A/N: Hey guys!

I wrote this oneshot at the encouragement of the ever fabulous dizzy - in - the – izzy. I wanted to capture the ideal Christmas with the NCIS family. Here you'll find some hints of Tiva, which you can perceive as close friendship or romance at your own liking (I prefer the latter, but hey, it's your choice) and surprisingly, a lot of enthusiastic Abby. It's not what I expect to see in the show, but it does fit in with the timeline and some different assumptions I have. It's pretty sweet and idealistic, but it was fun to write, albeit a little difficult at parts. There's also quite a bit of Tony backstory, which I liked expanding on. I hope it doesn't sound or feel too awkward--working without a lot of angst is hard for me, LOL.

Anyway, Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Autumn


"Other things may change us, but we start and end with family." Anthony Brandt.


For Tony, the holidays never seemed to go exactly as planned, but he knew he shouldn't be surprised.

Growing up, his parents would plan elaborate parties, and ladies would arrive in their Christmas ballgowns and the men in their designer tuxedoes, a million candles shining, Christmas trees sparkling with the rare jewels that rest upon each woman's hand, neck, or wrist. The crystal of the chandeliers in their large ballroom would shine a soft glow upon the laughter, toasts made as midnight struck and it was officially Christmas.

But young Anthony was never invited. He knew to expect his nanny to take him upstairs at precisely two o'clock in the afternoon so that the decorators and caterers and multitude of other staff could work without his "rambunctious enthusiasm" as the family therapist so eloquently described it.

But every year, Tony would creep downstairs, avoiding the creaky boards in the hallway as he slipped down to the landing where he could sneak a peek at the party at exactly twelve-thirty. He knew that just about then, something would go wrong—it always did. One woman might get drunk, or a business partner might spill some embarrassing gossip about the company, and another might reveal a hidden secret. Some years the accidents would be particularly harmful, and others, it would only be a mild embarrassment, but they always happened.

The worst memory was his tenth Christmas. Yes, he was ten years old when he heard the dreadful news, the walls echoing his father's drunken words. That night, he learned that his mother was sick—dying. And not only was she dying, but his father had been having an affair. Oh, the scent of Scotch on his breath was a common thing, and he cold hold his liquor fairly well, but tonight, "in good celebration", he had a few extra drinks.

It explained so much, and Tony felt like he had always known about the affair—the woman in question had come to the house so often, and she was so familiar. He knew now. And his mother? She had been paler, and put so much into the party, more than any year past. It was as if she knew this would be her last Christmas.

Tony had once said that his mother dressed him like a sailor until he was ten. This was why, and he knew it—this was why that after his tenth birthday, she allowed him to dress as he pleased. It was her final apology.

Since then, Christmas had always been an excuse for Tony to get away. Many Christmases as a young man, he found himself partying with friends—he never went home for the holidays during winter break in college.

Other years, he would head to a bar, or perhaps a sweet hotel where a casino was right downstairs.

Everything changed when he joined Gibbs' team. Christmases were now spent doing good, solving murders, saving lives, giving people the greatest Christmas present—the truth. He would complain, but he didn't mind so much. He knew it was better this way. Last year, he even summoned up the holiday spirit to share It's a Wonderful Life with his co-workers, his friends, his new family as they stole MTAC for the evening. He didn't tell them that the tradition began in his bedroom when his nanny suggested they watch it while his parents threw their galas below. His nanny, the first one that showed him the movie, was his favorite—she was a sweet young woman, a graduate student who always made him feel loved. She was like his big sister, caring about him when his own family did not.

Tony didn't realize what it was about It's a Wonderful Life that made him love it so much, not until last year as he watched it with his newfound family. It was just that—he longed for a mother like Mary, for his father to discover love and relish it upon his children. He wanted things to be okay again. And now finally, it was.

But this year, Tony wasn't sure how to celebrate Christmas. After Thanksgiving, after all that had happened during the summer, he wasn't sure anymore. A casino, a bar—they didn't have the same appeal. Perhaps he had grown up, he would wonder.

"She pretty?" Ziva asked him, wondering about the wife of the other detective working the case. He had been entirely uncomfortable during the entire investigation, and Ziva hadn't stopped teasing him about it. But tonight as they sat in the car, watching for the suspect as snow drift to the ground on that Christmas Eve at the Vietnam Memorial, her tone changed, and she asked him hard questions he could not answer.

"Gorgeous. She was perfect, okay? Witty, smart… That was twelve years ago. She's had two kids, God knows what she looks like now,"

"So… What happened?" he didn't move his eyes from the window. "You ever, um, regret not having a wife and kids, especially during this time of year? Hanukah is all about family. Is it not the same with Christmas?"

He didn't answer. "I'm gonna go check out the guy in the blue hoodie,"

"It is a woman!"

A lot had happened since then. She had left, she had died, and he had rescued her. Things had seemingly gone back to normal—the team was together again, as they should have always been. Ziva was working toward citizenship. But he was beginning to wonder, to wonder about his place in the world, his place with the team, his future—so much was unknown.

This Christmas, he merely planned to do paperwork and visit the Washington Monument. He knew Gibbs would visit a memorial—he always did, after the case was solved. Tony figured that he might try that too.

However, when Ducky invited them all to his home for Christmas Eve, they all heartily accepted. They were to each bring something—it would be potluck style, Ducky explained, and Abby was thrilled.

Tony was dumbfounded as to what to donate to their festivities, but finally showed up at the Mallard residence, just a little late, his contribution in his backseat.

Tony drove up to the familiar old home, white sparkling lights shining through the sweet snowfall. A snowman sat near the porch, and Tony guessed that Abby had coerced Gibbs into helping her create it. He smiled as he walked up the steps and knocked on the door. He could hear the laughter pouring out from inside, Abby's giggle prevalent, Ziva's sweet chuckle gorwing louder as she neared the door.

She opened it, eyes shinign as she looked over her shoulder to Abby before looking at Tony. Her hair was curly, wild like it had been when they first met. He smiled at her, and for a moment, they just stood there. But quickly, Ziva realized their nothingness and laughed. "You must be freezing, come inside," she said. She gestured to the paperbag in Tony's hand. "I will take this," she said.

"Merry Christmas, Ziva," he grinned at her as they walked into the warm home, Gibbs' wry chuckle, coming from the living room. She stopped briefly by the threshold of the kitchen.

"Merry Christmas to you too, Tony,"

They walked into the kitchen, filled with a wonderful concoction of scents. "Wow, something smells amazing," he commented.

"Ducky has been working very hard," she said, checking the stove. "They are all in the living room," she explained. "Shall we join them?"

"Gotta put that in the oven to stay warm, if there's room," Tony said, pointing to the bag in Ziva's hands.

"What is it?"

"You'll see," he grinned mischeviously before taking it from her and placing it carefully inside once she had left the room.

Tony entered the cozy living room, lit by the glowing warmth of the fireplace and the sparkling Christmas tree in the corner. Abby squealed as she ran to Tony and wrapped him in a hug. "Merry Christmas, Tony!"

Tony laughed. "Merry Christmas, Abby," she pulled back and moved back to her seat between Gibbs and McGee on the couch, turning to the younger agent to finish a story, hands animating excitedly.

"Merry Christmas, Anthony!" Ducky greeted him as he joined the group, bringing in a plate of appetizers.

"Hey Ducky, merry Christmas," he replied happily. Tony glanced at Gibbs who smiled at him, nodding wordlessly. "You too, Gibbs," he looked over to McGee who had finally heard the end of Abby's enthusiastic tale. "Merry Christmas, Tim,"

"You too, Tony," he replied.

"Hey, what'd you bring for dinner?" Abby asked him.

"It's a surprise," he grinned, winking at her. "I made it myself,"

Ziva eyed him. "Are you sure you did not just buy it from the grocery store?"

He laughed wryly. "Nope, I worked long and hard on it,"

"Okay then," Ziva said, searching him with her spying smile.

"Anyone up for a game?" Abby suggested. She smiled shyly, just for an instant before lighting up. "It's an old tradition my family had growing up,"

They spent the next hour as their dinner finished off, playing a worn and loved boardgame Abby had brought. She giggled and Tony and McGee competed trivially, and Gibbs smiled a little, all but rolling his eyes in affection as Ducky looked on and Ziva shook her head with a knowing smile, finally giving into their competitive spirits halfway through.

At five o'clock, a bell rang from Ducky's hand, summoning the group into a beautifully adorned dining room, all the food laid out on the table.

"Wow, it smells amazing, Ducky," Abby commented as she sat down. A chorus of agreements followed as they chatted about small things, the gathering of snow outside, their childhood memories of Christmas, the delightful spread, anything and everything but the darkness which they faced each day. They remembered the good in the past year, four months absent from their discussion.

They laughed and smiled and it felt like family.

"Tony, what about what you brought?" Abby remembered.

Tony smiled and looked around. The group had finished their meals—perhaps it was time to bring it out. He made a quick trip to the kitchen, and several moments later, reappeared with a golden pie in his hand. "It's apple," he explained. "It's, ah, Ziva's recipie,"

"I did not think you would ever use that," she laughed.

"I got it from her a few years ago—I had a bite awhile back and, well," he shrugged, grinning.

"Do you have whipped cream, Ducky?" Abby's eyes glimmered with the idea as the doctor brought some back from the kitchen.

A few minutes later, a clamoring sounded outside. Ducky's brow furrowed as he stood to go check the door. "I wasn't expecting anyone," he murmered as he walked to the back door, finding that it was the flapping of his screen door in the heavy wind, snow falling furiously. He pulled it shut and locked it before rejoining the group. "It appears to be a blizzard," he announced.

Abby's brow shot up as she looked around with wide eyes. "Snow day?"

"It appears as if you'll all have to stay the night. I won't have any of your driving in this storm," Ducky agreed.

"Seriously?" Ziva asked, turning to look out the window, finding he was right.

"You have got to be kidding me," McGee commented, taking a glance at Tony who seemed to already have his mind spinning ways to drive the younger man crazy.

"Come on guys, it'll be fun," Abby encouraged.

Ducky looked at the group, still a bit put off. "How about we make some s'mores?" he suggested.

"What are 's'mores'?" Ziva asked.

"You'll see," Abby said and whisked Ducky away to the kitchen to gather the necessary ingredients. She brought back a large tray of all the makings, placing a marshmallow properly on a utensil specifically designed for their purpose. Abby handed it to Tony and followed the motion for all other members of the party.

"I'll show you how to make a real s'more," Tony grinned at Ziva, who held the device in her hand, a bewildered expression on her face. He took his marshmellow and held it just at the tounge of the flames. "You wanna get it golden brown, just enough," he said, slowly turning it. He looked at Ziva who copied his action. "You enjoying your Christmas?"

She smiled. "I am,"

Tony glanced at her marshmallow. "It's on fire, hold on," he said as he brought it out and blew out the flame. Moments later, the pair was delighting in their snacks.

"Strange combination," Ziva commented. "But this," she laughed, "is amazing,"

"I told you," Abby grinned at her.

For a while, they stayed out in the living room, laughing at talking and it felt oh-so-right. After an hour though, Abby feel asleep against Gibbs' shoulder as they leaned against the couch, and the group grew sleepy. Ducky gave a room to each member of the team, the cozy house warm beneath their vintage bedspreads piled high with quilts.

But after two hours of tossing and turning, Tony was unable to sleep, and he knew it was not due to the discomfort of sleeping in his casual suit. He crept downstairs, still lit by the glow of the tree and the fire as he made his way down to find a figure standing by the window.

"Hey," he whispered from across the room as he tip-toed over to her.

"Morning," Ziva replied softly, not looking from the curtains.

"It still snowing?" he asked, though he had finally reached her without disturbing the old wooden floors.

"It has not stopped," Ziva confirmed, pulling an old sweater no doubt borrowed from Ducky closer to her. She finally turned to him. "What are you doing still up?"

"I'd ask you the same thing," he smiled.

"I could not sleep,"

"I never could, not on Christmas Eve,"

"I have never actually celebrated Christmas," Ziva said.

"Well, not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve, it's kind of like a rite of passage,"

"Really?" she asked skeptically.

He shrugged with a smile and looked out the window. "I always liked the snow. Never really got it on Christmas though. Got lots of ice, but never snow," he mused. "You?"

Ziva shook her head. "It did not snow in Tel Aviv. It did in many places I went, but I was always involved in a mission. I did not I did not celebrate Christmas until then," she explained. "With you,"

Tony smiled softly. "Well, watching an old movie isn't exactly classic Christmas material,"

"I thought it was great. It made it feel like… home,"

"You watched It's a Wonderful Life in Israel?"

Ziva laughed. "No, but it made feel like this was home,"

"You still set on settling down at NCIS?" he asked.

"Yes—my citizenship is due to come through soon, I believe,"

"That's fast,"

"It helps having the Director of NCIS onboard, as well as the Secretary of the Navy,"

"Ah," Tony grinned.

Ziva eyed him. "You never said why you were down here either,"

"Same,"

"Couldn't sleep?" Tony shook his head in confirmation. "That is slightly suprising,"

"Why?"

"You seem to be able to fall asleep anywhere," she teased.

"I could say the same thing for you," he replied. "Looks like this conversation has come full circle,"

"And the snow has still not let up," Ziva said, glancing back out the window.

"Looks like Abby will get her wish for the whitest Christmas ever," Tony mused.

"White Christmas? Is that a reference to race or to the snow?" Ziva asked, brow furrowed as she thought.

"The snow. It's a movie—1954, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye,"

"I have never seen it,"

"Ah, come on, it's a classic!"

Ziva smiled and began to walk toward the stairs. "Merry Christmas, Tony,"

"Merry Christmas," he replied as he watched her walk up the stairs.


Sleep came quickly the next time Tony's head finally rest against a pillow—its soft lavender scent compelled him into the sweetest of dreams, a fire lit in the fireplace in his room, its shadows dancing upn the walls.

But almost as soon as Tony fell asleep, he awoke to the squealing and giggling of Abby. He grinned as he stretched sleepily in the bed, yawning as he stumbled out of the room and downstairs. He followed the scent of cinnamon and fresh bread into the kitchen where he was greeted by a celebratory embrace from Abby.

"It's Christmas!" she cried through their hug before she retreated and moved back to her task of tending to the eggs that cooked on the skillet.

Tony looked around to see Gibbs sitting at the small breakfast table in the corner, drinking a cup of no doubt very strong coffee. McGee was cooking pancakes, and Ducky was pulling yet another loaf of bread out of the oven. "That smells heavenly, Ducky," Abby commented.

Tony glanced over to the small island, finding Ziva standing there, slicing a loaf of bread with a rather large knife. "Anybody watching this crazy ninja chick? The woman has a knife in her hand the size of Montana,"

"Capitol, Helena, became a state in 1870," she said, nearly waving her knife in demonstration as she spoke, causing Tony to take a step away.

"Our resident historian," McGee said, almost proudly. Ziva shot him a smile before returning to her task.

"You will thank me later," Ziva told Tony.

"For the bread or the encyclopedic reference," Ziva gave him a look, but continued slicing. "Can you get the butter out, Tony?"

He nodded and reached into Ducky's large refrigerator, retrieving the butter. "So Abby, you excited about the snow?"

"Duh. It's like, the best Christmas ever,"

"We're only eight and a half hours into it," Tony chuckled.

"Well if Christmas Eve is any indication, I'm absolutely thrilled, and you should be too. Now don't be a grump, get some coffee and perk up," she instructed as she worked with the eggs like a pro.

"We don't have another ham," Ducky said. "So lunch will consist of left overs. We'll get creative, though," he said, winking at Abby. "Timothy, what kind of traditions did your family have during the holidays?"

"It was usually pretty quiet, growing up. We moved around a lot because of my dad's job, but my mom always made sure Sarah and I always felt like it was home. We'd always have a huge breakfast in the morning, then we'd open presents, and after that, Sarah and I would build snow forts, and if there wasn't any forts, Mom build forts out of blankets and pillows with us,"

"It sounds wonderful," Ziva commented with a smile. "How about you, Gibbs?" Tony winced, expecting the worst reaction from the quiet, older man.

"Nah," he said. "Too busy,"

"We have had a case almost every Christmas these past few years," Abby agreed. She smiled to herself. "I like to think it's our way of giving back though, like you're supposed to do during the holidays. Only I do it with fingerprints and DNA, while you guys do it with guns and handcuffs,"

The group shared in a laugh as McGee, Abby, Ducky, and Ziva brought the breakfast spread to the dining room table.

"We never exchanged gifts," Abby realized suddenly.

"Too busy figuring out what to do with this storm," Gibbs said before taking another sip of his steaming coffee.

"That means we can have a real Christmas morning, just like they do in the movies," she said, eyes sparkling.

They finished their breakfast more quickly than planned, hurried by a very enthusiastic Abby. When she finally herded the group into the living room, she began to pass out their gifts. Abby had planned the gift exchange weeks before, even having created a special randomizing program. Each person would have one gift, specially chosen for them by someone else—secretly.

"Alright, we'll go in a circle. Ducky, you open yours first," Abby instructed, having finally regained her composure.

Ducky unwrapped his box to reveal an antique book he had been eyeing recently, wrapped creatively in a new bowtie. "Oh!" he exclaimed happily.

"That is from me," Ziva smiled.

"Thank you, Ziva. I am delighted," he replied genuinely, and she nodded her welcome to him.

McGee was next. "A special edition of Iron Fist, issue four. It's the only one I don't have," he grinned, almost boyishly. He looked around the group. "Thanks,"

"You're welcome," Tony replied sincerely.

It was not Gibbs' turn. Abby turned to Ziva and whispered, "He is the worst to shop for—the man who has everything and wants nothing!"

"You say that every year," Ziva smiled knowingly.

"He'll never change. He never does," Abby replied, rolling her eyes affectionately.

Gibbs had finished opening his bag, having pulled out a knit green scarf, a shiny new hammer, and a gift card to the lumber yard. He grinned and looked at Abby. "Thanks, Abs,"

"It gets cold. I thought you could use the scarf, even though you claim that your coffee keeps you warm," she explained. "And the gift card, I thought you could use for your boat, along with the hammer—all of yours are completely covered in rust. Too much oxidization can ruin a hammer,"

He leaned over to her and pecked her on the cheek in thanks. "I think its your turn now, Abs," he said.

Abby picked up the small package from the coffee table where she had left it earlier. She pulled back the black paper and silver bow to find a platinum edition album of one of her favorite bands, accompanied by a large sleeve—Caf-Pow size. She eyes the group, finally deciding on McGee. "Thanks, Timmy,"

"How'd you figure it out?" he laughed.

"Your bright red ears," she replied. "Your turn, Ziva,"

Ziva picked up the small box from its place on her lap and pulled back the ribbon and top to reveal a small bird, flying on a chain. "That one's from all of us," Gibbs said.

Ziva looked up at the group, eyes almost teary. "Thank you,"

"There's more," Tony said.

"More?" Ziva said, checking the box. She pulled off the soft cotton the necklace had been resting on. Check under the tree, it read, scrawled in McGee's writing. Ziva stood and moved to the tree, finding a yellow manila envelope, her name on the front. She opened it and pulled out the papers from inside. "My citizenship papers," she said softly.

"Congratulations, Ziva," McGee said, a chorus of congratulations from the group following.

"Vance says the ceremony is next week, so it'll be technically official then, but we got the paperwork expedited," Tony said.

"Pulled a few strings," Gibbs said simply.

"Jethro no doubt has a lot of strings to pull," Ducky said. "We'll all be there, Ziva,"

Ziva's heart felt so full, she was certain it might begin to overflow and relinquish the flames of the fire, or perhaps create a new one entirely in an explosion of joy. "I do not know what to say," she said honestly.

"You don't need to," Gibbs said kindly.

"Thank you," she said again, embracing the man who had become like a father to her over the past five years.

Though unsure at first, Gibbs finally gave into the hug, pulling her closely. "Your welcome," he said quietly.

After a moment, the unusually emotional pair pulled away. "I think it is Tony's turn," Ziva said, quickly wiping a tear from her eye.

Tony opened his box quickly, memories of a happy Christmas morning with his nanny flashing in his mind briefly. He pulled out a large pack of movies. "The black and white classics," Ducky said. "I hope you don't have all of them,"

Tony grinned. "Nope—these just came out on DVD and I don't have them yet. Thanks, Ducky," he smiled gratefully.

Ziva had sat back down on the couch, a soft smile upon her lips as she fingered the citizenship paper. Tony and McGee were chatting about the new movies and McGee's new comic book. Tony caught a glance at Ziva, and his gaze moved around the room, almost surprised by the sweet pride that swelled from within as he observed the group.

The day went on happily, all members of the party pleased with their gifts. They spoke of happy things, eyes like the jewels so high in the sky above, now visible, the snow finally pausing enough for the snow plow to actually make a difference.

They went home that evening, their hearts filled with joy that would last much longer than the holiday season. As snow fell outside their windows that night, they did not dream of sugar plums or sweet candies as they did as children. No, they did not dream at all, for for the first time, they needed no escape from reality, no journey to other worlds. The little world they had formed together was perfect, was right, and it would last forever. Together, they found family.


"The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other." Mario Puzo.


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