I don't ship Tiva, so I honestly don't know how this fic came into being, but I like it. I was eating challah bread at my temple one Friday night, and the idea just popped into my head. I like to think it goes a bit deeper than plain old fluff.

Like Home

It's around three in the morning, on a bitter cold night in the middle of winter, when Tony gently shakes her awake. Please do not tell me Gibbs called wanting us at some crime scene is her first thought. The wind is roaring outside, and the last thing Ziva wants now is for her and Tony to have to get up out of this warm bed.

"What?" she murmurs, pushing herself up. In the faint red glow cast by the numbers of the digital clock beside the bed, Ziva can just see the dark, solid outline of Tony's body, sitting up in bed next to her, looking at her. He still has one hand resting on her shoulder. "Tony, what is it?" she asks when he doesn't answer.

Tony's voice comes softly through the dark. "You were crying."

Confused, Ziva says, "I was n – " But then she raises one hand to her face, and her fingers jerk back in surprise when they feel her cheeks are wet with tears. She swallows hard, her skin growing hot with anger and shame. Even though Tony's seen her more vulnerable than this, it's embarrassing to be woken up because you were crying and didn't even know it. Childish, Ziva thinks. Weak.

Her hand is resting on the pillow, and she feels that the pillowcase is damp too, and her chest still shaky from the sobs. It doesn't make sense – how could she have been crying so hard and not woken herself up? Tony's hand moves from her shoulder to her hand just then, twining his fingers through hers, and Ziva wonders how he managed to find her like that in such heavy darkness.

"You were talking too," he adds, and Ziva can't help but shudder at this, suddenly terrified by the possibility that she was having another dream about Somalia and Tony just heard her begging. She doesn't want to know, but she hears her voice trembling as she forces herself to ask, "What did I say?"

But Tony shakes his head. "You were speaking Hebrew."

Most nights, Ziva would have dismissed this as Tony confusing Hebrew with Arabic, the language she heard in Saleem's camp – it's an easy enough mistake to make, after all, especially since Tony doesn't speak either one – but tonight, she doesn't. Because even though the dream is rapidly fading, like Ziva's dreams usually do when she wakes up, when Tony says that she was speaking Hebrew, bits of it start to drift back to her. She's quiet for a moment, trying to piece together the half-forgotten thoughts and feelings. Tony strokes her cheek with one finger and brushes back the strands of hair clinging the wet streaks left by her tears.

"It was hot," she begins slowly, as the cold wind roars outside the window. And even though this is how her nightmares about Somalia always begin – with that suffocating desert heat – she knows this dream was different. This heat was different. Not blistering on her skin, but gentle. Familiar. And there was something else, too...

"And it was bright," she says. "The sun was shining." She feels Tony relax a little in bed beside her. He knows her dreams about Somalia are always dark. Pitch-black, even. But Ziva can remember lifting her face to the light in this one, smiling, even though the sun was so blindingly bright that she could barely see. She tries to focus on what her other senses felt in the dream.

Somewhere hot and bright... Ziva was walking, but there was a sweet sound all around her that made her feel like she was floating through the warm air. Her feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. It was the sound of voices, all of them speaking Hebrew – not talking to Ziva, but just chatting and laughing in a loud, happy hum. It felt like putting back on the most comfortable clothes she had ever owned. It had been so long since she heard nothing but her native language. The very air was different somehow, softer, and full of the most delicious smell...

Suddenly, she's there, standing in the warm sun on that busy corner in Tel Aviv, down the street from the university. Students and commuters are passing by, calling to each other, hailing taxis. It must be a Friday afternoon... Yes, Ziva knows it is because the air is heady with the sweet smell of challah bread baking.

"HaMotzi," she whispers, but the taste on her lips isn't sweet. It's salty.

Ziva opens her eyes, and she's there, in bed with Tony on that cold DC night. The bedroom is nearly pitch-black, but Tony finds her in the dark and pulls her against his chest. She doesn't resist because she tastes salt on her lips and realizes she's crying again. Tony murmurs something into her hair, but she can't make it out.

"What?" she asks, leaning into the warm, wide expanse of his chest, grateful he can't see her tear-stained face. His heartbeat thrums in her ear.

"You said that earlier, when you were talking in your sleep. That word."

"HaMotzi?" she asks, puzzled.

"Mm-hm. What does it mean?"

Ziva isn't sure how to explain it. "It means – It is... what you say when you eat challah," she says finally, even though she knows that's oversimplifying it. She hesitates, then, "I was dreaming I was back in Israel."

She expects Tony to ask her why a dream about her native country would make her cry so hard, and she's dreading it because she doesn't know herself. That bothers her more than anything. It was a good dream – why did it make her soak her pillow with tears, then leave her with this terrible ache inside?

But Tony doesn't press her. He just settles back in bed, holding Ziva so that she's lying with her head on his chest, the length of her body pressed against his. As if he can read her mind – and sometimes Ziva honestly wonders if he can – Tony rubs her back and says quietly, "You're just homesick, Zi."

"America is my home now," Ziva answers immediately. She worked hard to become an American citizen... so why doesn't her voice doesn't sound as certain as she wants it to? Why does she feel like she's being torn in two? Why did she immediately think home when she heard Hebrew in her dream? And why did a dream about Israel make her cry so hard? Even the nightmares she occasionally has about Somalia never left her such a wreck.

"You're just homeland-sick," Tony improvises. Ziva's emotions seem so confused and complicated that she's taken aback that the answer could be so simple, and that Tony could find it so easily. But he's right. Homeland-sick.

For the tiniest moment, Ziva could swear she hears a voice calling to her in Hebrew, beckoning her back to a world she left behind... but she can't make it out the words because it's so faint, like an echo of an echo. It unsettles her, these ghostly smells and sounds, so she focuses on Tony's bedroom instead.

His pillows smell like Old Spice and shaving cream. Ziva can hear from the bathroom the steady drip-drip-drip of the faucet; Tony left the water running so the pipes wouldn't freeze. The wind is still roaring outside the window, and it feels impossibly good to be lying here, with Tony's warm, strong arms wrapped around her. She glances down his bed, at the shape of their bodies curled together beneath the blankets. Before she knows it, she's drifting off again, but just before she falls asleep, it occurs to her that it was worth moving to America just for Tony's bed.

_ . _ . _

The next time Ziva arrives at Tony's place for "movie night" – it still amuses her that they call it that – she's greeted by the smell of burning when she opens the door. She heads immediately for the kitchen, where she finds Tony, oven mitts on his hands, bent in front of his open oven door, fanning away the billows of smoke drifting out.

"You baked, Tony?" she asks in amusement, dropping her bag on the kitchen floor. Tony has never attempted to cook for her before – they usually order Chinese food or pizza from the menus on his refrigerator whenever she stays the night – and now she understands why.

Tony glances at her, then back into the oven. "Well, I tried," he mumbles sheepishly, then coughs and grimaces as another billow of smoke hits him in the face. Ziva chuckles and starts across the kitchen to help him, but she stops short when she sees what Tony pulls out of the oven and dumps on the stovetop. Yes, it's burnt, but Ziva recognizes it instantly. It's three strips of bread, braided together into a loaf.

"You made challah?" she asks in awe.

"Yeah, I just thought... you might..." But Tony trails off as he pulls off the oven mitts and stands back from the stove, surveying the burnt bread with obvious disappointment. Then he shrugs. "Well, like I said, I tried."

Ziva slowly crosses the distance to the stove, tears off a steaming, blackened chunk of bread, and pops it in her mouth. She closes her eyes, savoring it. Yes, it's burnt and dry – a far cry from the sweet golden-brown loaves of her childhood – but Ziva recognizes the taste instantly. It tastes like... home.

Her eyes are suddenly moist, and she opens them to find Tony looking at her, smiling. She swallows and says, "This is not bad, Tony, for your first attempt at challah. It is a difficult recipe."

"I know," Tony answers immediately. Ziva notices, for the first time, the mess of dirty dishes in his sink, and the splotch of flour on the front of his shirt. He obviously put a lot of work into this challah, and to show her appreciation, Ziva tears off another slice, ignoring the burnt taste. "It calls for eggs," Tony goes on, exasperated. "What kind of bread has eggs in it?" He pauses, studies Ziva, then puts on his innocent face. She immediately knows that he's up to something. "You could teach me how to make it, couldn't you, Zi?" he asks, his voice deceptively casual.

Ziva hesitates. She ate challah often in Israel, but she never actually baked it herself. The recipe was difficult, and it was so much easier to buy a loaf when she went shopping. She's noticed some bakeries in DC that sell it, but she's never bought any here. But she can't resist Tony when he puts on that face, so she just answers vaguely, "Perhaps."

"You'll have to come over more often, then," Tony says slyly, as if it's settled.

Ziva just whispers "HaMotzi," and takes another bite of challah to hide her smile.