“Abigail, I‘m not convinced you should do this, the last few months have been difficult; perhaps a party is not such a good idea, Anthony might well prefer his birthday to be a low key affair this year.”
“That’s exactly why we should get together; it’s what families do when times are tough. I already asked Jimmy and he said Breena loved the idea, they need to think about something other than the baby, even if it’s only for one night, please Ducky, say you’ll help, I know Tim will listen to you.”
Ducky was struggling to keep up with Abby’s line of reasoning. “Surely Tony is the one I should...”
“No! No Ducky, it has to be a surprise. We’ll all be at the restaurant waiting.”
“Ah, I see, and Timothy is to bring Anthony along. No, I don’t see, why can’t you ask Tim yourself? I’m sure your powers of persuasion are infinitely superior to mine where Special Agent McGee is concerned.”
Abby suddenly seemed to find the floor incredibly interesting. “I guess...maybe, I...I asked him already and he...he said I should let Tony take the lead, let him decide what he wanted to do on his birthday.”
“A perfectly reasonable suggestion.”
“I know...least I know now...”
“Oh Abby, what did you do?”
“I said things...didn’t think, just opened my mouth and he...let’s just say I don’t think he’ll be doing me any favours for a while.” Abby raised her head. “I already apologised to Timmy, and he says we’re good, only...”
“You don’t want to ask again.”
“Not right now, and we only have a week; Ducky please, I know I screwed up, but this is really important. Tony’s been through so much, I just wanted to show him how much we care.”
“Even if he doesn’t want it.” Ducky sighed, there were times he wished Abby would stop and think, then think again rather than rushing headlong into another of her schemes. However, this time he was almost convinced she was doing the right thing, not just for Tony, more especially he was grateful for anything that would put a smile back on Jimmy’s face. “Very well, I will speak to Timothy and if, with the emphasis on if, he thinks Tony would be pleasantly surprised rather than traumatised by a surprise dinner party, I will let you know and you can make the necessary arrangements.”
He was almost bowled over by the ferocity of Abby’s hug. “Thank you, thank you! Oh Ducky, I know everything will work out.”
“You did hear what I said?”
“Only if Tim thinks it’s a good idea; I heard Ducky, I’ll keep out of it and wait.”
“Good girl, and don’t worry about Timothy, I’m sure he’ll be back at your beck and call very soon.”
Abby smiled, and there was a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I don’t think so Ducky, he’s not as...” Abby seemed to be struggling for the right word.
She nodded. “That’s exactly right. He always used to come whenever I called, do as I asked; not any longer, he’s his own man now. It suits him.”
“Has Abby been talking?”
Ducky set down the teapot and gave a brief smile. “Am I that transparent?” He’d invited Tim down to Autopsy on the pretext of having a problem with his computer.
“I’m pretty sure you could have spotted the power lead wasn’t attached to the monitor without my help Ducky.”
Ducky smiled rather sheepishly and handed Tim a cup of tea. “It wasn’t exactly original, however in my defence I didn’t have much time to come up with a reason to get you here. Please accept my apologies Timothy, it was underhand and rather silly.”
“Not a problem; I know from long experience how persuasive Abby can be.” Tim blew gently on his hot tea shaking his head as Ducky offered him the sugar. “I’m good thanks, so Ducky, I’m guessing this is about Tony’s birthday.”
“Look, I know Abby’s all for it; right now I’m not sure Tony’s ready for a big Abby-style celebration, balloons, banners...”
“Then let me reassure you, Abby promises me she is keeping things ‘low-key’, just a small dinner-party with our team, and of course Delilah and Breena. It will also give us an opportunity to meet Eleanor’s husband.”
Tim almost choked on the mouthful of tea he’d been about to swallow. “Talk about stepping into the lion’s den, meeting us all at once...”
The ME couldn’t resist a quiet chuckle. “It would be an experience Mr Bishop would never forget, should it happen. Timothy, I do understand your reservations and normally I would agree. This year...you have had a great deal to come to terms with, Delilah’s condition...”
“She’s doing great Ducky, we’re doing great; and nothing happened to me, got away with a scratch as usual.”
“I’m not simply talking about physical injuries, I know you’ve been through a great deal and in no way do I wish to belittle what you’ve been through, but Tony...these have been traumatic times indeed for him, emotionally and physically, he almost lost his life, it seems that he has lost Ziva; such a lot to go through in such a relatively short time.”
“Which is why I’m not sure a big hoopla is a good idea; I know Tony’s usually up for this kind of thing, but this year I think he’d rather not be the centre of attention.”
Ducky wasn’t surprised by Tim’s answer, perhaps he was right, but there was something more. “Timothy; you know Tony better than I, and I’m not going to dispute what you are saying, but if I may...”
“Lost for words Ducky? This must be serious.”
“It’s Jimmy...since the adoption failed, he’s tried to put on a brave face, but inside he’s deeply hurt, Breena too...they will be wonderful parents, if they can recover from this. Abigail had already spoken to Jimmy, to see what he felt about attending, you see, she’s not quite as headstrong as she appears.”
“What did Jimmy say?”
“He was extremely enthusiastic, and I would so like to see him smile again. I don’t for one minute want you to put Tony on the spot, if you truly think he would hate the idea then we will forget all about it, but if there’s any possibility he might enjoy marking his birthday...”
Tim took a sip of tea, took a moment to think. “Knowing Tony, I think he’d pretend to be happy even if he hated the idea, so long as he could see Jimmy and Bree having a good time.” He finished his drink and handed the empty cup to Ducky, a look of intense concentration on his face. “Let me think it over Ducky, I’ll let you know tomorrow, it could be good for everyone, ‘specially if we can get Gibbs to come along.”
“I’m sure Jethro would attend, you’re all very important to him you know.”
“You are too Ducky, guess we’re all a part of something good, something worth celebrating. Thanks for the tea, and for the talk.”
He headed for the elevator and back to the squad room, Ducky had given him some food for thought; in all honesty when Abby mentioned the party he’d pictured one of her more outrageous evenings, looked like she had already figured out that wouldn’t have been the right move this year. Maybe if they hadn’t got into an argument they’d have come to an understanding earlier, no matter, there was time to decide. One thing he did know, there was no way he was allowing an unsuspecting Tony to be led into a restaurant thinking he was going for a quiet dinner with his partner, only to find the whole team waiting for him. No, if Tony attended the party, he’d go forewarned, ready to put on the DiNozzo grin and be the life and soul of his own party.
“Oh man, I knew Abby was up to something, she can’t leave well alone, I...not sure I want this Tim, not right now.”
“I understand, and if that’s what you want I’ll call her first thing tomorrow.” Tim’s timing hadn’t been great, and if he had more time he wouldn’t have asked Tony, not tonight. “When did your dad call?”
“Right after lunch, said he and Linda had decided to get married in St Lucia, they were already on vacation, so they could have the wedding and honeymoon in one...”
Tim sighed, and not for the first time he wished Anthony DiNozzo Senior would occasionally think of someone’s feelings other than his own. Tony had already started making plans for his dad’s wedding, plans he’d been asked to make, and now...”Dads...start off as heroes...”
“Hey, don’t get using my own words against me! Problem is, I was so right; why do I do it Tim, every time I think he’s going to be better and every time he’s just the same.”
“Because we want our dads to be better than they are, to care more...we have to face it Tony, it’s not going to happen.” He glanced at Tony’s empty glass, they had work tomorrow but it wouldn’t hurt to have one more drink. Tony could walk home from this bar, and he was getting a cab. He ordered another beer and waited until Tony took another swig. “Speaking of dads, or of someone who wants to be one. Jimmy...he and Breena have had a bad time, and maybe a MCRT get together, good food, fine wine, a chance to meet Mr Bishop...could do us all some good, what do you say Tony, can you take one for the team?”
There was a tiny upturn in Tony’s lips. “Sporting references? Things must be desperate.” He stared into his glass. “Can’t imagine it...one minute you have a family, the next...he’ll be a great dad, I think Jimmy will always be a hero to his kids.”
“Me too; what do you say Tony? For one night only, put on your best surprised face when we walk in, you might even have fun.”
“You win; if I don’t go out I’ll likely sit at home watching a sad movie, eating left over pizza and drinking a bottle of cheap wine.”
“Hey! I’d never let that happen. If I had to drag you out we’d go somewhere to celebrate.”
“I know...just let me wallow in self-pity for a minute will ya? Hey wait, did you say Jake Bishop might be there?” Tony’s eyes were twinkling with renewed enthusiasm.
Tim grinned, this was more like it. “Yep, so long as we don’t get a case everyone will be there, even Gibbs.”
“Cool! Okay, I’ll do it. Thanks for telling me about it Tim; if I walked in there unprepared...the way things have been I’m pretty sure I’d have walked right out again. Now, what to wear?”
“You did well Abs, looks like everyone had a great time.”
“Couldn’t have done it without you Tim, if you hadn’t made sure Tony made it the whole thing would have been a waste. He looks happy tonight.”
Tim kissed her cheek, she’d done Tony proud and he wouldn’t rain on her parade by telling her how close a call it had been. Tony had been waiting all day for a call from his dad, a call that never came; when Tim went to pick him up he was still dressed in the clothes he’d been wearing at work.
“I’m not going anywhere Tim, I’d be the spectre at the feast tonight; guess it’s a movie and cheap wine for me.”
“Guess again Tony. Don’t let him wreck any more birthdays. Everyone will be at the restaurant soon, waiting for the guest of honour, Abby even promised she’d go easy on the decorations. Come on, if you stay here you’ll be miserable, and your dad will be enjoying his honeymoon without a care in the world.”
Tim had sat beside Tony on the couch and waited, he knew this was a decision Tony had to make for himself. They’d sat in silence for a couple of minutes, then Tony patted Tim on the shoulder and leapt up from his seat. “I’ve been miserable long enough, let’s get this show on the road.”
Tony had showered and changed with a speed Tim wouldn’t have thought possible, and Anthony DiNozzo started the evening playing the role expected of him. He’d been suitably surprised to see all his friends at the restaurant; he’d charmed Breena and Delilah, traded movie quotes with Jake Bishop, laughed at all the jokes, joined in all the toasts and as the evening progressed Tim saw the mask slip and the real Tony shine through.
He looked around the table, Abby had done a great job, she’d kept the decorations to a minimum, and the birthday cake decorated with the Hollywood sign had seen the first genuine smile appear on Tony’s face, it was to be the first of many. Tim had felt Tony tense beside him when they all shouted ‘Surprise!’ as they’d entered the restaurant, for a panicked moment Tim thought his friend was going to make a run for it, but Tony had squared his shoulders and entered the fray. From that moment on the evening had been a resounding success. The NCIS family members had opened up their hearts and surrounded Tony with the love he craved, he’d responded by dispensing with the wisecracks and deflections and allowing them a glimpse of the warm, caring man behind the brittle facade.
“Thanks Tim, left to myself I’d have missed all this.” Tony sat down beside him, looking tired but happy.
“You’re welcome; quite a night, huh?”
“Awesome! I’ve already told Abby, she’s got her work cut out to beat this.” He turned to Tim and gave one of his trademark grins. “You know our Goth Party Queen, she told me she’s already planning for your birthday, and she has a theme, wouldn’t tell me what it was, guess we’ll have to wait and see.” He laughed aloud at the panic stricken face of his best friend.
“Tony, no! Don’t let her run wild; you know how she gets...” Tim punched Tony’s arm. “She didn’t say anything did she? Every time I fall for...oh what the heck. Happy birthday Tony; and here’s to many, many more!”