I have been waiting for more on Tony's mom for almost as long as I have been watching the show. And now there are so many new doors open and new stories to explore! :D
A/N: In my mind, Tony's mother always called him Anthony and his father (Senior) Tony. It would take far too long to explain why my head canon is written that way (see Something's Lost for some idea), but wanted to give a head's up so as to avoid any confusion with the names.
The street is crowded, but the people are bundled up against the unseasonably cold day, and he can't make out their faces. They slip quickly past him without so much as a glance to him or the little theater that holds his gaze. It's just as he remembers. The marquee is drab and modest compared to those signs around it, but even as a child it had always been larger than life. And now, flashing half-heartedly in the twilight, it still beckons him in with the memories of a hundred adventures. Trips across the Sahara. High seas battles on pirate ships. Epic journeys into space.
"Think they'll still honor the dollar matinee?"
Tony chuckles at the familiar voice, his eyes wandering to the ticket box. In the grimy glass, he can just make out the reflection of the woman standing beside him. "I'm dreaming," he observes quietly without turning.
"What makes you say that?"
He shrugs. "This theater...they tore it down in '88. And we're in the middle of an investigation; Gibbs wouldn't let me take a day trip to wander down memory lane. Plus, ya know…" he finally glances over with an apologetic smile to the woman beside him.
"I'm dead," Elizabeth Paddington DiNozzo offers and watches as her son gives a short laugh.
"Yeah, there's that." He drinks in her face for a long moment and sighs. "You look good, mom."
She flips the blonde hair over her shoulder and crinkles her nose. "Afraid I'd look like one of Halperin's walking dead? Don't worry Anthony, I remember how you detested the macabre. You slept in our bed for a week after your father let you watch that wretched film. Makes me wonder how you've managed with all the bodies you've seen with your job."
"Well, they gave me a badge, a gun and let me quote movies incessantly. You really can't be that surprised."
She gives a laugh - so light and familiar - that sinks warmly into Tony's chest. "Surprised, no…I suppose super hero and international spy were eliminated as career paths early on."
"Well I don't have the legs for tights. And apparently they frown on spies who never shut up," he states matter-of-factly. "Though I would have gladly gone for NBA star…"
She tsks such an idea, and he is reminded that - at her core - Elizabeth Paddington is highbrow and old money. "Well, in any case, I am certainly proud of the path you have chosen and the man you've become."
"Really?" his voice cracks, and he knows the look on his face is that of a little boy seeking his mother's approval.
She tucks her hand at the crook of his elbow and steps in close as a chilly wind gusts past them. "You have a job where you help people - I think of all those families who have relied on you during their darkest times. Of course I am proud of you Anthony."
He drinks in the words he has hungered for his whole adult life, and he doesn't want to think that this is just a dream, that his subconscious is simply telling him what he wants to hear.
"It's such a shame they tore this place down," she sighs after several quiet seconds, turning her attention from him to stare lovingly at the old theater. "It was beautiful."
Tony examines it with a critical eye. "It was a wealth of building code violations even when we came here."
She laughs and pinches his arm lightly. "Hush. You know you loved it."
"Yeah, yeah I did," he concedes. "And I know how much it meant to you, to get away from it all for a little while."
She pulls away then to study his face. "Sweetheart, you are only partly right. I went to the movies to escape. But I came here to remember…" Her lips twitch with a fond smile. "This is where your father and I had our first date."
He stares at her, incredulous. "You never told me that!"
She squints, gazing up at the yellowed and peeling movie posters as if trying to remember. "Didn't I? I think I did tell you once, but you were very young at the time, and I suppose Tony never mentioned it again. He took me to this wonderful little Italian restaurant and then to see The Pink Panther. Ohhh, I thought that George Lytton was so handsome, and I teased your father terribly for reminding me of him. You're my pink panther, Lizzie," she says in a scruff voice, and Tony can suddenly recall how his father's face would light up whenever he called her Lizzie. It was a look he never again saw from Senior after she...
"He gave up after you died," he says quietly and is proud that his voice remains detached and void of accusations.
She nods, "I know, and he and I will have words about that when I see him again, for how he neglected you. But we were each other's once-in-a-lifetime loves, and I don't think he ever forgave me for leaving him alone."
"You wouldn't know it from the way he treated you sometimes…" he starts but then stops himself and takes a deep breath.
She sighs, her eyes following a young couple as they pass by, hand-in-hand, and disappear around the corner. "There's not a perfect life on this planet, nor a perfect love. Your father was a good man...a flawed husband, but a good man. And I loved him fiercely."
Tony thought back to his mom's final year - the whispered arguments drifting up the stairs, the pointed looks that even a seven-year-old could understand. "Even in the end?"
She nods. "Especially in the end." She studies him, and he thinks she can see that this is a question that has shaped so much of his world.
"Anthony, love isn't like it is in the movies. It's messy and painful and God how it hurts at times. But nothing worth having is easy. And I wouldn't have traded a single second of my time with your father. Especially because it gave me you."
He feels his bottom lip wavering and bites it hard, trying to avoid her gaze.
"I truly was the first woman to break your heart, wasn't I?" she asks sadly, her head tilting to the side.
Tony rubs a hand at his neck as he feels the blush creep into his cheeks. "You been eavesdropping all these years?"
"No dear, you're dreaming and I'm simply in your head, remember?" she teases, but her smile fades as she grow serious once more. She reaches a hand up to his cheek. "My Peter Pan, my little prince...you have such a capacity to love. You are the best mix of your father and I in that sense. Please don't shy away from it any longer."
His face twists with a grimace. "I'm trying mom, I really am."
She stands on her toes, enveloping him in a hug and holding him close. "You are trying too hard and thinking too much, sweetheart. After all, it is only with the heart that one can see rightly…"
"That which is essential is invisible to the eye…" Tony finishes with a smile. "Just heard that quote from a friend very recently."
She gives a small chuckle. "Well that friend sounds like the kind of person I would like very much. It's good advice, maybe you should take it to heart…"
He breathes in her familiar and comforting scent and lets one strangled sob escape as a foggy breath. "God I miss you." She simply holds him close, her thumb brushing at the base of his neck, back-and-forth, back-and-forth.
The voice is right in his ear, but it perplexes him; his mother only ever called him Anthony.
His eyes flicker open, adjusting slowly in the dark bullpen. The overhead fluorescents are off, the only source of light coming from their desk lamps. His eyes wander from McGee - who is snoring softly into a stack of folders - to Gibbs' empty chair, until he blinks up sleepily to see Ziva standing over him.
"Gibbs is on his way back. He wants to know what we've found on Kersey."
"M'kay," Tony mumbles, rubbing a hand across his eyes and trying to disguise the fact that his knuckles come away wet. Ziva has the decency not to mention it.
"You were talking in your sleep," she says quietly. "A lot. I wasn't sure if it was a good dream or bad."
He smiles, holding onto the wispy tendrils of the dream...the details of the conversation, the sound of his mother's laugh. "Good. Definitely good."
She clucks, and it is then he registers the hand that lingers at the base of his neck from coaxing him back to consciousness, the thumb that she still brushes absentmindedly back and forth across his skin. "I'm sorry then to interrupt it," she whispers with a curious smile.
He shakes his head and gives her a small grin. "No, it's okay. I think it was about time for a wake-up call," he offers, watching as the double meaning registers on the face of his once colloquially-challenged partner.
The quote on the show/here is from The Little Prince. It's a beautiful, incredibly nuanced little story if you've never read it before. It had been several years since I had, so I went back after Tuesday night and reread it. This tag was floating around my head but really took shape after I came across this again:
What moves me so deeply, about this little prince who is sleeping here, is his loyalty to a flower - the image of a rose that shines through his whole being like the flame of a lamp, even when he is asleep . . . And I felt him to be more fragile still. I felt the need of protecting him, as if he himself were a flame that might be extinguished by a little puff of wind . . .