Hello readers and Merry Christmas to you! :)
It feels good to be back and hopefully deliver another story for you. What is it all about? Well, Tony is kind of tired of his current emotional state and decides to take Christmas holiday as far away from home as possible. For what reasons – read the first chapter. ;) Everything is explained there. To his surprise, he meets someone very important to him and he takes up on the offer to spend Christmas with that person, exploring what Prague's Christmas has in store for him.
Since I thought that Season 13 will go in a different direction that it went, this story is an AU. I want to deal with Tony's relationship with Gibbs, his relationship with Zoe and of course, since it's TIVA story, his relationship with Ziva. This might be story that focuses more on Tony's feelings. But you will also get the insight as to what Ziva has been doing for the whole time and whether she might come back to DC in the near future. ;)
And why I chose Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic? By writing this story, I don't want to insult or belittle other amazing places in the world. I decided to choose my hometown for a simple reason – I know it, I cause freely use my favorite descriptive style of writing because I actually have an idea what the places look like. Oh, and a slight warning in here – you might be informed about history and food more than you would like. :D
Also, the story is interwoven with various quotes of the writer Franz Kafka. They are not frequent, some chapter has a few of them, some chapter has none. I just used them to summarize some part or thoughts of the characters because I love Kafka and when I was reading his quotes, I realized that some of them are very convenient to my story.
This story simply unites most of the things I love – my favorite couple, the city I love the most, my favorite food, holidays, my favorite writer, history I love dearly etc. So, hopefully, enjoy. :)
Dedicated to my surrogate sister Athina. She knows very well why. Mainly because for she's amazing human being and I love her dearly.
I do not own NCIS or its characters. Neither do I own rights to Kafka's work and his legacy. I just share a birthplace with him and I'm making nonprofit use of it.
"By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired."
Christmas Meeting – Chapter 1
"The whole visible world is, perhaps, nothing more than the rationalization of a man who wants to find peace for a moment. An attempt to falsify the actuality of knowledge, to regard knowledge as a goal still to be reached."
He needed to get out. Out of D.C. Away from the people there. He just needed to be with himself, all by himself, for a few days. He needed to gather his energy to put up with all the annoying things that were currently happening in his life. The things that were eating at him from the inside, making him turn into a person he didn't recognize. It was all too much for him, and he just felt that changing his environment would be the best.
The situation he had been in was getting on his nerve. It was changing him, and he wanted stay as himself. But he was holding out, not wanting to let down the people who believed in him. However, the last straw was when he realized that he had completely forgotten about Christmas. The time of year he loved for its atmosphere, for the winter, and for the 'family spirit'. Because he finally didn't feel so alone.
But his enthusiasm was gone. Not entirely dead, but just buried under the pile of work-related problems. He was in no mood for the holidays. But when McGee pointed out that he had almost overlooked Halloween, already, he realized that something was terribly wrong. That was when he realized that he was just a shadow of himself. He was always the one who couldn't wait for the holidays to come, always making plans beforehand.
That was why he gratefully welcomed the Christmas holiday. He needed to get a part of his old self back. The childish excitement he'd always felt that he couldn't find. He needed to remind himself that the smell of cinnamon, gingerbread, nuts and vanilla should bring him into the festive mood. That he should plan what he buys for whom. To see the Christmas lights and turn into a five-year-old boy, dreaming of what Santa might bring him this year.
So, he packed his things and headed straight to the airport to get out of there. He had decided to take a well-deserved Christmas holiday and find the piece of him he'd apparently lost. He ruled out shallow destinations that seemed to be nice in comparison with the cold weather, such as Jamaica he'd visited before. He loved the Caribbean, but he could never find the right Christmas mood on a beach with a cocktail in his hand.
He ruled out all big US cities as well. He wanted to get as far away from DC as possible. And there was no better destination than the Old Continent itself, separated from the US soil by the Atlantic Ocean. Europe was obviously the best option to spend Christmas in. He could pick from whole range of cities that would give him what he was looking for.
However, he bumped into a problem with that, too. He couldn't actually choose the destination he would like to travel to. He had to dismiss London once he had learnt that his father had decided to spend his Christmas there. Since he had turned down his offer to spend the holidays with Senior, it would be awkward to suddenly meet him in the same city. Not to mention, it would give Senior the wrong impression that he actually agreed with the offer.
His next thought was France. Paris. He'd heard fairy-tales about Paris during the winter and Christmas. He decided that he had to experience it one day. However, the city was a painful reminder of a woman that had stolen his heart. He still hadn't recovered, and to spend Christmas alone with his memories of her would only make his current condition worse.
For the same reason, he eliminated Berlin and-just to be certain—all of Germany, as well. He cherished the memories, but he needed to focus only on himself and his life. If he let those memories claim him, he would be sitting on a plane to Israel in no time. And this trip was about Christmas, the meaning, the atmosphere and the spirit of it. It was about his love for the holiday. Not about his unsatisfied love towards a certain woman.
As he thought about the well-known Christmas destinations in Europe, he realized he didn't have many left. In the end, he had to choose between Vienna and Prague. And, since he had visited the Austrian capital twice already, he decided to be adventurous and go somewhere he had never been into. Although he had heard a lot about the city that was nicknamed as 'The Heart of Europe'.
It was exactly what he needed. A city he had never been to. One where no one would search for him. A foreigner among crowds of people enjoying the Christmas. No one bothering him with problems. Just him, surrounded by the festive mood, with his own thoughts. If he tried to find a word to describe the feeling, it would be 'free'. After all those months he had felt tied up to his job, he was finally free. Even if it was just for a few days.
While he was sitting on the plane, he mulled over his life, the people who belonged to it and his current relationship with them. Not that those relationships had changed significantly from before. He just felt that something was wrong with them. Lately, he had been questioning himself and his past decisions, which influenced his relationships with people in one way or the other. Some of them understood him, some didn't.
Although he didn't understand it, both McGee and Ellie had put up with his moods and supported him as much as they could. They had even invited him to spend Christmas with them. But Tony had declined. Ellie needed to solve few things with Jake, and McGee wanted to have peaceful Christmas with Delilah. There was no reason for him to ruin their lives even more. His behaviour in work was more than enough.
Abby had made the same offer, but he had refused hers, too. She would try to make him happier, and he didn't have the strength to stop her. He would get annoyed with her and that would lead to arguments, thus he would hurt her feelings. And to do so was the last thing he wanted to do. He just didn't want to bother other people with his problems anymore.
His father had come up with the idea of family Christmas. A father/son chance for bonding was a terrific image, and Tony didn't have anything against it. However, in order to keep their relationship on the good terms, he had turned him down. He had no doubt that spending the time together would lead to some pitiful quarrel about their past. It would ruin everything they had built together over the last few months.
As for his relationship with Zoe... Well, the current state could be described as 'tense'. He could only blame himself for that, though. His bad mood hadn't left him when he came home, so she had to witness his states of frustration quite often. Being troublesome most of the time, he picked fights with her about trivial stuff, disgruntled by the fact that she didn't understand why he had been in such a mood.
He snapped at her constantly, saying harsh words to her that he actually didn't mean. But it felt so good to see her hurt expression. It made him think that someone else could feel the pain, as well. It was helping him to vent his frustration and his anger towards the whole world. He needed a target and she was the easiest one. But he hated himself for behaving this way.
He had to wonder why she hadn't broken up with him yet. Being the woman she was, she didn't have to tolerate this. She didn't do anything to deserver this and he knew it. Yet, she was still there, trying to take his mind off the work and actually enjoy everyday life. Some days, he succumbed to it and made her happy. Other days, he didn't. Those days, she would let him drown deeper into the depression to save him again later.
Their last encounter, though, had been an argument. Her idea of finding the Christmas spirit for him was to go to her parents' house together and spend the holidays with her family. When he had said 'no'; to her, she had been annoyed. He didn't blame her. Her accusation of fearing such a kind of commitment had been justified. But it was for the sake of their relationship.
Meeting with parents was a big deal for him. It wasn't about taking another step in the relationship. It was the fact that he was supposed to make a good impression. Unfortunately, he was in one of the worst moods he had ever experienced. The impression certainly would have been made, but it wouldn't have been called 'good'. And he was in no mood to go around pretending how 'fine' he was when he wasn't.
So, she had left him alone in his apartment, texting him later to tell him that she had arrived safe and sound, just in case he had been even interested in such information. He had texted her back, informing her about his trip to Europe. But he hadn't mentioned exactly where in Europe he was going. Maybe this little break would only do them good. Whether it meant that it would lead to break-up or strengthening their relationship, it didn't matter.
And the main reason for his awful mood? Leroy Jethro Gibbs. His boss. His surrogate father. A person who had change significantly over the last few months, since he had been shot. A person Tony didn't recognize anymore. Even though he tried to understand the change the old man was going through, mainly in respect for their mutual past, it cost him a lot nerves to get it all right.
"Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him. One of the ways in which this hiddenness can express itself is through faith in a personal god."
It was hard to see the person he always admired so, who stood by him and believed in him, as so weak and broken. That wasn't how the fatherly figures were supposed to be. Those men were usually strong, hell-bent and strong-minded. Gibbs was... Well, he could still be those things, with the annoying stubbornness on the top of the cake. But at the same time, he wasn't the same man anymore.
He was uncertain and indecisive when it came to the world itself. Things really were changing and Gibbs' insecurity was because of the fact that he wasn't sure whether he could still react on such changes. His reactions were off and hypersensitive, his behaviour contradictory. Sometimes he was very sensitive, sometimes he was too harsh. He was hardly ever anything in between.
Tony hated the cold shoulder he had been given when he had tried to talk to him. It was obvious that he kept locking up whatever feelings he had had and refused to show them to him. On the other hand, there were those little outbursts-usually of anger-that often left Tony speechless. As if Gibbs couldn't deal with the fact that Tony had stepped up when it had been needed.
He was frustrated with the situation. Not only because of the fact that Gibbs had decided to prepare him to take over his role in the team, but, at the same time, he was afraid to let go of it. He had placed great burdens on Tony's shoulders, and never asked him whether he agreed with that or not. Tony had accepted the role at first. But soon, his own mind had started to fight such expectations.
He didn't mind that Gibbs had chosen him. It was kind of natural and certain that it might happen one day. What bothered him the most was that his boss had turned into Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll was the fatherly figure, truly caring for Tony and the one who wanted to educate his successor, but was giving up. Hyde was the barking man who was scared to leave his position and thought that no one could do well without him, actually getting angry when someone did behind his back.
This whole mess influenced Tony more than he was letting on. Never being sure what side of Gibbs he would have to face that day, he hated mornings he had to go into work. There, he calmed down until some incident came up. In the evening, he arrived home. If Zoe had decided to avoid him because he had told her something vicious, he spent his nights alone, trying to get himself out of the state of frustration.
He spent nights staring at the ceiling and mulling over his life. Comparing it to Gibbs', of course. Not that the two were at all similar. But, considering Gibbs seemed to try to turn him into some improved version of himself, he couldn't help it. And that brought questions into his head about whether he truly wanted to be like Gibbs one day. Whether he didn't make a mistake by relying on his boss so much.
That was why he had started to doubt his past decisions and what he had made of himself. Almost everything he had done during the last two decades was influenced by Gibbs. By his rules, by his fatherly (even though sometimes harsh) care for Tony, his unrelenting belief in him, but questioning his intentions when Tony decided to hide some information from him and so on.
He was always loyal to his surrogate father, depriving himself of what he actually deserved. Like the leadership job in Rota. And, if he was supposed to be honest, it cost him his love life a lot. For years he had fought back the feelings he had had towards his Israeli co-worker, respecting his boss' rules and his own sense of fidelity to him. It had only given him a broken heart. Although, he realized that in order fulfil that happily ever after, both he and that Israeli woman would have to be willing to break Rule 12 and betray their loyalty towards Gibbs.
Unfortunately, it never happened. Neither of them wanted to do that, and they didn't demand it from the other. He wasn't angry with Gibbs for that, though. More, he was angry with himself that he didn't have the guts to pursue his dream, especially when he had longed for it for so long. The fact that he doubted his past decisions wasn't truly helping at the moment. His mind often drifted off to 'what if' scenarios.
Anyway, he had a few peaceful days in front of him. Ones in a foreign city full of locals and tourists. What a wonderful way to spend Christmas, soaking up the atmosphere and find the Christmas spirit. In the meantime, he could deal with his states of frustration and depression and return back to D.C. as an even-tempered human being. Yes, this holiday was about to change his life for the better. He was sure of that.
After landing on the Czech soil, he waited for his luggage and found his way out. He hadn't been able see much from the plane because the sky had been cloudy. But he had noticed that there was some snow on the ground. So, when he stepped out and saw the traces of the white substance, he revelled in the winter immediately. The cold air made him shiver, and he buttoned up his coat.
Not that he didn't have this weather in D.C., but Prague was further north, so it was natural that the cold and the winter would be slightly worse. Besides, he loved the different smells of the places he visited. Home had the same, usually comforting smell. But since he wanted to get far away from home as possible, he was satisfied with the change of environment.
Hiring a taxi, he was driven straight to the hotel. He was lucky. This hotel was usually full at Christmas. But one last room had been vacant, so he grabbed it. His father had stayed there once or twice, and since he could rely on Senior's tastes when it came to restaurants and hotels, he had chosen Hotel U Jezulatka*, on the Kampa Island.
Inside the taxi, he read all the text messages he had missed that had a lot to do about his whereabouts. He decided to just inform McGee on where he was. To the rest, he just answered he was in Europe and the rest wasn't their concern. He was a big boy and this wasn't his first time alone on the Old Continent. He could take care of himself. Putting the phone aside, he observed the city they were driving through.
He took notice of a lot of beautiful buildings and. soon, he started to make mental notes about what he would like to visit during his stay here, or at least to go explore. He loved these historical places, though he wasn't such a big fan of history in general. But something inside him was fascinated by the age of this place. And he had some basic knowledge, plus, what he'd gathered during his life experiences was usually enough for him not to embarrass himself.
Arriving at the hotel, he thanked the driver and paid before stepping out. It was a beautiful morning. Most of the city was still asleep, with only a few locals here and there. The closed sales booths in front of the hotel told him that there was Christmas marketplace going on and he couldn't wait to look at all their stuff. But he focused on the green house in front of him with the name of his hotel as he stepped inside.
It wasn't a huge hotel. He remembered that they had only six rooms, but his father hadn't been able to speak highly enough of the place. And maybe it was what Tony needed. The intimacy of a small, but luxurious, hotel with a picturesque restaurant and artistic interior. This was exactly the place no one would ever search for him, where he could bury himself and solve his inner issues with the outside world.
He got the small room right on the first floor. Once inside it and closing the door behind him, he looked around the room to assess it, his heart skipping a beat at the big-screen TV. But he was jet-lagged and truly needed some sleep, so he took his pants off and, without unpacking, he muffled up into the sheets and fell asleep immediately.
When he woke up, it was already the afternoon. His sleep had been mediocre but peaceful, so it was a change from the sleepless nights back in DC. He turned the TV on, finding a music channel to put himself into the mood. To his luck, they were having some sort of Christmas pop songs chart, so he started to unpack his things while singing 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'.
After a quick shower, he dressed himself in comfortable and warm clothes, so he would be able to stand the cold while strolling through the city. Eagerly, he left the hotel and smiled widely the moment he saw the scenery in front of him. The sales booths were opened with people selling various stuff. All was Christmas themed, the sales booths were decorated Christmas-y, with lights and all, just as the trees in the street were.
He felt the warm feeling spreading through his veins as the inner child in him jumped in excitement. But it still wasn't enough, he needed a lot more to get this part of his old self back. He made a step towards the first of the sales booth and bought some pastry that looked quite alluring. He was starving and, damn, this was delicious. The sugar and walnut mix in which was the rolled dough coated showed him how Christmas really tasted.
Humming in delight, he looked around and checked his phone for a map to figure which way to go. It was slowly getting dark, even though it still wasn't evening. He looked over at his right side and realized that there was a staircase that he had totally overlooked the first time he had walked by. It led up to the Charles Bridge, and he definitely wanted to go there. But he decided to take it in a different way. He could use this one when he was returning to the hotel.
So, walking around all the sales booths, he went up north through the very narrow street that led him straight onto a bridge across some river that apparently was called Čertovka**. He stiffened a little when he saw that the railing of the bridge was full of love locks, just like in Paris on the Pont des Arts. He couldn't help it. Everywhere he set his foot in, there was always something that made him to think about his former co-worker.
He admired the view for a while, chewing the last bits of his pastry, watching some couple locking their love lock before going further ahead. There were some street musicians who, according their age, were probably some students of arts. They were singing various Christmas songs. At the moment, it was John Lennon's 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)' and it was amazing to see how the tourists joined in and sang along.
Tony stopped to take a proper look at the John Lennon Wall, full of graffiti, love messages, poems, mottos that urged mankind to respect each other, both in political and religious ways, to spread peace and fight for freedom. His thoughts—involuntarily, of course-drifted to Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem.
Shaking his head to get rid of those memories, he realized that he needed to stop with these associations. He came here to find the Christmas spirit, not to constantly think about the woman he had left two years ago in Israel. He continued in his way, walking with some group of tourists so he wouldn't get lost.
Walking down another street, he finally found himself in front of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower that invited him to enter the famous Charles Bridge. He pulled out his phone and took few pictures. Then, without hesitating, he went straight across the bridge. He tried to take notice of everything that he could. The views, the scenery, the people, their conversations. He tried to just soak up the atmosphere of the Christmas crowd.
He had to smile at the mixture of accents and foreign languages, admiring the statues of important people on the bridge as his eyes shone with the joy as he observed everything around him. Half-way through the bridge, he stopped dead in his tracks upon seeing a familiar figure in front of him. She was leaning against the bridge wall, dreamily admiring the view of the Prague Castle.
He shook his head once, then twice. He had to be dreaming. That theory went to hell the moment some tourists patted her shoulder and asked her to take a photo of them, which she delightedly did. It couldn't be someone similar to her, because it was her. He could never mistake that body, that voice, that hair and that posture. His heart started to pound loudly inside his chest as his eyes focused only on the woman in front of him.
The End of Chapter 1
*Infant Jesus of Prague
** Devil's Channel, sometimes called Little Prague Venice
Do I really have to ask you to give me tips who the woman Tony has just met is? Or is it obvious enough?
I hope you enjoyed. The next chapter will be up next week. You will have to patient with this story, though. I changed my job so I'm getting used to the new environment, plus I learn a lot of new things. There's a little time to write properly, unfortunately.
So, I hope you will stick with me and patiently wait what I have in store for you. :) Love you all, and have a nice week everyone