"Thank you, Abby," Ziva said, trying to sound sincere and to keep the confusion from her voice.
"I know it is not your usual type of 'Welcome home from being held hostage in the desert' present," Abby admitted. "Not that there is exactly a Hallmark gift for that anyway. It is not a way that anyone would choose to spend the Summer, but…"
"Abby," Ziva interrupted her friend as she tried to justify her choice of gift. "It is very thoughtful of you and I am sure it will be a lovely day." Again, it took all of Ziva's training to hide her skepticism.
"I know it is too soon, Ziva," Abby pulled her friend into a hug, "But one day, I hope one day soon, you will come to me and say you are ready and we will have the best day ever."
The goth pushed her friend back upright and held her by the shoulders. She stubbornly looked Ziva, who was equally stubborn, in the eye. "I know it does not feel like you, but for me it just felt right. Trust me."
"I do, Abby," Ziva whispered. "I really do."
"I can not believe you made me crawl through a dumpster. Again," Ziva scowled at her partner as she threw her backpack on the floor beside her desk.
"Well, my little Probette," Tony grinned back at her, "Crawling through dumpsters and climbing fire escapes and doing pretty much anything else the Senior Agent does not want to do is Probie work."
"I have been here four and a half years," Ziva cried, walking across the short distance between their desks. "I thought we had finished with this ridiculous grazing!"
"But you are technically a new agent," Tony snickered at her mistake, wondering if he could make a cow joke and escape with his life. He decided not. "So you are technically now a Probie. You never were before you were an officer, a liaison. Temporary." His tone changed suddenly as he leaned in and became serious. "You are here to stay now. I am the Senior Agent and you are a Probie and," his eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth twitched, "you belong to me now."
"Oh, I do, do I?" Ziva challenged unfazed by Tony's remarks, instead leaning towards her partner and looking him up and down. She saw Tony tense and bite his lip and she knew she had won. "Do you make all your belongings crawl through trash then?" she asked. "Perhaps I should take a page from your American TV and fill your Mustang with garbage."
She was outright teasing now and Tony knew it but any threat against his car was a low blow and could not be stood for.
"If you so much as lay a finger on her, Agent David," Tony threatened, "You will soon find yourself wishing for the days when you had to crawl through dumpsters. You have no idea the sh…"
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs barked as he threw his empty coffee cup with precision. It hit the back of his agent's head and made him squeak in mock pain. "Get me a refill. Now."
"Yes, Boss." Tony grabbed the cup and headed for the elevator.
"David," Gibbs said more gently as he tuned to Ziva. "Don't let him get to you."
"The things he makes me do stink. Literally," she replied. "But I do not mind that so much. I do not even mind how much he enjoys it. What I do mind is the way he acts like he does not care." She frowned at her boss in confusion.
"You two are really screwed up," Gibbs sat at his desk and pretended to focus on his computer. He really hated getting involved in the personal lives of his agents but DiNozzo and David were starting to bug him. "I am going to check my email now, Agent David. I will not notice if anyone tries to pick the lock on Tony's bottom desk drawer. I also will not notice if they take the contents to the break room for ten minutes."
"Of course," Ziva nodded, understanding fully the not-so-subtle instructions of her boss. She walked across to Tony's desk and deftly picked the lock. There were two locked boxes inside. She knew that one held years' worth of Gibbs' service medals but she had not seen the other before. She picked it up, closed the drawer and slipped out of the bullpen.
As she sank into the hard plastic lunch room chair, Ziva wondered what on earth could be inside the locked metal box. She picked the lock, opened the lid and tipped the contents on the table before she processed what it was. When she realized, she froze.
A familiar blue dress, a perfect shade of cobalt that hugged perfect curves and framed a perfect face. Except the face was not perfect in this picture. It was dirty and blood trailed down from a cut on her forehead. A still from the news footage the night she had been blown up in Morocco.
Printouts of the same prefect curves, barely hidden by a striped bikini. The paper still bore the sticky residue on the corners where Tony had taped them to the wall of his office afloat.
Everything else was in black and white. A small article clipped from the shipping page of the paper announcing the sinking of the cargo ship Damocles. Weather reports of hurricanes in Africa and a few articles with meaningless perfunctory information about what the Washington Post thought may or may not have been operations tied to Mossad.
Finally, a photocopy of a photograph she knew was originally in colour. Taken covertly as she bought a postcard for Abby. Their favourite picture of Paris.
Ziva put the papers back in the box and sighed, more confused now than ever. Obviously her partner did care so why did he enjoy so much treating her like a Probie? Abby had said that Tony was soft and mushy on the inside and hard as a rock on the outside. Perhaps the teasing and the dumpster crawling was the hard as a rock and the box of pictures and clippings was the soft mushy Tony.
As she returned to the bullpen, Ziva's mind went to the contents of her own bottom drawer and the long forgotten 'Welcome home from being held hostage in the desert' present her friend had given her. It had seemed so inappropriate at the time but now it felt like what she needed. Ziva slipped the box back in Tony's drawer and picked up his phone, dialing the internal connection to the Lab.
"Abby, it's me," she said happily. "You were right. Today I crawled through a dumpster. It is time. I am ready."
"Yes!" Abby screeched almost deafeningly. "I knew it. This weekend. I will call and book us in right this second."
True to her word, Abby hung up the phone without giving her friend a chance to say another word. Ziva sat at Tony's desk, still confused but now looking forward to the weekend.
"When you said you have booked us the full treatment, you really meant it!" Ziva sighed contentedly as she sipped her jasmine tea. "I think today I have been steamed, wrapped, scrubbed, rubbed and moisturised to within an inch of my death."
"Within an inch of your life, Ziva," Abby corrected gently. "That is the saying. And what we are celebrating."
"My life," Ziva whispered. "Well thankyou, Abby. This day has actually been fun. Girl's day out. I feel spoiled!"
"Well, um. There is one more thing," Abby fidgeted with her spoon, pushing the organic fruit salad around the bowl. "I know you can kill me with like a pencil shaving if you want to, but I booked you in for glamour photos at the end of the day."
Abby squeezed her eyes shut and ducked just a little, ready for her friend to go Ninja on her. When the expected onslaught did not come, Abby cautiously opened one eye and looked at Ziva. She did not look mad but confused.
"They do your hair and makeup and you wear a pretty dress and get your photo taken by a professional photographer," Abby explained. "I know it is not your thing but after all the gross stuff Tony has been making you crawl through, I thought it would be fun for you to feel all girly."
ZIva laughed at her friend's discomfort. Not out of cruelty but because it really was very touching how much Abby cared and how thoughtful she was. "I am not mad, Abby," Ziva reassured her. "But what do I do with these photos?"
"I don't know," Abby admitted. "Hang them on your wall. Post them on your facebook? Put them in an album or something. It is the process that is important today."
"We will see how they turn out. You will come, yes?"
"Wild gators couldn't keep me away!" Abby enthused. "I don't know if I have ever actually seen you in a dress…"
"Are you sure this is not showing too much?" Ziva asked uncertainly as she adjusted the neckline of the outfit. The old Ziva, the Ziva from last year, would have and on occasion had worn things much more revealing than the dress she had on now. But that was before. Now her back and legs bore scars which would never totally fade and her confidence was more than a little scarred too.
"You look so beautiful, Ziva," Abby breathed. "You look like a Disney princess going to a ball."
"A princess?" Ziva asked incredulously. "Really, Abby I think that might be pushing it a little." Ziva twirled in the mirror and although royalty was a stretch, she was not displeased with what she saw.
Her hair had been curled so the ends formed a cascade down her shoulders and her makeup had been applied to highlight her eyes and high cheeks. The dress they had chosen was not purple, or pink but an indescribable blend of fucia and grape which perfectly brought out the natural olive tones of her skin. The straps were encrusted with beads, which continued in a line across the bust and down towards her waist. The overall effect was an elegant and colourful Grecian Godess.
Ziva had chosen an outdoor location for her picture. The grounds of the spa were landscaped and rows of prefect hedges and rose bushes surrounded the building on all sides. But it was one lone old tree, tucked away in the corner of the garden that had caught Ziva's attention. It was twisted and gnarled and some of the trunks grew horizontally before they would around their neighbours and continued upwards to the sky.
As soon as she saw it, growing there amongst the perfectly manicured shrubbery, she knew it was special. It was beautiful. Despite its scarred and twisted branches. Or perhaps because of them.
When Tony arrived at work on Monday morning, he saw Ziva's bag at her desk and knew she would be lurking somewhere not far away. He sat at his own desk and was about to open his email when he saw a yellow envelope tucked under his keyboard. It had no address or stamp and was simply labeled 'Tony'.
His curiosity sufficiently piqued, he slit open the end of the envelope and tipped out the contents. Puzzled, he picked up the photograph and looked at the subject. Ziva. In a dress? Super hot Ziva in a dress. He looked around for someone to pinch him because he thought he must have been having that dream again.
Then he saw the note which had been in the envelope too. He opened it to find a page of his partner's perfect writing on stationery from the day spa.
By now the unlocked locks will have told you that I saw what you keep in that box in your drawer. I do not understand fully why but I think I do a little. You do not need to lock me away to keep me safe or keep me here. I am not going anywhere ever again.
I owe you everything. My life. I was truly ready to die when you saw me that day, my world had turned grey and then black and I wanted it to end. Then I saw you and suddenly it was like I had stepped out of my house into Oz and everything was in Technicolor again.
I would like you to have this, to add to your collection. You do not have to hide it if you don't want to. You do not have to hide anything.
Smiling, Tony picked up the photo again. Ziva looked truly beautiful. And although it was not the most beautiful image of her he had in his mind, he knew that he would not be locking this picture away. He slipped it under his keyboard and leaned back in his chair. He doubted anyone except Gibbs truly understood what he had been through last summer and knew that his carefully concealed state of elation did not fool his boss.
He also doubted that anyone would believe that this gift from Ziva was not the most beautiful he had ever seen her. No. The most beautiful image of her existed only in his mind. It was burned into his drug-hazed memory. It was a single moment that hung, suspended and frozen in a dark, dusty cell. The moment he processed that she was not dead and the moment that his own heart started beating again.
"Good morning, Tony." Ziva greeted him as she sat on the edge of her desk, facing him. "What disgusting, stinky tasks have you got in store for me today?"
"Oh my little Probette," Tony grinned back at her, "You have no idea…"
A/N So I don't write song fics but it seems I do write pic-fics! This story was inspired by some beautiful publicity pictures of Cote de Pablo in a very pretty purpleish dress. No idea how it became this. Blame the fluff bunnies… Tell me your thoughts!