He stood out side her door, steeling his nerves before his hand raised and knocked on the wood.
It was only a moment before the door swung open, revealing a dark haired beauty wrapped in a large bath towel.
Tony blinked, clearly surprised, though not unpleasantly so.
"Do you always answer your door dressed like that?"
Ziva felt her lips curl into a small smirk. "It depends who is on the other side of the door."
There was a feeling he had been missing over the last few months licking ever so slowly at his heels. If he concentrated hard enough, he thought he could remember the name … what was that feeling?
Her gentle flirting, if only a sentence, gave him a drop of confidence. And it was a drop in a very empty bucket!
"Did you come over to comment on my clothes?" she asked, leaning against the door slightly as she held it open.
"Uh, no," he said, a sardonic laugh prefacing his words. "But it looks like you're about to turn in for the night so... I can just come back another time," Tony said, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb before starting to turn away.
Her hand reached out and gently grabbed his forearm. "Come in. I will put on a robe."
Tony nodded, stepping inside and letting the door shut behind him as she slipped down the hall in her apartment and ducked into her room.
He scanned the apartment, sparsely furnished, but elegant none the less. An upright piano was tucked against a wall. A large dining table took up a good portion of the living room, the apartment obviously not designed to accommodate the large dinner parties she liked to host. However, her lack of television certainly allowed the furnishings to feel balanced.
She had a few photos – recently taken - of the team. His eyes scanned over the colorful images. A shot taken before she left for Mossad of "her men" as she had teased, winking at them. McGee and DiNozzo flanked Gibbs, his trademark coffee held in his hands. Tony had wanted a copy of his own but had never had the nerve to ask for one. Another photo, Abby and Ziva with their heads thrown back with laughter – a candid taken by Palmer when McGee had managed to get a can of slime-like goo all over himself.
The final photo caught him off guard and without being aware of his movements, he felt himself lift the frame and regard the image.
The more he looked at it, the more he felt as if someone had sucker punched him. And the drop of confidence he felt earlier now evaporated in a puff.
It was the same photo from her desk months before. One he had, for some stupid hopeful reason had thought she had thrown away. Or burned. Or tossed out a window. He didn't care; he just hoped she didn't have it anymore.
Tony startled when he heard her clear her throat. His gaze snapped away from the photo and to her face and he saw something that, had he been more aware and less self-pitying, he would have identified as guilt, cross her features.
"I, um," he started, looking down at the photo again and finding a self-deprecating chuckle burst forth. "Heh. Ya know, I had this great chat with Tara today."
"In the elevator," she supplied, her arms folding across her chest. "I saw. It looked … great."
He didn't even notice the jealousy that had crept through her accent. Nor did he pick up on her innuendo. The right words had filled his head, finally, and he plowed forth.
"So she has the best woman's intuition I've ever seen. I mean, you're ninja skills are not to be trifled with, Ziva, but this girl was on when it came to reading men. She's a black belt at it, you know?" He didn't even glance up, still glaring at the photo. "So we got to talking about these dates that I had been on recently," he continued, glossing over part of their conversation. "And how it just hasn't been right lately. I mean, I'm the king of dates, Ziva. This is not something I've ever really had to work at. Its always been easy. But not lately, you know? I'm off my game."
Tony paused and his eyes flicked up to her, finding her gazing at him with unabashed surprise.
"So Tara tells me that the cure to this was to find the right woman. And then suddenly it would all make sense. I wouldn't have to 'try' anymore. It would just feel right."
It was clear that he had never been this honest with her and she was not expecting the flood of words.
Yet he plowed on.
"When I got home tonight, I just kept hearing those words: 'right woman.' Over and over. I really wished Gibbs were around to give me a good whack on the head and make the record stop skipping," he paused to catch his breath, his voice now almost reverent. "But, the weird thing was that no matter how many times I heard the words 'the right woman,' there was only one person who came to mind."
Tony regarded the photo in his hand one more time. The muscled man on the picture gazed back at him. And for the first time in his life, Tony felt as if he couldn't win the girl.
He shifted and set the photo back on top of the piano, in its place of honor next to her photos of the NCIS family.
"I guess I just didn't realize it soon enough. And someone else got the right woman before I pulled my head out of my ass."
Ziva's hand covered her mouth in a very out of character gesture of emotion. Tony barely registered the tears welling in her eyes. He took a step towards her, cupped her cheek with his hand and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.
"Make sure he treats you right. You deserve it," he said softly, turning and heading out of the apartment, not stopping as her door clicked softly behind him.