Disclaimer: I own nothing except my computer and one-and-a-half university degrees.
Summary: When he returns to the bullpen fifteen minutes later, sans cupcake but with the file still tucked under one arm and a freshly-filled mug of coffee in the opposite hand, a single yellow rose has appeared on the corner of Ziva's desk.
Author's Note #1: This is Valentine's schmoop. Nat says jump, and I - desperate to procrastinate – inevitably end up asking how high, despite my best intentions to resist.
Author's Note #2: Little Prince references abound. May the quotations at the beginning guide you on your path to understanding (for everyone who didn't immediately pick up that book and read it after it was referenced in Gone).
From Yellow to Red
"To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow."
The Little Prince, Antoine de St-Exupéry
"The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers to go so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them?"
~ The Little Prince, Antoine de St-Exupéry
At half past eleven on Valentine's Day, McGee gathers up the file he's been working on, his empty mug, and the chocolate cupcake Abby brought him earlier that morning, and heads to the break room for a change of scenery. When he returns to the bullpen twenty minutes later, sans cupcake but with fresh coffee in one hand and a fully-read file tucked under the opposite arm, a single yellow rose has appeared on the corner of Ziva's desk. He 'hmms' softly to himself, and - noting that neither Gibbs nor Tony are anywhere to be seen - pauses in front of her workstation hoping to sate his sudden curiousity.
"Valentine's gift?" he asks. From up close he can see that tips of the flower's petals are tinged red. He peers at them, secretly admiring the delicate bleed of one colour into another and telling the Tony-voice in his head to shut up, men can appreciate flowers too.
Fully engrossed in whatever she's doing on the computer, Ziva doesn't immediately respond. She does, however, stop typing long enough to hold up an index finger in the universal sign for 'hang on.' McGee nods, somewhat uselessly given that Ziva's eyes have remained trained on her monitor throughout the entire short exchange, and takes advantage of the wait to study the rose further. With growing interest he observes that although the tasteful glass vase in which the flower rests appears expensive (someone is trying to impress, he thinks), a card is conspicuously absent.McGee ponders this paradox as the seconds continue to tick by, until with a decisive-sounding keystroke Ziva swivels to face him.
"Sorry, McGee, I did not want to lose my train of thought. Did you need something?"
He raises a brow, surprised that Ziva - ex-Mossad, resident ninja, aware-of-her-surroundings-at-all-times Ziva - hadn't registered his words despite her obvious preoccupation. Then surprise turns to skepticism as a suspicious part of him begins to wonder if she might look a little bit too oblivious. His eyes narrow; Ziva's widen innocently. And yeah, no - his investigator senses are tingling.
"The flower," McGee says dryly. Focused on the scent of something more fishy than floral, he forgets the full-to-brimming mug in his left hand and uses it to gesture sharply at the object in question. As steaming liquid sloshes onto unsuspecting fingers he bites back a pained curse, then tries to save face and maintain whatever interrogational advantage he might have had (he's secure enough to admit it was miniscule to begin with) by fixing Ziva with what he hopes is a passable approximation of Gibbs' trademark stare. Judging by the amused smile with which she offers him a Kleenex, he isn't very successful.
McGee sighs and sets his mug down next to the flower vase. "I was wondering if the rose was a Valentine's gift," he says, accepting the tissue. Underneath the coffee splatter his hand is blotchy, darkened to an angry red in places, and he sighs again for good measure. Maybe he should have just stayed in bed today.
"Well," Ziva responds, smile taking on a sly edge and head tilting to the side in mock consideration, "it is Valentine's Day, is it not?"
McGee takes careful note of the tells hinting at her imminent intent to toy with him; translates that intent, with reasonable certainty, as an attempt at evasion. And the plot thickens, the author within him thinks. Determined more than ever to get some answers, he proceeds with caution.
Since people don't tend to run away from what isn't chasing them, McGee outwardly backs down. He forces a sheepish chuckle and admits, "Yeah, I guess it is."
He tosses the used Kleenex in Ziva's wastebasket, using that motion as an excuse to casually lean forward and make a show of examining the rose. He gets close enough to smell its light perfume, craning his neck from side to side so he can view the vase from all angles. "It's pretty." He notices something he hadn't before, and adds absently, "Hey, the florist left a few of the thorns on. Weird he didn't just remove them all, isn't it?"
In his peripheral vision Ziva's arms tense, belying her easy tone as she says, "Perhaps. I was not aware you had such interest in the art of flower arranging, McGee."
He glances upwards. Ziva's face is impassive now, on guard for reasons McGee can't fathom. He frowns at the unexpected reaction. After a pause, he ventures, "No card, though?"
Ziva shakes her head, once again, all innocence, and lifts one shoulder in a dismissive shrug. The elevator dings, signaling his time has all but run out.
McGee straightens, takes a step back, and goes for broke. "Any idea who it's from?"
For a fraction of a second, before she can stamp it down, Ziva's lips curve into a helpless grin. Something in McGee's head screeches to a halt and he thinks, Oh. Then Gibbs is striding into the bullpen, Tony on his hot on his heels, and McGee's still mentally reeling.
"Wife's story checks out," Tony announces, swinging his black go-bag onto the floor behind his workstation with a thump.
"I told you," Ziva says smugly. "The wife had nothing to do with this. Her distress was too genuine."
"Now hold your horses, David - let's not count our chickens. Doesn't mean she wasn't involved, somehow." McGee suspects Tony's mixed his metaphors just to elicit the confusion now wrinkling Ziva's forehead. The theory is confirmed when Tony swiftly switches topics rather than clarifying. "That's new," he says, waving in the general direction of Ziva's desk. "Are we redecorating?"
McGee looks from the rose to Tony. With a sickening punch of sympathy, he suddenly wonders, Does Tony know? He would never claim to fully understand the relationship between his two co-workers. But he mostly understands Tony; even though he tries to hide it, the other man wears his heart on his sleeve. It's not always easy to read, of course, yet after nearly ten years of working together McGee's gotten pretty good at deciphering that deceptively vulnerable organ's secrets. He's been able to see Ziva's name emblazoned across it in blinking marquee lights for months.
Figuring out the story behind the yellow rose had been a harmless little mystery when he'd thought it had been given by someone who would pass out of Ziva's life just as quickly as he'd apparently passed into it. This, though...this. McGee flashes back in his mind's eye to the giddy, almost girlish, upturn of Ziva's lips when he'd asked about the gift's sender, and knows without a doubt that this mystery has the power to really hurt.
He brings his attention back to the potential disaster playing out in front of him in time to catch Ziva saying, "If you must know, it came while you were out."
"Oh, reeeeeaaaally," Tony says, wandering over to stand beside McGee. "I wonder who it's from."
"I do not know," Ziva says. She props an elbow on her desk and her chin in her palm, and adds, "And before you ask, as I told McGee, there was no note."
"You don't say!"
"Mmm, yes. But I understand that, as it is Valentine's Day, it is not uncommon for secret admirers to make themselves known. Send a token of their affection."
"True," Tony says. "That is the convention."
Ziva hums a little in agreement and they seem to reach a conversational impasse, lapsing into merely watching each other with playful eyes. As time stretches on, McGee begins to feel a bit invisible and a lot uncomfortable. He is trying to figure out how to gracefully extricate himself from the pair's immediate vicinity when, finally, Tony continues, "Well, whoever he is, the guy has good taste."
"The flower is very beautiful," Ziva agrees, gaze visibly softening as it wanders to the vase.
Not what he meant, McGee thinks, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
"Not what I -"
A metallic bang interrupts the inevitable default to flirtation, sending McGee's heart jackhammering in his chest even as he is quietly thankful for the reprieve. To his right Tony visibly jumps.
Seeing he has their attention, Gibbs holds up a thick folder that he's just retrieved from the filing cabinet. "Going to see Ducky." He heads for the stairs without another word.
Ziva releases a long breath probably meant to soothe rattled nerves. "I swear," she mutters darkly. "He did that on purpose."
McGee tends to agree. He's also not complaining. He snags his now tepid coffee from Ziva's desk and beats a hasty escape to his own. Tony goes to sit down as well, and soon all three of them have settled into their respective case-related tasks.
It isn't long, though, before Tony - of course it's Tony - breaks the silence.
"You know, there's this quote I've been thinking of that's just perfect for this occasion."
McGee stops the financials search he's running to ask, as balefully as he can manage, "What occasion, Tony?"
"Our mysterious floral guest, McGee, keep up!"
McGee glares in response.
"It goes a little something like this," Tony says, ignoring the daggers being sent his way. His attention is all on Ziva as he clears his throat dramatically and says, "'I am beginning to understand,' said the Little Prince, 'there is a flower, and I think that she has tamed me.'" By the end, Tony's tone has lost the over-the-top flourish with which it began, becoming lower and more somber.
Baffled, McGee is about to demand what that's supposed to mean, or maybe where the hell it even came from, but for the second time that day he finds himself freezing and thinking only, Oh.
Ziva has ducked her head, attempting to hide the reappearance of that grin behind a curtain of hair.
McGee stands up quickly, sending his chair careening into the cubicle wall. At the ensuing racket, Tony and Ziva both jerk around to look at him, expressions somewhere between startled and accusing. He's not sorry, because why is he invisible and also OH.
"I'm, uh. I'm going to go see if the Boss and Ducky need any help. With…with whatever they're doing."
He's still waiting impatiently for the elevator to arrive when he hears Ziva say, "Was that from a movie?"
Tony answers, words indescribably fond, "I hear it's originally from book, actually. It was made into a movie."
Author's Note #3: Yellow flower with red-tipped petals – symbolizes friendship turning to love. Because cute.