Hi everyone! This isn't my first fic, but it's my first NCIS one. I hope you all like it - please read and review! Reviews encourage me to update faster!

Chapter One: Every Birthday Is A Bonus

"Experience which destroys innocence, also leads one back to it." James Baldwin.

The mailman jumped as Tony DiNozzo rushed past him, noticed him, and then doubled back to stand before him.

Usually, the two came face to face every morning, with the mailman having finished handing out the mail to each NCIS office, and him being on his way out when the Special Agent was waltzing in, a ridiculous amount of energy for such an early hour of the morning. Of course, there were days when the agent's choice of activities the previous night were blatantly the cause of his happiness, and it was always these same activities that were the cause of the worse-for-wear days, where he'd come on, his shirt buttons only just correctly latched together, and still rubbing a drizzle of sleep from his face as he downed as many coffees as he could. Today was not one of those days. Today, he was there at his desk just as the mailman was about to lay down his mail onto the desk surface.

"Special day, Agent DiNozzo?" the mailman asked him.

"It's my birthday," he grinned, with all the excitement of a five-year-old.

"Happy birthday," the mailman nodded as he handed over the wad of envelopes that had been bunched together for Gibbs's team. To Tony's delight, most of the envelopes were blue or red, basically card coloured. This year, he'd purposefully arranged for all his mail to be forwarded to the office for his birthday, especially since the year before McGee had been completely smothered with a thousand different birthday cards from Abby alone, and the fact that it was his birthday spread round the building like wildfire. Needless to say, Tony had been extremely jealous when McGee had been the one on the receiving end of female attention for the day.

"Twenty-one again, Tony?" Ziva asked with a touch of teasing to her voice as she joined him in the office, taking her place at her own desk.

"Nope," he grinned. "Thirty-four and proud."

"What's there to be proud of?" she asked, clearly more touchy about age than he was.

He threw his jacket and rucksack onto his chair, and went over to Ziva's desk, leaning over and grinning at her. "Every birthday is a bonus, Ziva."

And then, it dawned on her. "You have a date tonight."

"I have a date tonight," he confirmed.

"Anyone we know?"

He laughed at her. "Of course not."

She raised a single eyebrow at him. "Anyone you know?"

He sighed, shaking his head as he stood up fully again. "Ziva, you wound me," he said sarcastically, placing his hand rather overdramatically on his heart.

She just shook her head at him, turning her computer on and waiting for it to load up as McGee joined them in the office. Tony sat down at his desk, completely ignoring the 'good morning' routine conversation between his co-workers and starting on his pile of birthday cards before Gibbs could arrive and drag him away from them. Any envelope that didn't have his name on was tossed straight across the bull pen to McGee's desk, many of them hitting the man in the head, but he didn't stop to notice.

It was strange that, after all his training, and all the discipline that had followed his opening of the SWAK, that he didn't notice it. It was rather much like all of the others, slipped in among the bundle, all innocuous and innocent. And, like all the others, he didn't really look at it. He didn't try to decipher the handwriting on the front, he ignored the picture on the front, and he simply opened it, eager to receive the message that had been scrawled inside and the occasional twenty dollar bill that an elderly relative would place inside.

It was only once it was open that his heart stopped. He recognised the handwriting instantly.

Dear Tony,
Please don't ignore this.
I need to see you. I'm dying. I'm in Capital Hospice, DC.
Yours, Alicia.
X

Slamming it shut, he realised that the card didn't have the usual 'happy birthday' emblazoned on the front. The piece of glossy cardboard sailed across the room when Tony slung it away from him as if it had burned his fingers. It landed in the direct centre of the bullpen, and sat there staring at him with a more intense gaze that that of his two co-workers who looked at him as if he were insane. The card remained on the floor. No one moved to pick it up. It remained there, right where he could see it no matter where he tried to look on his desk. Daring him to ignore it. Daring him to pretend the words inside weren't carved into his brain.

I'm dying.

He took a chug of his coffee, convinced he hadn't woken up properly yet.

The card still sneered at him, goading him. Ziva and McGee exchanged concerned glances.

He threw his chair backwards, and went into the centre of the bull pen. He picked up the card and, dispassionately, he tore it in half. Then, he tore the broken pieces in half, before throwing them unceremoniously in the bin. He stomped back over to his desk, ignoring the now very worried stares in his direction, and sat down, going back to his birthday cards.

There, that was better. Much better. He sipped at his coffee and opened his cards, carefully arranging them so that any passing attractive female could see them and feel like stopping in to wish him a happy birthday by means of a kiss or five. Everything was right again. Perfect, even. Just how it should be on his birthday.

Nothing could ruin it. No matter how much anyone tried. And they were trying, weren't they? You couldn't try much harder than that message of mortality dressed up as a birthday card. Very clever. It was like when you found out Santa was just your dad wearing a beard and a few pillows up his shirt. Well, it wasn't going to work. He wasn't falling for any of that nonsense. He was going to carry on with his perfect birthday plan. He was going to convince Gibbs to let him leave at five, go home and look dashing for his date, and then spend all night getting special birthday treatment from the girl he'd met in the bar last weekend, Fiona.

The door was slightly open, and it didn't protest as Tony gently pushed on it. He hadn't knocked.

From her place amongst what seemed to be a thousand white pillows, she smiled up at Tony as he stepped into view.

"I knew you'd come," she whispered.