Title: Belonging
Author: Lizabeth S. Tucker
Genre: Gen
Rating: G or K (depending on your rating system)
Pairing: None
Challenge: None
Summary: Tony's thoughts.
Warnings: None
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Of course I don't own 'em, Uncle Sam (and DPB, CBS, et al) does. Although the government owns me as well, so maybe Tony and I could be cubicle buddies? (NCIS)

I act the fool and they laugh or get annoyed, never really understanding why I do it. I say stupid things, outrageous remarks, insulting observations and they put it down to my rich brat childhood, my wild burgeoning adulthood. They never suspect the truth, they never try to understand.

Years of nothingness, years of being invisible, of being ignored. It takes its toll. My former life seemed golden, a wealthy family that could give me everything I wanted. Except for love. Except for attention. Except for acknowledgement that I existed, that I had a purpose other than to be trotted out for the prerequisite family photo, to be forced into a mold that would end with me married to a proper woman, with two children, one of each, and a job that's only purpose was to accumulate more money.

Rebellion came early. So did retribution. But in that punishment was freedom. To be replaced by another who could be the perfect son, the chosen one should've caused more pain. But it didn't, he didn't. I felt for that son of another mother, trapped and unable to free himself, the chains of duty and wealth and comfort drawing tighter and tighter around his soul.

Freedom. It had its good points, but I still craved…attention, validation, friendship, love. I moved from school to school, clubs to fraternities, but the connections were born in alcohol and a similar need, not to be trusted, not to be relied upon. I soon realized that team sports were only another way of trying to connect, to belong. Joyous when we won, heartbreaking when we didn't. And when the season was over, the connection was broken, casually and without regret.

From there I went to police work, still searching, still longing for what every one else seemed to have. Superficial, casual, empty relationships, friendships littered my past and my present. Was this my life? Would I simply fade away, no one there to mourn my passing? No one to even be aware that I existed once?

And then, and then.

A case complicated by the arrival of an federal agency I never heard of, a hardnosed ex-Marine who had no patience for fools or incompetence or excuses. I could feel his cold blue eyes on me as I fought for justice for the family of a young woman violated by a drunken state senator's son and the innocent midshipman who tried to help and was attacked for his interference.

At first, we butted heads. Then we worked together, the greater good binding us together while others tried to pull us apart. And for the first time, I felt alive, I felt a part of something special. And when the case was solved and the bad guy brought up on charges even his influential father couldn't get him out of, I mourned. Soon this SOB who pushed and pushed and pushed me would be gone. And I would be invisible once again, alone and forgotten.

My boss was livid, threatening to put me up on charges, trying to pass on the heat that trickled down from higher up. I threw my badge at him and stalked out, only to run head first into my future.

Offered a job, I found a career, a home, a reason to wake up in the morning. And with the infrequent head slap or amused smile, I found someone who knows I exist, who cares that I live, who wants the best from me and for me. I found a family. I found myself.

June 2006