A/N: This isn't my usual thing, but it nagged at me and I had to write it to shut it up. ;-) No ships. References to an abusive childhood, but nothing graphic.

Tony saying that "It's a Wonderful Life" was a DiNozzo family tradition made me wonder - from what we know about his family, I have trouble imagining them curling up with popcorn and cider to watch a Christmas movie. Maybe the upcoming episode with his dad will shed some light on it, but for now, I figure there are three possibilities. One, the writers figured it sounded good and didn't worry about it. Two, his childhood wasn't that bad and he really has been joking about it all this time. Or three - my theory - he grabs on to whatever memories he can.

This started off darker in my head, but hey, it's Christmas. Even our DiNozzo needs a break from the angst. ;-)

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and Happy New Year to all!

Disclaimer: I still don't own any of these guys. Suing me will net you some old computer parts and a lot of empty Diet Coke cans.

He was four the first time he saw it, and even then, Tony DiNozzo knew that this movie was Not Cool. "It's black and white," he said as he did yet another cannonball off the couch. "That's stupid."

"It's a classic," Nora replied, unfazed. She grabbed Tony around the waist before he could climb back up for another go.

"Black and white is boring," Tony insisted. "Do we hafta watch this?" He wriggled free of her grasp and ran back to the couch, clambering onto the cushions and starting to bounce again.

"You might like it," she said. "No more jumping, Tony. If you fall and break something, your father will be up here and both of us will be in trouble."

Tony stopped mid-bounce. He didn't want to get Nora in trouble. She was nice, probably the nicest nanny he had ever had, and breaking something would mean real trouble, capital-T Trouble, and the last time that happened...yeah, he definitely didn't want Nora to get in trouble.

Subdued, he plopped down on the couch and sat, legs sticking straight out in front of him, and waited as patiently as he could while Nora finished gathering their snacks of caramel popcorn and apple cider. He couldn't wait to try the popcorn, mostly because he had made it himself - well, Nora helped, but that was just because he wasn't tall enough to reach the stove, and because he needed a lookout in case the cook tried to come into the kitchen. And also because he didn't know how to make caramel popcorn. But other than that, he totally could have done it himself.

She sat beside him on the couch as the opening credits finished and the movie began. Tony leaned over and grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bowl on her lap and began tossing pieces in the air, trying to catch them in his mouth. It was good, really good, all sweet and salty and the caramel stuck to his teeth a little. "Nora?" he said between tosses. "What's a classic?"

"A classic is a movie that stays around for a long time. It's so good that people want to watch it for years and years."

"Like Jaws?"

Nora looked at him in surprise. "When did you see Jaws?"

Oops. He wasn't supposed to tell anyone about that, or else Jason's older brother would really let them have it. "Um, I mean, Benji," Tony said. Close enough. That was what their tickets had said, anyway. And he was pretty sure the shark nightmares would go away eventually.

"Right," Nora said skeptically. "Well, Benji is new - it can't be a classic yet."

"But I wanna watch it for years and years."

"Maybe someday it will be a classic. Shhh - the movie's starting."

"OK," Tony said. He was quiet for all of thirty seconds. Then, in a loud whisper, "Nora? Can I go get some soda from the kitchen?"

"Not right now, Tony. We need to stay up here."

"'Cause Mother and Father are having their party?"

"That's right."

Tony made a face. He was so glad he didn't have to stay at the party. It was bad enough that Mother had scrubbed his face till it was bright red and made him wear that stupid white outfit with the even stupider hat. Then he had to shake hands with like, a thousand million grown-ups and say "Merry Christmas, Sir" and "Happy Holidays, Ma'am," and smile until his cheeks hurt. He'd probably still be down there, too, if he hadn't bumped into a waiter and gotten red wine spilled on his stupid sailor suit.

He wiggled his toes, watching the feet of his favorite red pajamas move back and forth. The wine wasn't really his fault - except maybe it was, he should have been paying more attention, but he hadn't meant to make a mess. It didn't matter, though. He'd gotten smacked but good for embarrassing his parents and his butt was still sore. At least he escaped the party, though, and his father would most likely forget about it by morning anyway so he didn't have to worry about still being in trouble. Hopefully. He really didn't want to be in trouble on Christmas. Christmas was supposed to be a good day.

The popcorn had most of his attention - he was up to three catches in a row - when something in the movie caught his ear and he looked up. "That's an angel?" Tony pointed incredulously to the screen, where some old guy wearing a dress was walking around. "I thought angels were supposed to have wings and halos and stuff. And fly!" He hopped off the couch, arms out to his sides, and zoomed around the room a couple of times to show Nora what he meant.

"That's George's guardian angel," Nora said, catching him with long-practiced ease as he darted past. "He's trying to earn his wings."

"How's he do that?" Tony asked. He jumped back up beside her.

"Well, George is sad," Nora explained. "He thinks it doesn't make a difference if he's here or not, but it does. So his guardian angel is trying to show him how important he is to everyone, and how what he does makes a difference."

"And that's how he earns his wings?" Nora nodded. "Oh." Tony thought about that for a few minutes. "Do I have a guardian angel, Nora?"

"Sure you do. Everyone does."

Tony was afraid she was going to say that. "That's totally not fair."

"Why?" Nora looked puzzled. "Don't you want a guardian angel?"

"I guess," Tony said. "But it's not fair for him!" Nora looked even more lost than before, and Tony heaved an impatient sigh. "If you have to be important and make a difference and stuff for your angel to get his wings, then my angel won't ever get his and he'll never be able to fly. See?"

Tony thought it made perfect sense, and for the life of him he couldn't figure out why Nora suddenly looked like she was about to cry. "Tony," she said, "don't you ever say you're not important."

She sounded really serious, so Tony agreed with a shrug. "OK," It was always better to agree - people liked it when you said they were right. Well, they usually did. He pulled his knees into his chest, remembering his father's red face as Tony stood, head down, in his wine-spattered sailor suit.

"You've embarrassed me, and you've embarrassed your mother, Anthony. You were raised better than to make a scene like that!"

"I'm sorry, sir," Tony said quietly. It was an accident - all he'd done was taken a step backwards, he didn't know the waiter was right there, but it didn't matter.

"Sorry - you're dammed right you're sorry." His father was pacing; Tony eyed the lit cigar between his fingers, ashes falling forgotten to the floor. He hoped he was gone before his father noticed them. "You're a sorry waste of space, aren't you?"

Tony stood there, uncertain whether or not he should answer the question. He risked a glance at his father to see him glaring, eyes all glassy and red like they got sometimes, usually before he got really mad. He seemed to be waiting for something, so Tony risked a whispered, "Yes?"

It was a bad idea. "Don't you DARE mock me!" He should have known better, Tony thought, too late to make any difference. He squeezed his eyes shut. He was four whole years old. He should know by now.

It hadn't really hurt that much - he was a sissy, was all, just like his father said. Unconsciously, he rubbed his upper arm where the older man had grabbed it. His own stupid fault - he should have just stood still. He realized Nora was saying something, and he looked up at her. "You know you're important, right, Tony?"

"Yep," he agreed again, and gave her his biggest smile, the one that always made his parents' friends say how charming he was and sometimes made his mother smile too. It didn't work, though. Nora didn't smile back, and Tony was afraid that he'd said the wrong thing again. He did that a lot.

"I'm sorry," he said. He wasn't quite sure what he had said that was so bad, but he really didn't want Nora to be mad at him. Not on Christmas Eve.

"It's not you who should apologize," Nora said, and that didn't make any sense at all. "Tony, listen to me. You are very important, and someday you are going to make a big difference in the world."

"OK." She still sounded funny, so Tony slithered off the couch to where he had started a G.I. Joe battle on the floor. This was supposed to be a good night, and now Nora was all serious. He thought hard for a moment, trying to remember the joke his friend Jason had told him. "Hey, Nora!" he said. "What do monkeys sing at Christmas?"

"I don't know, Tony, what?"

"JUNGLE bells!" He waited until he saw Nora start to laugh before dissolving into giggles himself. That was much better.

He only half-watched most of the movie, except for the parts with a really pretty lady in them, when he put the G.I. Joes down to watch. Nora laughed then, which Tony didn't get - the movie wasn't funny at those parts, or at least he didn't think so. Once the movie neared the end, though, he started watching for real, even though he was getting tired. He wanted to find out if the angel was gonna get his wings.

"Nora?" he said. Maybe he could get her to tell him about the wings. "Have you seen this movie before?"

"Yes - I used to watch it with my kids every Christmas Eve. It's a tradition."

"What's a tradition?"

"It's something that you do over and over because it's special. Like this movie - my kids and I looked forward to watching it every year."

Tony frowned. "But not this year?"

"No, this year I get to watch it with you."

"Oh." Tony said. "But it can't be a tradition, huh? Cause your kids aren't here?"

"I've got you here." Nora rubbed his shoulder. "I think that's pretty good. Traditions don't have to be the same every time to be special." She set the bowl of popcorn aside and patted her lap for him to come and sit. He usually would have resisted - he was four whole years old, he didn't need to sit on anybody's lap - but he was kinda sleepy and his arm hurt, and Nora had a really soft lap. He climbed back onto the couch and scooted into her lap, leaning his head against her shoulder. His thumb slipped into his mouth for just a split second before he quickly yanked it out - his father said only pussy little babies sucked their thumbs and did Tony want to be a pussy little baby?

Tony stifled a yawn, nestling further into Nora's chest. There was no way he was going to sleep. There was still popcorn left, and he was absolutely not going to sleep before he found out about the wings...

In later years, Tony sometimes thought it have been better if they'd never watched the movie at all. You couldn't miss something that hadn't happened. Yet for some reason, year after year, he turned on the television on Christmas Eve and tracked down the old story. Even after Nora was gone, it didn't feel like Christmas without Clarence and George and the bells. Eventually, he quit trying to convince himself that he wasn't going to watch the damn thing, and started actually looking forward to it.

One year, as a newly minted academy grad, he even found himself standing over the stove mixing brown sugar and butter into a tacky mess. It took three tries, a burned finger, and a whole lot of cursing, but he finally ended up with a passable bowl of caramel popcorn. He had the recipe down cold now - he couldn't even remember the last time he'd set off the smoke alarm. Still, he didn't see a need to let any of the team know that the popcorn they were devouring had come from his kitchen, and not from one of those pseudo-gourmet tins that spawned like tribbles during the holidays. DiNozzos did not cook - at least, the guy DiNozzos didn't. Grilling was fine; anything involving a candy thermometer was off limits.

Also, DiNozzos didn't know what tribbles were. Damn. Good thing I didn't say that out loud - I'd have to shock the Probester again and hope for retrograde amnesia.

The movie was well underway when McGee spoke up. "So, Tony," he said from his seat beside Ducky. "'It's a Wonderful Life' is really your favorite Christmas movie? I'd have figured you'd go for 'Home Alone,' or maybe 'Die Hard.'"

"It's a classic, McGrinch." Tony was slouched down in one of the chairs, munching from his own bowl of popcorn. "Even if your heart's two sizes too small, that little bell has to be music to your ears. Besides, just look at Donna Reed and tell me this isn't a great movie."

"Music!" Ducky said. "That reminds me, Timothy - I've been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed your little caroling excursion the other night."

Tony sat up. "You carol, Probie? As in, outside, door-to-door, Jack Frost nipping at your nose?"

"Why, yes." Ducky placed a hand proudly on McGee's shoulder. "Timothy has quite a lovely tenor voice. Reminds me of a friend with whom I was in a barbershop quartet..." McGee was slowly growing redder and redder as a smile tugged at Tony's lips.

"What, Tony?" he finally said.

"Nothing, McJingleBells. Please tell me you at least sing the dirty parts of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

He hadn't noticed that Gibbs had slipped in to sit behind him. Even so, the cuff to the back of his head wasn't entirely unexpected. "Hey, Boss. You're just in time for the DiNozzo family tradition. Popcorn?" He offered the bowl to Gibbs.

"Family tradition, huh?" Gibbs' expression was carefully neutral, but Tony could hear the well-deserved skepticism creeping through.

"Well, y'know, Boss. Family's a relative term. Pun completely intended." Abby overheard that and groaned. Tony bounced a piece of popcorn off her head, grinned, and settled back with a contented sigh. "Shhh - the good part's coming up..."