Tony smiled as he looked at the silver and gold foil figures covering the walls. The bright lights, the colorful sparkly decorations, music, food, dancing…he loved it all. While he didn’t really have any religious associations with the holiday, he respected that others did and left it at that, preferring to concentrate on the part he really liked…namely, the look of it all. People smiling, everyone happy, and everything about having a good time with friends. There was no room for reality, something he’d had far too much of lately.
Tony rolled his neck muscles as he looked around. This was going to be a good party, he could already tell, and it was exactly what he needed right now. A huge number of holiday revelers, the bright colors and all the lights made him feel slightly manic so he closed his eyes for a moment and imagined everything faded to grayscale, as though he were in an old black and white film. It would still be beautiful, he thought. It always was, even in the strange colorized versions of some of his favorite old movies.
“Tony! You made it!”
He opened his eyes and turned to see Abby making her way towards him.
“Told you I only needed to finish off my report so now it’s party time!” Tony rubbed his hands together in exaggerated anticipation while wiggling his eyebrows, making Abby laugh as she hauled him onto the dance floor.
Tony lost himself in the dancing. This is what Christmas was to him. He didn’t really have any personal experience with the heart-warming sentiments others associated with Christmas. Yeah, he’d heard the stories that were shared by his friends and co-workers, visited with friends during Christmas and knew the plotlines of just about every Christmas movie ever made. He’d just never experienced anything like that in his lifetime. Those family-type storylines belonged to the Abby’s and McGoo’s of the world. And angel-aided Christmas revelations about life and your place in it…well, that was entirely George Baily’s bailiwick. Besides the happiness he got from gift-giving (and receiving, naturally), his holiday experience consisted of the bright and shiny aspects of the holiday alone, the surface glitter that matched the Christmases he’d had for a few years at home. Kind of like the Christmas dance numbers in the old Fred Astaire movies where the magic was all in the moment, the glitz and perfection of the dance, and it didn't matter if the dancers went home to an empty, solitary apartment. You just had to string the moments all together to make the holiday shine. It was enough, he told himself.
Sometime later Tony found a relatively quiet spot to take a breather beside the large ornate Christmas tree that reminded him of the holidays in his home when he was young. He grimaced slightly as his mind traveled back over those well-worn paths. His mother would always hire someone to handle the decorating to ensure that their home reflected the sophisticated ambience his parents favored: all very adult and with nothing catering to a little boy’s idea of Christmas. He found himself feeling resentful.
Knock it off, DiNozzo, he told himself sharply. You’re far too old to be revisiting that crap. With a smirk he took another sip of heavily-spiked eggnog and debated just switching to straight bourbon. His eyes scanned the room focusing on the festive decorations and he again saw his childhood home. It appeared that his memories were not to be denied, a realization that made him scowl into his drink.
He remembered wanting to help decorate one year with his Christmas projects from school. The biggest art project was his rendition of one of the three Magi made out of an empty baby food jar. He remembered being so proud of the sparkly decoration and he was sure his parents would love it because his teacher said so. He’d covered it with glitter and had glued colorful plastic beads on it. The head was made from construction paper. He remembered that he couldn’t get the eyes quite right so one was larger than the other but he’d put a gold foil hat on its head and he’d glued cotton balls on its face for a beard. He brought it home along with the snowflakes he’d cut out and the Christmas tree he’d colored and the green and red paper chain he’d made, one link for each of the twelve days of Christmas. When he got home he saw that the decorators were well into their task. Wanting to do his part, he carefully placed each item on the big table behind the couch that held the Nativity scene, sure that his mother would appreciate how well his Magi fit in.
He’d been wrong, of course. He heard his mother telling one of the maids to get rid of the things he’d made. They appeared later in a small pile on his desk. He remembered being unsurprised that his efforts weren’t good enough. It was all about appearances, after all, for everything from clothing to behavior and to surroundings. His father had impressed that fact upon him numerous times…often quite painfully. Christmas was when you made everything picture-perfect so that everyone who came to the house could see how important you are. Therefore, when the holidays rolled around, you pay someone to go out and buy all of the bright, shiny things and then, when you were done with it, you threw it all away.
Okay, he was a fast learner and now that he finally understood, he left all of his junk in a pile on his desk knowing it would be thrown out when the rest of the Christmas decorations were taken down for the year. It was shortly after that when he realized he could save Rosa some extra work when she cleaned his room and from that point on he just tossed his projects before leaving school.
His eye was caught by the flash of a camera as a couple posed in the densely packed room. That, too, brought about a memory of fake smiles and a hard hand gripping his shoulder warning him to be still, to be good. God, but he was tired of remembering. What he needed to do was forget about the past and concentrate on the bright and cheery here and now because it was Christmas and he loved every sparkly thing about it right down to that last shiny ornament, just like the ones that were hanging from the tree he found himself staring at. He forced a grin and then laughed as he looked at his reflection in the shiny orb in front of him. Just what every tree needs…a Tony DiNozzo Christmas ornament… He grinned at himself and laughed at his smile which was huge and distorted. Suddenly he saw a tiny Abby approaching, getting bigger and bigger with every step until she appeared over his shoulder, just as big and distorted as he was.
Tony turned towards Abby with a laugh just as he was jostled from behind. His arm swung out and knocked against the tree branch and dislodging the bright sphere he’d been peering into so intently just a moment before. Both he and Abby fumbled as they tried to catch it but the fragile orb fell to the ground and shattered.
“Ooops!” Abby said with a wide-eyed smirk.
Tony glanced at her and then looked back down at what remained of the Tony DiNozzo Christmas ornament. The pieces were still shiny on the outside but the inside was dull and gray. Empty. He felt a sudden chill as he stared. He became aware of a very hollow feeling inside of himself. That’s me…
“Sorry! Sorry! I’ll get that,” said the unknown man who’d bumped into Tony. Tony saw him bend down and pick up the biggest pieces, placing each into his now-empty cup. Abby appeared next to him and together they swept the smaller pieces into a napkin.
Tony just watched, frozen. …when you’re done with it, you throw it all away…
“Come on, Tony! Dance with me!” Abby pleaded with a bright smile once she’d straightened. Her smile broke through the fog Tony was in. He looked into her bright green eyes, automatically returning her infectious grin. He desperately needed her to fill the empty ache inside of him but he couldn’t bring himself to verbalize that need and, truth be told, he wasn’t sure she could. But if dear, sweet, irrepressible Abby couldn’t, who else could? He had no answer to that and he felt his breath leave him making his chest ache even more.
Maybe there was some expression on his face or maybe Abby just sensed something was off because her smile melted away as she looked into his eyes.
“Tony?” Abby asked, a small frown marring her smooth forehead but Tony just shook his head. He didn’t want to spoil her party with his depressing epiphanies.
“Nothing, Abs. Just wanna dance,” Tony said instead. He must have been convincing because he was rewarded by the return of a trademark Abby grin. With one last look at the magical world reflected in the other shiny orbs on the tree, Tony joined the happy crowd and forcibly lost himself in the rhythm.
Tony winced at the growled comment and nearly spilled the final ingredient for the famous DiNozzo Defibrillator he normally swore by.
“Sorry, Boss…but it really was a great Christmas party! You should have been there!” Tony said with a falsely bright smile, despite the anger burning out of those blue eyes he knew so well. He could feel the slight twitch at the corner of his eye but his smile never faltered even though Gibbs glared at him for a few seconds longer than usual. Tony’s head throbbed painfully and his stomach chose that moment to give a lurch, making him swallow thickly. Gibbs’ eyes narrowed even more and Tony’s smile twisted into a grimace.
“Don’t care how good. You come to work hung-over like that again, you’ll be looking for a new job come New Year’s.”
“Yes, Boss…won’t happen again, Boss,” Tony said quickly but Gibbs was already striding away. Tony closed his eyes for a moment and then dropped his head onto his desk, his hangover cure momentarily forgotten as he considered how real the threat was this time. He shook his head in disgust. Probably pretty damn real, he decided. He was used to hearing them every year since Gibbs tended to watch him closely during the holidays. This year, though, he seemed to be even more watchful...and got angrier than ever over his usual holiday indiscretions. Tony decided he really needed to get his head out of his ass or he truly would be out of a job.
“A Christmas party on a Sunday night? Really?” came a disbelieving voice and Tony grimaced into his desk. When he lifted his head, however, his typical smug grin was firmly in place.
“Well, unlike McGeeky schoolboys who have a firm bedtime on school nights, adults get together whenever they choose to do so and far be it for me to turn into a McParty Pooper by leaving just as those adult get-togethers really start rocking. Abby and I had a great time.”
“Riiight. Abby said the party you and she went to was on Saturday night. Are you saying it lasted all the way through Sunday night? Especially since Abby said you were pretty toasted when she took you home...early Sunday morning. So what’d you do? Catch a cab back to the two-day long party?”
Tony blew out a breath that was half derisive laugh and half back-pedaling as he tried to straighten out his story. The truth was that when he finally woke up Sunday afternoon, he knew he couldn’t hang out in his empty apartment…again…so he decided to visit his favorite jazz bar. Unfortunately, the drinks and the music had both gone down very well. So well, in fact, that he’d closed the bar.
“Never said it was the same party, McJealous,” Tony answered flippantly and turned to finish making his concoction and then downed it in two large gulps. He sat still for a moment, his hand pressed against his stomach as he forced himself to keep it down. Once he was sure he was successful, he turned back to McGee only to find him on the phone.
“That was Gibbs…we’ve got a case,” McGee said as he grabbed his bag and moved towards the elevator.
“Wait! Why didn’t he call me? And where’s Ziva?” Tony said as he grabbed his bag and followed.
“Don’t know and Ziva’s the one who found the body,” McGee replied as turned to hit the down button on the elevator.