"Where do you go, Jethro? For the past nine Thanksgivings, I've called your house. You're never home." (Ducky)
"Child's Play" Episode Summary: Really kind of unnecessary for this tag! Just know that it was a Thanksgiving-based episode that ended with Team Gibbs changing their plans at the last minute to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal at Ducky's home.
Tony waited patiently for the elevators to arrive at the parking garage level. The lot was nearly empty at zero-eight-hundred on Black Friday, but there were one or two other cars. It didn't matter that NCIS headquarters was still officially closed for the holiday weekend – there was a boatload of paperwork and closing out to be done on the case involving Norvell. Three dead bodies, stolen frequency-jamming signals and treason tended to result in a whole lot of follow-up. The investigation facing Ziva regarding the shooting was still pending, though Tony had no doubt she'd be found in the clear.
So here he was on the day after Thanksgiving, dressed comfortably in his jeans and a red OSU sweatshirt, waiting with his backpack slung over his shoulder and little doubt that the remainder of his team would be in shortly if they weren't there already. He'd actually been surprised Gibbs had let them out long enough to go to Ducky's for dinner yesterday.
The doors opened, and he stepped inside. A silver-haired body inserted itself next to him just before the doors closed again and the lift began to move. He gave an up-nod in greeting to his team leader, noting the ever-present coffee cup in the right hand was joined by a twin in the left, but he dared not even hope it might be for him. It wouldn't be beyond the older man to have brought in a spare for himself. DiNozzo found his curiosity getting the best of him, and he had to ask.
"Two cups of coffee, Boss?"
Gibbs merely gave him the eyebrow. "Two glasses of wine, DiNozzo?"
If Tony were the kind of guy who blushed, his cheeks would be growing warm as he thought back to the two-handed toast yesterday at Ducky's table. He wasn't quite sure what had possessed him to go in with both hands, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time. "Yeah, well," he mumbled, and then left the statement unfinished.
"The thought of spending Thanksgiving with the team really that unpleasant?" Gibbs queried as he raised the right-handed cup to his lips and took a quiet sip.
Tony shifted uncomfortably. "Just couldn't decide between red and white," he offered, not willing to look the older man in the face as he attempted the lie. He could feel Gibbs' gaze piercing him, even if he couldn't see it, and he knew his boss wasn't buying. He took a deep breath. Delaying the inevitable spilling of his guts was pointless. This was Gibbs. He knew all, he saw all. Tony hadn't successfully gotten away with telling him a lie in the near-decade since they'd met, and there was no reason to believe he'd succeed now. It was just a matter of time until Gibbs ferreted out the truth, and really, denying it now would only make a bigger deal of it anyway.
"Wasn't sure you were going to show up," he confessed, sneaking a peek to see how his admission was going to go over. When he saw the twinkle in the blue eyes, he knew he'd be safe, and he raised his head to face his team leader.
"Wasn't sure I was going to," Gibbs admitted. "Not a big fan of breaking tradition." The smile that broke out on the younger face beside him told Gibbs that even if the second 'b' was for bastard, every now and then he could manage something nice.
The 'tradition' had started nine years ago, almost by accident. Tony had been with Gibbs' team for nearly eight months by then. When Thanksgiving rolled around that year, they'd both been trying to duck an invitation from Viv to join her family in Arlington. She'd been driving DiNozzo crazy with her mood swings for weeks, and Gibbs wasn't quite sure he'd liked her to begin with, so both had fabricated an excuse to get out of the engagement. A quick glance across the bullpen, and they each knew the other had been lying about already having plans. Gibbs looked back on it as one of the first times he could remember evidence of DiNozzo's uncanny ability to read his mind. When the invitation had come later in the day while Viv was in the ladies room, he'd been surprised. He could sense the hesitancy in DiNozzo, but the younger man approached his desk anyway.
"Look, uh, Boss . . . uh, if you're interested, I mean, I was planning on making a turkey tomorrow. You could come by if you wanted. You know. Watch the game."
Gibbs focused on the one incongruity he found in that statement. "You're making a turkey?"
Tony shrugged. "Yeah. Gonna make it whether you come or not, and it seems dumb to waste that much food – turkeys aren't exactly small birds."
"You can cook?"
DiNozzo stood tall and managed to look affronted. "Yeah, I can cook."
This was something Gibbs wanted to see. He surprised himself by saying yes.
He'd shown up the next day, dressed casually and bringing beer instead of wine, fully expecting to be plopped in front of the TV while he gnawed on a drumstick. The smell that greeted him should have been his first clue that he might have misjudged. It was the most heavenly, mouth-watering, succulent smell he'd ever encountered, and he walked into the apartment as if the aroma had reached out and grabbed him by the hand.
"Smells amazing," Gibbs said by way of greeting, handing Tony the beer, briefly wishing he'd gone with the wine. "You like to cook?" It was not what he would have expected from his young, brassy, womanizing field agent.
Tony gave him a huge grin. "I like to eat," he amended. "The cooking is just kind of a necessary evil."
The table had been set for two, and while not extravagant, it was nicely done in a way that left no doubt its creator had been of the male gender. Gibbs found it suited his mood perfectly. This was his first visit to Tony's apartment, and he was a little surprised to find it clean, orderly and tastefully decorated. He'd been expecting empty beer bottles and posters of half-naked women. Not for the first time, he came to the conclusion that there was more to the man in front of him than met the eye.
They sat down to eat, and Gibbs filled his plate with more traditional Thanksgiving dishes than he expected to see for only two people. "You really would have made all this just for yourself?" he asked.
Again, Tony gave that easy grin of his. "Yep. Like I said, eating is a hobby. A dinner like this lasts me a few days, at least. Besides, Thanksgiving only comes around once a year."
Gibbs nodded, discovering he was looking forward to the food. He knew exactly how long it had been since he'd had a true Thanksgiving meal, but as usual, he shut down any thoughts that strayed in that direction.
He took a bite and was embarrassed to find he'd groaned out loud.
"Something wrong?" Tony asked, clearly nervous.
"No. Hell, no," Gibbs assured him. "Tastes good," he said, his usual gift of understatement painfully obvious. "Where'd you learn to cook like this?"
DiNozzo's eyes shuttered briefly, before he saw the younger man almost visibly shake it off as the grin slipped back into place. He wondered again why DiNozzo was celebrating the holiday alone. He knew he had family within reasonable driving distance.
"Maria," Tony replied.
"My parent's housekeeper. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her." The answer was cryptic, but it was enough, and Gibbs knew he wasn't the only one with secrets in his past.
The day had been easy, and the food had been the best he'd ever tasted. He'd happily give up spending the holiday alone with his boat if it meant he'd get fed like this. He'd added one more item to the growing list of his agent's unexpected talents. When Thanksgiving came around again a year later, he was no longer surprised when the invitation came.
And if he were being honest with himself, he'd even have said he was looking forward to it.
That had been nine years ago. Their new-found tradition hadn't varied, and for whatever reason, they had kept it just between the two of them. He looked forward to seeing the excuses DiNozzo came up with year after year when others asked about his Thanksgiving plans, secretly amused to see them grow more and more creative. The chance to relax and watch the game together after the dinner held much more appeal on Tony's television than on his own, and DiNozzo never pressed for conversation, content to fill the silence himself.
Not to mention the food.
Though dinner at Ducky's had been enjoyable enough, he regretted missing their typical plans.
The elevator opened onto the empty bullpen and he exited, with DiNozzo on his heels. Tony took a longer step and came alongside him as they headed to their desks.
"You know, Boss," he began.
Gibbs recognized the tone and glanced sideways at his agent.
Tony smiled. "Bird's still thawed. Was planning on cooking it tomorrow. Tivo'd the game yesterday, and haven't watched it yet, but since neither of us are Cowboys fans, I figure it doesn't really matter. You got any plans?"
Gibbs stopped at Tony's desk, handing the young man the spare cup of coffee. He raised his own in a toast. "I do now."