Pet Sitting

A/N This is entirely based on Dinozzo's fear of rats after his plague bout. So understandable. Anyone who knew European history would fear. Yet Ziva's neighbor asked her to pet sit and Ziva said yes, because in the episode, "Chimera", she stated that she thought rats were cute. She has two cages full of fancy Dumbo Eared Rats that are bred purely for temperament and looks. I have eight and I wouldn't trade my sweethearts for the world. They are intelligent, gentle, have a wide range of emotions (when Ainsley-mama rat- died a couple of months ago, her babies actually mourned. I know the sound they would use to call for her and they cried for her over and over. I tried to help, but they so wanted her.), affectionate, clean and under vet's care. Rattie kisses are adorable, heartfelt and sweet when they are mine. Such sweetness! They adore me but unconditionally love my retired 78 year old mother. When I take them out to socialize, while they want time with me, they want to snuggle with her. Such good rats; so full of love. And they do love. I'm more convinced of it every day in such an intelligent animal. If dogs and cats can love and are less intelligent, why can't rats? So DiNozzo is going to meet loved rats! Could that quell his fears?And, in Chimera, Ziva did call rats "cute".

"So, Zee-vah, pizza and movies at your place tonight? We were at my place last Friday," Tony asked as he tossed her her Philly cheese steak, extra steak, extra cheese.

She caught her sandwich neatly. "Uhm, about that, Tony. I hate to impose, but can we meet at your place tonight again?'

"What, didn't clean up this week?" he teased.

"No, I am pet sitting for a neighbor while they are at a pet show out of town and I do not think you would appreciate the pets I am sitting on," she replied. "Where are my fries? Did you get the extra bag?"

Tony walked both bags over to her. "That's not sitting on them...never mind. I love animals. What are they? Dogs? Cats? Goldfish? Reptiles?"

"Rodents. The extra bag of fries is for them. They love french fries. Potatoes of any kind, actually. They are...cute...and funny. You would not like them," Ziva said, knowing Tony's particular phobia of them. "Actually, they like pizza crusts."

"Bunnies? Mice?"

Ziva sighed. "Rats, Tony. I know how you feel about them so I would rather not make you uncomfortable by having you over while I am pet sitting them. They are registered Fancy Show Rats and have won awards and have been bred for their traits, one of them is temperament. They are intelligent, and affectionate and they enjoy people. I have been having fun taking them out of their cages and playing with them and I will miss them when my neighbor returns from the Show. They are clean, Tony, and Meg told me that I could have the pick of her next litter, if I wanted."

Tony paled slightly. "Rats, Ziva? You said they're in cages, right? And they can't get out?" He sounded slightly panicked, visions of plague victims and his own bout with pneumonia plague vivid in his mind.

"Yes, they have cages and cannot get out. The does in one and the bucks in the other. They are harmless and I think they like pizza almost as much as you do," Ziva said, hoping to either change his mind to go to his place or to put him at ease about coming to hers. "It is up to you, though if we go to your place, I will need to stop home not only to change, but to make sure they have their dinner and fresh water."

Tony sat, eating his pastrami on rye in silent contemplation. "I think I might be able to be at your place if they're in cages. Rats carried the plague into Europe and Asia Minor. We both lost ancestors from that. I almost died nine years ago from the pneumonia plague. No rat gave it to me but I know the history." His voice dropped to a near whisper. "I'm scared of them, but if you say they're clean, I trust you and believe you. Pizza and movies at your place and I will face my fear of rats."

Ziva looked up at him, concern in her eyes. "Are you certain, Tony? Will they not make you uncomfortable?"

"Yeah, they will, but I trust you, Ziva. If you say they're safe then they are safe." Tony said. "If you say they're clean then they're clean. Just let me see them in the cage first."

"Well, they do not get to run free around my apartment, so that is easy." She reached over and held his hands. "I know that you have a fear of rats, and I do not want you to be uncomfort-"

"I want to do this, Ziva. If I see these as pets, maybe then I won't freak out at every rat we see in our investigations. I need to get over this," Tony said, firmly. "We do go through lots of ships with lots of garbage with alley rats. I need to get over it."

"Very well. My place tonight. I have the beer and you bring the pizza. The rats like pizza, bring extra for them, especially crusts. It could pave the way to friendship."

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Tony shifted his feet standing at Ziva's front door after ringing her bell. He could not remember how so much he felt this nervous since the first time they got together outside of the office. His insides were doing flip flops and it wasn't just about the rats he'd encounter.

Ziva opened the door at his knock, taking the two boxes in his hands. "Welcome, Tony. You can put the pizzas in the kitchen." Pizzas? What the hell?

"I got a whole round of pizza crusts for the rats," Tony explained. "You said they love pizza crusts."

"They do. That's so very thoughtful of you," Ziva said, taking the crust offering and breaking it into rat friendly segments. "I think you need to show them that they are okay in your eyes and you accept them. Feed them. They need you to trust them and they to trust you. They are intelligent, affectionate and gentle. They will never hurt you, Tony. I promise you."

Tony took a long moment to think on it. While she teased him, he knew that she would never deliberately torture him with what he most feared. She was offering healing. He held out a pizza crust through the cage of one rat and he took it so gently...Tony was encouraged. He held up more and more crusts until Ziva stopped him. "That is enough. They need to eat their own food, too, which I now need to give them."

"Sorry, Ziva. They were too excited and so was I. These rats don't scare me. They're pretty funny-" A loud and protesting shriek came from the cage. "Are they fighting?"

She shook her head. "No, I was told that the boys play the "Stealing Game" and no one is actually short changed with what they need. She often gives the more Alphas time and food for the less dominant. Here, it's Papa Samuel. Papa eats first and they let him do it," Ziva explained. "See? Now they'll all settle down and eat. Afterward, they'll want to come out and play. I only play with them one on one because they're really fast and catching them without hurting them is not very easy. They do come when called, but I am the babysitter and not mom. They like me well enough, though...I get kisses."

Tony was shocked. "Wait...they give you kisses? They're rats!"

Ziva was not to be deterred. "And they have favorite humans that they want to show affection to. Apparently, I am one of those humans. Cupid is the ringleader in that. He just doesn't kiss my lips, but my cheeks and eyebrows. He's very insistent and very unhappy if I do not let him. But the boys are all kissers. You might do better with the girls. But watch out, they move fast and can just squirt out of your hands in a heartbeat."

Tony paled again. "I don't think I'm ready to touch them just yet," he admitted, watching them eat with such delicacy for such rumored terrors. "They eat so delicately."

"They are finally very polite when they make sure each one of them has something," Ziva said. "They were eager, but they took the crusts politely, yes?"

Tony thought about it. He had expected a vicious feeding frenzy like in the movies "Willard" and "Ben" and to have bleeding fingers, not the eager, but polite gentleness when they took the crusts from his hands. "Yeah. They have manners. They really seem happy."

Ziva watched the two cages and said, "They are. Tony, they are very gentle, not terrors like in the movies, although wild rats are another thing, entirely. These are gentle and affectionate house pets like any cat or dog." She opened one of the cage doors and gently pet the feeding rodents. "See, no threat. They do not fear me or bite me or fear that I would steal their food. Freckle likes to have his tummy rubbed after he eats. Cupid likes to say thank you with kisses and Samuel likes to snuggle. Drakey likes to run around and explore and Cotton is shy but gentle. Remy is the real foodie and will object if he does not like what is offered. They all fond of toast and peanut butter or toast and jam. They like to be talked to and they have been learning Hebrew. They know how to give me a kiss if I ask for it in Hebrew."

Tony laughed. "Now you're pulling my leg, Ziva. These are just dumb rodents. They don't have language knowledge."

Ziva have him the hairy eyeball. "They understand, Tony. They are done eating. I will show you." She opened the middle section of the cage and they all rushed to say hello. "Na liah shek oti?" she asked, softly. One after one, each male came to give her a kiss, some on her nose, some on her cheeks and Cupid, square on her lips, as predicted. Some took their tiny hands (and they are actually called hands because of how they use them) and held her face and some just gave her careless, sloppy ones.

Tony was shocked into silence as each rat responded to her request exactly. "Oh, hell," he breathed.

"Alright, that is enough for tonight. No more, toda," she said, politely, closing their cage. She noticed the girls straining to get to Tony. "Would you be alright with only one female?"

"Maybe."

"She will not hurt you. The males are more responsive to a human female and the rat females are more responsive to a human male, " Ziva explained. "Put your fingers in between the bars for them to smell. They will not bite, I promise. They are gentle."

Tony hesitantly put a couple of fingers between the bars and was automatically assaulted by the two licking females. When they started nuzzling his fingers, he questioned, "What are they doing?"

Ziva smiled. "Telling you that they like you and trust you. You brought them their beloved pizza crusts. Do you want to hold one?"

Tony paled again, plague memories resurfacing. "I don't know."

Ziva sought to reassure him. "They are all flea free, and that is where the plague came from and rats were unfortunate carriers from the fleas that infested them and killed them from the plague, too, and these are under a veterinarian's care. They are show rats and can't have any illness. They are clean and I even bathed them all yesterday. They like to swim and love the blow dryer and vacuum cleaner. They would never hurt you unless you hurt them first. You can hold them, or, rather, let them hold you. They are incredibly gentle. Give them a chance. Give them a belly rub."

Tony thought about it for a while, watching the females' cage, mulling over the fact that the females would be more receptive to him. "Okay, but you pick."

"Just do not be afraid of them, Tony. They are cleaner than you or I. If she wants to kiss you, let her; she is not tasting you for a meal later on. She is not Ben. Give her a chance."

Tony steeled himself as Cotton was placed gently in his hands. She quickly scurried up on his shoulder and then buried her nose behind his ear. She snuffled for a little while before settling herself on his broad shoulder and putting her tiny nose close to his ear and began a soliloquy telling him all about her life thus far and lavishing him with a kiss or two in the process. He found himself, much to his chagrin, charmed by the dainty rodent and falling just a little bit in love with her. This was not the horrible, dangerous disease-ridden vermin that he had come to equate with fatal illnesses, but a sweet, gentle animal that just wanted his understanding and just wanted to be his friend. At the end of the night, with Ziva's quick and heartfelt call to her neighbor, Tony would pick up his two girls after getting them all they needed to feel safe and cared for and loved. He wanted them to be loved. He wanted to love them. So much for plague fears anymore. He knew the truth.

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