Summary: Tony finds Ziva doubting her capabilities as a parent.
Disclaimer: Here's a brand new, creative one—I don't own NCIS.
Spoilers: None canon. But this fic is part of my family series, so it won't make sense if you haven't read How Far We've Come, my Tiva!family multi-chapter, haha.
It takes place a few months after Christmas Shopping, but you don't have to have read that first. Set a few weeks before Mother's Day. It's also ... possibly kinda clichéd, hehe. But I love it, so I hope you do, too!
Enjoy, and please review!
Tony could hear Lila's whimpers the minute he stepped into the hallway, so he closed the front door immediately and hurried into the living room, where he found Ben sitting on the floor with his arms wrapped around his sister's leg, and his sister sitting on the couch, sniffling. Upon closer inspection, Tony could see a Band-Aid carefully plastered onto her knee, and a yellowish bruise showing around the edges of it.
"Daddy!" she cried when she saw him, and held out her arms. He went over and picked her up, while Ben curled around Tony's leg instead.
"What happened?" Tony asked.
"I fell down," Lila answered, brushing the back of her hand across her eyes. "It hurts."
"It hurts? Where did you fall?" He sat down on the couch and placed her across his lap, indicating for Ben to climb up beside him, and then carefully peeling back the Band-Aid to inspect her wound.
"In the garden. Mommy put the Band-Aid on my knee."
"It looks fine, Li. You'll be all better soon." He stuck the Band-Aid back on and kissed her cheek. "How 'bout we sing the song that makes the pain go away?"
"Okay." She wiped the last of her tears away.
"Okay. But where's Mommy? Maybe she'll want to join us."
"She is making lunsh," Ben piped up in the usual serious manner of his.
"We won't disturb her, then. Ben, you wanna join in the singing?" He nodded. "Okay."
Tony started on the song he always sang whenever one of the children needed comfort, and soon he could see a smile start to form on Lila's face.
He went to Ziva after Ben and Lila had had their lunches and been put down for their naps; all throughout making sure the children ate and could be cajoled into closing their eyes for a few hours, she had appeared rather distracted at times, and he was wondering what had happened.
She was found to be sitting on the couch and pretending to read the newspaper, but the tears brimming in her eyes spoke of a different story. She ignored him as he sat down beside her.
"Ziva," he said softly, touching her shoulder, and she folded up the newspaper with almost-robotic movements before taking a deep breath.
"Lila wouldn't let me comfort her," she whispered. "I let her run around the garden for a bit, and she … fell … and I tried to comfort her but she wouldn't stop crying. I took her in; washed her wound and put on the Band-Aid, but she kept crying and saying that wasn't how you did it. I asked her how you did it. She said there was a song … I don't know the song. I've never heard the song. She wanted to wait for you … in the end I had to make lunch for both of them and I had to leave them waiting for you. Tony, I'm sorry."
"No." He gathered her into his arms, and that was when a tear escaped her tight control. "I thought you did right."
"She's four. Almost five, and I don't know how to comfort her when she falls … she used to stop crying when I held her. Now, she doesn't … doesn't w-want me anymore."
"Nah, Zi. That was just one time. And—"
"Tony, I let her fall down. You saw how … how bruised her knee was. And then I c-couldn't even make the pain go away…" She gives a tearful snort of laughter. "Ben had to help me look after her. I had my two-year-old babysit my four-year-old … what kind of a parent am I? I missed Lila's first words and her first steps and her first day of Nursery. I had to find out from you that Ben doesn't like green peas or carrots. I don't know anything about … my own children, and I…"
"That's not true, Ziva. That locket you gave Lila; she's still wearing it. She adores you."
"As much as she adores you?" She shut her eyes as another tear rolled down her cheek. "I'm sorry, Tony. I know how much you do for them. B-but Lila keeps saying you're her hero, and she never says that about me. I know it sounds very jealous of me but it h-hurts to know she d-doesn't … doesn't…"
She buried her face into his shoulder, and he held her close, stunned. He hadn't known that she'd been feeling that way; although she'd admitted to being disappointed at having missed Lila's first day at Nursery, she hadn't brought it up since, and he'd simply assumed that she'd accepted it as part of their life.
Now, though, he wasn't so sure—and the worst part was that he wasn't very sure how he could help her, either.
He'd eventually managed to coax her into having lunch, and he observed her now as she ate mechanically, trying her best at the pretence of normalcy.
"Come on, I'll teach you the song." He reached across the table and rubbed the back of her hand gently, and she pulled away, her eyes hesitant. She gave him a small, sad smile.
"Tony, it's a … it's your song. The children want you to sing it."
"That's only 'cause they've only heard me sing it. They both love your singing, Ziva, you know that. Once they hear you sing it they'll never want to hear my version again," he quipped, and she gave a small chuckle. Neither of them could deny it; the children would pick Ziva's singing over his any day.
She sighed. "Okay. I mean, I would like to know that the next time…"
"Lila falls down on my watch all the time, you know." She raised her eyebrows at him, although he could see something akin to faint relief on her face. "I mean that you don't have to worry about her falling … children tend to do that a lot. They hurt themselves accidentally a lot."
"I know. I'm just … I want to be able to take care of our children like you do, Tony." He watched as her face clouded with sadness again, and his heart broke for her.
Then something occurred to him, and he stood up suddenly. Confusion flitted across her face. "What?" she asked.
"Come on," he said, going over to her side of the table and pulling her up. "I got something to show you."
"What?" she repeated, even though she obediently let him lead her into the living room.
"Sit," he ordered, and then searched through his rack of DVDs to find what he wanted. Having found the desired CD, he slid it into the player before settling down next to Ziva and turning on the television.
There was a few seconds' delay, during which Ziva alternated between looking confusedly at him and doing the same at the TV. Then the CD started playing. It was a video of the couch they were currently sitting on, except that the couch was empty in it. She furrowed her brows.
And then Lila's voice drifted in from off-camera.
"Daddy, I'm not ready for camera!"
"Hurry up, Lila." Video-Tony laughed. "Mommy's not gonna care if you haven't got your makeup on."
Lila, dressed in her princess costume and looking decidedly sulky, stalked in. "I want this to be perfect."
"For Mommy?" Lila nodded righteously, and Tony sighed. "Okay. Go … adjust your princess hat, or something."
Lila brightened, and scampered off.
Ziva laughed as she watched the video, and he turned to her with a smile. "The best part's not up yet."
"Are you ready now?" video-Tony asked from behind the camera, and Lila's voice answered.
"Yeah!" She walked in sedately, her princess hat centred perfectly on her head. Then she turned to the camera with a big smile on her face. "Good morning, Mommy! I am here for … for…"
"Mother's Day," Tony supplied.
"Mother's Day! Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!"
"And? What do you want to tell Mommy?"
"I don't know … Mommy knows everything about me!"
Tony chuckled. "How 'bout you thank Mommy for everything she's done?"
"Thank you for everything you've done, Mommy."
"You can be a bit more specific, you know."
"Specific. Like … why don't you tell Mommy what you're thanking her for?"
"Oh! Mommy, thank you for … your hugs. I like when you hug me. And when you kiss me goodnight and sing me goodnight. And thank you for the chocolate cookies. And for being nice to Daddy and Ben. Oh! And the box!" Lila screamed, eagerly pulling her locket out from underneath her top and showing it to the camera.
"It's called a locket, Li," Tony said from behind the camera, amusement evident in his voice.
"Lock-it. It's called a lock-it, Mommy!" She looked fondly down at the locket. "Daddy helps me open it so that I can look at you when I miss you!"
"Mommy, I want one too," Ben complained off-screen.
Tony's face appeared, his eyes dancing with laughter. "Ben's a little camera-shy right now, Zi, but if I ever get him to not fear the camera, I'll film him, too."
"Ben is making this not perfect," Lila wailed from behind him, and he turned around to look at her.
"Nah. You and your brother just like different things. Ben likes doing some things you don't, Li, and we should respect that. I'll make sure he does something else for Mommy, okay?"
"Okay," Lila relented. And then her eyes met the camera. "I forgot to tell Mommy something!"
"Yeah?" Tony ducked behind the camera. "What else do you want to say?"
"Thank you for being nice to me too, Mommy! You're the bestest Mommy ever, and I love you. I wanna be like you when I grow big, so that I can have a Daddy and a Lila and Ben, and be nice to them too. And give them lock-its."
"Give them lockets, Lila?" Tony asked, laughing.
"Yes, Daddy," Lila answered, giving him a reproachful look. "Lock-its are important. They have the people we love in them."
There was a pause before Tony replied, "Well, I'm sure Mommy will appreciate the sentiment. Is there anything else you wanna tell Mommy, little princess?"
"No. I love you, Mommy! See you when you come home!"
"I love you too, Mommy!" Ben called out.
The video cut off at that point, and Tony turned off the TV before looking at Ziva and finding her decidedly teary-eyed. She gave a tiny sniffle before meeting his eyes.
"You're not dispensable," he told her quietly, and she nodded slowly before curling into him. He slipped an arm around her shoulders. "That princess costume she was wearing; it ripped the other day. I offered to fix it but she told me I wasn't good at 'fixing cloth'. She even forbade me from touching the costume. She said you'd 'make it good again'. And that's why you found her carrying it to you like a priceless treasure the moment you stepped in the door … you're the one she goes to for those things, Zi. I'm the one she cries for when she's wounded because I'm usually there at those times. But you're the chocolate-cookie baker and the princess-costume saver and the one who makes the right animal sounds. Yeah, Ben actually told me once that I made all the wrong animal sounds, and that I should make them like you make them.
"I failed, by the way," he confessed, and she choked out a laugh. "Ben still thinks your animal sounds are better. So … yeah. You know, you're just as much a part of this family as I am. You play a different role, sure, but … Lila wants to grow up to be like you. Not me. I may be her hero, but you're the one she carries around near her heart. You're not dispensable; not to her or to Ben, and definitely not to me."
She nodded again, wiping away her tears. "Thank you, Tony."
He kissed the top of her head. "I love you, Zi … just gettin' it out there because I didn't say it in the vid."
Another laugh escaped her lips, and she snuggled into him. "I love you too."