Warning: I'm considering this to be a one-shot, but the ending is definitely very open-ended. If that'll bug you, you might not want to read this one. There is a possibility that someday I'll decide to continue, but it's unlikely that it would happen until next winter (if at all). Otherwise, hope you enjoy!

Director Leon Vance gazed steely-eyed at the seven men that stood before him. "I know it's the holidays," he informed them with no hint of apology in his voice, "but I need a volunteer for a special assignment." The toothpick in his mouth remained perfectly steady as he studied each one of them in turn. "Are any of you unavailable for this evening?" he asked, silently daring the agents to answer in the affirmative. Agent Karl Payton shifted uncomfortably, drawing Director Vance's attention. "Yes, Agent Peyton?"

"I'm sorry, sir. It's just that it's my wedding anniversary and tomorrow's my son's first Christmas Eve and…" Peyton groveled.

"You are excused, Agent Peyton." Director Vance waited until the relieved agent vacated his office before turning to the remaining six Agents. "The rest of you have any anniversaries you want to tell me about?"

Agent Anthony DiNozzo did, in fact, have a tradition he adhered to every year on December 23rd, and he considered using his plans to opt out of Director Vance's operation. Truth-be-told, however, his tradition plans consisted of going home, ordering a pizza, and watching "A Christmas Story" on television. It was one of his favorites, and he wasn't exactly keen on volunteering without knowing what he was getting himself into, but he figured he should at least hear the Director out. Besides, if his partner, volunteered--and his gut told him that Tim would--and the 'special assignment' turned out to be dangerous, there was no one else in this room that Tony trusted to watch his six. The Director included.

"What uh…what sort of assignment?" Agent Timothy McGee asked tentatively. Sarah wasn't due to arrive until late on Christmas Eve, so technically he was free, but…considering that the other three men Vance had called to his office were all Team Leaders or Senior Field Agents, he wasn't entirely sure why he was there. Then again, if he'd been on any other team, he has as much--if not more--experience in the field now than some of the senior agents present.

"You volunteering, Agent McGee?" Vance asked pointedly.

Tony could almost feel McGee's unease as the younger man struggled to choose his next words wisely. "Hey!" he protested with mock anger, letting McGee off the hook. His gaze didn't waver from Vance's as the man's attention turned toward him. "Can't let McGee have all the fun to himself. Give the rest of the class the opportunity to turn you down first."

Vance did not look remotely amused as he eyed Tony appraisingly. "The assignment," the Director proclaimed, "is on a need-to-know basis."

"So you want a junior field agent to agree to it without knowing what it is," Tony challenged him. He made a small clicking sound with his tongue. "I'm guessing from his absence in this room, that you're doing so without first asking the junior field agent's team leader."

Tim bristled slightly at the repeated mention of his lower rank, but remained silent, not wanting to draw ire from either Tony or Vance.

"I do not need permission from Agent Gibbs to assign missions to my agents, DiNozzo," the Director asserted evenly.

Tony raised his hands as though in surrender, but the dangerous smirk that graced his lips and the fiery spark in his eyes spoke of anything but.

"The duration of the assignment is expected to be one night only," Vance addressed the whole room, but kept his eyes trained on DiNozzo. "There is a possibility that it might have to be extended for a day." At that, several of the agents tensed. "Or two."

"But that's--" Agent Bryce Rickman blurted out before he thought better of speaking up.

Vance nodded curtly. "It is." His eyes flicked over the group, noting the increasing discomfort most of them were showing. It wasn't that he was without sympathy. In all honesty, if he were able, he would work the assignment himself. If he missed Christmas, Jared and Kayla would be disappointed, of course. But they would understand when he explained the situation. Jackie, on the other hand, would be a force to be reckoned with, but he would contend with her if the need arose.

Tony sighed inwardly. Except for McGee and himself, every single one of the men in the room--and they were all men, he realized, frowning as he noted the absence of Senior Field Agent Lauren Keyes--had children. And he knew McGee had plans with his sister for Christmas.

Which left him.

The only agent without someone waiting at home for him.

Or any real plans, he admitted to himself, allowing a few moments of self-pity before stepping up to the plate. "I'll do it," he volunteered at the same time that McGee stepped forward to accept Vance's mission.

Vance regarded the two agents with a raised eyebrow. "The rest of you may go," he released the rest of the agents.

"It's okay, Probie. I got this one," Tony assured McGee as the others fled the room before their dismissal could be rescinded.

McGee was tempted, but felt guilty even considering taking him up on the offer. He shook his head. "No, it's okay. My sister won't be here until tomorrow night. And you probably have plans…"

Tony forced a grin. Watching movies was a plan, but wasn't the sort of plan he wanted McGee to realize he had. "Of course," he obfuscated smoothly. "But nothing that can't be rescheduled. Your sister's only here for a couple days."

"You sure?" McGee asked.

"Go on," Tony assured.

McGee hesitated only a few moments longer, before looking to Vance for approval. He swallowed nervously when he realized that they were both very much still under the Director's scrutiny.

Vance contemplated the two men before him, weighing his options. "I'm not sure you're the right man for this job," he reluctantly admitted, his eyes settling on DiNozzo. In many ways, DiNozzo actually would be the perfect choice, he contemplated; Vance had come to recognize the man's excellent field skills and to understand Gibbs' infallible confidence in him. It was the man's temperament that concerned him regarding this particular assignment.

McGee couldn't help but feel a swell of elation as he realized that the Director was choosing his abilities over Tony's. He broke into a grin and let out a small surprised but pleased puff before thinking better of it as he noticed Tony's momentarily stunned--and slightly hurt--expression. He quickly schooled his features to hide his pleasure, lest Tony think him gloating.

"Not right for the job?" Tony balked, quickly recovering from the unexpected rejection. "It is undercover, right?" Why else, Tony figured, would only men have been 'invited' to Vance's office?

Vance pursed his lips for a moment before nodding the affirmative. On the other hand, he wasn't convinced McGee was entirely right for the job, either. The younger agent had the right disposition, Vance was certain. And he was more than capable in the field. The problem with McGee, he assessed, was that the man didn't have enough confidence in his abilities. That sort of uncertainty could be severely detrimental in a solo operation. And it could cost innocent lives.

"Why don't you both have a seat," the Director suggested, motioning toward the chairs opposite his desk.

"So…uh…what's the assignment?" McGee asked, trying not to sound excited about the possibility of taking lead on an undercover mission.

Vance pulled a case file from his drawer and laid it on the desk.

"We have received what we believe to be a credible threat," Director Vance grimly informed the agents.

As he began to lay out the details, Tony began shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Perhaps McGee was the better man for this one. Except…if things went to Hell in a handbasket, there was no way he'd want McGee out there on his own. Not that Probie wasn't capable of handling himself, but…if the described attack happened, it could be disastrous if there were only one agent on the scene. If McGee were alone and something happened…well Tony just wasn't going to contemplate that one. Either he was going to take the mission, or they were just going to have to find a way for him to be there to back McGee up.

"You understand the delicate nature of this operation," Vance asked, looking between the two men.

"Of course," McGee replied for the both of them.


"I'll do it," Tony announced.

"But Tony…" McGee tried to figure out how to voice his next words carefully. "You don't like…" Whatever he was about to say was abruptly cut off as the door burst open.

"Something you want to tell me about, Leon?" Gibbs asked angrily, glancing from Tim, to Tony, than finally his cold gaze falling on Director Vance.

The toothpick bobbed as Vance stared back. "This is none of your concern," he informed Gibbs flatly.

"None of my concern? These are my men."

It was an argument that Vance and Gibbs had fought again and again.

"I asked for a volunteer," Vance informed him, unflinchingly.

"You didn't ask me."

"Your father is in town. I need one man for tonight."

Gibbs' glare narrowed. One man. No backup? "No way. I'm not letting you send one of my men on one of your little missions without us to back him up."

"I think I might have just the solution," Tony spoke up.

"I can only get one of you in without upsetting everyone," Vance reminded him.

"I think I know how we can get past that limitation," Tony replied, his eyes lighting with mischief.

"How?" McGee asked.

"It just so happens that I happen to know an Elf Lord…" Tony's grin widened at McGee's look of dismay.

McGee opened his mouth to protest, but then thought better of it. Tony's idea wasn't actually that bad. In fact…he let out a small surprised puff and glanced at Vance, gauging the Director's response.

Vance stared silently at Tony for a few moments before reluctantly admitting, "That could work." He gazed at McGee, then at Gibbs.

Gibbs pursed his lips, still disapproving of the situation, but willing to hear Vance out.

"So which one of us takes the…ah…lead?" Tim asked, trying to sound casual.

Tony's first instinct was to take it. Undercover was his specialty. He could play just about any role. Plus, if the intel was real and there was an attack, he should be the one in the line of fire. But then he reconsidered what the role would entail. Did he really want to subject himself to that? And it wasn't like as backup he wouldn't be right there in case something did happen. In fact, his role would provide him more flexibility to come and go, scout the area, stay on high alert without distraction…and face it, he told himself, the role was one McGee would fit into much more comfortably than he would.

Of course he couldn't just let the Probie take lead. "Me. I'm much better suited," he lied smoothly. He waited for Tim to open his mouth in order to cut him off by adding, "I'm the Senior Field Agent, and I've done a lot of undercover work."

"Well, you do look much more the part," McGee tartly added, smirking at the startled look on Tony's face. "I mean…you're older. You're…" he calculatingly paused before completing the thought, "heavier."

Tony's jaw dropped slightly and he unconsciously lowered his hand to pat at the slightly pudgy belly that he had slowly been accumulating over the past year. He wasn't fat. He was…he was…okay, so he could stand to lose a few…his mouth snapped shut as he realized that McGee was toying with him. Playing him. Touché, Probie. "Fine, you want--"

"I'll be taking lead," Gibbs put an end to their argument.

Vance raised an eyebrow. "Agent Gibbs--" he began to remonstrate, certain that Gibbs was not the right man for the job.

"I will be taking lead," Gibbs repeated, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Vance pursed his lips for a moment, but then nodded, almost smiling to himself as he realized that Gibbs didn't know just what it was he'd just 'volunteered' for. "You two think you can get your covers together in an hour?" he asked Tony and McGee.

Tony looked doubtful, but McGee, though slightly disappointed that he wasn't taking point, quickly nodded, assuring him that they were both covered. "Yes, sir."

Vance nodded and dismissed them to go prepare while he rose to collect Gibbs' uniform for the mission. He could barely contain his glee as he observed Gibbs' reaction to it. He allowed himself a tiny smile as he presented Gibbs with the big red suit, hat, and fluffy white beard and drolly uttered,

"Ho ho ho."