AN: Bunny here! This idea struck me and wouldn't let me go, so I had to write it. I'm looking for constructive feedback on this one, since it's the first of its kind I've ever tried writing. Hope you enjoy! Thank you!


Nobody knows me. Not really.

It's bittersweet, coming to a conclusion such as this. At first, there's a sliver of relief, at finally discovering and admitting the truth to yourself. But then the true realization sets in. And you realize how sad your life just got. But it's the truth. And now that you've admitted it, now that you've let it out of its cage, you can't take it back. You simply have to live with it. Day by day, adjust to the fact that nobody knows you. Because they don't.

You see, no one knows that most nights, I sleep on the couch. It's not as if it's always a conscious decision. I come home from work, usually bone tired. Then I grab my microwave dinner, Pathetic Loner Edition. I can't stand to eat in the kitchen. It's so silent, so eerie. I can hear my every motion and thought, swirling through the vacant air like leaves through a steady wind. And most of the time, I'd rather just ignore my thoughts.

When I settle into the couch with my sad little dinner and flip on the TV, the world is lost. I watch the shows. I study the plot. I become the characters. It's a wonderful distraction. No one gets why I like movies and TV and media in general. It's as if they think I'm wasting my life away just watching…And I don't correct them. Because if I told them how wrong they were, I'd have to explain the truth.

That I much prefer the movies over my own reality. That the TV shows are so much more satisfying than my everyday existence.

But I don't tell them that. And they don't suspect. So I take the truth and put her in an iron prison. She's safe, hidden away. Yet at the same time, she is begging to be let out of her cage. But I can't let her out. I can never let her out. Because to admit the truth is to destroy the façade I've so beautifully crafted. Like breaking the shell of a hermit crab. Yes, that's exactly it. That's what I am. A hermit crab. And everyone knows…you can polish, paint, and pretty up the shell all you want…But in the end, it's just a shell. It's just the thing that protects the weak and wormy critter inside. Because beneath that hardened, painted, seemingly infallible shell is a feeble ghost of a being. That's Anthony DiNozzo. And the shell…the shell is Tony.

I think my shell is cracking.

When my movie or show is over, I reluctantly rise and walk to the box, powering off all the systems. Press, click, flip. Done.

I grab my dirty dishware and deposit it into the sink. The scrubbing can wait for tomorrow.

Trying to ignore the silence, I drag myself into the bedroom and slip out of my wrinkled clothes. As they drop to the floor, I feel cold, exposed, vulnerable. But the moment is fleeting as I grab the sweatpants and t-shirt off my dresser and quickly shove my arms, legs, and head through.

Without casting even a small glance at the bed, I exit the bedroom and close the door behind me. With a sleepy sigh, I walk over to the faded blue sofa, lying down on the lumpy cushions. There's nothing wrong with the bed, per say. The pillows are fluffed; the sheets are clean; the mattress is comfortable. It's just so…big.

Some nights, I'm tired enough to get lost in the oversized expanse. After a big case that keeps me up for 3 days straight, I can sleep almost anywhere. But most of the time, the absence swallows me whole. Its presence is an oxymoron in itself. The presence of absence…doesn't make much sense. But that's exactly what it is. Just a deep, relentless, all-consuming presence, constantly reminding me of what's not there—of who's not there.

And that's what kills me. The emptiness. The sense of failure I'm left to lie with.

I am alone. Now, I'm not an idiot. I know I have friends. Good friends, for whom I'd do anything, and vice versa. But when all is said and done…when I slip the keys into the door, and drop my bag on the carpet…no one greets me. No one is waiting. Just that presence. That unbearable, detestable presence of absence. At the end of the day, I'm alone.

Thinking about the cases helps…sometimes. When I throw myself into something, it easily distracts me from the Presence. It draws my mind away from the absence. Funny, how presence and absence have become synonymous to me…

Sometimes, though, the loneliness grips me too tightly. So tightly I can hardly breathe. It's creeping, withered hand grips my weak windpipe and squeezes. Just hard enough to make me panic. So that's what I do. It gets me into trouble sometimes. Just like with Dana Hutton.

It was a bad month for me. I fell into one of those sad spells, where self-pity and constant loathing become my shadow, with me every moment. Then the case began. And I learned all about Dana. Such an impressive woman. Such an attainable possibility. I learned all I could about her before taking it to the next level. I had to see her. Or at least see her by extension. So I went to her apartment. The well-furnished home was a cold reminder of what I didn't and may never have. But it was like looking into a crystal ball, and I couldn't tear my eyes away. I saw myself, side by side with her. I saw myself, with a family, with a house. I saw myself…with a life.

In hindsight, I realize how crazy I must have looked. Just randomly obsessing over a woman I'd never met, then nearly breaking apart when she died… But that made it that much worse.

Because losing Dana wasn't simply the loss of a person in my life. It was the loss of my life. Or at least what my life could have been. Dana Hutton was the epitome of everything I wanted—still want—in a woman, in a relationship. It was as if I got close enough to touch it, to experience how amazing it feels to be a success, to have a chance.

And then my chance was ripped away, my opportunity taken, my hope thrown aside.

But that wasn't even the worst part. The most difficult thing to deal with during and after the whole situation wasn't my abysmal failure and once more fractured heart. I'd dealt with disappointment more times and more ways than I ever care to think about.

The worst part was that nobody knew. Nobody understood. They thought I was crazy, obsessed. Obsessed with Dana Hutton, a woman I never knew. But I wasn't obsessed with her. I was obsessed with the idea of her. Dana was simply a pawn in my heart's cruel game of self-sabotage.

But no one knew that. Because no one knows me. Except the Presence. The Presence is always there to taunt me.

These are usually the thoughts that drift through my tired mind as I gradually descend into sleep.

Then, the morning comes. As my eyes blink open, I'm not invigorated for the upcoming day. Most mornings, I'd be perfectly content just lying here. But Tony doesn't do that. Only Anthony would think of such a thing, and Anthony is gone. Hidden beneath Tony. Protected by Tony.

Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I rise slowly from the cushions, stretching my sore muscles. I need a new sofa…as I say every morning.

Residual thoughts attract my mind and the presence begins its violent assault as soon as I'm coherent enough to acknowledge it. With the overwhelming absence all around me, I reach down to pick up my heavy heart, and walk to the kitchen, a defeated slump in my shoulders. But no worries. By the time I make it to the office, the slump will be gone, replaced by a jovial skip in my step. And the frown lines will be far away, shoved aside by a 1000-watt grin. And no one will know the bad things were ever there. Except the Presence of course…Omniscient bastard.

Grabbing a bowl and a box, I pour myself some cereal, accompanied by skim milk and a pinch of sugar. This is my compromise, Ducky. He's always telling me I need to eat healthier. And I'll admit, I'm not getting any younger. But I'll be damned if I can't have even a little bit of joy in my life.

I stand up as soon as I'm finished and hastily clean the area. Then I make my way to the bedroom.

My wardrobe has always been one thing that grounds me in life. No matter what, I can always trust and rely on my Dolce and Gabbana. Gucci and Armani have yet to let me down. So I button up the shirt, pull on the jacket, fix the tie, and tie the shoes. The same pattern every day. Never fails.

Then on to the hair. While this is one thing I'm most known for, it's one of my least favorite practices. Because to brush the hair and gel the strands, I have no choice but to look myself in the mirror, and examine every line and wrinkle my eyes are drawn to. Looking myself in the eyes is not something I enjoy. The emotion and defeat in the hazel depths is a sad reminder of the loneliness that plagues me. As if I need another. I hate doing my damn hair. But I do so, because if I didn't, people would notice. I suppose that's really the only thing people notice. The styled hair, not the sad eyes. The expensive wardrobe, not the weary body. The adolescent personality, not the broken man beneath the shell.

But by now, I've accepted it. Nobody knows me. Only the Presence.

Finally, I drag my feet to the front door, expensive Italian shoes rubbing against the rough carpet. I grip the door handle and turn it, a motion so trained into my muscle memory that I hardly notice the action at all. The click and creak as I pull the door open reverberates through the empty apartment. I look over my shoulder at the abyss. Everything is in place, as I made sure it would be. Couch pillows re-fluffed, dishes cleaned, clothes put away. I even cleaned off the counter, so everything has a shiny-clean appearance. I paid special attention to it today. Some days, it's like a college dorm, clothes strewn everywhere, dirty dishes galore. Yet somehow, even on those days, it still looks as if it's been vacated for years. And standing here, contemplating my own existence and worth, I wonder if maybe it has…

I shake my head and sigh. I'll save those thoughts for tonight. Now I have to slip on my shell and become Tony DiNozzo, the over-aged playboy that everybody loves to hate. I'll spend the day with my friends and others, before returning to my abyss, my empty chasm, my Presence of Absence.

As I shut the door despondently, I catch a final glimpse of the Presence, stalking the far corner of the apartment, filling the emptiness with more unending absence. An ever-growing massless form, it grins cruelly and waves as the lock clicks shut.

And now I'm off, prepared—yet never ready—for another day of taunting existence.

Oh well. At least I know what'll be waiting for me when I get home.