Hi everyone! I haven't written a fanfiction in months, but I've needed to write this ever since the spoilers from the November episode came out. IT'S BASED ON SPOILERS SO DON'T READ IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING.
I hope you'll like it :) and reviews are very much appreciated :3
Ziva came down the stairs with the intention of quickly gathering her stuff before rushing back home to have a well-deserved shower, but when she saw a light coming from Tony's desk, she slowed down her pace, afraid to break the atmosphere of silence and stillness he had built up around himself. She knew how much he had craved for calm and solitude the whole day and now the last thing she wanted to do was to take it away from him: ever since he had come back from the lab with the envelope containing the pictures Abby had developed for him, she had sensed his need to carve out a moment just for himself, a moment to look at the photos that his mother's camera had cherished for all those years, waiting for the day Tony would rescue it from the box it was buried in.
She approached his desk, hesitant, and only when she was right beside him she allowed herself to stop and turn around to look at him. Her heart beat wildly and she felt a little guilty for sneaking into his special moment like that, but she was so captured by Tony's expression that she felt frozen and even if she had wanted to she wouldn't have been able to move away. There was something in his eyes as he looked at those pictures, something that she didn't recall having ever seen in them before: there was a certain wonder mixed with gloominess and sudden consciousness, and also a sparkle of joy clouded by an entrenched sorrow which was now back to the surface after years of stifling.
The intensity of his gaze made her shiver and she urged herself to go away, but before she could move an inch, she caught a glimpse of a twinkle on his face, and the realization of what it was rooted her to the spot once again: a single tear was sliding down Tony's face, a single, solitary tears, small and timid, but strong enough to carry the weight of a deep pain all by itself. It moved forward slowly, and Ziva's eyes followed its path, enraptured by the pride and the unexplainable beauty of this sole ambassador of a man's sorrow. Only when the tear dissolved at the end of its journey, Ziva was able to look away from it and to go back staring at Tony's eyes, and she wasn't surprised to find the same twinkle in them, the same glimmering beauty and profound pain.
She fought against her own tears but gave in to the instinct of getting closer to him, an instinct she had never felt as pressing as in that moment. She walked to him slowly, giving him the chance of acknowledging her presence before she was too close, granting him the time to put away the pictures if he felt like they were something too private to share. To her surprise, though, not only did he not conceal the pictures from her, but he also didn't attempt to dry the trail left behind by the tear and welcomed her with a tiny smile.
Ziva smiled back at him and sat on his desk and kept staring right into Tony's eyes until he dropped his gaze, going back to look at the photos scattered in front of him. She interpreted his gesture as a silent permission to look herself at the pictures, and she let her eyes wander around a little before looking down.
There were about ten pictures on the desk and the first thing Ziva noticed was that they all had something in common: there were always two people in them, a woman and a child. Even if Ziva hadn't known that the pictures belonged to Tony, she would have recognized his partner as the child because of his smile and the color of his eyes. She couldn't help but grin at some of the child's expressions: he looked so happy and lively, endowed with an unabashed energy and an extraordinary tendency to laugh at the smallest things. However, in his eyes there was also a certain glare of cleverness and Ziva thought that he had always been more than he seemed, he had always had much more inside than he dared to openly show. It was only after this consideration that Ziva let herself observe Tony's mother more carefully: she was indeed a beautiful woman and she had the same eyes as Tony, but her smiles were never too wide, always controlled as though she was afraid of giving away too much of what she was feeling inside. However, in her green eyes there was the same joy as in Tony's and Ziva was genuinely touched by the tenderness and the sweetness that showed through those photos.
"You look happy," she said, breaking the silence, and she moved her gaze to Tony, who was still engrossed in staring at the pictures. After a while, he slightly nodded and a melancholy smile appeared on his lips.
"We were," he replied simply, and she could see how he let his own words sink in him as though he needed to preserve that statement, that awareness inside, as though he needed the reminder that there was a time when the two of them had been happy together.
He kept looking at the pictures under Ziva's eyes, until he smiled again, and this time it was a genuine smile that arose from a beautiful memory. He took a picture from the desk and held it in both his hands, and for a while he looked like he had travelled to that moment and he was living it again. "This was taken the day my mother brought me to the cinema for the first time," he said, contemplating the photo, the smile still on his lips.
His words surprised her and she looked at the picture more closely and noticed for the first time that Tony and his mother were in fact in front of a cinema. He looked very thrilled and she seemed to be too, as though she could feel how important that moment was for her child and she took in his excitement, and transformed it in her own. Also Ziva was touched by the scene: knowing how important movies had always been in Tony's life, she couldn't help but feeling like she was looking at a snapshot taken during the ritual that had transformed that child in a movie-lover. She smiled at the sight of the little Tony's beam then she went back looking at the present Tony and was surprised to see that his eyes were fixated on her and not on the picture. His stare made her insides wriggle and she tried to stop the accelerating throbbing of her heart. She saw in his eyes the desire of telling her something, opening up to her about what was in his mind, and she was partly scared, partly flattered, partly impatient to hear what he had to say.
"I was so excited that day," he began, and Ziva smiled at him, trying to let him know that she was eager to listen. He smiled back at her, then dropped his gaze back to the picture and continued: "My mother used to go there every week but she'd never brought her with me – thought I wasn't interested in movies. But one day I asked her to bring with me and it was… it was magical. I was so engrossed in the movie that my mother almost dragged me out of the cinema at the end of it. When we were outside waiting for my father, I made her promise she would take me with her from that moment on."
Ziva listened to the story with her mind blank, and only when Tony was quiet she let herself think. Even after seeing those pictures, she still found it hard to imagine Tony as a child. This story from his past reminded her how little she knew about her partner's childhood, how little she knew about his partner's life before becoming a cop first and federal agent later. Now that he was finally opening up about that part of his life, she really realized that before being the man she knew, Tony had been a child, and she wished she could know more about this little boy who had turned out to be the most important person in her life.
"Did she keep her promise?" she asked after a pause of silence, genuinely interested.
Tony sighed and shrugged. "Didn't have the chance to. She died after a few weeks." He bit his lip and nodded, then he found the strength to look up and stare into Ziva's eyes.
She didn't say anything. She knew there was no need to. She could have said she was sorry, but of course she was, he didn't need it to hear it. Not after all this time. What he needed was someone who could listen to him and understand him, and she tried to be that for him when she leaned closer and asked, "So what did you do?"
She saw a glimmer of gratitude in his eyes before he replied, "I went to the cinema by myself. Every week. And when my father bought me a VHS player, I used my whole allowance to buy all the movies I knew my mother had loved. I… "- he hesitated for a moment, but Ziva's reassuring look urged him on – "…I felt like she was still speaking to me through those movies. I felt like I could learn all the things she hadn't had the time to teach me by watching the movies that had meant something to her. I felt… I felt that for as long as I kept bringing her back to life through the things she'd loved, she wouldn't be dead – not completely. Movies gave me the guidance I couldn't find in my father because, you know, he was never there for me. They made me the person I've become."
After saying that, he became quiet and silence filled the air that divided him from Ziva, who felt like she had lost all the words. She had never felt him so close to her, never seen him so vulnerable in front of her, never felt as comfortable with someone who was opening up to her. She felt like he wasn't just letting his walls down, he was giving her the keys to open his door: she was the only person who had the privilege to enter his castle, the only one who could go past his defenses and touch who he really was inside. She couldn't hush the million of thoughts in her mind and the only way to free herself from the mess she had in her head was to let everything pour out condensed in a simple statement, a statement that she felt applied both to herself and to him.
"It makes you wonder what you would be like if she had not gone." Her heart ached as she remembered the day she had been told her mother was dead, the memory still vivid in her mind, forever impressed in her brain.
"Yes," he agreed, nodding. "Sometimes I… Sometimes I wonder where I'd be right now if she hadn't died. Her death was… was so significant, it changed everything, and if I stop and think of what everything would have been like if that hadn't happened I… I don't know who I am, I don't know who I'd be. I don't know if… if I could have been better. I've brought myself up, made all the important decisions on my own, and I wonder if I've done something wrong, if I would have done better if she had been with me all along."
"I know I wouldn't be here if she hadn't died," Ziva stated simply, hit by this sudden thought that she had never considered much before. Tony too seemed to ponder her statement, and soon he said, "I probably wouldn't be here either."
After his words there was a long pause in which Ziva tried to imagine what her life would have been like if her mother hadn't died. Though, she soon realized she couldn't know, she had no idea: she had taken too many decisions after her mother's death and she couldn't say if she would have chosen differently had she still been there. The only thing she could be sure of was that she would have never come to America because she would have never left her mother. And not coming to America would have made everything completely different – who knows if better or worse. Anyway, she couldn't imagine her life without her family at NCIS, not anymore. The sole thought of not having ever known Gibbs, Abby, Tim, Tony made her feel puzzled and shocked. It was something that exceeded the limits of her comprehension, something she couldn't bring herself to imagine. She wasn't the happiest person in the world, she was still looking for something in her life, yet she couldn't figure out how living in another place, in another reality would have made her life better. She just couldn't. She was so used to her world that she couldn't invent another one in which her mother was still alive. And as she looked in Tony's eyes, she knew he was thinking and feeling the same.
"I…" Ziva began, breaking the silence once again. "I think we should embrace it what life has become for us and not think too much about the what-ifs. We have moved on, found a place for ourselves. That is what they would have wanted from us."
Tony nodded. "Yeah, you're right."
She smiled at him and he smiled back. She still felt bewildered at what was happening, but at the same time she felt like it was the most natural thing to do – to open up to each other, to talk about things that really mattered, things they hadn't talked about with anyone before. She couldn't put what she was feeling into words, she couldn't figure out what she had inside just yet, but she knew she felt alright, she felt lighter, as though now that they were sharing a weight they had less to carry on their own. It felt good and she didn't want to let that sensation go. She didn't want this to remain an isolated moment of complete honesty. No. She wanted this feeling of comfort to last. She needed it to last.
She couldn't tell for how long they stayed there, staring at each other, lost in their own thoughts. She just knew that at some moment they exchanged a glance and they both stood up to get ready to go home. They didn't say anything in the elevator and they only smiled at each other before parting in the car park. However, when she sat alone in her car, she felt like she something else to say, something else to do for him, something that couldn't wait.
He was sitting on his couch, looking at her mother's pictures and thinking of the words he had exchanged with Ziva when he heard the bell ring. He placed the pictures on the table in front of him and stood up to walk toward the door. He wasn't surprised when he found Ziva outside but what made him chuckle in confusion was the fact that she had a DVD in her hand, the DVD of a movie he knew very well: From Russia with Love. Actually, he owned the DVD – of course – and Ziva knew that because he recalled having leant it to her once. He didn't understand why Ziva would show up at his door with that DVD in her hands, yet he let her in with a smile.
"We have not had a movie night in a long time," she said to justify her presence there and Tony had to agree: yeah, it had been a long time since the last time they had had one.
He followed her with his eyes as she approached the couch and sat, then he played the DVD. He sat next to her, still confused at what was happening, especially after their talk of only a couple of hours before. However, he tried to relax and enjoy the movie and, to be honest, it was quite easy for him to do it. They were only five minutes into the movie when he started to talk, quote, anticipate the character's lines, pour out curious facts about the actors and the movie. Ziva rolled her eyes and repeatedly ordered him to shut up, but when he caught her smiling at him he knew she was just pretending – and suddenly the reason of her visit was clear to him: she wanted him to talk about the movie ceaselessly, she wanted him to show off his knowledge, to prove that he was indeed a movie enthusiast. She wanted him to do all of that and that was why she had brought the DVD of a movie he knew so well: because he needed a distraction sometimes and her mother had given him something he could always rely on by passing on to him her passion for movies. And now it was Ziva's turn to remind him the importance of movies in his life, to remind him that there would only be something – someone – he could rely on.
He gave her what she wanted him to: all the time, he never stopped talking; even when he felt like he had run out of things to say, he kept talking about the actors, the director, the whole James Bond saga, the whole history of cinema. It didn't really matter what he was talking about. What mattered was that they were there, embracing the life they had, without their mothers, yes, but not alone anyway, and not deprived of a change at being happy either.
When the movie ended, they both stared at the screen for a while, without saying anything. After a couple of minutes, Ziva stood up and turned to face Tony, who smiled at her from the couch. He got up too and not a word was exchanged as they walked together to the door. He opened it for her and was about to wish her a goodnight when she took one step closer to him and told him, "I like how you turned out. I think you did a great job with yourself."
He couldn't help but grinning at her words, and he shivered when she gently brushed his cheek with her hand, just for a brief moment. In her eyes he saw how much she meant it, how much she really did appreciate him for who he was, and that was enough for him to feel great: knowing that the person he loved more than anyone else did like him was all that mattered to him. He didn't ask for everyone to accept who he was, he just needed her to understand him and like him even after she had seen what he hid behind the mask, especiallyafter seeing who he was behind the mask.
It was hard for him to let her go that night. He felt like there was still a thousand things he needed to tell her, a thousand things that remained unspoken between them, yet he knew there would be time to say all of them, he knew she would always be there to listen.
When he closed the door behind his back, he went to the table and took just one picture from the pile – the one of his first day at a cinema - and looked at it for a little while, before heading to his bedroom. Here he opened the drawer of his bedside table and looked at the picture he had kept there for years: the picture he had taken of Ziva in Paris, his favorite picture. He put the photo of him and his mother into the drawer and admired how the old and the new picture looked next to each other. He couldn't prevent a smile to form on his lips: they were both beautiful. Different but beautiful. And he was glad to have them both.