He stands outside her door, slumped against the wall—not the door, because he doesn't want to alert her to his presence, not yet, maybe not ever.
Don't go in there. You can't go in there. You know you can't.
But, goddamn, I want to. I don't want to be alone right now. I can't be alone right now.
He stares at her door, the 202 marking it as hers making him smile. It is the area code for the District. He wonders if they have ever discussed that, but he can't remember.
And why is that? Huh? Why can't you remember?
He looks down at his shoes as if the answers are written there, and he gasps in shock, a hand clamping over his mouth to stifle the noise. He listens intently for signs that she has heard him.
What the hell are you doing? Run. Go. Now.
He shoves off the wall, biting back a groan, and moves as fast he can for the stairs. He slinks down them—there is really no other word for it—and the pain is making him slow, but he's trying to hurry. He approaches his Mustang, feeling lower than the low-slung car. He hurriedly unclips his badge and gun and ditches one of his cells as quickly as possible.
You do realize that would have been it, right? She opens the door, sees you standing there—if you could call that pained slouch "standing"—and then her eyes drop to the shiny badge, the damned gun on your hip, and it's game over, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.
Professor Tony DiNardo gets obliterated in the blink of those pretty blue eyes of hers.
He takes a moment to consider whether or not he cares about that and decides he does.
So he looks back up at the building and tells himself not to go back inside even as his traitorous feet are moving toward the front doors.
Tylenol? Ah, damn you evil marketing geniuses!
Nothing's on fire other than his damaged ribs.
And his fevered brain.
You can't drive. You shouldn't have driven here. Call someone to come get you. Gibbs?
Ha. No, that would be even more dangerous, wouldn't it?
Jenny? No, don't let her see how close to stupid you got.
He finds himself at her door, staring into her face. How did that happen? Oh well, I'm here.
And in need of a doctor.
"Tony?" she asks.
Which is silly because she knows who I am.
Well, kind of. Not really. One of me. Whatever.
Her voice is concern on a stick wrapped in buttery softness with a side of fear.
No, wait. Film professor. Not food critic. That was option two—but you didn't look enough like that hog from the Post to snatch his identity. Not that identity-snatching is legal in this country. Ziva's maybe. But not this one. Not even for covert ops.
Speaking of covert, should I be talking? Could I just stay silent all night and pretend I'm on stealthy recon?
Well at least some things never change.
Something is wrong with his words, and he wonders if he just said "Hi, I'm Anthony DiNozzo, a federal agent dating you simply to gain information on your arms-dealer daddy."
"Have you heard the good news?"
But he hasn't said any of that. Her gentle doctor's hands come up to his mouth and come away bloody, and he realizes what was wrong with his words: They didn't sound anything like real words—not in any of the languages Ziva knows.
He tries again, mostly because she is scared and he doesn't want to be the one to have put that fear into her young, beautiful eyes.
Let her daddy do that.
Shut. Up. Anthony.
His second attempt must be worse than the first because the words sound as mangled as the most recent victim of her most recent wood-chipper incident during an ER rotation. He wonders if there's more than one of those a month. A year?
Don't call for a crash cart just yet, love. Only one of me is dead.
Jury's still out on which one.
Oh wait. Not a food critic, not a lawyer.
Good, Gibbs would hate me.
"Come in, Tony," she is saying, her eyes deep wells of concern and he can't fathom why. "Let me take a look at you."
Oh, that makes sense. She wants me. I'm a good-looking guy. I'm her type. That's why I'm here and not McGee, right? I'm charming, hot, irresistible. There's no way she wouldn't take the bait, jump at the chance to jump Anthony DiNozzo. And I'm a federal agent. Women love danger, right?
I'm Tony DiNardo and I've seen a good many action flicks, but I've never chased a bad guy, never fired a gun.
There isn't a Sig in my car downstairs.
He finds himself sitting on her couch, and she is crouched between his knees.
Whoa. When did that happen?
He looks down and sees they are fully clothed. He sees the bloody cloth in her hand and blinks, the pain rushing back at him, and he probably groans. He's not sure. He can't hear much over the ringing in his ears.
"Tony, you're scaring me. Answer me or I'm calling an ambulance."
Well, he damned sure heard that. "Ambulance" gets everyone's attention, DiNozzos and DiNardos alike.
"I love you."
His words are as puréed as his food will be if the dirtbag has actually broken his jaw.
DiNozzo and DiNardo both suddenly want a cheeseburger.
But she understands the mashed words. He realizes she's fluent in English, French and damaged-and-swollen. Almost a match for Ziva.
Stop that one right there.
She smiles, the sunny expression breaking through her clouds of fear. "I love you, too," she says softly, wincing in tandem with him as her fingers ghost over his split lip in what he assumes is the medical version of a kiss. "But what happened, Tony? Who did this to you?"
Lieutenant McRapist? No, that's not funny. And Tony DiNardo might love a good comedy, but he's not a raunchy comedian. Get your story straight.
All of them.
Film professor. Not a food critic, not a lawyer, not a comedian.
He wishes his foggy brain could flip on its usually reliable translator and turn "I was chasing a rape suspect who popped up behind me suddenly—probably because I was tired and couldn't focus—and beat the crap out of me" into something pretty.
Or at least something believable.
But film professors don't get cracked in the ribs by stray pipes conveniently located in a seedy back alley near you.
"She looked like you."
"Who?" Jeanne asks after a moment—obviously having had to wait for her translator to spit out coherence from his mushy, bleeding attempt at communication.
"The rape victim."
Her eyes go wide and he realizes he did say that one out loud.
Backpedal, is his first thought.
Idiot, is his close second.
You can't backpedal from that. You're a good liar, DiNozzo—OBVIOUSLY, or you wouldn't be here now and she wouldn't think your name is DiNardo—so use it. Work with it. You've crafted something believable from the thin fabric of bad slips before.
But not with a concussion, a possible broken jaw, and definite broken ribs.
I know they're broken because I feel like I'm getting stabbed every time I breathe. Which is a lot. And I know what getting stabbed feels like because—
"I'm calling the police."
Welcome back, Tony DiNardo.
Agent DiNozzo, you may exit stage left and let DiNardo take center stage now, thank you kindly.
"Jeanne, I'm fine," he says, and he knows he sounds clearer. Not because he can actually hear himself over the roaring in his skull but because she takes much less time to scoff at his less-than-professional medical opinion.
DiNardo, stop stealing DiNozzo's lines!
"I'm okay," he tries again, and she reappears in front of him.
"You are not fine," she says, concern and fear still in her eyes. "Or okay."
He sees the fear is both for him and of him and he remembers his rapist slip.
"You're right," he says, letting the swelling in his split lip dominate his speech again. Bastard. "I'll tell you everything. Just kiss me first?"
She glares at him with those stunning blue eyes, and he's suddenly reminded of Gibbs. Which is really, really uncomfortable considering he was planning on screwing her out of her questions.
Now there's one that fits either DiNozzo or DiNardo.
Not the Gibbs.
Possibly the bastard.
"This is one time you will not distract me with that, Tony," she says, but he sees her fear of him has lifted the tiniest bit.
It's working, keep going, keep thinking.
Goddamn, I'm so tired.
And it hurts.
"A girl was attacked on campus earlier tonight," he says, Rule No. 7—Be specific when you lie—flashing in bright, painful neon in both DiNozzo's and DiNardo's head, though he can't figure out how that's possible.
DiNardo's never even met Gibbs. I keep them separated like unruly cousins at a family reunion from hell.
"I stopped the guy. But not before he tried to stop me. From breathing."
She hugs him, and he gasps sharply in pain, his injured ribs shrieking as his mouth wants to.
But he's fairly certain neither DiNozzos nor DiNardos shriek.
"I'm sorry," she says, pulling back and looking into his anguished eyes. Her hand comes to rest on his aching side and he tries not to cry out again at the gentle contact. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Come on. I'm taking you to the hospital."
Oh hell no.
Yeah, that was definitely DiNozzo.
But for more reasons than one.
First, I hate hospitals, whoever I am. I'm still me. Right?
Second, if you decide to take me to any hospital other than the one you work in, the ER staff might recognize me. DiNozzo's a player. He gets around.
Third, I can't remember if we made up a medical history for Professor DiNardo while we were playing choose-your-own-identity. Hide and go speak? Ring around the poser? Hopscotch? Mmmm, scotch.
"I saw the paramedic who tended to the girl," he says.
She believes him. He wonders if it's because he has seen a doctor. He thanks all things holy that one of him has the presence of mind to not admit he just came from the hospital. And that Gibbs had let him go to one in the city instead of driving all the way out to Bethesda, which is all the way out in Maryland. Okay, so it's really not that far, mileage-wise, but it's a Friday night and that twenty miles from the District means an hour in snarled traffic.
The Wizards are playing tonight and that's going to make it worse. DiNozzo cares, but DiNardo—like ninety-five percent of the District's inhabitants—doesn't. Unless Gilbert Arenas is brandishing guns again tonight as the half-time show. DiNozzo's foggy head remembers they call Arenas "Agent Zero" and he wonders if he knows him professionally.
But if I was at the hospital, why don't I know if my jaw is broken? I distinctly remember getting x-rays. Gibbs blocked the door so I couldn't escape while the tech took them. He even wore one of those funny little guards that protect … Gibblets. I wanted so badly to make a joke, but it hurt too much to talk at that point.
I'm sure Gibbs enjoyed the silence.
But why didn't I stick around for the results?
Because you got pissed at something—someone?—and signed yourself out AMA.
Because you're Anthony DiNozzo.
Not right now you're not. We've been over this. You're Tony DiNardo tonight.
Did you take painkillers, by chance?
That would explain my ability to speak even though it feels like someone is prying the words from my mouth with a crowbar.
"And I told him I had a doctor waiting for me," he says, smiling. Or trying to. From the look on her face, the result is less GQ and more MVA. Either way, it makes him remember his jaw might be broken.
Who the hell forgets that kind of thing?
He doesn't have an answer for himself, but he figures neither DiNozzos nor DiNardos should ever forget something like that. Or Joneses. Or Wallaces. Or Smiths.
But maybe Gibbses.
"Tony," she says patiently, as if she's talking to a two-year-old. He wonders what age they picked for Tony DiNardo, but he's pretty sure it's over two. Over twenty-one, he hopes, or else he might have to arrest himself for underage drinking.
He remembers she's talking and tries to pay attention.
"You're really spacey, Tony," she is saying.
"I don't look anything like Kevin Spacey."
She glares at him—gently.
Hmmm, I thought that was something only Gibbs could pull off.
Shut. Up. Anthony.
There is no Gibbs. Not when you're with her.
Well that doesn't seem fair.
He realizes he's made another mistake and he backpedals. Like that time he mentioned something funny the Probie had said while parked in a Probie-free zone. And he'd said something about alien abductions and sounded like he'd been abducted himself—and had his brain vacuumed out with cleaners that would put even a Dyson to shame. But she had bought it.
So sell it, DiNardo.
Film professor. Not a food critic, not a lawyer, not a comedian, not a salesman.
"Ha, just kidding," he says. "I'm sorry. But I'm really okay. My head just hurts and I'd like to go to bed."
"That's because you have a concussion," Dr. Jeanne says. "I'm really worried about you. You should have a CT scan."
"Or you can wake me up every couple of hours and give me very in-depth concussion checks," he hints suggestively.
She bites down on a smile. But then she frowns again, her doctor's eyes—which are her regular eyes, only smarter, harder—watch his chest rise and fall jerkily because of the pain. "And your breathing is off. A little wheezy."
That's because I had the pneumonic plague.
LIKE HELL YOU DID.
Not unless the good Professor DiNardo has been to a seriously long-distance film conference—and no university is shelling out the cash to send a professor back to the Middle Ages.
"I think I might have cracked a rib."
Truth? Is that you?
Nope. Because I know I did. The doctor at the hospital I didn't go to said I did. He could feel it.
That made Gibbs mad, for some reason.
"Tony," she says, his name an admonishment. "Let's get you into the bathroom where I'll have some light to look at you."
He stands, swaying gently like a sock on a summer clothesline. If he closes his eyes, he can feel the sun shining down on his shoulders.
Or he could fall over.
But then her arms are around him, and he buries his face in her neck and wants to stay there forever.
"There's nothing I can do to make you go to the hospital?" she asks softly, feeling him shaking in her arms.
Not a thing, Anthony DiNozzo thinks.
"Not a thing," Tony DiNardo says.
He feels her sigh. "You are damned lucky I'm a doctor, Tony."
You have no idea, Jeanne.