A/N: Hey guys, it's me again.
I had the idea for this oneshot last night as I was trying to fall asleep as I wondered, "Where did Ziva learn to cook?" So today I wrote up a little story about where she learned, and it took on a life of its own toward the end. It's all basically one scene, and I really like how it turned out.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their amazing reviews on my other stories—I'm so honored and you're all so great. So, thanks. : )
The scent of the nutmeg, the warmth of the steaming rice over the burner—it was the most relaxing, most calming part of Ziva's day. She breathed in the aromas of her kitchen, holding back her curls when she heard a knock on the door.
"Coming!" she called, wiping her hands on a dish towel. She hurried toward the door of her apartment and unlocked the door before opening it. "Tony," she said, surprised at the unexpected visitor.
"This a bad time?" he asked tentatively.
"No, it is fine," she assured him. "Come in," she stepped aside and Tony walked in. "Can I take your coat?"
"Aren't you the little hostess?" he teased her with a charming grin as he handed her his jacket.
She rolled her eyes. "I was just making dinner,"
"I didn't mean to ruin your plans--"
Ziva put her hand up. "I did not have any plans—only to eat," they watched each other for a breathtaking moment before Ziva spoke again. "Would you like to stay for dinner?"
"I don't want to intrude," Tony said.
"Tony, shut up. It is fine,"
He smiled at her once more, genuinely now as she looked up at him through her lashes. His brow furrowed. "I think something's burning…"
"Crap," she said, rushing to the kitchen. He followed her in, finding a homey, brightly colored kitchen full of cooking utensils and food.
"Did you just use American slang?" he grinned at her and she shook her head with a smile as she worked on the meat browning in a pan.
"It is fine," she breathed. She turned to the small island in the center of the room and began chopping at various vegetables on the counter. "Why did you come?" she asked curiously.
Tony moved to the island and picked up a stalk of celery and began to wash it in the sink. "I don't know," he finally said. He chuckled nervously. "Didn't have anything else to do…"
"Oh, so I am the backup plan then? Second best?" she asked jokingly.
Tony turned around and looked at her eyes sincere. "Never," he promised. He turned back to his task. "To tell you the truth, I, ah… Was kinda hoping to catch you. Haven't seen you in a while,"
"You see me every day at work. You saw me three hours ago, finishing paperwork," she laughed.
Tony smiled at her over his shoulder. "Yeah, that's true,"
Ziva stopped chopping for a moment. "But I know what you mean," she agreed.
"So, where'd you learn to cook anyway? I don't think they teach that at Mossad,"
Ziva shared in his chuckle as she resumed her work. "My mother taught me some, when I was a child. Just… little things. Chopping, boiling, how to tell when the brownies were finished. And when she died," Ziva paused for the briefest of moments, and only he would be able to tell. "I taught myself. Someone needed to look after Tali and Ari, and so I just kind of took it on. My father had a cook hired for the family, and for a while, I watched her, studied how she worked but never spoke to her. When I was fourteen, I fired her,"
Tony turned around, having thoroughly cleaned all of the vegetables, and now he laughed. "You did?"
Ziva shrugged with a smile. "I was woman of the home. I was the daughter of the Deputy Director of Mossad. And I knew how to use a knife," she looked at him, eyes sparkling mischievously. Ziva began to work with the other pots and pans in the kitchen, revealing exotic aromas as she took of the tops and stirred the concoctions expertly. "And it was not as if my father ever noticed her absence. My skills matched hers quickly, and so…" she let her sentence trail off with a shrug. She took a wooden spoon and took some of the broth from a pot. "Here, try this," she offered the spoon to Tony.
He joined her and took a taste. He looked down, hand n the counter, expressionless. "Ziva," he said in a low voice.
"What's wrong? Was it bad?" she asked, concerned, looking in the pot.
He looked up slowly and their eyes met. "That is seriously one of the best things I have ever had in my life,"
Ziva's expression grew into a wide, proud smile. "Glad you like it," she thanked him before lightly hitting him on the arm. "Now go set the table. The utensils are in the drawer on the right, plates on the--"
"I remember," he said with a soft smile, reminding her of their perfect summer so long ago. Our perfect summer.
"It is a different apartment," she replied, eyeing him.
"You always kept everything the same. Utensils are always in the closest drawer to the right of the stove. Plates are always on the top shelf nearest the refrigerator, and cups right next to it,"
Ziva smiled and turned, but not in time for Tony to miss the soft blush that graced her cheeks. Inwardly, she kicked herself, but somehow, it felt okay.
Tony set the table quickly, recalling her precise instruction from that year. Gibbs was gone, retired in Mexico, and he was leading the team. He found himself visiting her apartment often. She would teach him piano, or they would watch a movie. She would cook dinner for him, and sometimes, she taught him. He asked her once, then, where she learned to cook so brilliantly, but she wouldn't answer him.
"Why wouldn't you tell me about where you learned to cook?" he asked casually as she brought in their plates, full of steaming, good things.
"I just did,"
"I mean, that summer,"
"That summer," she repeated softly. Our perfect summer. "I was different then," she finally replied, sitting down. She had set some soft music on to play, an album Tony recognized from those days.
"Yes you were," he agreed, his eyes slowly drifting up to hers.
"You agree, then?"
He looked at her for a moment, searching before speaking. "Hidden,"
Ziva looked down but then back up at him. "How so?"
"You're more open now. Less… secretive,"
"Is that a good thing?" she asked quietly.
Tony smiled reassuringly. "Wouldn't have you any other way,"
Ziva smiled back, and for a moment, they were lost. "Good," Suddenly, she grew uncomfortable, perhaps a little scared, and rose. "Let me get some wine," she said.
"Sounds good," he called to her, in the kitchen once more. He could hear her rummaging about, but not a footstep nor knock from her. Ziva had always been silent, even when she moved. He smiled to himself.
Ziva walked out a moment later, a bottle in her hand. She opened then closed her mouth, unsure. Finally, she handed the bottle to Tony. He eyed her. "What?"
"I got this… that summer,"
"This is the same wine?" he asked, studying the label. Sure enough, it was. For a moment, he wondered about how she saved it, seeing as her apartment was destroyed in a fire only months prior. He chose not to question it; she had her mysterious ways.
"We never did open it," Ziva said, smiling.
"Got too caught up in our movie,"
"No, it was the music," she insisted. Ziva watched him for a moment before moving to get some wine glasses. "It should have aged nicely since then,"
Tony looked at the label once more. "This is expensive wine. Where'd you get the money? It's not like Mossad was particularly well-paying," Ziva looked down as she brought the glasses back and began to pour. "Not to mention the fact that you always fly first class… Wow, that was insensitive. Not supposed to talk about money," he realized, putting the bottle back down. "Sorry,"
Ziva shook her head with a smile. "It is not a problem. I only fly first class when it is on business,"
"You catch my drift," he replied, eyeing her tentatively.
"It was my mother's… money,"
"She willed it to you?"
"Her family was wealthy. Much went to our family, to help support us children, though that would not have been a problem… But she did set aside some for me, for all of us,"
"That's generous," he commented.
Ziva smiled, remembering. "She was like that,"
He watched her, her sweet profile lit by a small lamp nearby. "Like you,"
Ziva looked at him. "No, Tali… Tali was like her,"
"Compassionate?" he asked, remembering their conversation in the rain years before.
"Then you're like her," Ziva's brow furrowed as he said this.
"I was more like my father. I saw things black and white. I saw them for what they were. I was just like him. I still am,"
"No, Ziva, you're not," he insisted, moving over to where she had leaned up against the couch. "If you were just like Eli, you would've gone back to Mossad after everything in Africa. You would have gone back a long time ago—would never have come to stay at NCIS. You're not like him, not anymore,"
"And how can you be so sure?" she asked him, a brow raised in sad disbelief.
"Because you're still here," he said, looking down into her eyes. Ziva smiled up at him. And he smiled back down at her.
And then, it was their perfect summer.
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