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Empty Nest

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Empty Nest

LJ is off to college; Tony is having more difficulty adjusting to no kids in the house than Ziva. September 2040

"I'm telling you, Ziva, it's just too quiet in the house," Tony reiterated on something he'd said earlier to his wife. They were lying side by side on their bed, with Ziva snuggled into his side as usual. Her head rested on his chest with her ear over his heart.

"It does not seem any different than usual," she replied, lifting her head to look at him. "The house has the same sounds as always."

He sighed, "No it doesn't. We've been in this house since January of two thousand eighteen; twenty two years and eight months. This is the first time there are NO KIDS in the house, Zi. Our children have all moved to their own places…"

"Well, we do have the boys here several days each week," she reminded him about the three grandsons staying with them while parents worked. "And both Tali and Anthony are close by with their families. Plus, soon there will be two more with Anthony and Katie's twins; they are due in November."

Tony turned to face Ziva, "Yeah, Tali is in Gibbs' house and Anthony and Katie are in the McGee house. They are what fifteen, twenty minutes away? But they are still under a different roof." He sighed again. "Riv is in Atlanta, Beth is in Erie, and LJ is in Savannah. They aren't close by at all."

"They had to fly the nest sometime," Ziva grinned to herself. She waited for inevitable correction from her husband; they'd played this game for just over thirty five years.

"Fly the COOP or LEAVE the nest," Tony didn't disappoint. "Don't get me wrong, I love the strong and independent adults they have all become, it's just… I don't know… I can't protect them when they are out of the house, I guess."

Ziva propped her head on her arm so she could look into Tony's eyes as she spoke, "We gave them wings, we taught them how to use their wings. Now we have to let them use those wings to fly."

Tony locked his gaze with his wife, "Since when have you become a philosopher, Mrs. DiNozzo? Such deep thoughts for…" He turned slightly to glance at Ziva's bedside clock, "0127 on a Thursday morning?"

Ziva ran a hand over Tony's chest to his face, "I have been re-reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I paraphrased a quote from the book. But it is true; as parents we teach our children how to be independent and free. The hardest part is letting them fly on their own."

"But the nest is so empty without them here," he missed having the sounds of his children, even as the young adults that they now were, in the house twenty four – seven.

"We still have Gibbs here," Ziva reminded him about caring for the old man with his deteriorating health. "And the grandbabies… Levi and Anthony IV are a handful! And even Elijah is getting into things now that he is crawling."

Tony yawned and sighed, "It's just not the same." He pulled Ziva closer for a kiss and both drifted off to sleep.

Ziva was awakened by the text message alert chime on her phone; she glanced at the time. 0740; she had slept later than usual. As she grabbed the phone, she realized that the other side of the bed was empty. She swiped at the screen to check her messages and wondered where Tony might be.

The message was from LJ; 'Good morning Ima. Is Abba okay?'

Ziva frowned and replied quickly. 'As far as I know he is fine. Why do you ask?'

In reply, LJ called his Ima. "Shalom," Ziva greeted her youngest.

"Hi, Ima. Abba sent me a really weird message at 0350. I just wondered why," he replied. "It said, 'even though I am miles away, I have your six.' Then a second message about three minutes later said, 'use those wings carefully.' What's going on?"

Ziva chuckled slightly, "He is having a hard time dealing with the empty nest, LJ. He misses you and your brother and sisters."

"But Grandpa is there; and you take care of the boys two or three days each week. Besides, Tali and Anthony live a stone's throw away."

"I know that and you know that, but Abba is being Abba. Always tries to protect his family," as Ziva explained to her son, the text message alert chimed twice indicating two new messages. "Hang on a minute, I have new texts."

She put the phone on speaker mode and pressed the message icon; both Beth and Rivka had sent messages asking if their Abba was okay. She sighed, "LJ, I think your father sent the same messages to your sisters. Let me reply to them. You have a good day. Ani ohevet otcha, motek."

"Love you too, Ima," LJ ended the call as Ziva replied to both of her daughters that their father was fine. She added that he was having a hard time with the empty nest. Beth replied immediately, 'good luck with that.' Riv sent a heart emoji.

Ziva checked Tony's home office on her way to the kitchen; it was empty. She heard sounds from the kitchen as she exited the small hallway for their offices. Gibbs was at the breakfast nook table with his mug of coffee and bowl of oatmeal.

"Mornin'," the old man greeted her as she entered the kitchen.

"Boker tov; have you seen Tony?" she responded as she put her mug on the counter next to the coffee maker. Tony's mug was still on the mug tree. She poured the coffee into her mug and grabbed one of her containers of yogurt from the refrigerator.

"Nope; figured he was sleeping in," Gibbs smiled as Ziva topped off his coffee. "Thanks, Ziver."

"He was not in bed when I woke up; I wonder where he is," she sat down at the table with the old man. "He was not in his office."

Gibbs looked up from his newspaper, "All the vehicles were still here when I went out for the paper."

Ziva finished her yogurt and put her coffee mug on the counter; she went to the family room and looked out the sliding doors to the deck. No sign of Tony. She padded to the hallway to the kids' bedrooms, turning to the right to the rooms that had been the twins' and LJ's rooms.

No sign of him in the twins' old room which was now set up with toddler beds and a crib for the grandsons. She cut through the shared bath to LJ's room. The bed covers were rumpled and Leroy the lion was laying on the pillow. She could tell that Tony had been there earlier, probably sleeping, but still no actual Tony. She was beginning to worry where he might have gone.

She checked the playroom after exiting the hallway from the bedrooms into the entry foyer; the Library Lion book was on the loveseat next to one of the board books that Levi loved. Still no Tony. She frowned as she tried to think of where her husband could be.

Ziva returned to the kitchen and opened the door to the garage; no sign of Tony. Gibbs had washed his bowl and gone back to his rooms to watch TV. She dialed Tony's number with her phone and heard the ringtone for her call in the family room. Tony's phone was on the end table next to his recliner; this was getting odd. Where could he be?

She glanced out onto the deck again. Her mums looked as though they could use some water, so she stepped outside. That's when it hit her where Tony would most likely be; the backyard fort!

Ziva stepped through the wet grass to the ladder to the fort and climbed onto the porch area around the large enclosed fort area. Memories of the kids sleeping outside flooded back. All nine of the Gibbs' grandkids fit into the fort if they placed sleeping mats just right. Many a summer night had been filled with the sounds of the kids laughing and talking until wee hours.

There he was; asleep on the pile of outdoor mats. Ziva smiled; he looked so peaceful, but she knew her seventy two year old husband would be hurting later in the day. He opened his eyes to her gaze.

"Boker tov, neshama," Ziva sat on the pile of mats next to the man who was now rubbing the sleep from his eyes. She smoothed his porcuswine hair with a loving touch. "This is not the best place to sleep with your bad back."

"Yeah, I know, but I had to feel close to the kids so I could sleep. Did you know LJ's lion is really soft?" he grinned sheepishly. "And the loveseat in the playroom is really lumpy for sleeping?"

"Your children were worried about you; I talked to LJ and texted with the twins. When did you come out here?"

Tony shrugged, "I dunno; maybe 0430? I just couldn't sleep…" He sat up and kissed his wife with a good morning greeting. "Sorry if I worried you…"

The couple climbed down the ladder to the ground and walked hand in hand back to the house. Tony's stomach rumbled as they stepped onto the deck. He grinned at his wife as she playfully patted him on the belly.

"Some things never change," she teased.

"But too many do change," he lamented as he opened the sliding door and motioned for his wife to enter the house. He followed her into the kitchen; she poured a mug of coffee for him and refilled her own mug.

"Bagel?" she asked as she handed him his mug. He nodded from his seat at the counter.

"I can get it," he was quick to add as she pulled an 'everything' bagel from the bread bin. She sliced it in half and put the two pieces into the toaster.

"Stay where you are; I got this," she found a tub of spreadable cream cheese in the fridge. "Change is inevitable, neshama. Our children have grown to adults. Some of them have children of their own… You are a good Abba. You have always been their protector, their guide, their constant. Remember that it is now time to let them use the wings you helped them grow. It is time for you to be 'SABA' now…"

"But I MISS them; it's like, I don't know what to do…"

Ziva spread the cream cheese on the toasted halves of the bagel; she set the plate in front of her husband and took a seat on the bar stool next to him. "I miss them too, my little hairy butt. Letting go is not easy, but it is necessary. Think of it this way; you will always be their Abba, and part of you will always protect your children." She placed a hand on his and brushed her lips over his lips.

"But now, you can relax your guard a bit. You can be Saba and have fun with the grandchildren. You can enjoy the fruit of the tree you helped cultivate. Our family tree."

Tony pulled Ziva to him, "You were always the smarter one, Sweetcheeks. I'd be so lost without you…"