Tagged to episode 8x08 "Enemies Foreign." My take on the time McGee spent with Eli at the safe house. I love the brother/sister sort of relationship that Ziva and McGee have, and I hope this fic reflects that.
Now fatherland, fatherland, show us the sign
Your children have waited to see
He's more than a little irritated when Vance gives him the assignment. He's not thrilled to be stuck with baby-sitting Eli David at the safe house. But as he drives there, McGee realizes why Vance chose him for the job. Who else is there? Gibbs and Tony want to be around Eli even less than he does, and Ziva...
At the thought of Ziva having to stay at the safe house with her father, he immediately stops feeling sorry for himself. He doesn't mind this assignment so much, after all. Hell, he's happy to do it, if it means that Ziva doesn't have to. The whole team knows how much she wants to avoid her father, and McGee isn't going to be the one to push her into anything.
And besides, the job isn't that bad. There's even pasta for dinner, from the agent who was on-duty before him. McGee isn't sure what he expected, but he's relieved that Eli treats him like any other agent, not one who works with daughter. Maybe that's why he's so caught off-guard when Eli turns to him after dinner and asks lightly, "About Ziva..."
Eli's voice is casual, but as soon as those words are out of his mouth, McGee is on alert, all his defenses up. Maybe it was naive of him to hope that Eli wouldn't ask about her. He pauses, and for a few tense seconds, Ziva's name just hangs in the air between them, loaded with unspoken questions and accusations.
"...does she ever mention me now?" Eli finishes slowly, and McGee can tell he's choosing his words carefully. He must have sensed how protective Ziva's teammates are of her.
McGee thinks he must be channeling Tony, because it's on the tip of his tongue to snap back with "Now? She never mentioned you before," or "No, I think you're dead to her now" or "What the hell do you think?" But he doesn't. For a moment, he doesn't say anything at all. Because Eli's question seems so familiar... Where has he heard it before?
It takes him only a second to remember arriving in Stillwater, the shock of discovering that Gibbs had a father. A father like Jackson, no less. "Does he ever talk about me, my boy?" And looking back now, McGee swears he could almost hear Ziva mentally head-slap him when he thoughtlessly answered, "I think I heard him refer to you once as dead." Ziva was the one who had tried to smooth that over and protect Jackson's feelings.
So he swallows hard, choking down his first comeback, and searches for something a little kinder. It's not easy, but finally he comes up with, "Well, Ziva doesn't really talk much about her personal life." There. That answer is safe enough. He doesn't want to say anything unnecessarily cruel, but there's no way he's about to let Eli pump him for information on Ziva.
But Eli just nods, apparently satisfied, and asks him if he knows how to play backgammon. McGee practically jumps at the change of subject, and he's grateful when Eli doesn't bring up his daughter again for the rest of the night.
He's tired and impatient by the time his replacement agent arrives the next morning, because the safe house a weak coffee machine and he was awake most of the night, keeping watch to make sure the place stayed safe. He's finally leaving when Eli comes out of nowhere and plants himself between McGee and the door.
"About Ziva..." Eli says again, but this time, his voice isn't casual. It's deathly serious.
Even though it's just two little words, McGee's anger flares so fast that it almost startles him. He tries to calm down, but he can't help thinking that Eli David is one sneaky bastard. He did this on purpose, damn it - waited until McGee was tired and distracted, then cornered him when he least expected it, and blindsided him with another question about Ziva. And beneath his anger, he's getting nervous too, because Eli is suddenly looking at him hard, focusing on him more than he has since McGee arrived.
But when Eli goes on, that's what really takes him by surprise.
"Does she seem... happy, to be here in America?"
For a second, McGee thinks he misheard him, because he hadn't expected Eli to be concerned about Ziva's happiness. Then he almost tells Eli, spitefully, that she's never been quite the same since they brought her back from Somalia... and even though there's some truth to that, before McGee can bring himself to say it, images from the past year begin to float through his mind.
He remembers Ziva raising her glass with the rest of the team when they all celebrated Thanksgiving at Ducky's house. Hugging him and Abby at her citizenship ceremony. Bantering with Tony across the bullpen. Beaming with pride when she showed him her new American passport. Smiling as she played catch with Gibbs on the baseball diamond. Laughing as she read an e-mail from the new friend she met in Miami.
He feels himself nodding at Eli, and even smiling. Because even though it's true that she's never been quite the same, it's also true that... "Yeah, she is. She's happy here." He surprises himself when he adds quietly, "We're taking care of her." He wants to laugh, when he hears himself say that, because Ziva David does not need taking care of. But her team has her back anyway.
He's even more surprised when Eli gives a ghost of a smile and murmurs, "Good" before he turns away from McGee and picks up the morning newspaper. It's a small gesture, just a tiny flicker of concern, but it's as if he's glad that his daughter is happy to be in America with her team - not angry that she resigned from Mossad, not disappointed that she renounced her Israeli citizenship.
It's a small gesture, but it's enough to make McGee pause in the doorway and look at Eli on the couch, nonchalantly reading the newspaper, that hint of a smile still lingering on his face. Then he turns to leave, shaking his head in puzzlement. Ziva isn't here, so Eli can't be pretending to care about her to manipulate her. Could it be sincere? McGee doesn't know, but as he drives back to the Navy Yard, he makes up his mind notto mention this to Ziva. Likely she wouldn't know what to make of it either, and McGee doesn't want her to feel more upset than she has since her father arrived.
Tony is waiting for him when he steps off the elevator into the bullpen. He asks how it went baby-sitting Eli at the safe house, and McGee can't tell if Tony feels sorry for him for getting stuck with that job, or if he's relieved that he didn't have to do it, or both.
"Well, I had a very educational morning," is all he says, and even though it's tempting to add to Ziva, "He asked me if you're happy here," he keeps it to himself. Ziva might not the expression "treading muddy waters," but that's exactly what he would be doing if he told her that the father who once left her for dead is now asking whether she's happy.
Too little, too late. That's what he tells himself, anyway.