A/N: This was written for sapphyre_blu in NFA's Secret Santa fic exchange; her prompt was "exhausted Tony gets comfort." Reviews craved!
COMFORT AND JOY
Ziva David stood on the sidewalk outside her partner's condo, arms full, eyes narrowed. In the waning grey light of the overcast afternoon, she scanned the darkened windows and noticed only a flicker or two of light from inside – a movie, no doubt. His car was in his garage.
4 P.M., Christmas Eve. It wasn't supposed to have worked out like this.
It had all started on a stakeout, after a few hours in a car with an energized DiNozzo, when he had been babbling about Christmas movies and traditions and anything else he could think of so he wasn't yammering on nonstop about his father's visit. For the first time in a couple dozen years, maybe more, Senior had made plans with Junior to spend the actual holiday with him, in the same town and same place, and for the first time in nearly as long, Junior had believed him. His father's series of recent reappearances in his life, their time together and, apparently, their discussions, had allowed Tony to hope for a future with his father. And this time, he'd fallen for it, all of it. Hard.
His phone rang. He lifted it, frowned at the caller I.D., and answered, "Dad?"
Ziva couldn't hear much of the conversation on the other end, but hadn't needed to. With the tone of the voice through the phone, and the range of emotions flitting across Tony's face, it was clear enough – and this particular sort of heartbreak she knew all too well.
The conversation was short, and as he snapped his phone shut, Tony also snapped a 'who cares?' expression into place. "Never fails," he snorted, glancing to Ziva. "Something came up."
"I am sorry, Tony. If there..."
"Save it, Dah-veed; nothing to be sorry about," he interrupted, his cheer was too loud and too glib to be anything but a front for a very painful blow. "I almost would have been disappointed if he had shown up. Or scared." He snorted again. "Yeah, that would have signaled the end of the world, for sure."
Ziva had seen Tony disappointed before, and had seen his usual act of shrugging off whatever the disappointment had been. But this time ... this time, he had allowed himself to hope, and to hope for something obviously held precious to him for a long, long time. It was clear, in his eyes; it was clear in the way he refused her attempts to discuss it and his afterthought demand that she tell no one that his father had backed out once again.
It became even more clear in how quiet he was the rest of the day: back in the bullpen, at his desk, he'd looked exhausted, beaten, as if every last hope he'd had was finally, irrevocably, crushed. His movements were as pained as if he'd tackled a suspect or fallen down stairs. And when the others had to leave for their holiday plans, one by one, Tony managed to be absent, having headed to Abby's lab one time, to autopsy another, to the men's room or break room, anywhere but the places where someone might wish him a happy holiday, too.
This one hurt, Ziva saw, and hurt him in a way no one else was as likely to understand as well as she did. And she feared that this time, maybe for trusting again, or maybe because of all the other hurts he'd accrued over the past couple years, this one was the worst of all...
It had taken her part of the previous evening and most of the morning, but the image of Tony looking so excited, then so disappointed, spurred her on. One idea led to the next, and as she really didn't have plans of her own this year, she allowed her imagination – and what had developed over the past hours into a rather fierce protective streak – to take hold. And now, at 4 P.M. on a grey Christmas Eve, early flurries starting to dance around her, she wondered what she might find inside – and what he might make of her uninvited appearance. She wouldn't let herself second-guess her actions; Ziva focused on what it meant to have a father who made promises, only to break them, and how it felt to let yourself believe again only to be disappointed once again. Shifting her burden and squaring her shoulders for her approach, Ziva went to the door and rang the bell.
The wait was a little longer than usual, but before she could pound on the door and assert that she knew he was inside, the door opened slowly, and her partner stood, stocking-footed, disheveled, in the doorway. He blinked his surprise to find her there, and Ziva knew instinctively his usual glib responses were slowed by the effects of the disappointment he'd allowed himself to feel. She wouldn't minimize his pain by simply taking over his evening, as if the change of plans meant nothing, so she simply offered a small, hopeful smile. "Merry Christmas?" she tried, softly.
"Ziva David," he finally managed, trying for casual. "Happy Hanukkah. Or ... I guess I'm kinda late for that, aren't I?"
"Not this year," she smiled. "Day five."
"Well." He smiled, but it was as if he was too exhausted to offer more than that one, vacuous comment. If she hadn't known what had happened, she'd have thought he'd been head-slapped once too many times by Gibbs, or was woozy on pain-killers. As it was, he looked particularly vulnerable: clearly he had been up for a while; he had showered, but unlike his usual appearance, his hair had only the benefit of shampoo, and without his usual styling gunk making it spiky or tamed, he looked even more like the abandoned ten year old he once must have been. He was dressed in a red and grey sweatshirt (his beloved alma mater) and well-worn sweat pants; what she could see of his living room behind him had newspapers tossed on the floor and empty beer bottles on the table, but only two, and no evidence that he'd eaten recently. At that moment, her heart melted even a little more for him.
"I did not bring a menorah, but..." She dug in the box and pulled out a small net bag allowing the gold foil within to peek through. Holding it up for him to see, the gold foil catching the light from inside, she tried, "I thought you might like some Hanukkah gelt."
He blinked again, clearly caught completely by surprise at her appearance and her actions. As he reached out to take the small bag, he looked inside. "Chocolate," he finally grinned, a bit wanly but genuinely. "That's an awfully big box ... you out delivering gelt to the whole District?"
"No ... but I thought I would deliver Christmas to you, if you'll let me."
His eyebrows disappeared into the fringe of hair falling softly across his forehead.
"Tony, I know that you had other plans, and that they changed at the last minute, and I assumed that you would not have time to make new ones before now. Was I right?"
She could see him debating how to answer; even after all this time he was torn between maintaining appearances and trusting his partner with the truth. But his heart wasn't in it to hide what he knew she knew, and he admitted, "yes." He drew a deep breath with his confession, and suddenly seemed to come a bit more aware of his surroundings. With a rueful smirk, he added, "you want to come in even after I made you stand outside all this time, holding that box and not even offering to help?"
She grinned in response, stealing a line she'd heard him use on McGee before. "I am used to you, Tony."
He rolled his eyes and leaned toward her to lift the large box from her arms. Peering inside, he frowned, "what is all this?"
"You will see." She slipped past him to come into his home, noting with a bit of sadness that he had a small pile of presents wrapped with Christmas paper at the far end of the room, on top of which had been dumped a few decorative things. She imagined that he had attempted to decorate with a bit of Christmas for his father, and once plans were cancelled, he relegated his decorations to the corner, where they would be less of a reminder of his broken trust.
She didn't allow herself to slow at the sight, but went on into his kitchen and turned, knowing that he'd follow. As she watched him come closer, carrying her box, she couldn't help noticing that he still looked lost – alone. Swallowing the feeling it gave her, knowing she'd spent too many of her own holidays, both as a child and as an adult, with the same lost look, she nodded to the countertop and said, "right here is fine." She hoped that maybe her plans could make things better for him, and that maybe this holiday could even be a good one for him, if things worked out.
"You planning to redecorate?" he tried. He put down the box and, taking another look inside, suddenly reached for a familiar item. "Hey," he said, pulling out an old-fashioned rolling pin. "You've finally had it with me and you came to beat my brains out."
"Tony," she replied calmly, reaching into the box herself. "If I had finally 'had it' with you, I would have chosen a more public place and a more common weapon, to make the list of possible assailants a much longer one." She maintained her neutral expression until he grunted his thanks and grumbled – more Tony-like than he'd been so far – about the 'list of possible assailants.' She chuckled at that, lifting out a large, heavy container and a smaller sack. Finally, she stopped to look up at him, and spoke softly. "I thought you would probably be here – alone – and alone is not good when you have been hurt." As he broke eye contact, trying to decide whether to stay for her onslaught or to leave the kitchen and avoid her offered opinion, she put a gentle hand on his arm and said, "Tony – you know that of all the people around you, I understand what a broken promise can mean from one's father. And I know you – pretending it doesn't hurt when it does, and holing up here, dwelling on it ... and dwelling on the fact you trusted him again, only to have it turn out to be another disappointment..."
She'd felt him tense under her hand as she spoke. "Maybe 'holing up' was just to be alone for a while." When she didn't respond right away, he shifted uncomfortably and added, "look, I know you're trying to help, and I appreciate it, but I'm not much company right now." He wouldn't look at her.
"I have learned that there are just some times you do not really want to be alone, no matter what you tell yourself." Her words were low but clear. "And even though you might be irritated when someone shows up to patronize you and tell you that you do want company, when you are quite sure you do not ... you may find that they are right after all."
He looked at her again now. "Someone do that to you, Ziva?" She wouldn't take the bait of making this about her instead of him, though, and he saw it wouldn't work as soon as he asked. Dropping his eyes again, he sighed and mumbled, "geez, David, you sure know how to cheer a guy up." His words held a ghost of his typical sarcasm, but none of his usual energy or pretense of being 'fine.' Ziva felt another rush of empathy as she wondered if he was trusting her enough to drop the façade, or if he simply didn't have the energy to try. Either way, he might allow her to comfort him – at least in the way she offered it, here.
"I think I do." She handed him the smaller sack and watched for his reaction.
After only a moment, when the thought that her 'cheer' could be contained in a small paper bag seemed more than he could handle, he peered in, then pulled out a small container as he frowned his surprise. "Sprinkles?" he tried.
"Yes. And icing." She handed him another container and popped it open to show him the creamy frosting inside. "With bottles of food coloring in there to make as many colors as you like." As he looked back at the rolling pin, then to her, she opened the large tub in which she'd packed the double batch of sugar cookie dough that she'd made from scratch that afternoon. "You once said that 'your people' handle sadness with food – it is something that Italians and Jews have in common, yes?"
"But probably not Christmas cookies. Shouldn't they be Hanukkah cookies?"
He was trying for his usual teasing banter, to cover his true feelings, not unexpected for him. But beyond that – was he really thinking about the fact that she celebrated a different holiday? Whatever was going on in his head, her efforts apparently had broken through to him, and for that she felt some relief. "Christmas cookies are allowed ..." she said, teasingly, "as long as they are kosher. And baking is universal. The smell of cookies baking cures all ills."
"What about the smell of cookies burning?"
"Never my cookies." She lifted out two cookie sheets and a roll of waxed paper. "So ... would you like to try making some with me?"
He wavered, then shrugged, finally smiling a little and seeming to relax, for the first time, with her company. "Only if they're kosher."
She beamed, willing to accept that as his effort to include her in his holiday. "They are. And..." she reached again in the seemingly bottomless box to pull out a larger, white plastic bag, "I brought dinner, so we will not die of sugar overload."
His interest growing, he pulled at the bag to see the logo for "Honeybaked Ham" and smirked, "definitely not kosher. No wonder you didn't bring a menorah."
"I did not have time to make it a real dinner," she apologized, "but I found good rye bread and English mustard, for sandwiches," another two smaller sacks appeared from the box, "and I have deli cole slaw and Belgian beer."
"How did you know the traditional DiNozzo Christmas feast?" His look softened as he considered her, and he smiled a more genuine, appreciative smile than she had ever seen from him before. "You did all this today?" At her nod, he allowed himself to consider the implications, and added softly, "you went to a lot of trouble to get all this together in such a short time, Ziva. I ..." He paused, not quite sure what to say, so finally said, simply, "thank you."
"Merry Christmas, Tony," she smiled.
"Happy Hanukkah, Ziva. I don't have much here to offer for either holiday, but I'll share my gelt."
She grinned. "That is why I brought so much with me."
Finally, a dazzling DiNozzo smile appeared as he nodded. "Yeah, you did. So put me to work – what can I do?"
Over the next few hours, Ziva showed Tony how the chilled dough could be turned out onto his counter, on floured wax paper covering its surface, and rolled to an even layer; she set him to work with the cookie cutters she'd brought and watched as he decorated some of the figures with the colored sugar and sprinkles. The kitchen and all of Tony's home filled with the sweet smells of sugar cookies and coffee as they baked.
"How does a nice Jewish girl have Christmas cookie cutters in her arsenal?" he'd asked. He wasn't expecting her reply.
"When I came back ... from Somalia..." she began, "there was a place I went for a while that offered counseling." She rolled another lump of the dough in slow, even passes, keeping her eyes on the dough, and her voice even, without breaking her stride. "They had other services, including a shelter for homeless or battered women. Some had children with them. One of the projects they have in December is a weekend of baking. They always need volunteers to help, both with the baking there and to bring extras, so that baskets could be made up and distributed to families..." She smiled softly at the memory. "I went, that first December ... and have gone back each year since. It was where I was last weekend, why it took me longer than usual to get in when we were called on Sunday afternoon." She had a wistful look as she remembered, then grinned to add, "and we made Hanukkah cookies there, too, along with the Christmas cookies."
He didn't know what to say, but watched her working, her movements as graceful and skilled with dough and a rolling pin as they were with a knife and her Sig Sauer. "All this time, and we never put you on cookie duty," he quipped, finding it easier to try dispelling her discomfort with the remnants of Somalia than with the newer sting of his own, with his father's abandonment. Using his best Gibbs imitation, he barked, "'McGee, bag and tag; DiNozzo, sketch and shoot; David, shake and bake.'"
She chuckled, and he relaxed even more. He was heartened yet again, she could see. "Another cookie?" he offered.
She laughed. "Not for me; I am already full of sugar for now. We are nearly out of dough, and the baked cookies can be iced later. Do you want to stop for sandwiches when these are cut out and in the oven?"
He shrugged. "Sure – what should I do?"
"Get out what we need for dinner?"
Tony nodded and languidly got up, moving around the kitchen to pull out plates and utensils, open the wine-sized bottle of heavy Belgian ale and set up his table as a place they could make their own sandwiches. As he walked by Ziva's large box again, he glanced in and saw one more, flat bag. "Did you forget something?"
She looked up, grinned widely at what he held, then looked away. "I did not forget," she replied. "It is ... for later. Or maybe for dinner."
Back to his usual nosy self with the sugar and the company, Tony peered into the bag to find a gift-wrapped form suspiciously the size and shape of a DVD box. Waving it with a wide grin, he asked, "this wouldn't happen to be for..."
"You? Possibly," she teased. "Have you been a good special agent this year?"
"I have been an extraordinarily special special agent this year," he announced.
"Well, then, yes," she agreed, "it is for you. And yes," she laughed at his next actions, waving it again and miming the act of opening it, "you may open it now, if you wish."
Pretending to turn back to the dough, Ziva watched as he opened her gift. She had been so pleased to find it and was anxious to see his reaction...
"Ziva! I can't believe..." Tony's eyes lit up like a child's as he saw the movie she'd found for him. "This is finally on disc? It can't have been long; when was it released, just..." he looked back to her from the box and at her nod, said as she did, "...today?" He flipped the box over and looked at the liner notes, his surprise and excitement warming Ziva at her success. "I haven't even seen this yet, and I really wanted to..."
"Tony, I know; I am your partner and I had to hear all about how you had not gotten a chance to see it before it left the theaters because of how busy we had been."
"I may have mentioned..."
"Many, many times; yes," she prodded as she worked, but as pleased as he was with her choice. "At least it was not difficult to know what movie to bring."
But when he didn't say anything more right away, she looked up to see that he had quieted, as he had hours before when she'd arrived. "Man, Ziva ..." he finally managed, then was silent again. After several moments, turning the movie over in his hands again to then look up at her, again without his usual walls in place, Tony said quietly, "look at all this ... you mixed up the cookies, made a bunch of stops for dinner, got all these things together ... and you had to have stood in line today for the DVD..." He was clearly touched, grateful for her efforts.
"It was my pleasure, Tony. I have enjoyed this afternoon, too."
At her words, he suddenly looked into her eyes, deeply, as if looking for anything more she might have meant beyond the cookies and baking. After a few moments, he dropped his eyes, almost shyly, and went back to setting up their dinner. After another few moments, though, he tried, "want to watch the movie for dinner?"
"If you like."
He nodded, his enthusiasm back; he began the more usual DiNozzo rambling about the movie, and the reviews and the promise that she would like it, too. His enthusiasm continued though the final batch of cookies being placed on the cookie sheet, through the building of their sandwiches and filling their plates, and their taking their places before his large screen to watch the movie. Suddenly, as he held the remote and was ready to start the film, Tony offered, "I've missed our movie nights, Ziva."
She looked at him, wondering how much she actually heard behind his words, and how much she merely hoped to hear. "I have, too," she smiled.
"Maybe ..." he was uncharacteristically reticent. "Sometime again ... after tonight again, too...?"
"I would like that."
He paused only a moment before he asked, his tone serious again, "but would C.I. Ray approve?"
She was mildly surprised at the mention of the man she'd been seeing last year at this time before she realized that even Tony, as much as he had stuck his nose in her affairs, couldn't know what had changed in her life in the past several months – and in her heart. "His approval or disapproval is not an issue, Tony," she said quietly. His eyebrows went up in question, and she shrugged. "He is out of the photo."
Tony grinned an impossibly wide grin. "Out of the picture," he confirmed.
Ziva's smile was a private one at his reaction, her certainty that he could not resist correcting her confirmed. "Yes. Out of the picture," she repeated softly.
The movie kept them from further discussion at the moment. Tony clearly was enraptured and Ziva found he'd been right, the movie was a good one that she was enjoying, too. They had finished their sandwiches, and when Ziva took his plate with hers to the kitchen, she brought them each a cookie. Without words, the movie still playing, Tony took the cookie and, eyes hopeful, patted the couch beside him in a reminder of their previous movie nights. Feeling an odd flutter of butterflies at the look he'd given her, and of hope that even the last, oldest bridges were being rebuilt tonight, Ziva grinned and sat close to him, nestling into his side as he put a warm, chaste arm around her shoulders. She settled in against him as the movie continued to play. It was late enough now that she began to think the Christmas she'd engineered might be over soon, with the movie. If that were all she could give him this evening, it seemed to be enough. He was fed and content; he'd connected with her and seemed to be past the worst. It was enough, she told herself.
But a half hour later ... at several minutes past 9 PM on Christmas Eve, Tony's doorbell rang. He looked surprised, and looked at her.
"You are not expecting anyone?" she asked.
"I wasn't even expecting you. What did you do, get Santa to stop by?"
"Santa is in Stillwater with his father," she laughed, doing all she could to tamp down the sudden nerves that erupted at the sound of the door. Certain that it meant the last of her surprises had worked out, Ziva worked to hide her reaction. What if this was a bad idea?
"Ha. Gibbs? Santa? Right," he snorted, relaxed and easy as he got up to go to the door. Unable to sit still now, Ziva got up too, and silently padded a few feet behind him. When she saw him stoop to peer out the small peephole and immediately react, his shoulders stiffening but his hand shooting out to open the door, she knew her one last Christmas surprise had come true, too. "Dad!"
The door opened wider to reveal an ever-grinning, ever-buoyant Senior, arms even full of gifts, as if it had been his plan all along. "Junior! And Ziva..." he nodded to her, just past his son, and winked, "so Junior finally got some sense and had you over to dinner, did he?"
Ziva beamed, knowing that Senior knew precisely why she was there, as Tony simply stared, not yet ready to believe his eyes. "You said you had to be in Monacco..."
"I did say that, Junior..." The older man's voice took on the sound of a sincere apology. "And ... I did go. But once I got there, I ... cancelled the meeting. Or tried to. I told the Prince that I had made a grave mistake by cancelling Christmas with you, and that I needed to get back to the States, and would catch him next time." He then smiled the smile of a charmed man. "Apparently he appreciated the fact that I finally put family before business – it seems he'd been trying to do just that himself, lately. He said he'd already read the prospectus, he didn't need anything more from me and in fact would just give me his decision right then. We wrapped up everything in thirty minutes, had a drink, and he put me on his private jet to Paris so I could catch the next flight out to Reagan." As Senior watched Tony Junior take in everything, he began to believe his son's beautiful partner, who had tried to tell him just how much his actions still affected his son. Swallowing a lump growing in his throat, he tipped his head to ask, "so ... may I come in?"
Ziva stood by as it all unfolded: Tony beginning to believe that his father was really there for him, for Christmas Eve; Senior explaining that he had until New Year's Eve before he was expected anywhere and could stay in the District as long or as little as Junior liked; Tony alternately insisting and apologizing that while his condo wasn't the Ritz, it was home and that Senior should just stay there, with him...
She slipped away to the kitchen to cover the small dishes of icing they'd prepared and put them in his refrigerator, and to pack the last cooled batch of cookies into a container so they wouldn't become stale. Picking up her coat and keys, she came out to where the men were still standing, each still a bit dazzled to actually be together again at Christmas.
She first went to Senior and kissed him on the cheek. "Merry Christmas, Tony," she said. "There is ham in the refrigerator and very good mustard and rye bread if you're hungry. I will see you soon. Tony..." she turned to her partner and reached a hand to his cheek. "Merry Christmas. I will get everything out of your way later, yes?"
"Ziva, don't let me run you off..." Senior protested.
"You will see me again before you leave. And 'Junior' sees me every day, at work. But you two have catching up to do, and a Christmas to share." She smiled again, touched at seeing just how moved Tony was by it all. It was not difficult to simply turn and let herself out, warmed by the thought that the DiNozzo men were together to enjoy to their holiday. As Ziva jogged down the steps and to her car, she paused only a moment to watch the light, persisting swirls of snow still drifting on the light wind around her. She felt warm and satisfied with how things had gone that day – she knew how she would have felt, had any of her holiday disappointments with her father had such a happy ending as this one...
She turned to see Tony jump off his steps and jog up to her, still in his stockinged feet. "Tony! You'll freeze," she protested.
"It's okay." He reached her and grabbed her shoulders, his eyes animated as he searched her face, as if to decide what to say. Whatever he saw, with a rush of emotion he said nothing, but simply shifted to cup her face in his hands and kiss her, holding the kiss for several moments before breaking it to look back at her. "Look, I..." he began, then tried again. "Dad told me you'd called him on his way there, just as his flight got in to Paris."
"Interfering again, yes?" she tried.
He relaxed, shaking his head and smiling his gratitude again. "Thank you, Ziva, for making this happen ... and for caring enough to do all this."
She felt eyes prickle slightly with the happiness she saw in him now and simply nodded, first to him, then toward his feet. "You should go inside – you are starting to shiver. And you have company to entertain," she added.
He glanced down at his feet with a grin. "Yeah," he shrugged. "And we'll finish the movie soon, too. But come over tomorrow, for Christmas dinner – we'll go find one – or at least have more ham."
"It is your time with your father, Tony," she protested.
"Which I'll have, because of you. I'll see him tonight and through the week, because you 'interfered.' But I think we'd both like it if you'd join us tomorrow."
She looked at the green eyes, carrying a look there for her that she hadn't seen in some time, one she had often wondered if she would ever see again. She finally nodded, not quite ready to hope too much, but willing to anticipate the coming day with him and his father. "Then call me tomorrow and let me know when and where."
He grinned happily, brushed her hair back, affectionately, and, after another long moment of looking at her, still amazed at all she'd done for him, leaned in again to kiss her. Pulling back, he grinned even wider, and a bit of the usual DiNozzo made an appearance. "I like that," he leered.
"Good night, Tony. Get inside," she chuckled.
"Yes, ma'am." He backed up a couple steps then turned to dash back to his door. He stood in the doorway until she got in her car, started it up, and pulled out of the parking space. He waved at her as she passed, not closing the door once she was safely on her way.
Ziva smiled to herself as she imagined what might be happening behind that closed door. If she were to imagine herself and her own father, she would have assumed that even a storybook appearance like Senior's could lead to arguments and visits cut short – but that was them, and she refused to think that would happen for the Anthonys DiNozzo. They each had begun to feel a need to reconnect, and even if neither one was particularly good at it, the desire to make things right would help a great deal.
That ... and Christmas cookies.
Ziva smiled to herself as she headed home for the night. A wonderful evening had become an even better one for Tony, now that his father had come back to be with him. She felt a little magical. It was Hanukkah, after all, a holiday to celebrate the miracle of one day's oil burning for eight whole days. Tomorrow, she would have dinner with Tony and his father ... and after that, she would have movie nights again with Tony. They had spent the evening together and not once did Tony mention Rule 12, or his fear of Gibbs' reaction when they broke it.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!