted.
"There was a stampeding ox at your Christmas dinner?" Ziva asked incredulously.
"Of course!" Abby replied like it was the most natural thing in the world. "Well…to be fair, the ox didn't stampede until it was startled by the sirens on the fire engines."
"Abby, I do not understand. Why was there an ox at your Christmas dinner?"
"Oh, that's a tradition, too! The ox is decorated in holly and ribbons and paraded to signify the true Christmas spirit."
"Cos nothing says Christmas like a runaway bull," Tony quipped. "Actually, Abby, I think that's more symbolic of the post Christmas sales."
McGee snapped his cell closed with a frustrated sigh.
"Your parents are not happy that you are still working, McGee?" Ziva asked.
"Not happy is an understatement," McGee replied. "They've been waiting dinner hoping I'd make it home. Now the turkey's dried out, the gravy's congealed, the pudding is cold and the brandy custard is curdled. I feel like I ruined their Christmas!"
"No, Timmy, no…not ruined, just delayed!" Abby consoled with a comforting arm around his shoulders.
"Working Christmas night sucks!" McGee bemoaned.
"Eloquently put, McGemcity!" Tony chirped. "Look at the bright side, there'll be toasted turkey sandwiches, a reindeer sweater and Alvin, Simon and Theodore waiting to serenade you at breakfast."
"It's not the same," McGee said. "I love Christmas night with my family, we have long standing traditions that we look forward to every year!"
"We all have our traditions, Probie," Tony said, "But these things happen, you've just gotta learn to make the most of the situation."
"Really Tony?" McGee replied sceptically. "You have a Christmas tradition?"
"Well, tell you what, Probie. Now that we've solved the case and Ned Quinn has been exonerated - not to mention - soon to be officially reanimated…" Tony slipped the DVD from his desk drawer and waved it at McGee. "Why don't you all meet me in MTAC and I'll show you how the DiNozzo's celebrate Christmas?"
When Tony entered MTAC a short time later, carrying a large bowl of caramel popcorn, he couldn't resist dragging his feet along the carpet so that he could discharge the static electricity on an unwitting McGee.
"Would you stop that? I'm still humming from the tazor," McGee complained as he flinched uncomfortably.
Tony grinned, these small delights really did make his day and he wondered if he'd ever grow tired of them.
He walked to the large screen and turned to see his friends sitting together, expectant looks on their faces.
Ducky was fussing in his chair, Abby almost jumping out of her skin in anticipation and Ziva gazed in delightful wonderment at the frosted cotton ball bouquet that Abby had made for her.
Despite the charming smile on his face, his insides clenched with trepidation.
Although he was known for spouting cinematic trivia and for always having a movie reference to suit every situation, he'd never before mentioned this film to his friends. It just meant too much to be trivialised, to take it's place in the long list of wisecracks and verbal 'slights of hand' that he used as a shield when something was just too painful to meet head on.
It would have been too revealing, too personal.
It was part of him.
A part that he was finally ready to share with the team, his very special Christmas gift to them all.
Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and spoke in a raised voice that demanded their attention.
"Ladies and Gentlemen…tonight…you're all gunna share in a DiNozzo family tradition….caramel popcorn, hot malt cider and the greatest, GREATEST Christmas movie of all time…IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE!"
The little group broke into spontaneous applause and smiles lit every face as Tony nodded to McGee to start and took his seat in the back row.
"Oh, we can't start until Gibbs gets here…," Abby cried and Tony looked around in consternation as he realised that the Boss was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, he said not to wait," Ziva explained.
"Where is he?" asked Ducky but soon forgot to worry as the credits started to roll.
A storybook opened and with every turn of the page, a wintry scene surrounded the film's credits. A snow covered sign saying "Welcome to Bedford Falls" signaled the familiar opening scene.
Tony's earlier enthusiasm dimmed as the realisation sunk in that Gibbs – of all people - was not there.
Where could he be?
He knew that Christmas was a tough time for the Boss, yet another person for whom the Season of Joy was anything but.
He'd also noticed that extra edge, barely perceptible but years of working with the former Marine had taught him to recognise the almost fevered intensity that sometimes motivated the lead agent to find the truth.
This case…Ned Quinn and his own family tragedy had struck a nerve with Gibbs and nothing would prevent him from making it right.
Tony pulled the cell phone from his pocket and pressed the speed dial, but the call went straight to voicemail. With a wry smile, he cancelled the call, not bothering to leave a message.
He pocketed the cell phone and turned his attention to his companions, slowly searching each of their faces to gauge their reactions. After 48 long hours of exhaustive investigation, he'd expected to see sleepy disinterest but the classic film had already begun to weave it's magical spell. With one last look at their rapt expressions, he turned to watch the film, a huge DiNozzo smile on his face.
2345 hrs December 25th 2008
Slowing to a crawl, Tony carefully nosed his car into the space provided in the underground parking garage and killed the engine. Twisting around, he stretched one arm over and snatched up the small black backpack that lay on the rear seat. Slinging it over his shoulder, he grabbed the flat pizza box off the passenger seat and climbed out of the car. It was a far cry from the Christmas dinner he had planned but, given the hour, it would just have to do.
As he straightened up, the lights of another vehicle entering the garage caught him full in the face, he waved a casual hand at the driver as the car pulled slowly into the allotted visitor's space just near the entrance. Looks like Jill in apartment 3B had sorted out the problems with her boyfriend, after all.
The elevator whirred quietly as it slowly rose through four floors and came to a stop with a slight bump as it reached Tony's floor. He swapped the pizza to his other hand so that he could insert the key and open the front door then depositing the box on the small table, made his way into his bedroom and dropped the bag onto the bed.
Removing his Sig from his belt, he tucked it inside his bedside drawer, toed off his shoes and exchanged his jacket, pants and shirt for sweats and old sneakers. Strolling back in, he rummaged down the side of the leather couch for the remote and finding it, flicked on his prized flat screen TV to catch the late news.
In the corner near the window, sat his small, bare Christmas tree, the box of baubles and tinsel on the floor where he'd left them two days ago. He wondered if he should decorate it then hesitated, there were just a few minutes of Christmas left and it hardly seemed worth the effort.
A knock on the door startled him and he checked his watch, who could be calling at this hour?
Silently he crept to the door and peered through the spy hole at the silver haired man staring back at him.
Hurriedly he flicked the locks and swung the door wide.
"Boss! Where'd you go earlier? I was trying to call you".
Gibbs stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him.
"Had something to take care of," he replied as he quickly eyed the small apartment, his attention caught by the pizza sitting untouched on the small table.
"You were missed," Tony ventured without making eye contact.
Gibbs frowned slightly and pursed his lips thoughtfully.
"Spoke to Jack".
"Yeah? How is he?" Tony asked with genuine interest in his voice. He'd really hit it off with the elder Gibbs during his brief visit to Stillwater. That is, when the Boss had given him half a chance.
"Got a large turkey and needs some help to eat it,"
Tony looks at Gibbs…his brow furrowed; not sure exactly what he was saying.
"Get your bag, we're going to Stillwater," Gibbs instructed gruffly.
"Really?" Tony asked with dawning excitement.
"Yeah, really. Course if you'd rather not…" Gibbs made to move toward the door.
Before he could take a step, Tony had raced to his room to pack an overnight bag, popping back out a moment later, a look of concern etched on his brow.
"Should I wear the sweater, Boss?"
Gibbs smiled ruefully and shook his head.
"Hell DiNozzo, you can wear an elf suit if it makes you feel better".
While he waited for Tony to grab his gear, Gibbs swiped a slice of pizza and walked around the familiar apartment, noting that Tony had moved the furniture around since his last visit.
No doubt to make room for that ridiculously large television that straddled the far wall, he thought with a smile.
As he reached for another slice of pizza, he noticed the small tree standing bare in the corner, the box of decorations on the floor nearby and the conspicuous lack of gifts underneath.
"Aw DiNozzo," he breathed, a small pang of guilt twisting his insides. He reached a hand into his pocket and felt for the small package that he'd wrapped earlier.
"I'm ready, Boss!" Tony panted as he burst back into the room.
"Good, let's go then," Gibbs replied and collecting the pizza box, he headed for the door.
Tony slung his bag over his shoulder and began to follow when he stopped abruptly.
"Um, I'll meet you at the car, Boss," he called to Gibbs' retreating back. "I forgot something".
Turning, he raced back into the apartment and into his bedroom where he upended his backpack onto his bed. The DVD fell out on top and he snatched it up and tucked it into his coat pocket. He was sure he could interest Jack into watching the film with him…and with a bit of luck, Gibbs would join them.
As he dragged his front door closed and turned the key in the lock, he couldn't suppress the huge beaming smile that lit his face.
It really was a wonderful life!
My thanks to all who read and reviewed.
I couldn't resist the 'aw shucks' finish…really hope you enjoyed it!