Disclaimer: I obviously don't own NCIS and its characters. I just like writing the stories that the show won't.
A/N: Honestly, I don't know where this wish-fulfillment came from, but I guess the 250th episode made me so, so, so sad that you could say writing this was for cathartic purposes. (Why I keep watching the new episodes, I can't tell you.) If you make it to the end, I'd love to know what you thought of it!
The invitation wasn't unexpected, but it had the uncanny timing to arrive in his mailbox after a week ordered up straight from the depths of hell. There'd been batshit-crazy murderers, the kind that showed no remorse for their crimes and could've cared less if they were caught. The mountains of paperwork on his desk were insurmountable and the coffee cart switched up their beans…the flavoring…something. It just wasn't the same. And one particularly winding chase through a junkyard in pursuit of a suspect had finally made a convincing enough argument for befriending the gym once again, tout de suite.
So, the last thing NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo needed to cap it all off when he finally, finally, got home on Friday night was a very real, very tangible reminder of his father's upcoming nuptials.
Shuffled between his Netflix bill and a pre-approved credit card application was the creamy invitation. It was weighted and had crisp edges, and the gold stencils of announcements on the glossy cardstock inside told him nothing he didn't already know. Anthony DiNozzo, Sr. and Linda Turner. June 7, 2014. The Terrace Room of The River Cafe, Brooklyn Heights, NYC. Chicken or salmon?
That his father was trying his luck at wedded bliss for no less than the fourth time didn't bother him now as it had when he first found out. He'd even gotten beyond the bride-to-be being his late mother's best friend and his godmother, because it was only weird if…well, the weirdness factor hadn't quite left yet. It was a process.
His father deserved to be happy, as much as anyone who'd lost the love of his life, and his way, and his son a few times over deserved a fresh start. Sometimes, a person needed someone else to be better for, like an incentive. A reward for turning things around before it didn't matter anymore.
Linda was Senior's reward, his "soul mate" supposedly. If those really did exist…
The thing was, Tony had consulted his feelings on the arrangement and on the whole, he was on board. He'd gone to Turner-DiNozzo family brunches. He'd agreed to be his father's best man, for crying out loud. But, in all the bustle from work and the wedding, there was one thing he'd failed to consider about the joyous occasion—until the invitation asked for his, and his plus one's, RSVP.
The contacts list on his phone was long. A companion to the event, he could've secured in minutes. That wasn't what he wanted. The problem was much bigger than going stag to his father's wedding.
With a rusty sigh, he dropped his gear at the entrance to his bedroom and busied himself feeding his pet fish. "Would either of you lovely ladies be interested in going as my date?" The twin golds swam circles in the bowl, bobbing and weaving with each other, silent. "Didn't think so," he muttered with a smirk, and resigned himself to another lonely night in the ever-growing chain.
Nah. Not to say he hadn't granted her request for space, but he'd also sent her a dozen messages—more at the beginning, fewer as the months passed. None had ever received a reply, though. So it was definitely with stupid hope, or relentless faith, that he wrestled his laptop out of his pack and began tapping out one more before he'd reached the couch.
June 7th. The unassuming characters filled the rectangular message box as a slow and tentative smile warmed his mouth. His fingers found the keyboard again.
Save the date.
The River Café was essentially a docked barge at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, but its postcard-perfect panorama of Lower Manhattan across the great rushing East River was an irresistible blend of urban concrete and modern glamour, the kind that made one all the more aware of the Big Apple's stateliness, its ability to awe and overwhelm. Upon arriving, Tony had a hard time denying the venue its desired effect with goose-pimples rising on his arms beneath the layers of his dress shirt and Armani suit jacket.
They held the ceremony on the outside terrace at twilight, under an arch of fresh, pink-tinted lilies. Etta James' crooning escorted the bride, swathed in shades of cream, down the aisle to the side of her blushing groom. Necklaces of lights spanned the bridge overhead, illuminating the path of union that the couple vowed to walk through the bad times and the good, when they were sick and in health, 'til their parting breaths. When Senior took his new wife in his arms and dipped her, the spectacle culminating in a binding smooch, the lapping waves below their feet were drowned out by a roar of applause from the intimate assemblage of guests.
Tony would have been lying if he'd said his eyes hadn't scanned the crowd throughout the vows, the rings, the kiss. There was one face in particular he sought to find, but despite his best man vantage point at the front, there were still no sightings of his exotic former partner. Just as he suspected would be the case. He sent that message off into the ether two months earlier and he was still waiting on a reply.
One of these days, maybe he'd realize it was never going to happen.
Or maybe not.
Evening was settled in and comfortable by the time the wedding party moved into the lounge, resplendent in gold accents and stained-wood, for the reception. Lamps sat atop each table over starched white cloths, setting a mood of class and expense. Familiar Gershwin melodies wafted up from the glossy baby grand at the far end of the dining room. Floor to ceiling windows made the view no stranger, inviting the glow of the city in for the appetizer of Pacific oysters in butter sauce. It was like walking into a Woody Allen film, Tony thought. One of the old greats, like Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters. The ones that gave the metropolis a voice, and never stole the possibility of a happy ending from its inhabitants.
With that comparison in mind, Tony went straight for the bar and ordered, but his solitude was short-lived.
"Son," Senior exclaimed, grabbing him by the cheeks. "I'm married! Can you believe it?"
After reclaiming his face and massaging mobility back into his jaw, Tony pressed out a grin. "Well, it's been known to happen before, so…"
"Now don't you rain on my parade."
"I'm not!" Where was that drink?
Sliding up onto a stool, Senior joined him and motioned for the bartender to double whatever his boy was having. "What are you doing moping over here? Why aren't you with your friends?"
"Why aren't you with your wife?"
The old man winked. "She's freshening up."
"Ah." Tony glanced over his father's shoulder to the two tables that seemed to be solely designated for employees of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Only Vance hadn't been able to make it. Everyone else was present, Gibbs included, despite his notorious avoidance of weddings, even his own. "You didn't have to invite them, you know. Linda wanted things to be small."
A shrug from the groom. "Your family is my family. You've been so gracious in welcoming Linda and Taylor into ours; I thought it would be nice to return the favor. It's just too bad Ziva couldn't—"
"Dad," Tony snapped, a little too harshly judging by the wound of Senior's crumpled brow. "Sorry, I mean…wait. You invited her? How?" This was news to him.
"You're not the only person who has international connections." Senior's expression could only be described as sheepish. "Can you blame me?"
Like father, like son, apparently.
"Don't take it personally that she didn't show up," Tony told him. "She…the whole thing…it's just complicated."
The drinks arrived, and not a moment too soon. Tony downed his in a fast shot. Just as he'd slapped his empty glass back onto the wood bar, a firm grip clasped onto his forearm.
"I'm glad you're here, Junior. It sure means a lot to me." Senior husked out the words through uncharacteristic emotion. "Ever since your mother died, I've been waiting for someone to come along and make me feel the way Linda has now. Once I felt it, I knew I couldn't let it slip through my fingers."
Softening in equal measure to his father's level of sincerity, Tony gave the wrinkled hand an honest squeeze. This was going to be a good thing for Senior; he could feel it in his gut.
"I'm pretty sure Linda's glad you didn't, either."
Senior chuckled. "Let's hope it stays that way. Do me a favor, huh? Take your step-mom for a whirl on the dance floor tonight?"
"My pleasure." Tony motioned behind them—to the small commotion being raised at the entrance to the hall. "Speaking of which…better not keep your bride waiting. I hear they withhold things when you do that."
As it would happen, it was Taylor, not her mother, who first snagged Tony for a twirl that night.
"How're you handling everything, slugger?" The nickname, a relic from their shared childhood, wouldn't have sounded right coming from anyone other than his newly-minted step-sister.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Tony was currently up close and personal with her swollen belly. It was like dancing with a beach ball between them, which sounded suspiciously like something the nuns at his old boarding school would have devised to maintain chaste amongst the teenage students. "I'm not the one who's pregnant and wearing heels."
"Oh, quit being such a big brother," the brunette teased. "And for your information, I have eight days until this child makes its debut—"
"Not that you're counting."
"Not that I'm counting or anything, right. So, but you! You, I'm worried about." Taylor tilted her head, eyeing him in the muted lighting. "What's a charismatic guy like you doing without a date to his dad's wedding?"
"See, that's the trick. You don't bring the girl with you…you find the girl here, preferably a lonely bridesmaid."
"Nooo," the maid of honor argued as they swayed to an instrumental of For Once In My Life. "I'm not buying it. Not at your age."
"Um, our parents just got married and they're both over 70."
"Exactly." Her saffron orbs glinted pointedly. "What's your excuse?"
Was this what having a sibling was like? Someone constantly calling you out on your shit and never letting you get away with anything? His lips pursed in a crooked line as he thought of an easy way to sum up the eight years of his life that featured Ziva David—and how he hadn't coped well in the first without her.
"Since you asked so politely…" Tony began, spinning his dance partner out in perfect time to a crescendo in the music, giving him a few extra seconds to build up some courage and words. Not until she was back in his arms did he trust himself to continue. "Honestly, there was only one woman I wanted to be here with me, and she…" His throat closed around the lump forming over the truth that didn't want to come out. He forced it anyway. "She couldn't make it. Actually, she didn't even respond to my invitation, so I took that as a 'no.'"
Something about his answer must have ringed genuine to Taylor, because all her bravado was replaced with tenderness, as if she wanted to hug his pain away. He wondered if that was a sibling thing, too.
"Sorry to hear that. At least there's always next time, slugger."
"Next time, what? Our parents get married?"
She rubbed her stomach over the lilac chiffon of her dress. "This little bugger's gonna have to tie the knot sometime."
Tony made a face that earned him the prize of her sputtering laughter. "I'm not waiting that long! Are you crazy?"
They shared more laughs and another handful of twirls around the floor before his brother-in-law cut in for a dance with his wife. Handing back someone else's fulfilled dream was never without a struggle for him these days, but for family, he stepped aside with ease.
Once dinner, a choice of fruitwood-smoked salmon or herb-sprinkled grilled chicken and scallops, was served, consumed, and swept clean of the tables, Tony returned to his seat at the bar. He wasn't even drinking anymore, but it'd become his home base for the night. Not much later, McGee and Palmer found their way over on a break from their significant others. They seriously didn't know how good they had it.
"Nice toast, Tony." McGee clapped him on the shoulder and took a seat. "I was expecting a movie reference, though."
"'Gotta keep people on their toes, McBowTie. Just so you're aware, you look like Ducky in his laddie days."
"Hey, bowties are cool," the junior agent countered, adjusting the black knot. "Plus, Delilah picked it out for me."
"I think it makes you look dapper, McGee." Palmer smiled dorkily from around the other side of Tony.
"Dapper, Autopsy Gremlin. Really?"
"It does, Tony! Remember I had those blue bowties for my wedding? Not that any of my groomsmen got to wear them, 'cause you know, NCIS was bombed and then Dr. Mallard had a heart attack while he was walking on a beach, of all places, and—"
At his co-worker's synchronized shouts, Palmer exhaled a self-conscious laugh. "Sorry. I just meant that sometimes Breena and I regret not having a big ceremony. And now with the baby here, we're lucky to get a night out like this, let alone a—"
"But you have a beautiful wife," McGee reminded him.
"A smokin' hot wife," Tony amended.
"And you're a great dad to little Janette."
"Face it, Jimmy Palmer. You're living the dream." Tony clicked his tongue for emphasis.
The autopsy assistant beamed. "Yeah, I guess I am. Wow. Thanks, guys. You're the best."
His attempt to wrangle both agents into a bear hug was derailed by the announcement of the ceremonial tossing of the bride's bouquet. Over her head, Linda flipped the white lilies into the gathering of single woman on the dance floor. Shrieks and frantic snatching ensued, until the chaos ebbed to reveal the unassuming recipient of the symbolic honor.
It was Tony's turn to slap McGee on the shoulder and crow, "Looky who's getting hitched next! Have you set a date yet? Will bowties be required for the wedding party?"
McGee shot him a glare. "You're not invited," he groused before leaving to join Delilah in the spotlight.
Tony would have turned down any bet that claimed one heart in the place, even his own to an extent, didn't melt at the sight of his friend crouching down beside his girlfriend's wheelchair. Nothing but affection filled the expression McGee bestowed on her alone in that crowded room. The brunette beauty's eyes teased him, probably as much as the words falling from her moving lips.
"Just kiss her already!" Tony shouted, and then ducked behind Palmer for anonymity.
The suggestion was picked up and encouraged by the clinking of silverware on champagne flutes. When the couple leaned in to satisfy the request, Delilah held the bouquet up to cover their faces, making it a private affair. The guests erupted in a loud chorus of "Aww"-ing sighs and boisterous cheers.
Tony clapped the loudest. If he'd learned anything in the past year, it was not to waste opportunities. Just because his happily-ever-after slipped through his fingers on an airport tarmac in Israel didn't mean it wasn't possible. His family and his friends proved as much. It just hadn't been his time.
But it was coming. He could sense it, as sure as a feeling from Gibbs' gut. The night, like his second chance at everything he wanted, wasn't over yet.
The bride and groom received an affectionate send-off from their guests, complete with well-wishes and tossed birdseed that Tony was brushing out of his hair as he went back into the restaurant. The celebration carried on without the main attractions, but not everyone was sticking around.
"Calling it a night, gentlemen? And Gibbs."
Ignoring the cheeky comment, the team leader gestured to Ducky at his side. "He's my ride back to the hotel."
"He means I am his cab fair," Ducky corrected.
"Who said I wasn't going to pay?"
The experienced medical examiner chuckled, amused by his old friend's crankiness, and turned to Tony. "It was a lovely evening, my dear boy. Reminded me of a starry night in Brighton, in between my third and fourth year at Eton. It was the wedding of a classmate of mine and a professor. It was quite the scandal, as you can imagine, but—"
"Come on, Duck. I bet the kid's tired. Regale him later."
Tony shrugged. "I wish I could take the credit, Ducky, but I didn't have anything to with it, really."
"You were here." Gibbs clapped his shoulder. "That's something."
The special agent nodded his acknowledgement. "Thanks, Boss. Goodnight."
As they left to catch their waiting ride, Tony cast a glance over the darkened dining room, his honorary stool at the bar, the crowded dance floor…and suddenly, he was so tired, and it wasn't just the power of Gibbs' suggestion. It'd been a long day. A long couple years, if he wanted to get picky. A break was in order.
The melodic strains of Can't Help Falling in Love followed him out through the patio doors onto the terrace. With a hooked forefinger, he loosened his tapered black tie away from his neck; the jacket that matched his suit was inside, folded over the back of a chair; and he doubled up his cuffs, revealing firm forearms, as he strolled over to the far side of the deck. It was a warm night, even right on the water.
The waves supplied their own mood music, whipping up a breath of salty air for his lungs to absorb. On the exhale, he caught sight of the shadowy figure leaning over the wood railing at the precipice of the river.
"Needed some fresh air, too? It was getting kinda hot and stuffy in there." Tony approached them with the same stride of nonchalance as before. The thought that the outline in the dark could be anyone other than a fellow wedding guest didn't cross his mind.
Until she spoke.
"Are you sure it is not just you who is overheated? You always did sweat easily, Tony."
Foreign. Deep. Haunting. He'd tried to keep that voice alive in his head all this time, like a favorite song he hummed under his breath, a phantom of its original quality, losing authenticity and rhythm with repeated plays. It was better than forgetting her sound altogether. After eight months of silence, though, he certainly didn't expect it to return to the tune of his perspiration tendencies.
That's my Ziva, he thought with a private chuckle.
A rapid flutter tore through his chest, clawing for purchase up his throat, over his tongue, and out through lips parted in surprise.
A subtle shift of her uncovered shoulders, her untamed curves, and she was facing him. The glow from the dining room, sifting through the gauzy curtains over the picture-pane windows, was too faint to illuminate her; only the strings of soft white lights twined around the arch at the front of the alter did her true justice. She was as he remembered her on the night he walked out of her life, except for the waterfall of bronze locks that cascaded over one shoulder, falling short of where he recalled them measuring down her arm. She must have gotten a trim. There was no doubt they'd both missed events in their respective lives, and something like nostalgia filled his chest at the thought of all the nights and days they'd lost together since the last time they were only a stone's throw away…as they finally were again now.
"Yes?" Her expectant look pierced through his dazed stupor.
"You're here," he sputtered. "H-how did you get here?"
Her face scrunched up in an adorable fit of irritation that belied the rare and incredibly sexy make-up accentuating her high cheek bones and artful lips. It took all the restraint stored up in his body not to march over and kiss her, damn the how and why of everything. Instead, he settled for a few extra steps in her direction, each one affording him a clearer picture of the woman who'd only frequented his dreams in the past few months. It wasn't a question: he preferred the real deal. Not just because of the little black dress that absolutely would have showed up the bride; she was radiant, regardless of attire, in the twinkling lights reflecting off the water. Freedom looked good on her.
"I am unaccustomed to the transportation in this city," she was explaining earnestly, and he scrambled to keep up. "By the time I arrived, I did not want to interrupt the festivities of your father's wedding and—"
"That's not what I meant." Her misunderstanding ended his fantasies and kicked him back into his frustrated haze. "I sent you messages. Dozens of them, and you never replied, so I…" An imperceptible shake of his head. "Why now?"
The rushing surf at their feet and the far-off distraction of stalemated traffic on the western portion of the Brooklyn Bridge over their shoulders commandeered the conversation for the briefest of moments before she made an offering.
"I was invited, was I not?" Her bottom lip slid between pearly teeth, an action he recognized all too well. Either Ziva David was nervous or teasing him. Maybe a little of both. All this time and she still kept him wondering and intrigued.
A crookedly-drawn smile pulled up a corner of his mouth. "Technically, you were invited twice."
She acknowledged his humor, but sobered quickly. "Whether you believe me or not, I read everything you wrote to me, Tony. I was, however, in situations where it would have been dangerous to respond."
"Fair enough, but that doesn't explain what took you so long."
"To come back to me," Tony said.
Her hazelnut gaze drew him in, warming him from the outside in. "I was always on my way back here." Unusual tentativeness characterized the hand she raised and placed on his chest. "I did not mean to be gone so long."
Finding himself leaning into the warmth of her touch, Tony was amazed how long he'd survived without her. His partner, best friend, and more, he knew. Much more. There was a lot to make up for. His hands reaching and alighting on her waist, eager digits bunching in the sumptuous fabric of her dress and inching her closer and closer to him, was a good start.
"You're a little late, that's all," he whispered, because that was all it took for her—and no one else—to hear him. Distance, they'd known too long, but now they were so close that the cool breeze wafting off the water struggled to squeeze between them. So close that he felt the reverberations of her shivers when they finally blinked, breaking the connection they'd held since he realized his date had finally arrived.
Of course she came when he wasn't looking for her. He'd been searching crowds and here she stood, off to the side and alone. In the end, he didn't care if it was his or Senior's efforts that lured her out of hiding. He didn't care how or why or when she got there, just that she had.
Soul mates, it seemed, kept their own time.
Slender fingers made the journey over the bare skin of his neck and then on further, up to the swath of stubble covering his jaw, until his face, along with his heart, was nestled in her hands. Her scent mingled with the salty air, creating a potent blend that intoxicated him more than the drinks he'd consumed hours earlier. Oh, how he loved having her back.
Ziva tilted her chin, bringing their lips to the brink of tempting nearness. "I have missed out on much, yes?"
"Oh, yeah. I could catch you up," he offered, swallowing hard. "If you want."
He wasn't sure what they were talking about: the ceremony, the reception, or the world she'd left behind. All he knew for certain was that she was the only one he ever wanted to tell the most important things in his life, like his father getting married and giving him a step-family, or even the funny joke he'd overheard in the break room or his confusion at the worst cases to cross his desk. What was more, he wanted to do it not in a random fell swoop, but when he came home to her every night, after good days and bad…for as long as they both shall live.
Her breath was hot as it splayed over his lips. "You would not mind?"
"Are you kidding?" His chuckle was full of holes, pockets of disbelief. "It's all I've been waiting for, sweetcheeks."
They were sharing bubbles of laughter when gravity came through on its promise, overseeing their collision of desires that nibbled and tasted each other like delectable desserts long withheld. Quick, familiarizing pecks melted into a lingering acquaintance, with no scheme of leaving anytime soon. This was only the beginning.
And it was definitely a date worth saving.