A/N: This is the first chapter of a new Zibbs story I wrote for Sarah Withers for the 2011 Secret Santa story exchange on NFA. Updates will be posted fairly quickly since it is already completely written. I was thrilled to write for my friend and fellow Zibbs-lover and I really love how this story turned out. I hope you do, as well. Perhaps you'll let me know? =)
Sarah's Prompt: If a romantic pairing is involved Ziva/Gibbs ... Maybe a nice fluffy family holiday fic with guest appearances from Papa Gibbs and Daddy David. Or if my author isn't feeling the fluffy holiday vibe perhaps a darker case based fic where something happens to Ziva which makes Gibbs reveal their relationship to the team.
Usual disclaimers apply … darn it.
Ziva strode purposefully off the elevator toward her desk at NCIS. It was her first Christmas Eve as the Mossad liaison and she idly wondered who might be working with her this evening. She knew Tony and McGee were not scheduled to come in tonight, but she'd volunteered to work today and tomorrow as she did not celebrate Christmas nor did she have family here with whom to enjoy the time off.
Hanukkah had passed, but she hadn't gone home. While Ziva's family observed that holiday, she doubted she would have returned to Israel to spend it with her father even if it had not been one of the lesser important holidays in Judaism. To say their relationship was strained – especially since she'd moved to the United States - was an understatement.
She might have spent some time with Jenny, but the director was off on an annual ski trip with some friends from college with whom she still kept in touch. Ziva had been invited along, but she had declined. Spending a few days in close proximity with several people she didn't know and who already knew each other well did not appeal to her.
Ziva had taken second shift that night as it was the least popular on Christmas Eve. As she walked up to her desk, she was surprised to see Gibbs sitting at his. She stopped and stared at him, her brow furrowed and her head cocked just a little to the side.
"Problem, David?" he asked, not even looking up from his computer.
"No," she answered reflexively. "I just thought –" She stopped talking abruptly and moved behind her desk.
"You thought what?" he asked when she didn't continue.
"Nothing," she mumbled, not feeling comfortable enough yet to push him on why he wasn't visiting his father for the holiday. Granted, he never talked about him, but Ziva knew from the thorough research she'd done on Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs prior to coming to the States that his father was alive and well and living in Stillwater, Pennsylvania.
Without fuss, she removed her coat and put the matzo ball soup she'd brought from home in the refrigerator in the break room, then returned to her desk. She sat in her chair and they passed the shift with minimal talking, finishing up reports and paperwork from the week. The silence was comfortable, though – much more comfortable than anyone might have expected.
When it was time for a dinner break, she pressed him into sharing the soup she'd made and brought in with her. He tried to refuse, not wanting to take her supper, but she insisted they split it. She informed him she had more at home as she only knew how to make this soup in one quantity: lots. He'd smirked as her eyes twinkled. Their dinner conversation was casual and surprisingly easy.
When they walked to the parking garage together at the end of their shift at 11 p.m., Gibbs commented that she should get some sleep since she was working a double tomorrow. As they stopped by her car, she looked at him in surprise. Then she realized that he would have looked at the schedule, of course.
"See you in the morning," he said offhandedly, heading toward his truck.
"You are working, too?" she called after him, surprised.
"Uh-huh," he answered nonchalantly.
She started to slide into her car, an unexpected - and inexplicable – warmth spreading inside her. She looked up as he spoke again after opening his own door.
"Hey, David." He waited for her to meet his eyes. "Feel free to bring more soup."
His tone was joking, but deep down he hoped she did bring more; it was damn good soup.
She laughed lightly, but that warmth increased by a notch or three.
She showed up the next day not only with a large container of soup, but also with a couple of other surprises, as well: mouth-watering biscuits and a pumpkin pie.
His stomach growled as soon as he caught the aroma of her collection of goodies. She grinned.
"It sounds like I should have brought breakfast, too," she teased. His endearing half-smirk tugged at one corner of his mouth.
He tilted his head toward his coffee. "Breakfast."
She shook her head at him.
"Thought I told you to get some sleep," he pointed out, though not sharply.
"I did," she assured him. "I just needed to unwind a little first and cooking helps me do that." She left out just how much her nocturnal activities had cut into the aforementioned sleep.
Ziva had placed the basket she carried on her desk so that she could take off her coat. Gibbs stood up and walked over, lifting the lid to take a peak at the food.
"Well, if this is what you do to unwind, I'll have to wind you up more often," he teased.
Brown eyes snagged blue as a zing of awareness arced between them at his words, taking them both by surprise. Ziva felt a light blush tinge her cheeks and she was the first to look away.
She mumbled something about putting the food away and carried it to the break room where she stowed it in the fridge. She added a note to the basket that promised dire consequences for anyone who didn't KEEP OUT, and she signed it so any potential lunch-stealing thief would know she meant business. Not many people knew Officer David very well yet, but everyone knew better than to mess with her.
Ziva had removed the container of biscuits from the basket to take back to her desk as she didn't want them drying out in the refrigerator. On impulse, she pulled two of the biscuits out, warmed them just enough in the microwave and slathered on some of the butter she'd brought. Wrapping them loosely in a paper towel, she carried them back to the bullpen. Without a word, she laid them on Gibbs' desk and stepped over to take a seat at hers. She glanced over at him to find he was looking between her and the food in surprise.
"Think of it as breakfast – or a sneak preview of lunch," she suggested with that quick, appealing wink of hers she'd had since he'd known her. She tucked the container with the rest of the biscuits out of the way.
Gibbs took a bite. His mouth was still full when he mumbled these were really, really good biscuits. She flushed with pleasure.
Gibbs and Ziva ate lunch together in the break room and bounced some theories and questions off each other related to a couple of cold cases they'd been going over. Gibbs ate seconds of the pie, making Ziva secretly glad that she'd stopped at not one but two all-night markets that had surprisingly been open on Christmas Eve in order to find what she'd needed to make the dessert. The sleep she'd sacrificed in baking the pie last night and getting up a little early this morning to whip up the biscuits was all worth it when she saw the clear enjoyment on his face.
As for him, the last time anyone had cooked for him was so remote that he couldn't even pinpoint it.
Ziva wrapped up what leftovers they had and informed Gibbs that she was sending the extra food home with him. He'd enjoyed the food too much to refuse, so he settled for a quiet, "Thanks." She beamed.
Several hours later, they still had quite a bit of time to go in their double shift. They hadn't been called out on a case and around dinner time they started to get hungry again. Suddenly, Gibbs stood up and Ziva looked at him.
"Send dispatch an e-mail to call our phones if they need us," he ordered, "then let's grab something to eat."
She quickly did as he said and then snatched up her phone, badge and gun. She bundled up in her coat, shoved her wallet in her pocket, and added her hat, scarf and gloves. Gibbs' only concession to the cold was his overcoat. Neither of them spoke in the elevator on the ride down to the main floor, but the silence wasn't uncomfortable.
As they stepped out into the evening, Gibbs asked, "You up for a walk?"
"I would love a walk," Ziva admitted with feeling.
She turned her face up to breathe in the brisk winter air and inwardly marvel at the stars that sparkled like diamonds in the sky. It got dark early here this time of year.
Gibbs watched her with his characteristic half-smile on his face. He didn't yet know the reasons for all the shadows in her eyes and the protective walls she kept up most of the time, though he could guess at a few. But when he saw her happy, her guard relaxed, it did something to his heart. If he were a man who ever thought poetically, he might have considered that a little piece of his own armor cracked in response.
He started down the sidewalk to his left and Ziva caught up.
"Where are we going?" she asked, not really caring. She'd only known Gibbs a few months, but she'd already follow his lead anywhere. "I would not think many restaurants are open today."
"They're not. But if the rumors are true, you won't be the only Jewish person in the room," he answered enigmatically.
Her brows drew together under her knit cap and her nose wrinkled adorably. She threw him a puzzled look.
"Chinese restaurant," he revealed, his blue eyes twinkling in the light of the street lamps.
She threw her head back and laughed delightedly.
Gibbs stopped in front of a red door and pulled it open. The hostess of the restaurant greeted them warmly, addressing Jethro by name.
"Welcome, Special Agent Gibbs. It is a pleasure to see you again. It has been a while."
He nodded. "Good to see you, too, Mei."
The woman turned her friendly smile on Ziva. "You have a lady friend with you this time. Welcome."
"Thank you, but I am not –" Ziva started.
"This is Ziva," Gibbs interrupted.
"We work together," Ziva felt compelled to add.
"Ah," the woman responded, though her tone hinted that she was skeptical that "working together" summed up their relationship completely.
Mei took them to a booth and settled them in with menus and water. A quick glance around showed a few families of Asian descent, but it was possible that more than half of the patrons could be Jewish judging from outward appearance alone – not that that was a reliable method of determining such things.
Ziva looked into Gibbs' eyes with mirth snapping in her own.
"Perhaps there is some truth to that rumor, after all," she observed with a small chuckle.
Gibbs smirked knowingly. But to his surprise, he discovered right then and there that he liked making her laugh, seeing her smile.
They chatted over dinner about light topics, learning a bit more about each other. They hadn't done much personal talking before this. After all, they'd only known each other a few months and had gotten off to a rocky start for various reasons – her brother's actions and Jen's unilateral decision to place the Israeli on his team, just to name a couple of obvious ones.
There had, however, always been some indefinable connection between them.
The food was delicious and the company was comfortable and enjoyable.
Gibbs paid the bill, refusing to let Ziva pay for her dinner. He pointed out that she'd fed him twice in the past two days and it was his turn to reciprocate. He drew a grin from her when he admitted that he was much better at buying food than making it.
As they walked back to NCIS, it began to snow. Ziva made a happy noise and immediately turned her face up to the flakes.
"Sometimes the cold is too much for me," she revealed, "but I love the snow. There is something beautiful, almost magical about it."
Then she remembered to whom she was talking and ducked her head in quiet embarrassment.
Jethro felt privileged to see this side of her, this facet of her personality that was normally well-camouflaged behind her stoic, task-oriented, soldier persona.
He lightly bumped her shoulder with his and softly agreed. She immediately relaxed. And while she didn't look at him, he could see her lips curve slightly.
They walked on in a leisurely fashion, an easy silence between them. They practically had the street to themselves.
"Gibbs … ?" Ziva questioned thoughtfully, then stopped without finishing her query.
"Yeah?" he asked, waiting for her to continue.
"Nothing," she returned with a shake of her head. "It is not my place to pry."
"If there's something you want to know, ask it," he told her. "If I don't wanna answer, I won't."
After a minute of silence, she began softly.
"Why are you not …" Ziva's voice trailed off as she paused again for a moment. "I thought perhaps you would visit your father over Christmas."
He didn't seem mad, but he took so long to answer that she felt compelled to add, "I am sorry – it is none of my business."
"Never apologize," Jethro noted reflexively. After another pause of his own, he asked, "You know about him, huh?"
"Research?" he guessed.
She nodded again.
He still didn't seem angry, but she remained a little guarded, worried that she'd overstepped her bounds. Before too long, he gave an answer to her implied question.
"Jack and I don't always see eye-to-eye. Makes things difficult sometimes … complicated." He didn't elaborate.
After a few seconds of reflection, Ziva offered, "That sounds a great deal like my relationship with my own father."
Neither of them needed – or wanted - to say more just now. And still, a link was forged between them that went beyond simply working together.