A/N: Is anyone else still reeling from Shabbat Shalom? Cote de Pablo did an amazing job. I truly believe that was Emmy nomination worthy! I may borrow from some of the dialogue at some point but please remember this story departed canon early in season seven and the Eli story line may differ completely.
Monday evening, September 28, 2010…
Gibbs sighed with frustration as he read the last case report for Christopher Medik's death. A conclusion of accidental drowning was the logical outcome of the team's review but it did not sit well with the seasoned agent. There was no obvious reason to believe Medik had not just wandered too close to the piers' edge and drunkenly fallen into the bay. It happened all the time. And that was the crux of Gibbs's angst.
Ziva's research showed that the same scenario had played out across the nation almost everywhere clubs and bars were found near a body of water. A high percentage of those cases were young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. A conspiracy theorist might argue a serial killer was at work but common sense dictated otherwise. Young men liked to party and doing it near a river or ocean had the potential for disaster.
Gibbs concurred with Vance's decision that it was necessary to close the case and shift the team's focus elsewhere. Gibbs would be haunted by it, though, and he would likely pick it up again whenever a lull in cases allowed it.
Gibbs stared at the empty desks that surrounded him and the hint of a half smile briefly appeared. Tim's obvious glee after the DiNozzos' return to bickering still amused the team leader days later. Not normally soft hearted, Gibbs had uncharacteristically tolerated the newlyweds mooning over each since their wedding. Even the hardened marine could not deny the couple deserved their happiness. Gibbs had a few mild concerns but overall he couldn't remember a time when he worried less about his team.
McGee's strength and confidence as an agent continued to grow and Gibbs had not heard or sensed anything amiss in the young man's personal life lately. Tony remained much the same as always although his eagerness to please was now divided between his boss and his wife. The senior agent was a bit too focused on house hunting but it did not begin to rival the distraction his frat boy social life had once been. Gibbs's gaze turned to the desk to his right and the now empty vase that remained there after Ziva had reluctantly discarded a wilted bouquet of wild flowers early last week.
The one year anniversary of the Somalia mission had been bittersweet for the team. Abby and Tony had conspired to find a subtle way to remind Ziva she was loved. The result had been the flowers and an accompanying message that her home was with her team. The day itself had seemed to go okay but judging by their appearance the following morning, the night had not been as easy for Tony and Ziva.
Ziva was battling insecurity that Gibbs knew stemmed from reliving the complete uncertainty of her future that she had faced a year ago. She had cherished the flowers as a tangible symbol of her place on the team. Gibbs had been careful over the past two weeks to dole out more praise than usual and to make sure she wasn't inadvertently excluded from any team discussions.
Gibbs didn't normally coddle his team but he felt the situation warranted it. He knew it had been the right choice when he overheard Tim admitting to Abby that he, too, was having nightmares about the Somalia mission. The past couple of weeks hadn't been easy for anyone but they seemed to be moving past it.
Gibbs looked at his watch and then ascended the stairs to a late meeting with Vance. When Gibbs entered his boss's office, Vance handed the team leader a file folder without commenting on the contents. Opening it revealed a fax from Tel Aviv showing a transcript of internet chatter with key sections highlighted in yellow. Gibbs felt an acidic burning travel from his stomach up his esophagus as he read it.
"We've always known the possibility existed everybody wasn't home that day," Vance reminded Gibbs as the agent continued reading.
Gibbs sighed, "It would make sense if they weren't. Saleem was too smart to keep all his assets in one place."
"Question is, are these guys the remnants of Saleem's organization and what are they planning if they are?" Vance wondered his voice laced with concern.
After a brief pause, Vance indicated his willingness to defer to Gibbs's judgment by asking, "Are you going to tell the DiNozzos about this?"
Gibbs shook his head decisively, "Not yet. Not worth the pain for maybes and what ifs."
"Not that it matters but Eli concurs. He thinks Ziva will either fall apart or set off on a solo quest for vengeance if this turns out to be some of Saleem's men," Vance shared.
"She's too strong to fall apart," Gibbs replied his eyes reflecting deep worry.
Gibbs had witnessed Ziva's consuming anger burn away all her rational judgment after Michael's betrayal and death. The lead agent hoped Tony's love would tether their passionate warrior this time but it wasn't a certainty. Not considering what Saleem's men had done to her.
There was no question, however, that Tony would never again allow Ziva to go against a group of irrational killers alone. It wasn't a solo quest for vengeance that worried Gibbs. It was a two-man mission led by a wildly angry assassin with no sense of self-preservation that Gibbs feared most.
"Eli won't hold out on us. I'll let you know immediately if we pick up anything else," Vance assured Gibbs.
Gibbs merely handed the file folder back to his boss with a tight nod and departed the office. The former marine didn't share Vance's confidence that Eli would cooperate with NCIS. The Mossad director had an insatiable hunger for vengeance and it hadn't been satisfied when Gibbs eliminated Saleem.
As he downed bourbon in his basement an hour later, Gibbs refused to second guess his decision to withhold his concerns from Tony and Ziva. It could be weeks or months before information surfaced again regarding this possible remnant of Saleem's men. Ziva needed that time to continue healing and the couple deserved the chance to move forward with their life together unencumbered by fear.
Gibbs prayed a genuine threat would never materialize. But if it did, he would be ready. With the fortitude of bourbon and a firm resolution not to repeat his mistakes from the prior year, Gibbs chose a difficult path. He would heed Ducky's advice from several a few months ago and fill the empty hole in his agents' hearts. He would offer Tony and Ziva more than physical protection and would deliberately develop a deeper, more trusting, and loving relationship with them as their father figure.
Gibbs desperately hoped her trust in him would gate Ziva's fiery anger this time because if it did not, Gibbs's choice to become more vulnerable might very well cost him everything.
Sunday evening, October 10, 2010…
"You are too quiet," Ziva observed as she played with the back of Tony's hair.
"Just interested in the game," her husband muttered his eyes never leaving the television as the two sat side by side on the couch.
Ziva felt the physical effect of anxiety creeping over her and internally berated herself for it. When was this baseless insecurity going to end? She was weary of it overtaking her at every turn. Tony was pouting. He was not angry with her and, more importantly, he had not ceased to love her. He had simply had a bad day. Intellectually, Ziva was aware of this truth but emotionally, she could not control her reaction. Ziva sighed with frustration and it momentarily distracted Tony from the television.
"Oh, what? I can't even be in a bad mood once in a while now without making you do the insecurity thing?" Tony complained irritably.
"It is not as if I can control this, Tony," Ziva defended angrily causing her husband to smirk proudly.
"I hate it when you do that," Ziva informed him with a glare.
"But it works, doesn't it?" Tony teased obviously proud he had snapped her out of her headspace.
"I am tired of this. It is ridiculous," Ziva complained.
Tony fixed her with a somewhat stern glare and rolling her eyes, she amended, "It is post-traumatic."
"And ridiculous," Ziva added under her breath.
"I love you," Tony responded simply giving her a quick kiss.
Tony knew Ziva hated facing this intense insecurity from the past more than she had any of the other emotions along her journey to complete healing. Unfortunately, time, patience, and repeated reassurance were the only remedies and they could not bring instant relief to the painful wounds Ziva carried.
Ziva's scars itched from the idea of moving as Tony had so eloquently described it. Both had agreed it was best for Ziva to face the issue rather than delay buying a house. Deep down, she wanted their dream home and letting the demons from the past prevent her from moving equated to letting them win.
"And I love you. Now tell me why you are in a bad mood," Ziva requested gently deliberately setting aside her own feelings.
"Because I've looked at every available house in Washington and I can't find one that will work," Tony griped.
Tony was also frustrated with Ziva's lack of participation in their search but would never voice it. He was struggling to remain patient with her mixed emotions about moving but was determined to meet her needs by temporarily setting aside his own. He loved this life with her but there were times when her past did not make it easy. It did not help that he felt a little unappreciated for all his efforts.
"Perhaps it is time to expand our search," Ziva suggested.
"What do you mean by expand?" Tony asked nervously afraid she was beginning the town home versus house debate once again.
"Wait here," she ordered.
When Ziva returned to the sofa, she handed Tony a legal pad. It contained a list of several of the communities that surrounded Washington D.C. with facts about each including commute times to the Navy Yard and school system ratings. She had marked the ones she liked best with stars.
"Wow. You've put a lot of thought into this," Tony observed pleasantly surprised.
"You did not think I was into it and you believe I do not appreciate all that you have been doing to find a house. That is wrong," Ziva told him quietly revealing that she understood Tony's feelings more than he had realized.
"I get that it's hard for you. It's okay. I'm good," Tony quickly reassured her.
"Yes, you are very good," Ziva teased him with a kiss that held a promise.
"So, are you sure about this expansion thing? I'm calling Molly in the morning if you say yes," Tony warned still fully focused on the house hunt.
"I am certain," Ziva replied with a nervous smile.
"Prices are a lot better outside the city. I'll find something in no time," Tony said with an excited grin.
With his enthusiasm for house hunting restored, Tony continued to babble while Ziva felt the familiar creep of anxiety again. Frustrated, she decided to employ one of her favorite coping mechanisms. Without warning, she straddled Tony's lap.
"Hey, you're blocking the game," Tony teased.
"Well, if you prefer watching football to having sex…," Ziva said with a smirk pretending she might leave his lap.
"I didn't say that," Tony joked as he reached for the hem of Ziva's shirt.
No words were spoken for many minutes until Ziva cried out in release. The couple shifted until Ziva was sitting beside Tony with her legs across his lap and her head nestled against his shoulder. Tony reached for a nearby throw and covered them both knowing Ziva would soon complain of being cold.
"Feel better?" Tony asked softly tightening his arm around her shoulders.
"A little," Ziva answered honestly as snuggled closer to Tony.
It was always easier to be vulnerable in the afterglow of sex and she was no longer surprised when Tony accurately read her hidden emotions.
"It will get easier, you know that, right?" Tony reminded her.
"Yes…eventually," Ziva agreed with a sigh.
"Try thinking about our wedding," Tony ordered wanting Ziva to be reminded of everyone who loved her.
"I wish to be able to think about our future," Ziva replied softly.
"Okay, let's talk about the future then. I've been thinking. This spontaneous sex all over the house is going to get tricky when Lucy lives with us," Tony observed with a teasing grin knowing that really wasn't the aspect of their future Ziva meant.
"Then we must do this often before we move," Ziva joked welcoming the distraction.
"I like the way you think, Mrs. DiNozzo."
Thursday, October 21, 2010…
Tony studied his watch anxiously before glancing at Gibbs once more. Their vehicle lurched as Gibbs abruptly changed lanes to pass an elderly driver crawling ahead of them. The lead agent was clearly in a bad mood.
The team had just left a very unusual crime scene at the Pentagon office of the Chief of Naval Personnel. A clerk in the office had replaced the toner cartridge in a copy machine before leaving the office late the previous evening. The machine was multi-functional and also served as a scanner and a fax machine. When a fax had arrived and began to print at midnight, the new toner cartridge had exploded. The copier was destroyed and black dust a half inch deep covered the entire room. The mess was great but fortunately the damage was minimal.
After the copier repair service had determined the incident had resulted from tampering and not a defective cartridge, NCIS had been called to the scene. The possibilities ran the gamut from annoying to terrifying. While it could have simply been a prank, the possibility also existed that terrorists, domestic or foreign, were testing their ability to execute a more sinister operation. Either option left Gibbs thoroughly pissed off.
The lead agent had ordered his team to get the contents of the room, including the mangled copier, to Abby. After briefly helping Tim and Ziva load the truck, Tony had boldly jumped into the sedan just before Gibbs pulled away. The younger agent was determined to convince Gibbs to make a detour before the two returned to NCIS headquarters.
Tony had spent the past two weeks diligently searching several Washington suburbs for the perfect house and he believed he'd finally found it. It was almost too good to be true and that worried him. It was beginning to register that he and Ziva were about to make a huge financial commitment. In his nervousness, Tony sought reassurance from the man he admired most.
"Spit it out, DiNozzo," Gibbs finally demanded tired of Tony's staring.
"I was just hoping…well, maybe…okay, here's the deal, Boss. I looked at this house in Annandale on Saturday. It's a little out of the way. You might actually have to turn around but with your driving, it wouldn't take long and Molly, that's my real estate agent, she said she could meet us there. I think this house could be the one but if there's something wrong with it, well, your gut would tell you, right? And I don't want to get Ziva's hopes up if it's not going to work out because I think she's going to love it. If we could maybe just swing by…"
Although secretly pleased that Tony valued his input, Gibbs remained outwardly unreadable and said nothing so Tony continued to babble.
"I've told you Molly is a red head, right? Single too. Divorced and…kind of hot, actually. Hot enough that I'd do her, except, well, you know I've got that whole happily married to an assassin thing standing in my way. Not you, though, you're a free agent. Well, I'm guessing you are since you never really talk about…"
"Address," Gibbs barked successfully hiding his amusement and mild curiosity about the realtor as he made an abrupt u-turn.
"You're going to do it? You're going to look at it with me? See, I knew you cared…"
"Not going anywhere if you don't give me the address, DiNozzo."
Tony hurriedly told Gibbs where to find the house.
"Annandale is a little small townish but the school system is really good and it's not like you aren't close to the city. Perfect place to raise kids and the drive is okay. A little long maybe but not too bad. We'd have to work on the upstairs but just flooring and paint and eventually the second bathroom…"
Tony rambled for the remainder of the drive but Gibbs ignored him.
A few minutes later Gibbs and Tony arrived at a traditional two story charcoal grey brick home with white trim. Gibbs parked the Charger in the driveway next to an older model blue Jeep Cherokee and stopped just short of entering a shallow three car garage.
Gibbs studied the walls of the garage quizzically noting that the bay was not as deep as the structure implied that it should be. There were two doors, one on the back wall and one on the right side. The one on the right appeared to lead to the main house. Gibbs walked straight to the rear door, opened it, and entered a cozy one bedroom apartment.
"For Lucy," Tony explained with an excited grin as he showed Gibbs around.
As the two men exited the apartment, a musical voice called out to them. Gibbs turned and met the silvery, almost amethyst eyes of a tall, willowy woman with a smattering of freckles across her nose and a friendly smile. While she was naturally pretty, her down to earth appearance was not what Gibbs would have expected Tony to label as hot. And it was definitely a stretch to call her a red head.
The woman's hair was more of a chestnut brown with red and blond highlights and seemed to defy a specific color label. Combined with her unusual eyes and creamy complexion, it gave her a beautiful but uncommon look. Gibbs had anticipated a realtor would appear polished and professional, but instead this woman wore a long, flowing turquoise, purple and white tie-dyed skirt that brushed the top of mud caked rain boots.
"I've been checking out the back yard a little more. If you're getting serious about this place, I wanted to make sure I'm satisfied with the drainage back there. I'm not letting you buy a house if there's a risk you're going to get water in your basement," she explained to Tony.
Turning to Gibbs, she wiped her hand on her skirt and then held it out to him, "You must be the boss I've heard so much about."
"Molly Kathryn McKenna, meet Leroy Jethro Gibbs," Tony introduced the two with a flourish.
"Jethro," the seasoned agent corrected as he firmly shook the realtor's hand.
"Please call me Molly."
"MK-squared," Tony teased with a smirk earning him an eye roll from the realtor.
It was obvious to Gibbs that Tony and Molly had developed a rapport akin to siblings with Tony enjoying the role of pesky younger brother. Molly was careful to keep a boundary between teasing and flirting and Gibbs sensed that barrier applied to him as well. Tony might believe this woman was single but she signaled unavailable loud and clear to Gibbs.
"So you explored the attached apartment, I see. It gets around the zoning for single dwellings by having both entrances off the same garage so no worries there. I've verified that with the city. It's perfect for a mother-in-law suite too. You usually find them in the basement and then you have stairs to contend with as they age. Did Tony tell you the story behind this place?" Molly asked Gibbs.
When he gave her a blank look, Molly continued to explain as she quickly exchanged her muddy galoshes for her brown cowboy boots and then led them to the front of the main house. The home had been owned by a widower who had subsequently remarried. His new wife had convinced him to begin making updates and they'd been doing the work themselves until he died unexpectedly two months ago. The man's son had inherited the place and wasted no time kicking his stepmother to the curb and putting the home on the market.
"Gambling addiction. I checked the guy out. He even evicted the apartment renter with two days notice and didn't refund a dime of her deposit. This guy is desperate for cash," Tony added to Molly's explanation.
As the trio entered through the front door, Gibbs noted with satisfaction that it was solid with no windows. Despite his disdain for locks, he preferred that Tony and Ziva were careful with security especially if they were planning a future that included children.
Tony became uncharacteristically silent and wandered off to explore the house on his own.
"I can tell he really loves this place but he's trying so hard to be smart about it. Helping first time home buyers is what I enjoy most about this job and that guy is one of my all time favorites. Watching him trying to find his wife's dream house almost makes me believe in true love. They're a sweet couple. Ziva is more subdued about it but I get the impression she might literally kill anyone who hurt Tony," Molly joked.
Gibbs did not respond and instead focused intently on the wood floors in the entry way. Molly quickly read him as the get down to business type and launched into a fact filled tour of the house.
"That's high quality laminate. The flooring on this level is all new. You won't find that upstairs, though. This place was built in seventy nine and some of the flooring up there is original to the house. The whole thing is almost four thousand square feet if you count the garage apartment and the basement but I'm sure Tony told you the finish out is not complete down there. It has a nice sized laundry room and a game room but the other half is still cement floors and unpainted dry wall. The partial garage conversion to an apartment was done professionally but the basement work is definitely do it yourself."
Molly continued to describe the house as the two explored. She pointed out both selling points and flaws. Her honest, direct approach won Gibbs's respect and convinced him she truly had the DiNozzos' best interest at heart.
The entry way led to a large open room that served as both a living and dining area with a fireplace at one end and a built in entertainment center at the other. The dining area connected to a roomy kitchen with an open eating area framed by a bay window that featured a view of the backyard. It was in this room that they found Tony.
"It's just like Ziva pictures our future, Boss. She wants to sit in front of a window like this on one of those bench seats and watch me play basketball with our son. There's another window just like it in the master bedroom," Tony said quietly.
Since the house was on a cul-de-sac, the backyard was much larger than the front. The kitchen door led to a wooden deck wide enough to hold a built-in grill as well as a table and chairs. The railing also had built in benches that added more seating. Steps descended from the deck to a carpet of thick grass that had begun browning as the weather cooled. To the right of the deck, behind the garage apartment, there was a large wooden swing set and a huge oak tree with a tree house built around the trunk. To the left of the deck and directly in front of the bay window was a cement basketball court with goals at each end.
"The previous owner had grandchildren who spent a lot of time here. He built the tree house and swing set himself," Molly revealed.
"Had to keep the grandkids entertained while daddy was off at the racetrack," Tony added sarcastically.
The tour continued and Gibbs was shown a guest bedroom and a bathroom before the group ascended the stairs to the second floor. As Molly had promised, the first floor had all new laminate wood or tile flooring. The kitchen counters were a neutral granite, the cabinets a deep mahogany wood, and the appliances stainless steel.
The upstairs, on the other hand, was a blending of two different eras. The master bath had been updated with new tile, fixtures, and cabinetry but all the bedrooms had faded, dirty mauve carpeting and were sorely in need of paint and the secondary bath needed updating as well.
"The floor plan is perfect for a growing family," Molly pointed out as she showed them the three large bedrooms.
The master suite contained a small adjacent sitting area connected with French doors and both of the secondary bedrooms had built in desks and bookshelves. All three had large walk-in closets. The bathrooms had Jack and Jill vanities and built in linen cabinets.
The group eventually made their way to the half finished basement. There was a large laundry room with a washer and dryer that Molly said stayed with the house. There were cabinets and a counter top for folding clothes. One wall even held a pull down drying rack. The game room had cork flooring and an entire wall of cabinets and bookshelves as well as a small half bath. Molly pointed out that the unfinished cement space could be used for storage.
When the tour returned to the first floor, Gibbs went directly to the kitchen window. He bent and closely studied the window ledge and wall beneath.
"He approves," Tony told Molly triumphantly.
"How do you…." Molly began before Tony interrupted.
"He's figuring out how to build a window seat."
Gibbs stood and turned to face Tony before asking pointedly, "You can afford this?"
"With the money Alef and Eli gave us and Lucy's rent for the apartment, we'll be good. It's a buyer's market, Boss, and they're looking to unload this thing fast. It's a steal for what it is," Tony explained.
"In a saturated market like this, the dated décor, shallow garage, and unfinished basement are hurting the resale value especially since the owner is trying to sell fast," Molly explained.
Gibbs merely gave the realtor a blank look as if he did not understand the appeal of updated décor or a completed basement.
"Yes, we unloaded everything into the garage for Abby without Tony's help," Ziva replied sarcastically when Gibbs asked about the evidence from the Pentagon office scene.
Ziva and Tim were still miffed at Tony for abandoning them with the truck full of evidence. Since Gibbs and Tony had returned to NCIS an hour later than Tim and Ziva, the two junior agents had been forced to unload the truck alone adding to their irritation with their teammate.
"Abby's analyzing it now, Boss. So, did you guys find a lead?" Tim asked wondering why Gibbs and Tony had taken so long to return.
Gibbs silently sat at his desk leaving Tony to explain.
"Well?" Ziva demanded wanting Tony to answer Tim's question.
"You aren't going to want to take that tone with me after you see the house I found for you. Gibbs approves," Tony gloated.
Tim's expression grew wide-eyed with shock and disbelief while Ziva skeptically turned to Gibbs fully expecting him to deny Tony's claim.
"It's got a nice grill," was all Gibbs said with a shrug.
"There's a deck in back with a built-in brick grill," Tony added explaining Gibbs's confusing statement.
Tim and Ziva shared an expression of mutual bafflement. Neither could fathom their single minded boss allowing Tony to view a house in the middle of a case. The fact that Gibbs had participated in the personal diversion was incomprehensible.
Tony started to further describe the house but Gibbs interrupted with a gruff order to get to work. Tim and Ziva were comforted by the return to normalcy and Tony decided it was best not to push his luck any further. The team settled down to research the copier company and the office personnel as they awaited Abby's analysis.
Ziva forced herself to concentrate on the information on her computer screen as her anxiety level increased. She intuitively knew Tony had indeed found their future house. She could no longer put off saying goodbye to the apartment that had become her safe haven a year ago. What if Lucy refused to come with them to the new house? Ziva's excitement for the future was dampened by her fear of the changes that might lie ahead.
Ziva was not alone in her anxiety. Later that evening, as Lucy readied for bed, she too felt discouraged about the future.
Usually dinner with her precious newlywed neighbors energized and amused her. Tonight, the meal had begun as normal. Lucy had laughed so hard tears rolled from her eyes as the couple described the supposed crime scene from their case. The funniest part had been imagining Gibbs's reaction when he learned a college intern had staged the toner cartridge explosion to win an internet contest. Lucy could easily picture the confrontation between the former marine and the common sense deprived prankster.
Near the end of dinner Tony announced that he had found a house and he wanted both Lucy and Ziva to view it the next day. Gibbs had allowed the couple to request leave to meet the realtor at four o'clock. Lucy's heart sank when Tony informed them the house was in Annandale, Virginia. It was a reasonable commute from the Navy Yard and Lucy shouldn't have been surprised that the couple was drawn to a family oriented community with an excellent school system.
A house in Annandale would easily be a forty-five minute drive for Lucy. Not even close enough to visit without calling first, Lucy thought picturing a relationship similar to the one she had with her biological daughter's family who lived in Fairfax.
A weight of loneliness settled in Lucy's chest. Oh, how she missed her Matthew tonight. We weren't supposed to spend these years apart, she mentally told her dear departed husband as a tear slipped down her cheek.
Those two kids have given me a purpose in living life without Matthew. They've needed me. With a sigh, Lucy decided maybe she shouldn't be so quick to dismiss her son's encouragement to move to a senior community. Jason's latest offering had been literature on an independent living apartment community in Falls Church. That would put her a lot closer to a house in Annandale as well as her daughter Jennifer's family.
Lucy thought about asking her daughter-in-law Melissa to take her for a tour. She could count on Melissa to not try to sway her one way or another. Unlike her husband, Melissa believed Lucy was more than capable of making her own decisions.
Late Friday afternoon, October 22…
Ziva was quiet but Tony decided it was a good thing. Her lack of critical comments told him she must really like the house. After giving them a thorough tour of the property, Molly had left Tony, Ziva, and Lucy alone on the deck so they could talk privately. The two women sat side by side on a bench with Tony in a chair facing them.
"Well, I think this place is just wonderful. I can't decide what I like best, the kitchen, the laundry room, or this back yard. That spot over by the storage shed is just perfect for a vegetable garden and you'll still have plenty of room left. I'm just amazed you found something like this in your price range," Lucy told them with an encouraging smile.
"Is it in our price range, Tony?" Ziva asked pointedly.
Although Ziva sounded stoic and practical, she felt the complete opposite. She was in love with this house and her eyes revealed the truth to Tony. She silently pleaded for him to say yes.
"I believe I'll just take a little walk around the yard and let the two of you talk," Lucy quickly decided.
"Well?" Ziva asked pointedly once Lucy was out of earshot.
"We'll have to use most of the money Alef and Eli gave us, especially if we are going to fix up the upstairs. It might get a little tight if we don't rent the apartment," Tony admitted reluctantly.
Ziva hardened her heart against her desire to make this house their home.
"I do not know…"
"We aren't going to get another shot at a house like this, Ziva. The market has bottomed out and interest rates are way down plus this guy is eager to sell," Tony argued.
Ziva looked longingly at the house and sighed, "We should not have waited to tell Lucy our plan. I do not want strangers living with us. If she will not agree…"
"She's going to say yes, Ziva. Just work it like a hostile witness and follow my lead like we talked about," Tony promised.
Lucy returned hesitantly wanting to be sure she had given the couple enough time to talk.
"Do you need a few more minutes?" she asked.
"I believe we have decided to make an offer," Ziva told her.
"We'll have to rent out the apartment but that shouldn't be a big deal," Tony said confidently.
"Oh, I wouldn't think you'd have any trouble with that. It's the perfect little place and so close to the community college, too. Now promise me you'll be careful choosing your tenant. What am I saying? Of course you are going to be excellent judges of character and will know how to choose wisely. Just ignore this old mother hen," Lucy said laughing at herself.
"Well…we're actually hoping to maybe rent it to someone we know really well. Someone's whose lease is also up at the end of November," Tony hinted pointedly and waited for Lucy to make the connection.
Lucy suddenly felt ridiculous. The puzzling arguments she had witnessed between the couple over the past month about renovations and square footage finally made perfect sense. Feeling like a fool, Lucy realized Tony and Ziva must have intentionally searched for a house that could be shared with her. They must think I'm not capable of living on my own, Lucy thought deeply hurt.
With anger clouding her thinking, Lucy wondered if Tony and Ziva might have even conspired with her son, Jason. Had the couple pretended to support her decision to live independently while secretly intending to manipulate her into moving? Had she been so eager for their reinforcement of her capabilities that she had missed their deception completely? Without pausing to allow objectivity to override her temper, Lucy lashed out.
"It's no coincidence you found a house like this. I believe you've had this planned all along," Lucy told them accusingly sounding more upset than Tony or Ziva had ever seen her.
"I told you this would not work. It is unfair to expect her to help care for our children. We are sorry, Lucy," Ziva responded glaring at Tony before her expression became apologetic.
"Speak for yourself, Ziva. I'm not sorry. This is a win-win for all of us. We're not doing anything wrong here," Tony replied speaking directly to his wife.
While Ziva glared, Tony continued, "Stop looking at me like I'm a bad guy. We are offering her a chance to live in a house for less rent than she pays now. She gets to have a yard and garage park her car. She can even throw barbeques for her church friends and play with that stinking mutt you insist we're getting. All we're asking for in return is a little free babysitting when we have a big case and maybe a date night now and then. I say it's a fair deal."
Lucy studied the two shrewdly. She was too suspicious now to be persuaded by their feigned bickering. She was certain it was designed to convince her to move.
"Alright, you two can stop this little routine of yours. I want you to tell me why and how you cooked this whole thing up and I expect you to be completely honest with me," Lucy told them pointedly her voice still tightly laced with anger.
"This is my fault, Lucy. Tony was merely trying to give me what I wanted," Ziva interjected quickly fighting the tears that filled her eyes.
Ziva was horrified. She had imagined Lucy might be too stubborn and independent to live with them but had not anticipated that merely asking would anger Lucy so much. Had they done irreparable damage to their relationship with their dear friend?
Fierce insecurity overwhelmed Ziva at the thought of losing Lucy's friendship. Tony scrambled internally for a damage control solution. He felt completely responsible for the hurt in both women's eyes.
Lucy's anger melted away at the sight of Ziva growing emotional. Sitting next to Ziva, Lucy reached for the younger woman's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. With the pause in conversation, Lucy had a moment to digest the couple's words. It had never occurred to her the challenges the two would face becoming parents if both continued to work as NCIS agents. While the couple was clearly working the parenthood angle to their advantage, the concern was not invalid.
Now why didn't they just talk to me about this weeks ago instead of waiting until now, Lucy wondered. Sighing, Lucy reminded herself that Tony and Ziva were still learning how to have healthy relationships and probably hadn't intentionally been dishonest or manipulative. Feeling much calmer, Lucy waited patiently for her friends to explain.
"It all started one weekend when we played house with the Cooper kids. You know Ziva, she can't just have fun. She has to think about everything all the time. She got all wound up about what if we'd been called into work and what we would do when we had our own kids…" Tony began.
"I merely said we had issues to resolve before we could be both agents and parents," Ziva defended.
"Oh, go ahead and make light of it now, Ziva, but you were all Debbie Downer about not getting your dream then," Tony replied as Ziva glared.
Turning to Lucy, he continued, "And then Mother's Day happened and Jason got you all worked up with his senior community spiel and Ziva got sad about moving away from you and then it just hit me. You could move with us and then we wouldn't have to leave you and we'd have a built-in babysitter when cases come up at night. We're happy. You're happy. Jason's happy. And the future little DiNozzos are happy. It's a brilliant idea if you think about it."
"I can see that you meant well, dear, but why didn't you talk to me about this before today?" Lucy asked pointedly.
"Because we are stupid," Ziva stated bitterly.
"Ziva…," Lucy admonished with motherly concern before pausing a moment.
"The two of you communicate honestly and openly with each other. Maybe that wasn't always true but you've learned. I understand you can't do that with your fathers but I am not like them. I expect you to shoot straight with me from now on, is that clear?" Lucy asked her voice leaving no room for argument.
"Yes, ma'am," Tony told her with a cheeky grin.
"Of course, Lucy. We are very sorry," Ziva added softly.
"Well, alright then, why don't we talk about this brilliant idea of yours a little more," Lucy suggested her tone and expression softening.
With a warning look at Tony, Ziva began to explain, "It is more than simply providing care for our children when we must work at night. It will not feel like home to me if we must leave you behind. I have finally made a home for myself and it includes you. I do not wish for that to change."
"Yea, you give us something we've never had before," Tony added with his best puppy eyes.
"I understand the desire for independence, Lucy. If we buy this house, you will have your own apartment," Ziva pleaded.
Lucy looked from one to the other and suddenly their motives no longer mattered. She simply could not disappoint the sincere hopefulness she saw reflected on their faces. I won't be another parent that lets them down, Lucy decided. No amount of pride or independence was worth causing Tony and Ziva more hurt.
"Well, I suppose you've managed to convince me that you're not doing this because you think I'm a decrepit old lady who can't live alone. That apartment is an awfully cute little place and I'd be closer to Jennifer's boys to boot. I certainly wouldn't mind having flower beds and a vegetable garden again. I'll need a little help tilling it up in the spring," Lucy told them with a teasing smile already speaking of the house as if it was theirs.
"Done," Tony responded immediately.
"Do you know anything about tilling a garden, Tony?" Ziva questioned shrewdly as her eyes narrowed.
"How hard can it be? You just push the…the tilling thingy and…," Tony floundered a bit.
Lucy laughed at Tony's eagerness to please and promised gently, "I can teach you how it works, dear. It's just your muscle I'll need."
A brief silence ensued as each of them contemplated the ramifications of what had just occurred.
"So we are making an offer, yes?" Ziva asked the others eagerly not attempting to hide her growing excitement.
"Well, now, I do have one more question," Lucy stated with a grin.
"Just how long do you plan to keep me waiting before I have a little one to watch after?"