They picked up some pizza on the way home, eating it in the basement as they each did their thing: Tony talking and Gibbs working. Tony wasn’t sure when it happened, but at some point during his on-going monologue about the best divorce movies, the tension he’d felt in his shoulders all through the drive home had disappeared. He leaned back onto the steps letting his voice fall silent. Probably the scotch, he thought to himself although he hadn’t had much. He was just too tired to drink more. His red-rimmed eyes slid partly closed and he wondered how many hours he’d spent sitting right here over the years. A lot, he figured, but refused to conjecture any further. For some reason, it struck him as particularly needy and, therefore, kind of embarrassing. No wonder he didn’t have time for relationships…he was either at work or sitting right here, listening to Gibbs build his latest whatever-it-was…the…the Christmas toys. Yeah, that was it. Or boats or furniture or who knows what else he did with those strong, calloused hands…
God, he was tired. He thought about moving upstairs to crash on the couch but the thought alone seemed to take more energy than he possessed. He let his eyes close all the way as the rhythmic sounds of Gibbs sanding some small piece lulled him into a light sleep.
Tony woke up to see Gibbs leaning over him. “Bed,” was all he said and Tony nodded. Gibbs followed him upstairs but when he moved towards the living room Gibbs tapped him on the shoulder and said, “A real bed, DiNozzo.”
Tony shot him a curious look but didn’t argue as he continued up the stairs to the second floor. While he usually slept in the guestroom when he stayed over, he’d thought to just crash at the nearest horizontal location. Gibbs, apparently, decided otherwise. Either that or Gibbs was just getting used to putting him to bed. That thought made him giggle which earned him a curious look. He ignored it and forced himself to move and he went to bed.
The next morning Gibbs was up at his usual ridiculously early time and was making breakfast when Tony made his way downstairs. He felt almost normal after having slept both deeply and comfortably all night, the way he always did when crashing in Gibbs’ spare bedroom. He’d already showered and only needed to grab his extra gear from his car so that he could change before going to work.
Gibbs eyed him up and down and seemed satisfied with what he saw when he gestured towards the table where a cup of coffee was already sitting. A container of hazelnut creamer sat next to it.
Tony shot him a grateful smile and sat down. Moments later a plate of scrambled eggs and sliced ham appeared next to him quickly followed by some toast. Tony gave Gibbs a rueful grin because it was obvious that Gibbs had noticed the fact that he hadn’t been eating much lately.
“Thanks, Boss,” Tony said as soon as Gibbs sat down with his own breakfast but received only a grunt in reply which made Tony grin even more. He thought about Abby’s likening Gibbs to a father-figure. While she was right in a lot of ways, Tony didn’t feel that sort of kinship to Gibbs, normally. Things like this, though, sort of dropped it back into that realm. Gibbs was always taking care of him somehow and while that should have embarrassed him (wasn’t he thinking about something embarrassing last night?), it didn’t. There’d been plenty of times where he’d be up and making breakfast for Gibbs so, in his mind, he figured what they had was more like a partnership. Like what they had at work. They certainly spent enough time together, both on- and off-duty, to be partners. He looked down at his half-filled coffee cup and a vague idea began to cross his mind.
“Eat up…your bag’s in the entry-way,” Gibbs said interrupting Tony’s thoughts. Tony just grinned because he figured he learned to anticipate from the best, so he did as he was told and they were on their way to work less than fifteen minutes later.
Tony hit print on the final draft of his report by early Friday afternoon. He looked up but knew that Ziva was downstairs speaking with Abby, Ducky and Jimmy to verify that they’d all be getting together that evening before everyone headed out for the day.
While the pages printed, Tony leaned back in his chair, his eyes automatically going to the Christmas card pinned up behind his desk. He smirked as he recalled the eager expressions on both Ziva’s and McEager Beaver’s faces when they got nosey that morning and read the card. So, okay, he’d gotten a surprise invitation to brunch on Christmas Day from Wendy and her son – hard to believe she even had a seven-year-old son… Still, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it and wondered how long ago her divorce had been final before deciding to look him up. He shook his head at the bitter thought.
“You shake your head ‘No’…is there something wrong with your report, Tony?” Ziva asked saucily as she reentered the bullpen. “You need to get it right so that you can come to dinner tonight.”
“Nothing is wrong with my report, Zee-vah! It’s perfect like all of my reports,” Tony replied haughtily. “I was just going through my mental checklist of things to do before Christmas.”
McGee strolled over to drop his report on Gibbs’ desk and then wandered back towards Tony.
“So…have you made any decisions about that invitation?”
“What’s it to you, McNosey?” Tony answered as he stapled and signed his report.
“You are referring to the invitation from Wendy, correct?” Ziva asked insinuating herself into the conversation. “You should go, Tony.”
“Not sure I’ll have time, though,” Tony said deciding that he’d much rather follow what little holiday tradition he had and show up at Casa de Gibbs on Christmas Day. Besides, the Boss needed him. “Was thinking of stopping off at Gibbs’ place…” he said deciding that it didn’t matter if the rest of the team knew he visited Gibbs on Christmas Day. They didn’t need to know why he had to be there.
“Going to Leyla’s,” Gibbs said as he walked into the bullpen.
Tony was stunned. Gibbs was always home on Christmas. Where was he going to go now?
“Going to Gibbs wasn’t your only plan, right?” McGee asked worriedly.
Tony started slightly. He’d actually forgotten that both Ziva and McGee were there.
“Of course not, McGhost of Christmas Future,” Tony answered with a bright smile. He refused to seem so pathetic as to not have anyone to be with on Christmas. “Just wondering how to fit everything in but now that Gibbs is busy…”
“Precisely why you should reconsider lunch with Wendy,” Ziva declared.
“Right,” Tony said as his eyes drifted towards Gibbs.
Later that evening, Tony showed early at Torelli’s, the team’s favorite Italian restaurant. As Gibbs’ SIC, he took it upon himself to make the arrangements for their dinner. It was another tradition, if you will, that they all had dinner together before Christmas, work and travel plans permitting. This year, since Christmas fell on Sunday, they had Monday off leaving them a nice long weekend.
Tony walked into the familiar family restaurant and was greeted warmly by the owner himself. After several smiles and hugs and well-wishes for the holidays, he was led to the back room which had been reserved for them. Tony looked around appreciatively noting the festive decorations and the small tree positioned on the long table in the corner. He arranged his gifts on the table around the tree and then walked around the dining table which was set up for ten. To add to the ambience of the season, he always made up small place cards for each person which he designed with the team member in mind. While he’d never admit to it, all of his childhood training in social etiquette did, on occasion, come in handy. He put the playful cards in place with a small grin.
He’d just finished putting down the last place card when Ducky and Abby arrived followed immediately by Jimmy and his fiancée, Breena. Tony greeted them and pointed to the table set up in the corner upon which they could place their Christmas gifts for the exchange later. It already held the gifts he’d brought that evening. They’d decided on a gift exchange since everyone had plans for the weekend, some of which involved some travel. After their dinner, Abby would be leaving relatively early with Ducky because they planned to take in a concert, Messiah. From there Ducky was leaving the city to spend Christmas with friends and Abby was flying back to New Orleans to spend some time with her family. She would return on Monday evening.
Since Breena’s father was visiting, Jimmy and Breena had a full weekend planned, one which still had him a bit nervous despite the understanding they’d come to when Jimmy turned down the offer of a position with Breena’s father in his mortuary business. Tony had to hand it to Jimmy who’d shown quite a bit of backbone after the snide comments about government workers his future father-in-law had been spouting. He’d been impressed when Jimmy had articulated his feelings for the importance of their job so very well. It summed up how he felt about it, too. Then Breena has supported him completely. Although he would never begrudge Jimmy any of the happiness he’d found, he had to admit to having felt a flash of envy at that moment.
And speaking of flashes of envy, Tim and Cathy chose that moment to walk in. Cathy was an incredibly sweet girl Tim had met during one of his book signings. Cathy worked at the store and had helped to set up his table. As it turned out, they didn’t get together right away. Tim had gone to that same bookstore to do some shopping a couple of months later when he saw her again. They’d chatted and ended up having coffee together, although it was at the in-house coffee shop that was part of the bookstore. He’d been seeing her ever since.
Tony greeted them and then they ordered some drinks. Tony looked up at the door just as Ziva and Ray walked in. He gave Ziva a broad smile and moved to greet them at the door as though he were the host of the event. Ziva rolled her eyes at him as he called the waiter over to make sure they got their drink orders in. Once they were settled and had begun mingling, Tony grabbed his own drink did some mingling of his own all the while keeping an eye on the door.
They’d been chatting for about 30 minutes, laughing and exchanging stories, when Tony decided to try calling Gibbs. There was no answer which made Tony’s stomach tighten in concern. He leaned over to Ducky to ask if he knew where Gibbs was.
“Unfortunately no, my dear boy. I do believe he fully intended to be here tonight. Perhaps something came up at work?” Ducky mused.
Tony smiled and agreed knowing it couldn’t be a job since they weren’t on call and he hadn’t been notified of anything. Abby chose that moment to ask Ducky a question so Tony called the waiter over to order another drink. He then sought out Ziva to ask the same question.
“He said he would be here, Tony,” she said, her emotionless facing belying the slight concern in her eyes.
Tony knew how important it was to her for Gibbs to be here, especially in light of her announcement. He reached out and placed his hand on her forearm.
“If Gibbs said he’d be here, then he will be,” Tony assured her. Unfortunately, he also knew that they couldn’t wait indefinitely to begin dinner so he signaled for the waiter to begin bringing in the appetizers they’d chosen and called for everyone to take their seats. Tony seated himself at one end of the long table laughingly fulfilling the role of hostess for the evening. To his right, in the Gentlemen Guest of Honor position, sat Ducky. His place card was in the shape of scalpel. Across from him and at Tony’s left, sat Abby with her bat-shaped place card. Beside each of them he’d seated both Cathy and Breena. Breena giggled at her casket-shaped place card as did Cathy with her book-shaped one. To Cathy’s right, Tim’s place card was nearly identical with the exception of Deep Six being emblazoned on the cover of the ‘book’. To Breena’s left, Jimmy had the obvious NCIS Medical Examiner’s van as his place card.
Tony had almost made Ziva’s place card in the shape of wedding bells but decided that he didn’t want to leave any clues. He ended up making her place card in the shape of an anime ninja. Tonight was Ziva’s night and, to that end, he sat her at Gibbs’ right in the position of Lady Guest of Honor. That left Ray sitting to Gibbs’ left. He’d been undecided on the shape of Ray’s place card and had finally chosen the shape of a gun figuring that he couldn’t go wrong there.
Gibbs’ card was in the shape of an NCIS badge just to avoid the usual boat- or bourbon-shaped cards. Tony’s own card was in a standard rectangular shape.
Once everyone began eating, Tony excused himself to try Gibbs number again. This time Gibbs answered.
“On my way,” Gibbs growled and then hung up. Tony smiled in relief which he knew both Abby and Ducky noted immediately.
Gibbs walked in halfway through the appetizer course.
“Leaking pipe,” he said in response to Ducky’s query when he settled into the chair at the head of the table and then finally looked at everyone. He raised his wine glass in Tony’s direction. Everyone else followed suit.
“Looks good, DiNozzo,” he said and Tony beamed.
“He’s just worried that I spend too much time at work,” Jimmy said referring to the tense visit with Breena’s father. “He loves you, Breena,” Jimmy said and put his arm around her shoulders when she attempted to apologize for her father’s behavior. “He just wants what’s best for you and, hopefully, I’m on the road to convincing him that I’ll spend my life trying to get that for you.”
“Oh, Jimmy,” Breena said giving Jimmy a quick kiss. “I think he sees that. He just also needed to see that working at NCIS isn’t just a job for you. It’s a calling.”
Jimmy smiled and tightened his hold on his fiancée. “Yeah,” he said in agreement.
Tony smiled and toyed with his wine glass. Now that dinner was done and they were waiting on dessert, he opted for coffee. Everyone seemed to be having a good time as the conversation wound its way through a myriad of topics. The current topic seemed particularly appropriate. Tony noted Ziva’s attention focused on their discussion so he was curious where it would go…and what her reaction would be.
“Sometimes it’s not just the job that keeps us occupied,” he said and then looked at Cathy. “It must be tough having a boyfriend who’s not only a federal agent but is also someone who spends quite a bit of time typing away at some new book.”
“It’s hard sometimes,” Cathy agreed. “But I knew that going in. Being an agent is so much a part of who Tim is and it’s the source of all his inspiration for his books,” she said admiringly as she looked at Tim with a smile.
“Yeah, but it must be tough, never knowing when he’ll get home from a case, especially if he comes in tired and cranky…l”
Cathy giggled in a charmingly low tone which made Tony smile in return. “Sure, but all that means is that its cuddle time!” which made Tony and everyone else laugh out loud but made Tim blush slightly. Cathy continued, determined to make her point, “It takes work, but the main thing is to try to allot time for both work and personal life. It can’t be all or nothing or, trust me, you end up with nothing,” she said with a warm look towards Tim. Then she looked back at Tony and grinned. “Of course it helps that only one of us is in such a demanding job.”
“Very true,” Tony said with a thoughtful look over towards Ziva and Ray. “Still must be tough when you have to cancel special dates or events…” Tony mused and Cathy looked at him curiously.
“It does happen, Tony, but I knew that was part of the deal really soon after we met,” she said. “I accept that but I also know that Tim will do everything he can to keep to our plans. When he can’t, well then we just need to make sure that the time we do spend together is quality time, you know?”
“Absolutely,” Breena chimed in. “There are personal sacrifices but what they do is so important it has to be done. And as long as Jimmy comes home to me at the end of the work day…no matter how long that is…I believe we’ll have a very,” …kiss… “fulfilling,” …kiss… “life,” Breena said with a long kiss at the end.
“Hear, hear,” Ducky said approvingly and with a raised glass. “Very well said indeed, my dear.”
Tony smiled, especially when he noted Ziva’s warm looks towards Ray. He couldn’t help but look at Gibbs who kept his normal inscrutable expression. He wasn’t sure why he’d pushed that conversation. It seemed important, somehow, to have everyone on the same page, almost as though he needed to know that Breena, Cathy and Ray understood and felt the same way.
Tony looked down into his coffee. He felt a strong kinship with Gibbs right now, as though they were the only ones to have sacrificed relationships to the altar of their profession. Then he shook his head slightly in negation. That wasn’t quite right…he hadn’t sacrificed his past relationships. It was more like they’d failed the test of his profession. He raised his eyes to look at Gibbs and found the blue eyes staring at him intently. That sense of kinship intensified and he felt mesmerized. Gibbs understood him, his needs, could probably read his thoughts right now…
It was at that moment that Tony’s thoughts were interrupted by Ziva who said she and Ray had an announcement to make. He smiled, grateful for the respite from impossible, wishful thinking. Ray stood up and, walked around behind Gibbs to take Ziva’s hand and pull her up to stand with him. They shared a quick look and then Ray urged her to go ahead. She turned to the rest and announced that she’d accepted Ray’s proposal of marriage.
This announcement was met with a huge chorus of congratulations, well-wishes and squeals from Abby who’d immediately jumped up to run over for hugs.
When the noise level died just a bit Tony grabbed his glass and raised it high. He was aware of Gibbs staring at him but he ignored it and pressed on.
“To Ziva and Ray, may your marriage be a long and happy one,” a sentiment with which everyone agreed and said “Hear, hear.” But Tony wasn’t yet done.
“And, as a reminder, Ray… just look around you and note the talents of the people in this room, you ever hurt her, you will regret it,” he said with a wide grin. “And there’d be no forensic evidence left, right Abby?”
“Absolutely, Tony!” Abby chimed in with a laugh which didn’t nearly drown out Gibbs’ own “Damn right.”
Both Ziva and Ray laughed. “That is the spade talk…” and then rolled her eyes when everyone else in the room including Ray responded, “Shovel!”