AN: OK, I'm being a bit self indulgent again, and I don't really suppose I should be using the site for such things… but when you've just had the scariest 3 months of your life, dealing with an illness with the potential to kill you… please cut me some slack here, and I promise NEVER to do it again.
The point is, having received the all-clear from the surgeon as a lovely Christmas prezzy, tumour's gone…I've been thinking about friends. Without you I'd never have come out of this with my sanity (probably) still intact, so Tony's thoughts are actually mine. If I say I can't thank you enough, it's not just words.
Thank you, Bunny, for the story that was waiting for me when I came out of hozzy… Thank you Di who messaged (and still does) faithfully every day… and especially, thank you Laine, for your insight, compassion and wisdom, and the time you took to bolster me up. Thanks so much, everyone.
Get Over Yourself
Ziva thought the cane was an affectation; she was only partly right. Yes, his sprained ankle had healed and he was comfortable walking on it, but no, he wasn't ready to run yet. The cane reminded him of that fact, as he took a break from case files and went walking to strengthen the joint, beside the Potomac where he was more used to… yeah, running.
The totally unsuitable jeans and Italian leather boots also helped to stop him from even breaking into a jog, which was just as well because although the lack of exercise was driving him slightly crazy, he still wasn't to do it. When he'd pushed his chair back, and lurched to his feet, muttering "Ankle needs a walk," Gibbs had told him it was up to him whether he came back to work afterwards. He knew that the boss knew that desk work always sapped the life out of him; but he also knew the boss wouldn't be cajoled into letting him back in the field. Ducky had said wait another three days, so another three days it was.
Well, running might jar the ribs… which might make him breathe hard, which might hurt the shoulder… and he had only the haziest notion of where his spleen was, but he had an idea it was somewhere near the damaged ribs, so he wouldn't be able to tell the difference between rib-ache and spleen-ache… But hey, everything was just about there, and come Thursday he was going to run… He lengthened his stride and upped his pace, letting other thoughts distract him.
The redhead's name was Darcy, she was a sweet girl, and she'd visited him in the hospital; she was indeed stunningly beautiful, but she had an irritating giggle, and after thanking him for saving her, she'd talked about her job as a beautician, or, more eagerly, about Gibbs. Tony sighed; so much for that, then.
Two teenage girls ran past, giggling in breathless conversation, and as he watched them go, the sigh turned to a smile. The girls were both pretty, glowing with health and vitality, and stood out from the other women doing the circuit, or from Darcy for that matter, in that they hadn't paid the slightest heed to their appearance. Comfy old t-shirts and shorts, comfy old trainers, hair caught back with carelessly applied scrunchies… good friends, out for exercise, not a posing session. They overtook a dark haired woman wearing pink everything right down to the sweatbands on her wrists, and rushed on, laughing. The vision in pink was scarcely noticed, as the young men doing the circuit watched the girls go by.
Tony shook his head and grinned. You look after your boundless youth and energy, girls… you think it'll last for ever…
He snorted. He was forty, for heavens sake, not eighty… he threw his cane down on the grass and flopped down beside it.
Watching the river was always good for the soul; people came and went, boats too, big and small, but the river… that flowed, grey and unheeding, till the end of time, like the song. No… that was the Mississippi. Whatever. You're in a weird mood, DiNozzo. What's got into you?
He pulled his feet up and hitched his hands round his knees, eyes following a busy little River Police launch, pushing downstream against the incoming tide, and thought about the last few weeks, trying to put his finger on what had unsettled him. He drifted back to earlier that morning, when he'd sat back and looked at the desk in front of him. There were two piles of case files; one about twenty high, the other just three. Beside that pile was an empty space, that he'd found himself glaring at. McGee had raised an enquiring eyebrow at his exasperated sigh.
"It's not working. The CORD."
"Ah." Tim knew what he meant; after all, he'd invented the acronym. Ziva began to ask, and he got in quickly, because Tony was bored out of his brain and ready to bite. "Connector Of Random Dots," he explained. "I was looking for a way to explain this thing Tony does."
"Except that Tony doesn't right now. Observe…" he'd pointed to the stack of files. "These are the ones I've yet to look at. Now these two piles are, on the left, the files I've looked at and can add nothing useful to. And on the right –"
"There's nothing there," Ziva said helpfully.
"Precisely. This is the pile that I've been able to make some helpful contribution to. It's not working. I've lost my CORD," he ended on a lamenting note.
Tim had been trying to think of some smart answer when his phone rang. He listened for a moment, then said very politely, "It'll be my pleasure, ma'am," and hung up with a sigh that suggested it would be anything but. "Mrs. Capewell," he said with a sigh. "She wants to alter her statement again."
"Hmm…" Ziva said, "The fearsome lady from the burglary case? It would seem that she has taken a glow to you, Tim. What? Shine? What is the difference?"
"Not that much, I guess. She's a lonely old lady, who likes having –"
"A visit from a nice young man, by the sound of things," Tony finished off for him. "Are you going to go back into the Dragon's Den, McGeorge?" He hadn't been there the first time, but he'd heard.
Tim had sighed again. "I have to check if her new version is important… we still haven't caught him, and all the people living around there are vulnerable."
Tony nodded. "Fair enough… Retired service personnel… mainly Navy… and this scumbag is possibly Navy himself from the description…" His mouth went on without him. "D'you think she'd like two nice young men… or one, and one not so young, but still in perfect condition?"
Tim had looked speechless, but picked up at once. "Are you volunteering to come into the Dragon's Den with me?"
Tony had gone puppy-eyed. "Well, we might find my CORD…"
Gibbs had raised his eyebrows and jerked his head, so they'd gone to see Mrs. Capewell, who they'd found up a ladder, propped up against the bungalow across the road from her own.
"Mrs.C… what are you doing up there?"
She had shaken out her dyed red hair and waved a dismissive, pink rubber gloved hand at Tim. "I'm clearing the gutter. It's blocked right by the downspout." The tone of her voice added, 'What does it look like I'm doing?'
She began to back down the ladder, which wobbled alarmingly, and Tony, standing nearest, dashed to hold it. He opened his mouth, rather foolishly. "Ma'am, you really shouldn't be doing that –"
"Why not?" the Dragon had said with hauteur. "Someone's got to… the old folk can't do these things for themselves, and getting a handyman costs a fortune."
Mrs. Capewell was seventy-one, they knew, and Tony gave up. "Well… have you finished, ma'am? Why don't you let me do it while you're talking to Special Agent McGee?"
Now it had been Tim's turn to protest. "Tony, you can't go up there either!"
Both the SFA and Mrs. C. had asked, accusingly, "Why not?" (If she were honest, the last thing LaVerne Capewell wanted to do was huff around with rotting leaves, at the top of a ladder, but she'd support the Dodgers before she'd admit it.)
Tony had added, "I've offered. I can't go back on it!"
"You've got a duff shoulder, a duff ankle, and dodgy ribs." As Mrs. C.'s eyebrows shot up at the list McGee added, "He had an argument with a cab. Over a redhead." The Dragon patted her flame red hair self-consciously. "I'll do it."
"McHandy, I'll be fine…"
"Hey," Mrs. Capewell had told him admonishingly, "He offered. If someone wants to do something nice for you, you let them."
And that was it, Tony thought. The source of the weird mood… got it. He descended further into introspection…
His motives for facing the Dragon with Tim, (and he had ended up being the one to sit with her revising her statement,) had, on the surface at least, been selfish. He'd rather face the red haired termagant than go on staring, in an inspiration-deprived state, at cold cases. But yes, there were other things he could have done, like annoying the hell out of Gibbs until he sent him off somewhere.
He'd never have admitted that he'd wanted to support McGee – if Tim was the knight, what did that make him – the horse? But he knew that Tim was good-hearted, and sympathetic enough, to go on visiting the old lady whether her pretext for calling was a good one or not, and he thought it might become a burden that needed sharing.
So… the Dragon had been perceptive. She wouldn't have known about his willingness to help the younger agent, but she'd seen his reluctance to accept it back. And when he thought about it, that was what was jabbing away at him. Why couldn't he accept help when it was offered? It wasn't an isolated incident… he was always doing it.
He'd tease McGee just to stop the conversation ever becoming too serious; and Ziva… well, her efforts to be friendly and give good advice were a little bit in-your-face, but they were genuine. He'd feel embarrassed and find some way to wriggle away from such moments… he was so much more comfortable with lust….
DiNozzos don't need other people's help. DiNozzos don't depend on other people. They stand alone, boy, d'you understand? If you can't solve your own problems you're weak… it went on for a while; there were, after all, plenty of these little pieces of wisdom for him to recall.
He shook his head sharply to get rid of the catechism his father was reciting inside it. No, Dad, he insisted, this DiNozzo likes having friends. He values them. So… he teases, and keeps them at arms length. He likes them… but he can never quite believe that they like him. Not in the same way. He doesn't see that there's anything so special about him; he doesn't see what there is about him to value…
He'd been sitting in one position for too long; a twinge from the recovering ankle brought him out of his meditation. He yelped faintly, and massaged the offending joint furiously. It didn't seem to be working – a combination of pins-and-needles and cramp were making his eyes water. He really hoped nobody had noticed him sitting there gritting his teeth, looking an idiot.
"Are you alright?"
No such luck then… and as if things couldn't get any more embarrassing, the speaker was one of the pretty teenagers he'd noticed earlier. 'I'm fine' wasn't going to work, so he ground out "Cramp…" as they scampered over and dropped down beside him.
"Hold still," the dark haired girl said, "We know about cramp." She straightened his leg out and began to pull down on his heel, while her friend began to pound viciously at his calf muscle. The pain was reduced so quickly he was amazed, and said so.
He added, in an attempt to relieve his own chagrin, and because he felt he ought to say it, "Are you in the habit of jumping on strange men in the park? Even with the best of intentions?"
The girl with the honey coloured hair and blue eyes tossed her hair back, retrieving her fallen scrunchie from the grass. "You're not strange. You're a fed. We've seen you often, although you've not been here for a few weeks. We've seen you with your friends… the young man who usually has a lap-top with him, and the dark haired lady."
The dark haired girl, brown eyes amused in her freckled face, said, "She notices things. Cassie's a people-watcher. She wants to be an author."
"We noticed you walking with a stick. We'd not seen that before, so, being smart detectives, we concluded you'd had an injury. The second time we went by, you were staring out at the river – you were so lost in thought, I think that lady in the pink outfit could have streaked by right in front of you and you wouldn't have noticed." She pulled her hair through the band again and glanced down at the grass, then asked him outright. "What on earth were you thinking about so deeply?"
Tony realised that this was the future author in her speaking, and found himself unoffended. He answered willingly enough. "I was thinking about friends…"
The two girls listened in grave, thoughtful silence as he tried to explain what had been on his mind in the aftermath of his injuries, and what had triggered it. As always, he edited out the bulk of his father's contribution to his thoughts. "I'm a good agent," he finished lamely. "That's about all you can say for me really… I don't know why they…" he tailed off, thinking how weird it was that he was being this honest with a couple of young strangers less than half his age. He didn't know how to go on.
The dark girl shook her curls and looked at her friend, then back at him. "I'd say," she said measuredly, "that you've got a bad case of the G.O.Y.s."
"That's right." She looked at her blue-eyed friend again, and went on. "We don't know why we're friends… we can't remember when we weren't. We just are. And we always will be."
"We'll be each other's bridesmaids… we'll be godmothers to each other's children…"
"And when we're dotty little grannies we'll still be friends."
They both put their hands together and raised eyes to heaven, and spoke together as if they'd said it many times before: "And we'll never, never, ever fall out about a guy."
Tony found he was grinning broadly, refreshed beyond description by these two giggling breaths of fresh air. "Oh, I hope you never do. I still don't get the G.O.Y.s, though."
"G.O.Y.", Cassie said. "Stands for Get Over Yourself. We've had the odd spat over the years, and you can bet when we make up, one of us'll say –"
Her friend sniffed dramatically and wailed, "I don't know why you stay friends with me!"
"But we do. And we don't care about why we care about each other. If you get that. Nobody has to justify having friends – they choose you and that's that. You just accept how good that feels, and that's how they want you to feel, and they accept your friendship… what's the problem?"
Tony smiled slowly. "I guess there isn't one," he said finally. It would take some time for him to get his head round this new viewpoint, but he thought he could.
The honey-haired girl leapt to her feet. "There you are, then. Come on, Twink… we've still got half a circuit to do…"
"I hope your ankle's better soon," her friend said, and they loped away with a cheery wave.
Tony watched as they disappeared between the trees, and slowly rose to his feet. Easing into a slow walk, and picking up speed as his leg loosened up, he soon reached his car. As he came to the roadway, he could turn right for the Navy Yard, or left for home. The Mustang swung right without even asking him first. There was no debate; he was going to see his friends.
AN: I've tried to explain how I feel… thank you all again.