AN: So, here's my first attempt at a 24 fic. I hope its worth reading. Next chapter up soon.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Summary: Three days after Michelle left him, Tony comes to a realization.
Tony Almeida hesitated slightly at the door before donning a neutral expression and pushing past the few standing people to find room at the bar. It wasn't very busy for a friday night, but it was still early. He hadn't planned to come until later, but he had run out of beer at home. Home. He scoffed at the word. It hadn't felt like home in quite some time.
He plopped himself down on the stool nearest the corner, promising himself he would move once he'd had more to drink. Just like he had promised himself the night before. And the night before that. It had been three days since she had left. The first twenty-four hours had had spent in denial, refusing to admit to the fact that she may not be coming home. Although he never told her, the sheer knowledge of her presence made him feel comforted. He then became angry, having convinced himself that he should hate her. It was her fault he had gone to prison, it was her fault he felt like shit, it was her fault he couldn't be what she needed anymore. And if he told himself enough times, he may start to believe it.
He told himself she was a horrible person for leaving him, that he should be glad she left. She had probably found someone else already. Obviously she had meant more to him than him to her. In fact, she had probably left him for someone else. That had to be it. He even convinced himself he could get over her, all it would take was one night. One girl was all it would take. He needed to go to a bar, and hook up for one night and all the pain of her leaving would be gone. He would prove to himself that he was over her, that he didn't need her and if she ever found out, she would be hurt, just like he was. And he would be glad.
Tony nodded to himself, hoping it would re-conform the plan in his head. Even though he had a fair amount of beer before leaving home and was well into his current one, he still knew it was a stupid plan. The agent that was still in him laughed and pointed out all the flaws, the biggest of which being that he would never get over her. He would never convince himself he would be glad to hurt her. That was the last thing he wanted.
He shook his head and told the voice to shut up, and reminded himself that he needed to do this. She was probably over him by now. She had likely moved on. She was probably seeing someone else right now. The thought alone made his stomach contract, and he quickly downed the rest of the drink, signaling for another. Just one more drink and he would be ready.
The first night he had proved himself useless. He had sat at the bar until close, barely looking away from the bottom of his glass. The second night he had allowed a few minutes of conversation was a couple of girls who approached him. He, however, spent those moments comparing them to Michelle and refused when they asked him to dance, turning his back on them. Tony shook his head, forcing his thoughts back to the present. He could do this.
An older man stumbled over and took a seat a few stools away from him, nodding in greeting as he sat down. He motioned for a beer without even looking at the bar tender. Tony returned the greeting and allowed his eyes to wander the rest of the bar. He made eye contact with a woman sitting at one of the tables. She smiled at him and he forced himself to smile back. He glanced at her subtly, taking in her appearance: straight blond hair, nose ring, big jewelry. She was just what he was looking for, the opposite of her. She motioned that she would come to him, and suddenly his throat was dry. He had been good at this once, back in college, but back then he was a marine, a somebody. Now, he was nothing. As she got closer and took a seat, he struggled with something to say. Years ago, this would have been easy, but after he had found the one, it was like all the skills he had developed when he was single had disappeared overnight. He had never thought he would ever be single again. The blond had taken a seat and was looking expectantly at him.
"Hey," he said, thankful to have said anything.
"Hey, I'm Lisa," the blond said.
"Tony." He said, sighing on the inside, trying to remember why he was doing this.
"What brings you here tonight, Tony?"
Tony shrugged. He really could remember why he was doing this.
Lisa tilted her head. "Not much of a talker, huh?"
Tony sighed. "No, not really." If he couldn't remember why he was doing this, then he sure as hell wasn't going to do it. He motioned for another drink.
Another man had taken the seat between Lisa and the older man who had sat earlier. Apparently the two intoxicated men had more to talk about than Tony and Lisa. The newcomer was ranting about his job.
"That's good," Lisa said. "Cause I'm not much of a talker myself."
He glanced at her, and she raised an eyebrow slightly. Tony almost laughed at how pathetic his life had become. A year ago he would never have believed it. Lisa, after realizing her comment wasn't going to elicit anything from him, continued to talk, telling him how much her friends liked to party.
Tony allowed her voice to filter through the back of his mind, focusing more of his attention on the ranting man beside her. He was complaining about how much he hated his boss and how much he hated overtime, and how bad his day had been because traffic was bad and he couldn't find a file and his boss had yelled at him. Tony almost envied the man. At least having a bad day at his job didn't mean people died.
"You kinda look familiar," Lisa was saying. "Have I seen you around here before?"
Tony shook his head. "Nope, first time here." After his two failed nights he had decided to try a new venue. And before then he had never been much of a bar dweller. After bad days at work, he and Michelle would usually go out for a drink and toast those who had been lost, but they had never come here. Tony was glad. He was reminded of her enough.
"That's weird, I come here all the time and you look so familiar."
Tony made a mental note never to come back here.
"So what do you do?"
"Do you have a job?"
Tony shook his head. "Not at the moment."
"Sort of," Tony said.
"What did you do?"
"I, uh, it's not important. I don't do it anymore."
After a few moments of silence between them, Lisa apparently felt the need to fill the gap and started talking about herself and her job as a waitress and her aspirations to be an actress. Tony tuned her out again, and was surprised to realize that 'ranting man' as he now referred to him was silent, while the man beside him was going on about his life. He had dark hair and was wearing rumpled clothes, and Tony decided he looked like a Tom.
"You married, Brent?" Tom asked. Apparently 'ranting man' had a name. Tony shrugged, he liked 'ranting man' better.
Brent apparently said no.
"Good for yeh," Tom stated, patting the younger man on the back. "They suck the life right out of yeh. Me, I've been married eighteen years. And in eighteen years she has done nothing but bitch and moan."
Tom nodded and finished his beer in one gulp, wiping his mouth with his sleeve as he motioned for another. "Sometimes all I want to do is sit and watch some TV in peace. And she comes home and bitches about me not doing anything constructive. She bitches about me drinking so much. The woman just likes to bitch."
Tony shook his head slightly, still tuning out Lisa who seemed not to notice his lack of attention. Years of pretending to listen to listen to higher level agents who liked to hear themselves talk must have done him good. He had perfected the 'paying attention' face.
"Why can't the woman just leave me to live my life in peace? She's so nosy, always wanting to know what I've done with my day, always wanting to know where I'm going. I'm a big boy, I can take care of myself."
Tony scoffed, slightly annoyed at the audacity of the man. After meeting the people he had, he recognized those who didn't see the big picture, didn't realize what they did affected others. Still, it was more interesting than listening to Lisa speak.
Tom was still complaining about his wife. "It's my life, and what I do with it is my choice. What's wrong with drinking on the couch with the TV? I'm not hurting anyone."
Tony was surprised to find a similarity with the man. He could distinctly remember using that argument with Michelle, and although she hadn't responded, he could read her expression. He had been hurting her.
"And she keeps swooping around me, checking up on me. It's so demeaning, as if I need to be checked up on. Like I can't take care of myself. She begs me to go places with her, like grocery shopping. If she's already going, what's the point in two of us going?"
Tony suddenly couldn't remember the last time he had gone shopping with Michelle. He did remember several occasions when they were first together. He had promised her he was going to teach her how to cook. They spent many trips to the supermarket with him patiently explaining the best way to pick out fruit, vegetables and meat. After a few months he had given up trying to teach her anything that had to do with the kitchen or cooking and their trips were spent with him making fun of her culinary skills, all in good fun of course.
"And she begs me to come out with, to go to parties, or our to dinner. Why does she need me to go with her? What's wrong with staying home to watch the game? I hate going out with her now. I hate her friends."
Tony shook his head, wanting to tell the guy off. Lisa was still talking. Tony stopped pretending to be listening.
"…I mean, I've had it rough. I was on my way up in the company when they fired me. It's not my fault I can't get a good job. And I'm not accepting anything lower than I deserve."
Tony decided the guy probably did deserve to get fired. He didn't have proof, but his intuition told him there were probably to many lates and sick days, too many mistakes. This man didn't seem like your stand-up citizen.
"And the wife is all on me about work. I have enough money to support myself for now, and she has a job, so why does it matter? And she keeps trying to sit with me, and touch me, and tries to get me to talk. What the hell does she want from me?"
Tony rolled his eyes. He had never met the woman, and even from her husbands obviously biased rant, he knew what the woman wanted, just attention, just to be told she was loved. How did the poor woman end up married to such an ass? She deserved better.
Tony's blood ran cold. How could he be so blind? She deserved better.
"Hey, are you okay?" Lisa asked, finally realizing he wasn't giving her his complete attention.
Tony shook his head, but said nothing. How could he not have realized? He had spent so much time mourning over what he had lost that he hadn't seen what he still had. She hadn't ditched him when things got hard. She fought for him while he was in prison, she was there for him when he got out, she had been so patient and so loving. And he had blown her off for months. He had treated her horribly. He was disgusted with himself. On some level he had wanted to be miserable, to be able to simply feel sorry for himself, but he had never wanted to lose her. He still didn't. What had he done?
He had given up everything for her because she meant that much to him. He gave up his job and his freedom, and would gladly have given up his life. That's how much he loved her, how much he wanted her to be happy. All he ever wanted was for her to be happy. And he was given a second chance with her. The news of a pardon had been sudden and he had been ecstatic and thankful. All he wanted to do was to go home with her and continue their lives; their life. How had things become so messed up? What had he done.
Suddenly the walls seemed to be closing in, and the ceiling was lower. Tony needed to get out of there. Ignoring Lisa's incessant questions about his behavior, he pulled some bills out of his pocket and motioned to the bartender as he tossed them on the bar. He then mumbled something incomprehensible to Lisa and high-tailed it out of there.
It wasn't until he was quite a few blocks from there that he slowed his pace. He found a bench plopped himself down, his head in his hands.
What the hell had he done?
Tony groaned in frustration, the effects of the alcohol quickly dissipating. He had do to something. He had to fix it.
He would fix it. He would talk to her. He would explain. She would understand. She would take him back. He hoped…
He needed to talk to her right away. He couldn't wait. Tony glanced at his watch. It was after 1 in the morning. He couldn't talk to her now. He would wait. He'd wait for her forever.