Davide's Five Smooth Stones
Summary: Noah Puckerman remembers Jonah Puckerman as an absentee father whose only smiles occurred when he drove his children to tears or their mother to drink. Ziva Davide remembers Jonah Puckerman as the identity she had set up for her brother, Ari Haswari, for when a covert mission went south and he needed to hide in US suburbia. About the time of 'The Sue Sylvester Shuffle', she was flabbergasted to discover that he sired a child (possibly two) in Lima, Ohio. Can two people who grew up in dysfunctional families learn anything different?
Gibbs had cornered every single one of his agents in the elevator at one time or another, so it was no surprise when his agents continued the practice. McGee was just the last one Ziva had guessed would try it on her, two days before Christmas.
Ziva had been on her way to see Abby, mostly to plan a shopping trip for, and McGee slid into the elevator just as the doors were closing. He looked relieved that she was alone and then he flipped the switch. The lights dimmed and the elevator stopped.
Ziva grinned. "You know that I can combat any assassination attempt."
McGee looked confused and then brushed it off. "You know how I found the list of identities from the last terrorist cell we caught." Ziva nodded. "And you ID-ed Jonah Puckerman as one of Ari's aliases."
Ziva nodded again. "I told you to ignore it, because Mossad would know about anything worthwhile Ari did as Puckerman."
McGee waved his hands helplessly. "Gibbs told me to check it anyway, just in case Mossad wasn't in the mood to share."
"You found something?" Ziva more said than asked. Even she couldn't remember anything notable of Puckerman's 'life.' "He was living in no where, Ohio. That's where he disappeared to whenever an op was compromised. No one would find him there."
"Ziva, he was married in Lima, Ohio."
Ziva blinked. "Ari… was married."
"His name is also on a birth certificate."
Ziva relaxed. "Of course, Jonah Puckerman had a US birth certificate. I created it myself."
"He's listed as the father."
Ziva stared at McGee in shock. She knew better than to ask if he was sure. McGee wouldn't have approached her if he had any doubts. "DNA?" she said softly.
"I snagged it off Noah's juvie record and had Abby compare it against Ari's. I took out the names and made Abby promise not to run either through the system until I could break the news to parties concerned. There's a second birth certificate for a younger daughter, but I had no way to confirm Ari's parentage."
Ziva digested that. "How do they think… what does Ari's family think happened to him?"
"He abandoned them, Ziva. Over seven years ago. His wife filed for divorce based on abandonment."
"That was probably for the best," she mused. "He started getting in deep with Hamas about then."
"Ziva. Juvie record. His son's grades are, quite frankly, dismal. Hannah's are better. Noah could use some encouragement and help if he's going to go anywhere in life. I wonder what kind of woman Ari would pick for the mother of his children and I have this horrible feeling that she was the worst possible choice. Her heritage is Jewish and we all know how Ari felt about that side of his family. Someone needs to step in. You are family."
Ziva was surprised at McGee's passion. "You really think…"
"Yes. Please, go try. You can wait until after the new year, because there'll be less emotional… upheaval but you're a good person. You can help Noah understand that not all of his family is…" McGee was too good of a person to accurately describe Ari. "Hannah would always enjoy having an auntie to spoil her. My sister and I adored our aunt."
"Yes," Ziva agreed. "I will go and try."
"Promise me. Promise me you'll go and introduce yourself."
Two weeks later, Ziva was regretting her promise. Granted, Columbus Airport wasn't horribly busy and the car rental was waiting for her as ordered. Ziva scoped out the layout to smooth the return flight the next day. (She didn't want to hover. She would open the door and give the family some time to adjust to her existence.) The weather was slightly colder than DC and there wasn't much snow on the ground. The land was flat and wet. The drive through the fallow farm land was monotonous and brown broken by small towns. Lima was the biggest city she'd seen since driving from the state capital. Ziva wasn't sure where she should go. Going to the hotel would be procrastination. She didn't want to meet Ari's wife first. She didn't want to explain that Mrs. Puckerman was now a widow to a traitor. Ziva would lie first.
Ziva drove to McKinley High School. Noah attended here. Barely. If Ziva thought that Noah would attend sessions, she would pay for a tutor. He wouldn't have much of a future with his current grades. McGee had been correct in that assessment. Ziva parked and noticed teens wandering around. Not too much excitement for a Thursday. School must be dismissed for the day. She exited the rental car and stood and watched. She wondered if she would be able to recognize her nephew from his file.
She shook her head. Of course she'd be able to spot Noah Puckerman. Just because he was her nephew didn't mean anything. She had spotted hundreds of men from their file photos. This was no different.
Noah didn't walk by her. Perhaps he was involved in some afterschool activity? McGee had said that he was a co-captain of the football (American) team. Ziva should have had Tony explain the sport to her, but he would have been able to tease the truth of her new relatives out of her. Ziva wanted to keep this secret for a little bit more. She would tell Gibbs. Gibbs would want to know, but first, Ziva wanted to confirm that Ari hadn't left a sleeper agent behind in Lima, Ohio.
She doubted it. Noah would have perfect or nearly perfect grades and a spotless criminal record if he was to cause trouble later. Being sent to juvenile detention for petty misdemeanors would make him stand out in a computer search.
Ziva caught the attention of an Asian teen female and asked for directions to the football field. The teen looked suspicious but pointed her in the right direction. Ziva walked to the field and watched the coach run the teens through drills. The students varied in their abilities to follow directions. Ziva climbed up the stairs and found a place on the bleachers close enough to read the back of the uniform shirts, but with some sort of protection for her back. She didn't like being this exposed; anyone could come up under the bleachers and assassinate her.
Ziva indentified Noah's shirt number, 20, and then stepped higher on the bleachers. This way an assassin would have to climb the structural support, completely doable, but easier to spot before dying. She watched the team practice. She was pleased to note that Noah was one of the better players.
A hummed snatch of a song distracted Ziva. She turned her head slightly so that she could see the source out of the corner of her eye. A girl –teen- was seated in the opposite corner as Ziva. She was tiny with dark hair. She was doing her homework while intermittently watching the players. She was bundled up against the cold, wearing bright colors.
Ziva decided to tap this information source. The girl had to be a girlfriend of one of the players. Ziva moved seats.
The girl watched her. She opened the possibility of conversation by taking out her earbuds.
Ziva smiled. "One of those your boyfriend?"
The girl looked a bit sad. "Two of them are my ex-es."
Ziva wasn't sure what she should say to that.
"What do you want with Noah?" the girl demanded.
Ziva blinked and decided to 'play dumb.'. "…Noah?"
"Noah Puckerman. He's defense. Most people watching football watch either the plays or their player. Your head isn't following the ball when Finn throws it."
This was one sharp girl.
"I want to talk with him."
"That is our business and not yours," Ziva told the nosey girl.
"Why are you trying to talk to him at school and not at home," her eyes dropped to Ziva's throat and her Star of David necklace, "or at the synagogue?"
"Noah's an ex-boyfriend," Ziva deduced.
She nodded. "But he's a pretty good friend now. If you don't contact him within twenty-four hours, I'm going to tell him you're stalking him." She spoke with conviction. She would do it.
Ziva wanted this girl on her side. She was a true friend to Noah. Ziva held out her hand and told the truth. "I'm Ziva Davide."
The girl shook. "Rachel Berry. So what do you want with Noah?"
"That's still none of your business," Ziva said. "It's private, but if you could facilitate an introduction, I would appreciate it."
"And I would know that you would have stopped stalking him."
Ziva nodded. "True."
"So what can you tell me about Noah?" Ziva asked.
She thought about it. "He's a good football player. He's a good singer. He's really good at his guitar. His two favorite school groups are one, the Glee Club and two, the football team. The Glee Club is definitely better, especially since several of the players are being total asses." Rachel glowered at the field.
Ziva wanted to distract her. She had noticed Rachel's priorities. "What is Glee Club?"
Rachel straightened and grinned. "We sing and dance and compete. We are going to go all the way to Nationals." She was so tiny and fierce, Ziva was reminded of Abby.
"Dance?" the agent brought the conversation to things that interested her. She remembered the joy of ballet. And the heartache of her father missing all of her performances.
"Hip-hop, choreographed as a group to whatever song we're singing. You should see what we're doing Friday. We're going to have the whole school cheering for us."
Ziva made a mental note to call Gibbs and extend her vacation to Saturday or might as well make it Sunday. There was no reason to fly on Sabbath if there wasn't a case and she wanted to see Friday's performance. Even if Noah didn't know she was there. "Where is the performance?" she asked.
Rachel looked surprised. "Here. Of course. The cheerleaders are going to some competition and leaving the half-time show of the championship game to the Glee Club." She turned fierce again. "No one is going to miss them with the show we're putting on."
"The championship football game?" Ziva asked for clarification.
"Yes. Coach Beiste and Finn and Noah and Mike are the best. Now, if only the rest of the team could get their heads out of their asses."
Down on the field, the teams had handed off the football to their coach and were jogging around the track. "That's the last thing," Rachel announced. She packed up her bookbag and stood. She was even shorter than Ziva had estimated. "If we want to talk to Noah before he showers and vanishes, we gotta catch him now."
Ziva followed the girl onto the edge of the field and waited behind the fence. Rachel timed her call, breathed in and hollered "NOAH!" Ziva twisted her head, surprised that so much noise came out of such a little package.
Rachel had gotten Noah's attention. He glanced their way, glanced back at the football players. "Noah!" Rachel yelled again. "Five minutes."
Noah shrugged and took off his helmet. Part of Ziva was surprised to see her nephew with such an identifiable haircut. The other part of her remembered the bathroom dye job she had done when she was fourteen. Noah jogged over. "You have two minutes, Berry."
Rachel didn't waste any time. "Noah Puckerman, Ziva Davide. Ziva Davide, Noah Puckerman. She wanted to meet you."
"It's a long story," that Ziva didn't want to share in front of Berry.
"I don't have time for this, lady."
Ziva glanced at Berry one last time and decided to chance it. "Your father…"
Noah turned on his heel and started walking away. Ziva didn't need anymore confirmation to McGee's theories. Ari had been a pig to his children. She jumped the fence and chased after her nephew. She caught him before he could join the others. She grabbed him arm. He shook her off, but didn't throw a punch. The self-control was promising. "Look, lady, the man was a horrible father. I don't know what he was to you, but…"
"A horrible brother." She shocked him enough that he was listening. "Half-brother actually."
"Why are you here?" Noah demanded with a growl that might be intimidating in a decade.
"I wanted to see if Jonah left anything good in this world by way of you and your sister. My sister is dead too. You and Hannah are my only chance to be an aunt."
Noah listened, but didn't change his expression. Ziva took it as an opening.
"Can I take you dinner?" Ziva asked.
Noah snorted. "Between football and Glee, I don't have a spare second for school, let alone you."
Ziva had manipulated and had been manipulated by the best. All she could see was a desperate teen determined not to let anyone close. She reminded herself that Noah was talking about American football to distance herself from the hurt his sharp words inflicted. "After Friday?"
Noah didn't have any reasonable deflection since she was ignoring his defensive mechanisms. "Why are you doing this?" he asked point blank. He didn't quite believe her the first time.
"Because you are worth it." He scoffed and Ziva added to her reasoning something her nephew might believe. "Because your father was a Ishvants/I and I refuse to let him win by destroying more of our family."
"At least you're delivering the good news that the SOB is dead."
Ziva wondered if he had a single good memory to mourn Ari. "Yes, your father is dead and has been for a while."
"Just now getting around to telling the rest of the family?" Noah accused.
"That is a very long story. Dinner?"
He wasn't even curious enough about Ari's demise to accept free food. "I told you. I don't have time now."
"Puck!" another football player yelled. The coach was standing by him and looking worried. Noah waved at them. Puck was his nickname. Part of her was horrified that her nephew's identity was based off of a false name.
"Stay the hell away from Hannah," he ordered. Then he turned on his heel and jogged away without fanfare.
Ziva watched him go. As first meetings went, it could have gone worse. It could have gone better, as well. For now, she would refrain from introducing herself to Hannah. She would, however, get a DNA sample and perform surveillance on both children. Ziva exited the football field at a slower rate. When she stepped off the field and onto the surrounding track, the gravel crunched beneath her feet. Ziva stooped down and picked up one tiny, black stone.
Ziva knew when to step back from a mark, a witness or a suspect and it was the best advice she could tell herself when dealing with family. She would return to the football field tomorrow. For now, she would subtly investigate Hannah. She would soon be getting out of school. The elementary school was a quick drive away from the high school. Ziva could wait in the parking lot with a clear view of all the exits. She reviewed what little she knew of Hannah as she waited for the final bell. She was a good student. She had a cell phone as a part of Noah's family plan and she used it to contact her brother more than any other person.
The bell rang and Ziva watched and waited. She would have to figure out a way to get the girl's DNA. It probably wouldn't affect how she treated Hannah –it was obvious that the Puckerman children came as a set- but Ziva was curious. Finally the children streamed out of the school. Some climbed onto buses, others walked away and others were picked up by their parents.
There. Ziva spotted her niece mixed in with a group of walkers. Hannah was quiet and smiled little. She had a small group of friends, but she listened more than she talked. The most animated Ziva saw her was when Noah arrived to drive her home. He picked her up at the corner, out of sight of the sharp-eyed teachers. Hannah smiled at her big brother like Leah used to smile at Ziva. Noah helped her into the cab of his truck, and did a quick evaluation of his surroundings. He wasn't being coy or sly. He was looking for Ziva. The agent approved of his suspicion, even if he wasn't experienced enough to spot her. She watched them drive off and noticed that Noah's driving resembled Tony's, fast but didn't take nearly the number of chances as Ziva. She actually approved, even as she planned to teach him more offensive driving.
Ziva walked up to the school building and asked around for Hannah's teacher. Cindi Starr was tiny and cheerful. She wouldn't let Ziva into the school but didn't mind standing out in the cold for a couple extra minutes. Mrs. Starr liked Hannah, though she didn't know anything personal about the girl. She had never met Hannah's mother because Noah always attended the parent-teacher conferences and picked up Hannah's homework when she was sick.
A second teacher joined the group. Mrs. Starr introduced the first grade teacher, Jessica Colley. She was of average height but a beautiful blonde with a steel backbone. Ziva could guess the direction of the conversation the second Miss Colley said, "You're talking about Hannah Puckerman. Are you a relative?"
Ziva nodded once.
"Of Jonah?" Colley pressed. It was interesting that she guessed Ari first when Jonah Puckerman's manufactured background had no family.
"Yes." Damn you, Ari, she thought. The only one that will mourn you will not be your family. Colley was exactly Ari's type when he could choose his bedmate, someone who was visually not Muslim and not Jewish. Why couldn't Ari have married her and fathered Noah and Hannah with this woman? The children would have at least some support. Tim, young, naïve, insightful Tim had called it. Ari had picked the Jewish woman least competent to mother children. Ziva hated her sight unseen.
"I haven't seen him since Noah was in the school." Was that wistfulness Ziva detected? Or was that an accusation?
Colley looked more annoyed than mournful. She tossed her hair and straightened her perfectly tailored coat. This woman would not have borne children for Ari; she was too vain. What was she doing teaching first graders in Lima, Ohio? "That's a shame. How long?"
Ziva blinked. She was here to gain information, not share it. "It's been a little while," she demurred. Ziva addressed Mrs. Starr again. "Thank you for everything." Ziva nodded once to Colley and walked away. She picked up a small, reddish stone, roughly the size of her pinky nail from Hannah's school playground. She placed that stone next to the one from Noah's field in the cup holder of the rental car.
Ziva had time on her hands. She was half tempted to break into both schools and investigate her family that way. She discarded that idea. Though… Colley. Part of the reason that Ziva had flown up to Lima was to see if Ari had left a sleeper agent behind. Noah was obviously not one. Ari had destroyed the boy's self-confidence and foundation, but not in a way that would be useful for another agent. Jessica Colley was a little too smug and a little too curious as to Ari's demise.
Colley would be at the school for a while longer. Ziva used her phone to enter into a federal database. She found Colley's home address, but no criminal activity. Colley had graduated top of her class of an Ivy League school. Hmmm. Interesting. Ziva knew of several terrorist recruiters that prowled the universities under the cover of diversity. So what was Colley doing in Lima, Ohio?
Ziva would investigate that. Anything to delay introducing herself to Ari's widow or checking into a bland, lonely hotel room to wait for the next day. She drove to Colley's home and parked some distance away. She entered the property though the back yard. Colley had an eight foot high privacy fence, so no one saw her case the house. Colley's place was a house, not an apartment and it was bigger than Ziva would have assumed for the woman's salary. Ziva put on gloves, picked the lock, circumvented the security and prowled the house. Colley had taken a holiday in India, near the Pakistan border. Ziva recognized the temple in the background of that picture.
In Colley's jewelry box was a bracelet Ari had bought in Berlin. Ziva had wondered where it had ended up. In the bedroom, Ziva found a picture of Ari smiling. Ziva knew that smile: Ari wore it whenever he was having fun making people dance to his tune. Ziva used a special Mossad USB drive and put a Trojan virus on Colley's computer. It would transmit all of Colley's actions on the computer to a secure location. All in all, Ziva hadn't found any evidence of a sleeper agent, but she had found enough to be wary.
It was time to leave. Colley would never know or suspect that Ziva had been there. She hadn't left an item out of place.
Ziva drove downtown Lima until she found a decent hotel and checked in. She paid in cash and used a Puckerman alias in case Colley decided to investigate her. Ziva would talk to Sarah Puckerman tomorrow, while the children were in school. Ziva could not delay the meeting any longer. She would get the unpleasant task out of the way and focus on Hannah and Noah.
The meeting with Sarah Puckerman went as well as expected, considering. The woman was a cruel drunk. She hated Ari with a passion and took it out on Hannah and Noah. She truly thought her children were losers because that was how she viewed herself. Ziva's tentative plans concerning her niece and nephew cemented in that first ten minute conversation. She had to be a loving aunt to Hannah and Noah. She had to give them some positive family to lean on. Ziva gave the woman a full bottle of brandy and went out and found a lawyer to draft a guardianship document. Ziva returned to the Puckerman household and got Sarah to sign it and then filed it at the courthouse. Now, if anything happened to Sarah, the children would be legally Ziva's. She only considered killing Sarah Puckerman for thirty seconds before discarding the idea. If she thought she had a decent chance to legally wrest custody from Ari's ex-wife, she would have filed for it that day. As it was, Ziva was a single working woman (a brand new US citizen) living half-way across the country that was a literal stranger to the children.
Ziva had a goal: get the children to DC every summer. She had already laid the ground work with their mother. Sarah was eager to be rid of them for a couple of months. First, Ziva had to gain their trust. No. First, she had to get to know them.
Ziva knew the first step in that plan was to attend Noah's football game.
Ziva arrived early, bought her ticket, stood in line for the concession stand for some coffee that's only redeeming features were that it was hot and strong. Then she tried to find the best vantage point. There really wasn't one to be had. The bleachers were too far away to cheer for a single student, but the sidelines were reserved for players or other school personnel. Ziva was too short to see over the sea of students. She reluctantly climbed the bleachers, hoping to see Ms. Berry again. The teen was chatty and perhaps would divulge information. Berry wasn't in the stands and Ziva was flabbergasted when she heard the announcer say her name.
What was Berry doing on the field when yesterday she had been watching in the stands? This game was sure to be interesting as a Chinese curse. The game was Iinteresting/I in that the uniformed girls on Noah's dropped to the ground and left a few males to carry on. Rachel Berry had said that the team was being difficult. Had all of the males that had been practicing quit, leaving Berry and the others to fill in? Ziva surmised that this was what she was talking about. Noah's team was losing, badly. Obviously, since this was the championship game and McKinnley had earned this game, the team roster was not normal.
Ziva hoped that the half-time show was everything that Berry had said it would be. It didn't matter. Noah was more proud of the Glee Club than of football. Ziva would use her phone to record the halftime show. She was ready and had a clear line of sight when the band played the first notes. Michael Jackson. Even Ziva recognized the song of the American music icon. The children had added another song to the mix. It complimented the original song well. Ziva enjoyed the music and singing and the dancing. She would show the entire team as soon as she returned to DC.
Half time ended and the teams reassembled on the field. This time, Noah's team was complete, all males. It was the same male dancers of the half-time performance. They didn't bother changing their uniforms or washing off the make-up. Now this was a team that had earned the championship game. They were easily equal or better than their opponents. They worked well together and used everything at their disposal, including psychological games.
Noah took it one step further. Ziva was close enough to the field to hear the opposing team accuse 'one of those zombies bit me!' A glance at Noah's face confirmed the accusation. She was proud that her nephew threw off the opposition by taking the psychological attack one step further and biting one of the other team. She laughed at the simplicity and effectiveness of it. Noah caught her laughing and shock flashed on his face. Noah was surprised that she approved. His coach and his teacher both would have disapproved, but that was the difference between a spy/federal agent and a teacher.
Ziva cheered as loud as any other fan when Noah's team won in the last minute of the game. Ziva worried that she wouldn't able to find Noah in the crowd, but to her surprise, Noah separated himself form the celebrating teens and approached her.
"You did well," Ziva told him. "And I will show everyone at work your musical performance. They will be impressed."
Puck looked surprised that Ziva had come to his game and was a bit bemused as Ziva enthused about the performance. He rubbed his Mohawk and didn't directly look at her. He wasn't lying when he spoke, he was just embarrassed. "Yeah, well. Thanks for coming."
"It was my pleasure," she reassured him. "I told you that I want to be your aunt in more than blood."
"What about Hannah?"
"I have not approached her, as you directed. I understand that you will want to… inspect me before I introduce myself to your sister. I have been told that it is my responsibility to spoil you. I am looking forward to it."
Noah looked skeptical. He was too beaten down to be hopeful. "How much spoiling are we talking about?"
"You would get tutors."
"Tutors do not sound like a treat," Noah pouted.
"But a future where you can go to college does," Ziva countered. "You will not graduate on your current path."
"How the hell do you know that I need tutors?"
"I am an NCIS agent," at Noah's slightly fearful expression, she expanded, "Naval Criminal Investigative Service."
"Navy CSI?" he asked.
"Naval cop," Ziva corrected. "That was how I found out about you. My brother… was a criminal. His DNA was in our database and when we stumbled upon the Puckerman identity, we did a little shoveling and found you."
Noah made a face, so Ziva guessed she had mangled another idiom. Noah ignored it and focused on the important intelligence. "So Puckerman really isn't my name."
"No," Ziva smiled grimly. "Puckerman is your name, but it was not your father's." Ziva would complete the paperwork herself. It might not be true at the moment, but it would be true before the month was through.
Noah was pleased with the assessment.
"I wish to know you, Noah, and Hannah too. I want to know how to best spoil you and more than that, I want what is best for you. Tutors will open up your future to you. Please work with them. Work with me. I can make things better for Hannah, too."
Noah nodded slowly. "Okay. Yeah. I can work with that. Hannah needs to get out of this town. She's smart enough."
Ziva decided to push. "Let's start with breakfast tomorrow. My treat."
"As long as you are planning on eating at eleven," Noah countered. "I plan to sleep until then." He waved at the celebrating teens. "We worked hard for this. We are going to party."
Ziva did not show her displeasure at the late start and Noah suggested a peace offering. "I could bring Hannah?"
"Yes. Assuredly. Please."
"Then we'll meet you at Bob Evan's at eleven?"
"I'll be there," Ziva promised.
Ziva made good use of the morning. She attended the synagogue and interviewed several prospective tutors for Noah. She managed to find one at an acceptable price that was smart, flexible and inventive. She scared him in addition to motivating him. Then she drove all over Lima looking for classes in anything that might catch Hannah's eye. The child needed to expand her comfort zone.
Ziva was waiting in Bob Evan's at ten-thirty. She was drinking coffee with a clear view of the parking lot and the entrance. So she saw when Noah parked his truck at ten fifty-five. (Where did he get the money for it? Sarah Puckerman wouldn't have given him it.) Ziva saw Hannah jump out of the truck and bounce at the tail end waiting for Noah to catch up. She grabbed Noah's hand and dragged him across the parking lot and into the restaurant. Noah spotted Ziva before the hostess could say a word and led his little sister to sit across from Ziva and then slid beside her.
Hannah looked at Ziva with big eyes and a shy smile. She wanted to like Ziva as much as Ziva wanted her to. Noah's body language was still wary and at times antagonistic, but he was here and he had brought Hannah.
Noah flirted with waitress and asked for the Farmer's Breakfast defiantly. Ziva blandly smiled at him. Hannah asked for French toast and sausage politely and Ziva didn't react. When the waitress walked away, Hannah leaned across the table and whispered. "Mom says that we shouldn't eat bacon. And Noah makes better pancakes than any restaurant."
Ziva choose to focus on the second statement. "Does he now?"
"I'd like to try them sometime."
"Are you really my aunt," Hannah asked with the innocence of youth.
Ziva smiled at her. "Yes." Sarah would have rubbed Ziva's nose in it if she had been unfaithful to Ari… not that Ziva would have blamed her. Also, Ziva knew her brother better in retrospect. Ari probably would have killed Sarah if she had been unfaithful, an honor killing for bearing a child that was not his. Ziva didn't need a DNA test to confirm anymore. "Yes, I am."
"Why didn't we know about you?"
"Because your father didn't tell anyone. I didn't know about you either."
"Why not?" Hannah asked because Ziva didn't tell her to stop. Noah jabbed his straw into his ice water angrily. He wanted to know the answer too.
Ziva didn't want to lie to these children but really didn't want to tell them the truth either. "Your father. He had a lot of hate in him. He didn't want anyone to be happy. So he kept people apart that he thought might be happy together."
Noah paused enough to listen. He was judging her words and finding them true. Curse you, Ari. Curse you to gehenem.
"So you are happy to know about us?"
"Will we see a lot of you?"
Ziva tilted her head. "That's hard to judge and it will have to be scheduled. I live in Washington DC. I work there and I can't change my job, but I'm hoping that you can visit me during summers."
Hannah looked to Noah for support and then turned back to Ziva. "Visit you. Both of us?"
"I work during the summer," Noah said. "If I want to keep my truck and my phone, I have to work." Well, that answered one question and relieved Ziva's mind.
"I'll pay you to do work around my place while I'm at work," Ziva promised him. "I'll keep you busy, just in DC and you'll get to spend some time with me."
"Mom's going to let me drive to DC?" Noah scoffed.
"No," Ziva admitted. "I would fly the two of you to DC and give you both city bus passes while you stayed with me."
"That's a lot of money."
Noah was not going to accept the gift from her, Ziva realized. "It'll be a reward," she coaxed. "If you raise your GPA a full point, I'll fly the two of you to DC for the summer."
"And the tutors?"
"You're getting the tutor. Already found him and he can work around your schedule. He has your number and…" she slid the business card over the table. "You will call him. It's the only way you will graduate."
Noah picked up the card as carefully as Ziva picked up a bomb. With his thumb, he flicked the corner. It was time to stop pressuring the teen. She smiled at Hannah and set a handful of brochures on the table. "Noah is getting a tutor to help with academics but you have no problems there. I noticed that you have no physical and social activities, Hannah. I am asking you to choose one. Ballet and karate are equally allowed. I don't care what you choose, all I ask is that you commit to it."
Noah set the business card aside and sorted through the brochures. "If you're doing dance, you'll do it right. This is the one that Rachel Berry goes to."
"Rachel's scary about her dance," Hannah whispered. "I don't want that."
Noah tossed all the dance brochures out of the way without argument. "That's fine. Though it could just be Berry. She's high strung. Then what do you want?"
Hannah looked from Noah to Ziva. "I really don't care," Ziva stressed. "I just want it to be different and new and fun. Like Glee Club is for Noah."
Hannah looked down at the brochures and Noah could read her desire in how she chewed on her lip. He picked up the gymnastic flier. "What about this one?"
"That's interesting," Ziva encouraged.
"They have a trampoline," Noah read off the paper. "And ribbons and balls and s… stuff."
Ziva and Hannah grinned at the belated clean language. "If you want, you and Noah can visit after lunch and if you don't like it, you can pick something different. I'm not demanding an answer today. Whatever you choose will have to fit Noah's new schedule." Ziva knew that Sarah Puckerman would not bother herself to drive her daughter to an extra-curricular activity.
"Football's over. It's just Glee Club and Mr. Schue keeps that to school hours," Noah reassured his sister. "Football went too late to join basketball this year."
Hannah looked over all of the choices and picked up the gymnastics brochure again. "I think I'll try this one."
"Wonderful. I will make arrangements before I leave."
The waitress arrived with their hot breakfast. Noah mostly concentrated on eating, but he was listening closely as Ziva told them about her childhood in Israel. Hannah matched story for story and Noah liked to tell of embarrassing things Hannah had done when she was young. From the strength of the memories, Ziva was sure that Noah had had more to do with Hannah's upbringing than either of her biological parents. Ari was not mentioned by anyone and no one missed him.
'It's your own damn fault, ach,' Ziva thought to herself.
The small talk was going well enough that Ziva ordered another cup of coffee for herself and Noah and a hot chocolate for Hannah. She decided to change the lighthearted conversation with regret she dug into her purse to pay for the bill and the tip and drew out two of her contact cards. She handed a card to each of the children.
"This is my business card," she told them. "If anything ever goes wrong I want you to call me right away. I want you to memorize my number, don't just put it into your phone and use speed dial. Also, on the back is my friend Abby's phone number. She can answer her phone all the time. I can't. If it's an emergency and I'm not answering, I want you to call Abby. She'll be able to track me down and pass on the message. Also I trust her to keep the important secrets, so you don't have to worry about her kibitzin'. On a side note, if anyone approaches you and scares you, let me know right away. Your father associated with very dangerous people. I might had inadvertently," Hannah looked confused so Ziva used a different word, "accidently drawn their attention to you."
Hannah wasn't sure what to think. "Was my dad a bad man?" she asked.
Noah watched Ziva with Ari's eyes and waited for her. Would she tell the truth? Ziva had no choice. These two, better than most, knew the evil creature that had lurked beneath Ari's smile. "Yes. Your father, my brother was a very bad man. If anyone, anytime mentions knowing your father, you get away from them as soon as possible and you call me. Understood?"
"What will you do, I mean really do, if something happens?" her nephew asked.
Ziva's blood ran cold at the thought. She would hate to lose these two precious children. "I will return with my team and with many guns and whisk you off to a safe house. I will keep you safe."
Noah finally nodded. "I'll call if anyone mentions the sperm donor."
"Good." Ziva stood to leave and the children followed. Unexpectedly, they waited as she paid the bill and then walked with her to her car. They were reluctant to say goodbye.
Hannah broke the standoff and hugged Ziva's waist. "You're not going to disappear, are you?"
"No. Wild buffalo couldn't keep me away. You have my phone number. You can call or text at any time. I can't promise to answer. Especially when I'm on the job, but I will get back to you eventually."
Noah made no move to join the hug but he didn't seem bothered by it either. He wasn't itching to drag Hannah away from Ziva. He didn't have a clue as to her abilities, but still, he trusted her this close.
Ziva hated to leave, now when she was finally making some progress but she had a plane to catch. As she left the restaurant parking lot, she looked back (she never looked back, it signified a weakness) and saw the children watching her. She smiled and waved at them and they-even Noah- waved in return.
Ziva forced herself to merge with traffic and drive to the airport. Tim called as she was boarding the plane. The team had caught a case and he needed to know when she would be back in DC. He kept the conversation professional, signifying that either Gibbs or Tony was eavesdropping. Ziva told him everything he needed to know and suggested drinks after the case was concluded.
At the very least, Ziva owed Tim a beer for pushing her into making the trip. She would never regret meeting Ari's children.
Tony met her at the airport and took her straight to the crime scene. Mostly, he filled her in on the case (a sailor was dead and he had two girlfriends and several friends-with-benefits). Tony dropped enough hints that Ziva knew that he would be nosing around in her personal business as soon as he had the chance. It would take a while as they tried to tabulate everyone who had sexual relations with Frederic Yoder.
After the second trip of bringing Yoder's 'friends' to Gibbs to interrogate, Ziva found herself with five minutes at her desk. "Do you have a spare computer?" Ziva asked Tim.
He looked up from the searches he was running about the victim. He motioned to the monitor to the side. "It doesn't have much RAM. It'll take a while to do anything on it. I haven't had time to upgrade it."
"I'm not in a hurry and it doesn't concern this case."
"See if you can find anything on Jessica Colley," Ziva said. Colley was the only person in Lima that could have a reason for hurting Hannah and Noah. She wanted the investigation started sooner than later.
Tim looked concerned. He rolled his chair to the spare computer and started typing immediately. "What am I looking for?"
"Anything that can connect her to Ari or any terrorist activity."
"She lives in Lima?" Tim knew the goal of her weekend trip to Ohio. He had pushed her to go and she owed him the truth at the very least.
Ziva nodded. Even after driving through town and hearing the natives pronounce it, Ziva had to work not to instantly correct the pronunciation to match the South American city. "She had an ongoing affair with Ari."
Tim's face tightened. "Did Noah know about it?"
Ziva blanked but could imagine ten different scenarios where Ari deliberately exposed Noah to the affair to diminish the boy's self-worth and to boost his own ego. It was highly probable. Ari was that kind of sadist. "I don't know. I didn't ask." Eventually, she would have to ask. Hopefully, not for a while. She wanted to build Noah up, not remind him of times that his father tore him down.
Tim didn't ask anymore. "I'm running her name through every database I have access to and trying to match her travel and expenses to those on watch lists."
"Thank you." Ziva hurried to get back to work. She had passed on her suspicions and now could fully focus on the current case in DC. Jessica Colley had no reason to hurt Hannah or Noah. Ziva didn't need to worry about them. She called those that knew Janet Rich and followed every lead given to her, but they had no motive. She was one of the few women in Yoder's sphere that hadn't slept with him. Something was screwy with the case and she wasn't the only one to think so. They had gathered enormous piles of evidence but nothing solid had connected Rich to Yoder. All they had was rumors and looks. Two people swore that Rich despised Yoder but didn't know why.
It was going to be a long night waiting for news. Gibbs was questioning Janet Rich's boyfriend/alibi and the rest of them were waiting for the evidence delivered to Abby's capable hands to turn into something useful.
"You are waiting for your machines to finish, yes?" she asked Abby.
Abby shook her head. "I like watching over my friends and making sure that nothing goes wrong with Major MassSpec."
"I will make it worth your while. I have a video."
"Why don't we watch it in my lab?" she offered.
Eavesdroppers were less likely, so Ziva agreed. She looked at Tim and Tony and jerked her head. They were invited as well.
As soon as the team cleared the elevator, Ziva tossed her phone to Tim. "Play the most recent video on the screen," she ordered him.
Tim quickly loaded the memory card and found specific video. He flashed her a grin. "Taken this weekend." He knew what that meant.
Tim queued it up.
"Turn up the music. Loud."
At the first beats of the music, both Abby and Tony looked intrigued. None of them spoke during the performance. Ziva enjoyed the performance as much as the previous times. She had watched it several times on the return flight home.
"The filmography leaves much to be desired," Tony said as soon as it was over.
"I used my cell phone," Ziva reminded him.
He ignored her. "But the performance… I hate to say this, especially about the King of Pop, but the remix might be better than the original."
"I love the cover and the mash-up," Abby gushed. "I'm turning this into an audio file and this is totally going on my ipod."
"I want a copy of that," Ziva was quick to request.
"Me three," Tim added. "Which one is Noah?" he asked.
"Number twenty. He is the defensive… tackle? I believe."
"Oh, let's watch it again for Ziva's friend!" Abby suggested and then loaded up the video to do just that.
"There he is," Tim pointed out.
"Does that say… Puckerman?" Tony asked. His eyes fell on Ziva. "As in Jonah Puckerman?"
Ziva lifted her chin. She was not ashamed of her nephew. "We all know Jonah Puckerman never existed. That is Noah Puckerman, his son."
"Does Gibbs know?"
"Does Gibbs know what?" their boss surprised them all. "And Abby turn down that racket."
Ziva was always one for grabbing the ram by the horns. She faced Gibbs and told him, "That racket is my nephew, Noah Puckerman, singing with his Glee Club."
Gibbs glared at Tim, who obviously had known and had kept the information to himself. "Conference room," he barked.
Obediently, Ziva followed Gibbs into the elevator. She was waiting for the moment when he flipped the switch. "Ari's son?"
"Knows and hates his father, for what he truly was."
Gibbs cocked his head to the side. "Just like Ari."
Ziva felt the hit like a punch to the gut. It had been a while since she had been on the other side of a Gibbs interrogation. "Ari's dead and Noah doesn't care enough, doesn't see the point to lying and killing either for his father or against him."
Gibbs nodded once.
"Plus, he's failing world history." He didn't know enough about the ongoing situation to be of any use to either side of the ongoing hostilities.
Gibbs looked mildly concerned.
"I got him a tutor, which I personally interviewed."
Gibbs grinned. He knew that 'interviewed' was a polite way of saying 'interrogated.' "I want to meet the boy." That was another polite way of saying 'interrogate.'
"I'm working on a way to get them to visit during the summer holidays."
Ziva smiled up at her boss, who was more of a father figure. "Hannah is nine and a real sweetheart. Obviously, she can't come without Noah, but I'm trying to get them to earn the trip." Knowing that she and the others were Gibbs' children, she added. "Congrats, you have both a grandson and a granddaughter. Legally, I'm their guardian if anything happens to their mother. I'll be changing my will so that there are my beneficiaries. Also, I gave them Abby's number in case of an emergency and they can't get through to me. I'm going to tell Abby to pull me from any op, if they call."
"Will they call?" Gibbs was asking if they would take advantage of the privilege.
"Noah will only call when Child Services is knocking on the door. Or when Hannah is in the hospital and his mother is more of a hindrance than a help. Hannah will only call when Noah is unavailable." Such as unconscious in the hospital. Chances were good that they would only call as a last resort, not when she would be most effective.
"Should Child Services be called?" Gibbs asked gently.
"She doesn't hit them and she doesn't expose them to sex." Neither exhibited any of the behavior indicators, but Sarah Puckerman was a mean drunk.
Gibbs nodded and flipped the elevator switch. Just before the doors slid open, he slapped the back of her head. "That's for keeping me out of the loop."
"I'll keep you informed," she promised. If, for some reason, Sarah Puckerman's body needed to disappear, Gibbs would help make it happen.
Gibbs stepped out onto the floor of their offices and Ziva hurried behind. "If we take most of the weekends between now and summer, we should be able to Inot/I be on call when the children are here."
Ziva grinned up at him. "Thank you. I'll warn the others."
"Do that." He tossed her the keys to the NCIS car. "Now Janet Rich's alibi just fell through. Find out what really happened."
"Take Tony with you."
Ziva grabbed her backpack and Tony's. She was calling her partner before she was back in the elevator.
They had work to do. She would even let Tony drive to the suspect's house. She would be too busy testing her nephew and telling him that her coworkers thought the remix of Thriller was better than the original.
A few days later an e-mail from Noah's tutor was waiting in her in-box. Ziva scanned the contents, pleased. She was hitting Noah's speed-dial number before thinking it through. Noah answered on the third ring. "Aunt Ziva?"
"Your tutor is reporting a marked improvement, already," Ziva informed him. "He believes that your grades will show it on your next test."
"Yeah?" He didn't sound too enthused. "I… I'm trying, but I'm not sure I'm going to make your minimum requirements for the summer trip, Aunt Ziva. I have to get a B on two tests Friday and I'm not ready."
"Then I won't keep you on the phone when you should be studying, but I'll make you a deal, Noah."
"Another one?" Noah teased.
"If you get a B on both of those tests, I'll pay for recording equipment for the choir room."
"Yes. I'll do it through the synagogue so that it won't be attached to you, but I want a CD of songs that you've sung solo or as a duet, even some of your group."
"You want a CD of me… singing?"
"Yes. I will add the songs to the half-time show already on my ipod."
"You really have the half-time show on your ipod?"
Ziva decided that she liked surprising her nephew. "Yes. I will show you when you earn your summer break and come visit me. Now go study. I will speak with you again on the Sabbath."
"Thanks, Aunt Ziva. I'll try to do my best."
"There is no try," Ziva told him loftily. "Only do." She hung up on the sound of her nephew's laughter. Obviously, taking Tony's suggestion and watching Star Wars paid dividends. She was going to have to ask Tony for a longer list of movies that Noah would have seen. She wanted to understand his references and she wanted to surprise him with hers.
But for right now, she called up Hannah, just to ask how she was doing. The conversation was shorter but the girl did shyly mention that she was enjoying her gymnastic classes and that she had made a new friend.
Ziva considered it progress on both fronts.
On the following Tuesday, Ziva got a text message from Noah. It was a photo of an 'A-' on an English test. Ziva was so pleased that she started transferring funds for the promised recording studio. On Wednesday, Noah sent a second message, this time it was a 'C' on a History exam. "Can we average it?" the message asked. "I've gotten 2 'Bs' on my math quizzes.'
Ziva texted 'hmmm' in return, curious to see if Noah would try to bargain.
She wasn't disappointed. Noah texted, 'Math test this fri. I can get 'B' on that.'
'I want a B+.' She replied. She didn't want him to settle for just a 'B' when he could do better.
'Done,' he agreed.
On the following Monday, Ziva got a test message featuring an 'A' on the math test. Ziva replied that the contractors had already been hired. Ziva didn't get many texts from Noah in the following weeks. He did keep her updated on his test scores. Math quizzes were A's and B's. He was getting all A's on his English assignments, B's on his Heath homework and C's from Biology. There was a huge Biology project upcoming that Noah and his tutor were working on that was sure to raise his grade. History continued to be Noah's Achilles' heel. He couldn't match up dates with people and places. He would be lucky to get a C in that class. Then his tutor tried a different tack. The two of them worked to put the facts to music.
Noah ended up with a B+ on his next test… and a detention because he couldn't hum 'Doe a Deer' quietly enough. Through a series of texts, Ziva learned that the football coach, Ms. Beiste had talked with the history teacher and arranged for all future tests to be taken in the coach's presence where he could hum all the songs he needed to recall the lessons.
Ziva would have to meet and thank the woman in person. She did have Tim hunt down her phone number and left a voice message thanking her for stepping in for Noah.
The following weeks were a mix of cases and texts from Noah and Hannah. At first, Ziva found the disparity between the foci distracting, but in the end she enjoyed the tiny glimpses of normality amidst the death and gore of her job. The contractors for the sound room began construction at McKinley High and Noah was sending her a daily photo update. Finally, the room was completed and a package arrived in the mail. Ziva picked it up on her way to work and started opening it as soon as she parked her car. She juggled everything and tried to read Noah's note as she maneuvered through the Navy Yard security.
As soon as she reached her desk she dumped the package upside-down. Noah had sent the CD and a piece of concrete, the jagged edges rounded off. He scribbled a note, listing the songs, authors and singers of each one. Ziva scanned through the compilation list:
Sweet Caroline first sung by Neil Diamond
Lady is a Tramp first sung by Sammy Davis Jr
Beth first sung by KISS, performed by 2011 Glee Club Guys
Need You Now first sung by Lady Antebellum, performed with Rachel Berry
One Love (People Get Ready) first sung by Bob Marley, performed with Artie Abrams
I'm the Only One first sung by Melissa Ethridge
School's Out first sung by Alice Cooper
Only the Good Die Young by Billy Joel
Mean first sung by Taylor Swift, performed with Coach Shannon Bieste
Glory Days first sung by Bruce Springsteen, performed with Finn Hudson
Fat-Bottomed Girls first sung by Queen
I'll Make a Man out of You from Mulan, sung with Hannah Puckerman
Big Ass Heart, original song
At the bottom of the note, Noah wrote: 'The contractors tore out this concrete to put the recording studio in. Thought you might like a piece.' She knew exactly what she would do with that piece of concrete. She was about to dispose of the packaging when she heard a crinkle. Tucked deep inside the package was a crumpled piece of paper. Ziva carefully drew it out and flattened it on her desk. Tony saw and was instantly hovering. "What'd you get? Hmm?"
Ziva let him. "I'm not sure."
"It's a schedule… for a competition?"
"The Glee Club does compete," Ziva told him.
"Well, if they can throw together a performance like Thriller, they should. The competition's in Columbus, Ohio. That's in a couple weeks. Now it makes even more sense."
It didn't to Ziva, but then Tony understood teenage boys better than Ziva ever would.
"He wants you to be at his competition, Ziva," Tony told her firmly. "But he doesn't want to hear you turn him down, so he's not asking."
"That's stupid," she muttered. She couldn't read Noah's mind. How was she to know what he wanted from her?
"He knows you're busy. He knows you live half way across the country. He knows you can't just drop everything and fly out there, but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't like to know you were in the audience."
It took Ziva a few moments to parse out what Tony was saying.
"Listen to him, Ziva."
Both Tony and Ziva jumped at the sound of Gibbs' voice. "He thinks more like a teenage boy than you."
"Thanks, boss," Tony said wryly.
"So can I go?" Ziva asked.
"It depends on the case."
Ziva understood. She knew how precarious state safety was.
She looked up and met her boss's iron gaze (that Tony said was the hard candy that hid the gooey center). "You should buy the plane tickets. What are you waiting for?"
Ziva happily logged into her computer and obeyed. If at all possible, Gibbs would let her go. Once the tickets were bought, Ziva had an idea and texted Hannah. 'R u interested in seein Noah's glee club perform at regionals?'
Less than five minutes later she had an answer. 'YES! YESYESYESYES. When will u pick me up? I'm going to tell him rite now!' Well, that was an enthusiastic affirmative. Well, Ziva wasn't going to be able to surprise Noah even if she wanted to.
She texted back, 'Plz ask about tickets. Can he get us some?'
Not two minutes later, Noah texted. 'tickets available at the door. U don't have to do this.'
'yes I do,' Ziva answered. Someday, she would tell him about her own dance recitals and looking for her father in the audience. She understood what he had experienced.
As soon as Ziva walked into her apartment that night, she put Noah's CD on and cranked up the music. Then she walked to her bedroom and opened the small glass vial on her dresser. She slid the concrete chip into it and it landed on top of the gravel from Noah's field and the stone from Hannah's playground. They were creating their own memorial.
Ziva started cooking dinner, using her train situational awareness to hear all the words to the songs as well as knowing if any strangers passed by her window. At the end of the CD, a song Ziva didn't recognize caught her attention. She stopped preparing dinner to listen to the lyrics. The song went something like this:
My girl went to the doctor 'cause her heart had palpitations
He said cut the carbs or else she'd end up pushing up carnations
She stepped up on the scale and the doctor said, "Oh Lordy!
If you don't drop a few, girl, you won't make it past age forty."
My girl said, "hey lookie on that fancy x-ray chart."
Said the doctor, "Holy hell, that's one GD big-ass heart!"
I'm telling you my friend, my girl's got a big-ass heart.
When she shops for groceries, that heart gets its own damn cart.
That big-ass heart can pump two tons of love right through her chest,
Then sit down and win a lovin' pie-eating contest.
I love that big-ass heart so much I think it isn't fair,
like how your heart won't pay me back for breaking all my chairs.
So sick with love I think I'm coming down with rickets
When that heart flies coach it has to pay for two plane tickets
Oh that big-ass heart!
Oh, that big-ass heart.
Ziva laughed. She didn't know why Noah had written the song, but he had a great sense of humor.
On Wednesday night, a video file e-mail arrived from Hannah's phone, recorded five minutes before. The message was short: 'lol.' Ziva glanced around and Gibbs wasn't anywhere around. She plugged in a set of headphones and hit play. She couldn't see much in the video, it was just a partially open door to the bathroom. Someone was in the shower. The audio file was gold though. Noah was singing 'Hakuna Matata' from the Lion King at the top of his lungs. After about a minute, Hannah's giggle could be heard on the video. It was contagious. Ziva started giggling and couldn't stop. Noah heard Hannah and his dripping head poked out of the shower.
"Hannah!" he yelled. "Why are you home? I've got twenty minutes before I pick you up."
"My teacher has a cold and Amy's mom said that she could drop me off since you weren't answering your phone. I guess you were too busy having a concert."
"You sound lovely, Pumba!"
"I'm going to kill you."
The video cut out. Ziva checked her watch. Noah should be out of the shower by now. She called up her nephew and stifled her laughter.
"What?" Noah barked.
"Ah, what's got your shorts in a bunch?" Ziva asked.
"Nothing. Hannah. Nothing."
"Is Hannah okay? Did anything happened to her?"
"Nothing that she didn't earn," Noah grumbled.
"Is that Aunt Ziva?" she heard Hannah yell on the other side of the phone. "Aunt Ziva, Noah threw me in the shower in my gym clothes. While the shower was on!"
"Noah!" Ziva faked a scandalized gasp. "That's a waste of water."
Noah grunted. "Totally earned it."
"You need to relax," Ziva comforted. "Obviously you're wound too tight."
There was a pause and Ziva could practically hear the gears in Noah's head crank. He was questioning her timing. "Really?" he drawled.
"Really. Don't worry, be happy."
Noah groaned. "How? You know what, I don't want to know."
"That's fine," Ziva cheerfully told him. "Just don't be surprised when you find the song on my ipod."
Ziva hung up on him, because it was fun. Teenage boys needed their world shook up a bit. She forwarded the video file to Abby, with a request to turn it into an audio file. Five minutes later, Abby e-mailed ':D, do you want me to filter out Hannah's laughter with the sound of the shower.'
Ziva hurried to answer, 'no. leave the laughter and the argument.'
'will do… you mind if I keep a copy for my play list?'
Ziva paused. Her first instinct was to let Abby have a copy, after all she was doing all the work, but it was a private family moment. Teasing Noah was one thing, but Ziva didn't want to make a public spectacle of him.
Abby, bless her Goth heart, understood the ramifications without Ziva stumbling for the English words. A second e-mail followed the request. 'nvrmd. U should keep it in the family.'
'thx for understandin,' Ziva messaged back.
By the end of the day, Abby had Noah's song in a digital audio format and Ziva had added it to her playlist. Ziva's ipod had formally concentrated on Israeli rock and Japanese pop and Indian Bollywood musicals, but Noah had added to her preferences. Noah and Hannah had added depth and color to her life. When Tim had pushed her to meet Ari's children, Ziva had never guessed that she would gain more than the children would.
In mid-March, the same week of Noah's competition, Gibbs' team caught another terrorist case. They were chasing leads down blind alleys and getting the snot kicked out of them. Tony had a black eye and Ziva had a knife wound on her arm that was held together with butterfly bandages. Once it became obvious that time was going to be short, Ziva drove home to pack when she should have been grabbing a cat nap.
The days ran together and finally they had the suspect in interrogation and enough evidence to hold him whether or not he confessed.
Ziva leaned against her desk and looked at the time. She had to leave in the next five minutes to make her plane. She wasn't going to make it. Her head bounced as Gibbs' knocked the top of it. "What are you waiting for?" he demanded. "You can do your reports on the plane. Get out of here."
Ziva felt like Hannah as she hugged him. "Thank you!"
Tony sat at his desk and heaved a sigh. He pointed at her arm though. "Better get that checked. You're bleeding through again."
Ziva nodded, grabbed her bag (for notes) and laptop and anything that she thought she might need for the weekend. Her luggage had been in the car for the past three days. She took the elevator downstairs so that Ducky could reapply the bandages on her arm. She didn't want to be bleeding through her blouse in front of Hannah and Noah. She could sleep on the plane.
Ziva flew into Columbus and picked up a rental car again and drove to Lima to pick up Hannah. She was waiting on the front step with two bags packed. Ziva didn't set eyes on Sarah Puckerman and didn't miss her presence. Ziva put the bags in the back of the rental and walked around the back of the car. She picked up a stone from their driveway. Ziva just knew that this time with her niece was going to be precious.
Then the two of them drove back to Columbus. It took about as much time as it would to drive from Haifa to Jerusalem. Mid-March meant weather conditions were unstable. Columbus had snow but Lima did not. The driving conditions could be fine one moment and very dangerous next. Hannah was quiet for the first hour, doing some homework but she was happy. She switched out CDs regularly. It was probably the first time in her life that she had complete control of the radio. Hannah confessed that Noah would indulge her… sometimes, but he always retained veto powers. Ziva didn't care enough, or rather, she didn't want to say no to Hannah. When the pre-teen realized that she was safe, she started talking more. She talked about her friends and asked Ziva about hers. Ziva told her, not about her childhood friends (many dead and others unrecognizable as friends), but about her current friends. Abby was always a great way to start and stories of the scientific Goth kept Hannah wide-eyed and bouncing for more. Ziva couldn't wait to introduce them to each other the coming summer. Abby was willing and had already reserved a lane at her bowling alley for some 'family friendly' fun.
The sun broke through the clouds and highlighted the road ahead. Ziva and Hannah shared a smile at the beautiful picture it made.
"I like art," Hannah blurted out. "I mean, gymnastics is pretty cool. But art. I like it a lot."
"Okay. Ducky was telling me of some art classes the Smithsonian is conducting this summer. You are interested?"
"I'll arrange it," Ziva promised.
Hannah leaned over as far as she could still seat-belted in. She hugged Ziva hard. "Everyone said that good aunts are a ton of fun, but I think you're the best aunt ever."
Ziva used one arm to hug Hannah in return. "I know you are the best niece ever."
"Thank you for taking me to Noah's competition," Hannah changed the subject as she was wont to do. "I really wanted to come but no one could take me."
"It is most definitely my pleasure," Ziva told her honestly.
"What if they win?"
"If? Noah and his group are going to win," Ziva said. "They are excellent."
"The next level, Nationals, is in New York City. Is there any way I can go to that too?"
Ziva tried to work out the logistics. The high school teachers would not be allowed to take an elementary student on the bus with them. Ziva didn't want Hannah to fly by herself and if Ziva flew to Columbus, picked up Hannah and then the two of them flew to New York, chances were good that they'd miss the performance. "I don't know if there is a way," she told Hannah.
Hannah sighed. "Then I'm doubly glad that I get to go to this one."
Ziva didn't know how to answer than one.
"Are you going to be at Nationals?"
Ziva blinked. "Do you mind?"
"Nope. Noah always goes to all of my stuff but I can't go to his because he always has to stay out past my bedtime and someone should go to Noah's stuff too."
Ziva was impressed… with more than the breath control of the run-on sentence. "I'm glad you're so mature and believe that."
"So you will be at Nationals?"
"Yes. I already have the day off and Abby might come with me."
"Okay. Now that's just not fair that Noah will get to meet Abby first."
Ziva laughed. "How can I make it up to you?"
"I'll think about it really hard." Hannah paused for a moment and then changed the subject. "So the songs that the Glee Club are singing, did you know that they wrote them?"
"No, I did not. And Noah helped?"
"Yep, at least with the group song. It's called 'Loser Like Me.' It's a fun song. I've heard Noah practicing around the house. I know that Rachel Berry wrote the ballad and Noah said that she did a decent job."
That was rather high praise from her pessimistic nephew. "Did he?"
"Yep." Hannah stared out the window at the approaching city. "Do you know where you're going?"
"I brought a map with me. Can you read maps?" Ziva had meant to study it on the plane but felt that she would be better served to sleep and drive unimpaired.
Hannah nodded. "Yep. Noah depends on me to get him to new places."
"Good. The map is in my bag."
The girl unbuckled her seat belt and twisted around until she could grab Ziva bag and hull it onto her lap. She dug through the bag and triumphantly pulled out the printed maps. "Found it."
"Good. Seatbelt," Ziva reminded Hannah. Traffic was becoming congested and Ziva had been ordered by all of her coworkers to drive carefully with her niece in the car. Gibbs had point blank warned her that her guardianship of the two children would be questioned if she ever had an accident with either one of them in the car.
They got to the auditorium with plenty of time to spare. Ziva bought the tickets and ushered Hannah into the bathroom to clean-up. Her arm was sore, but no longer bleeding. Ziva swallowed the pills prescribed from Ducky dry when Hannah's back was turned. Then Ziva turned her attention to her make-up. She looked as tired as she felt. That wouldn't do. She didn't want Noah to misconstrue exhaustion as not wanting to be in attendance. Hannah watched avidly.
"Would you like some?" Ziva offered.
Hannah nodded. "But not too much. Noah says that he knows what boys are thinking of and when and he doesn't want them thinking that about me."
Ziva parsed out the sentence and decided that she approved. "A little then." She liked the trust offered as Hannah tilted up her face and closed her eyes. It was done too soon and Hannah was grinning at her own reflection in the mirror.
"Let's go find our seats."
Ziva had called ahead and paid for tickets near the front. They were to the left of the stage but fifth row on the isle. She could have bought tickets closer to the front but she would have been hemmed in by other bodies and the agent in her couldn't tolerate that. Hannah declared the seats acceptable and the two milled about, not wanting to sit after being in the car for so long. Hannah never strayed out of Ziva's sight and kept close as the auditorium filled. Ziva was pleased that so many would see Noah's triumph. The lights dimmed and Ziva and Hannah sat next to each other. The other schools delivered impressive performances but Ziva was sure that the creativity that produced Thriller would outshine them all.
Rachel Berry did not disappoint. Her lyrics were heartfelt and her voice soared above the competition. Despite it all, Ziva was eager for the song to end. She was here for Noah. She wanted to see her nephew perform. She stood and applauded Berry's performance and thus was standing and ready to cheer when Noah ran onto the stage. Noah spotted them early in the performance and his smile was brilliant. Ziva understood that emotion. She had been on the stage many times hoping for a familiar face in the audience. Noah continued dancing and singing without missing a beat.
At the end of the 'Loser Like Me' song, the confetti rained down on them. Ziva knew that it was a symbol for something much more degrading and she was impressed that the children had turned it into a celebration. She snagged a shiny red piece out of the air and slipped it into her pocket. It wasn't a stone, but this might represent her relationship with her nephew more. She would add it to the tiny vial on her dresser. Ziva caught Hannah pocketing a red and a yellow confetti. She was saving them for her secret place for memories. The two exchanged a grin at being so similar.
The awards were a bit boring and Ziva was itching to find Noah. Of course, Noah's team won. Never had there been doubt in Ziva's mind. As much as the Israeli wanted to track Noah down, she remembered the chaos of the backstage after a performance. She waited; sure that Noah would come to see Hannah, if nothing else. Ziva understood that she had to earn Noah's trust.
"Hannah! Aunt Ziva!"
Ziva turned to the voice just in time. Noah was maneuvering fast around the people in the isle. He was as graceful here as on the football field or the stage. He was smiling, the biggest, most honest smile Ziva had ever seen from him. His arms were open and he wasn't slowing down. It took a moment to read his intent and she raised her injured arm out of the way. She would not flinch. Period.
Noah practically tackled her in a hug. He squeezed tight and it felt like home and family. "You came," he whispered in her ear.
"I will be here for you," Ziva promised.
Noah tightened his hug even more and Ziva knew that he believed her and maybe, just maybe, this felt like family to him too.