Disclaimer: I don't even want to own NCIS anymore.
Spoilers: None, unless you're unaware of the fact that Ziva ... is absent. Oh, wait! I suppose its entirety is sort of a reference to 10x07 "Shell Shock (Part II)", since the idea is based on that episode, but you can read it as a one-shot if you don't like spoilers...?
Notes: I haven't watched NCIS since Ziva ... became absent, so I'm not sure whether or not this contradicts recent episodes. Based on the information I'm getting, I'd say no, but read at your own risk.
With a shiver, Ziva pulled her heavy coat tighter around her and quickened her footsteps. DC in November was never as cold as it was during the winter months, but it had heavier rainfall, and she had somehow forgotten that fact in the year and a half since she had last set foot in the place.
The district had not changed much since the last time she had been. The townhouses were there, lining both sides of the street she was walking on; residential buildings morphed into larger, more imposing offices all the way until Northwest Virginia Avenue, where she turned right and kept walking.
The distance from then on to the Kennedy Center was relatively a short one.
A few more turns later, the rectangular, brightly lit architecture appeared before her eyes. Ziva heaved a sigh of relief. It felt like home, this foreign, almost unfamiliar place. Maybe it was because there was where she could still hear her baby sister's voice, no matter how many years had flown by since Tali's passing.
Ziva had not remembered her younger sister's birthday the previous year in the way that she had wanted to. Many things had taken precedence over tradition, even if that tradition was important, and she had not been able to bring herself to return to DC—where she had carried out for nigh a decade her ritual of celebrating her deceased sister's birthday—when she was not yet ready to face her past. She had sequestered herself inside a hotel room instead, and slid the CD Tony had given her the prior fall into her laptop, and let it play till dawn had risen. Only then, with Tali's singing still in her mind, had she lain down and fallen asleep in a shirt that had belonged to Tony.
This year, however, she was ready. She had told none of the team of her return, but thought perhaps that she would go visit them sometime next week, assuming they would want to see her.
She had not spoken to them in a long while, and a year and a half was plenty of time for them to have already moved on.
Pressing a sigh through her lips again, she crossed the street towards the greyish white building. The opera house inside the memorial building was hosting one of the only two operas in the month of November that night; Ziva had almost missed getting seats once again, but had managed to snag an expensive ticket at the last minute. At the edge of the paved plaza she now stood, fingering the ticket in her pocket with gratefulness that was rivalled only by her admiration of the building before her.
"Happy Birthday, Tali," she whispered into the cold evening air, even though it was not quite her baby sister's birthday yet.
She jumped—the voice had startled her.
Slowly, she spun around to meet its owner. It was strange: She knew his voice better than she knew her own, almost, but she was still surprised to see him. "Tony."
Tony, indeed. There he was, looking older and yet somehow more carefree in the way he carried himself, all tall and straight. Her breath caught as she contemplated the change in him. It was not something she could have foreseen. Her eyes darted over his shoulder, expecting a woman of diamond and perfume and great beauty to step out from behind him and introduce herself—for why on Earth would he be doing one of the Big Three alone, and be so happy doing it, no less?
But no, there was no one.
Confused, she brought her gaze back to his shy smile.
"Hi," he said kindly.
She cleared her throat. "Hi," she murmured.
He shifted on his feet. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Waiting for your date?" she blurted before she could stop herself.
He looked oddly uncomfortable at that. "Guess you could say so."
It was strange, but she never realized until that instant how much the thought of an imaginary Tony by her side had carried her through her resolution of coming back to DC, even for Tali.
Swallowing, she nodded. "I will see you later, then."
"Wait." He grabbed her forearm as she turned away towards the entrance, his grip not too hard but somehow laced with desperation all the same. "Ziva, wait."
"I did," she muttered under her breath—not loudly enough for him to misunderstand that her bitterness was directed at him—but turned back. He was pressing two tickets into her hand, she noticed just then. Confused, she furrowed her brows at him.
"One of those is y-yours," he stammered.
She frowned, bewildered, at the opera tickets in her hand. "And the othe—"
"Yours?" she asked with disbelief, and something unidentifiable flashed across his face just then.
"Look, I don't know what you want me to say," he answered half-defensively. "You wanted to remember Tali, and I wanted to remember you. It seemed like the perfect solution in my head last year…" He paused, staring at her before meekly saying, "I'd best be going."
But she did not think he would be going anywhere, because she had flung her arms around him before he could leave. She thought he had probably caught on to the dampness escaping her eyes when he brought a hand, which had lain awkward on her back, up to tangle with her hair instead; and pressed a gentle kiss to the side of her head.
"I missed you, you know," he whispered into her ear.
"I missed you too," she answered thickly. He tightened his grip on her.
"Didn't really think you were gonna show up, but I'd … I'd promised you'd never miss the opera again, and I'd be damned if I was gonna break that promise."
"Oh, Tony," she sobbed.
He shushed her. "Hey, I got you tickets. You should be happy."
"I can't believe…" she mumbled. "You did not even know I was going to be here. And you got me tickets, and I don't understand why."
"Well, y'see, sometimes it's the thought that counts," he replied lightly. She laughed morosely into his shoulder. And then, lifting her head, she dried her face with hurried fingers.
"I don't know how I ever let you go," she told him quietly.
He smiled with understanding. "You had to do it."
But you hated it, she wanted to say, and she knew they would both find it to be true. He had never wanted to let her go, and if she had given him even the slightest reason to doubt that she had wanted to go on with her life alone, he would never have left.
And yet, she had pushed him out of her life.
And yet, he had found a way to keep her in his—even if only in spirit.
She returned his smile with a weak one of her own, and he took that as a signal to tug on her hand.
"Come on," he said. "We'll catch up later, but right now we've got an opera to catch. You ready?"
She could not say how she deserved such a wonderful man.
But she could say that she would not disappoint him. Not right now. Hopefully, not ever again.
And so, she nodded and—hand in hand—they made their way towards the theatre.