The din of the mall music had started grating on her nerves an hour ago, but she couldn't bring herself to leave without picking up some new clothes. Her previous wardrobe had been destroyed in her apartment's bombing and what she had left in Israel …well it wasn't accessible.
She fingered the soft fabric and paused, his words running through her head.
"Nice Sweater. Where'd you get that? Stripes are nice."
She had never been the type of woman to buy clothes to make a man happy.
She had never been the type to even care what he liked. She wore what was comfortable, practical, and flattering. She wore what she liked. And if he happened to like it too, that was just a bonus.
Yet she stood in front of the purple-striped cardigan and struggled to make her feet move away from the rack towards something that reflected her own sense of style more clearly.
A hand reached over her shoulder and gently pulled the coat hanger out of her hand before setting it back on the rack.
She spun, angry at herself for allowing someone into her defenses without any sort of warning. She felt her muscles twitch instinctively as a result of her being startled.
But when she saw his eyes, recognized him for who he was, she visibly relaxed. She managed to quell the urge to step away from him. She stifled the reaction to reach up and protect herself.
"Are you following me?" She asked, her voice with more bite to it than she had mustered in a while.
"No. Shopping- just like you," He offered a half smile. "I saw you up in housewares," he said simply, holding up his own logo'd bag to indicate his purchase had already been made.
"I need new clothes," she said simply. "And bed linens. And…well, everything, really."
Tony nodded. "And since when do you buy ugly clothes?" he asked, glancing back at the purple striped sweater.
"I thought stripes were very popular this year," she managed to grumble in her own defense, willing herself not to blush.
"Stripes aren't for some women," he said, resisting the urge to throw his arm across her shoulders and playfully guide her towards the lingerie section as they would have done months ago – before the fiasco now referred to merely as "Michael."
"They will make me look fat?"
"Ziva, any woman who can hide 12 different weapons on her body should not be wearing stripes. Because, really, that talent's just hot. And hot women don't wear striped cardigans."
She looked at the sweater, the same style the cop had worn earlier that week, and then back at him with a puzzled frown.
"I should take fashion advice from the man who obviously hasn't gotten his haircut in months?" she managed to reply, trying to divert the topic away from the dangerous territory of his flirting, her clothes, …well, everything seemed dangerous these days, really.
"It was on my agenda for this afternoon!" he said with a defensive tone. "Paulo books up months in advance – I'm trying to get in on a cancellation, Ziva!"
She smirked. "I could cut it for you," she replied with a somewhat evil grin, making a conscious effort to keep her fingers from playing with his long hair.
He appraised her carefully and remained silent on the topic before glancing at the rack to their right.
"OH!" he said, quickly moving out of her personal space and towards a brilliant sapphire top. "Now this," Tony said, picking up the blouse and regarding it carefully. "This is something you'd wear."
Ziva felt herself grin at his antics and mumbled an agreement at the blouse, taking it out of his hands and mentally noting that he had selected the correct size on the first try.
"Anything else?" she queried, playing along and rather enjoying the impromptu shopping trip. It was different, something that they had only done occasionally. After Jeanne. Before Michael. When there was almost something more…
He turned and grabbed two more shirts and two pairs of slacks and handed them to her without ceremony.
But he stopped at the edge of the daily-wear section, where the clothes seamlessly blended into the cocktail attire.
His hand reached out for the rich eggplant hued dress, the halter neckline similar to the style she'd worn undercover in Morocco. "Now this," he started and paused to chuckle in appreciation at the beautiful gown. "This is the kind of dress you have to buy – and keep in the closet just in case. You would look… god, Ziva, I don't know if your date would be able to make it out of the house when he picked you up – it'd be hard not to just drown in a puddle of drool."
"You make it sound so romantic, Tony. My date drowning in drool?" She replied.
"I'm just saying it'd be impossible not to appreciate all your attributes in this dress."
"It is impractical," she said simply. "I do not even know if Gibbs will hire me back. I certainly do not need a dress for dates I don't have yet, nor for undercover missions I might not go on." She reached across him and lifted the dress and hanger out of his hands and returned it to the rack. "These will do for today," she said, motioning to the clothes he had selected – the ones in her arms. "Thank you for your help."
He cast one last longing glance at the purple dress before stepping away and following her towards the register.
When her purchase was finalized and the cashier handed her the large bag, filled with new blouses, tank tops, slacks, skirts and khakis, she grinned to herself.
It was an odd feeling having Tony help her shop – in the past when they ended up at the mall together one random Saturday afternoon, he had always begged off while she selected clothes. They'd meet in the electronics section or the foodcourt. Aside from his occasional tease to get her to the lingerie department, he had never even so much as hinted at a desire to help her shop.
But today, he had surprised her.
And she was glad.
Otherwise she'd be the proud owner of a very ugly striped sweater.
"Ready to go?" he asked, gesturing with his head towards the parking-lot door.
"Where are we going?" she queried, adjusting the bag more comfortably in her hand.
He grinned saucily and slid his sunglasses into place as they stepped out into the midday sun.
"My place. You're going to cut my hair, remember?"
Ziva blinked slowly before falling into step beside him and following him to his car. He always liked to drive. And he'd bring her back here for her car when they were done, just like he used to.
She would come back tomorrow for the purple dress.