Title: Half Empty, Half Full
Pairing: non, gen, friendship fic
Words: 3000+ words, Complete, betaed by myfieldnotes
Summary: Some days, you just need coffee…
Spoilers: May contain spoilers up to season five.
Previously published on the Brotherhood 7 zine, 2008
The menu was dancing.
No, wait. That couldn't be right. Menus couldn't dance. They didn't even do the Macarena. They sparkled; they twinkled. They warped, but they never, ever danced. No feet. Couldn't dance without feet. Right? Duh.
"Can I help you?"
Help? Yes. Help. Help would be good because the menu was dancing which was really not cool because he couldn't read the menu with all the words doing the tango, not that he actually needed to look at the menu because he knew already what to get. It was soothing, really, to already have the answers—no surprises, no "Ah, hah! I'm lactose intolerant now!" like Pacci because that was annoying. How can you be lactose intolerant all of a sudden, especially if you'd made an ass of yourself having too much ice cream at Agent Trigen's retirement party, unless that was really sorbet—
Sir? Oh, wait, that was him. Huh. Never been called sir before unless he showed a badge.
Tony smiled. Ever since he was a boy, he'd been told smiling would get you everything, and if it didn't, buy it. Since he couldn't buy it any more, Tony had learned to smile really, really well.
The girl in the green company logo apron was smiling, too. No, hold on, her smile was wavering…going, going, gone. She looked over to her co-worker in yet another green apron, and now he stepped in front of her and said in a louder voice "Sir? Can we help you?"
"Coffee," Tony said brightly even though he thought the man's question was stupid because, hello, coffeehouse? He wouldn't be ordering a beer here. Not that he wanted a beer. He only drank it because his father never did. Beer was too low class, too blue collar for a DiNozzo to drink. Papa DiNozzo preferred things that were gold in color, really old, and required a fancy crystal cut glass, even if you never filled them up to the brim.
Besides, didn't the ER doctor say something about not mixing prescriptions with alcohol?
"What kind of coffee, sir?"
Coffee guy was not smiling, either. Was this a new store policy? Okay, Tony was definitely not putting his change in the tip jar half-hidden behind the cash register. It looked stupid anyway with its white masking- tape label wrapped around its plastic belly. Someone had dotted the "i" in "Tips" with a smiley face. Hate that.
Coffee guy was now looking at coffee girl, but she didn't switch places with him. She shrank back behind the tray of Rice Krispies treats. Hm, better order before they got a new apron-wearing person to take over. He was beginning to lose track of faces and aprons.
Tony spoke carefully—his tongue was thick and not working today for some reason—and listed everyone's order.
Abby liked hers extra large, extra hot, extra strong, with extra shots. And lots and lots of sugar. But no milk. Tony never got that. What was the point of sugar in black coffee? Tony pointed a finger that wouldn't stay pointed at the espresso brownie inside the display case. She would like that. Abby deserved a brownie today. Her voice in his earpiece had been steady, loud, and constant. "Hold on, hold on," she'd chanted until Tony had questioned why she was asking him to hold on. Hold on to what? It must have been the wrong thing to say because then, her voice got all wobbly, and she sounded like she was going to cry. Abby needed a brownie today.
Tony swayed on his feet and showed two, then a couple more fingers.
Okay, Abby deserved two brownies today. She sounded really sad. He hoped she wasn't crying. That would make him sad.
Now that he was actually buying something, the coffee people were smiling again. Tony could deal with that. He could smile. He could do that very well in fact. That's how he got his job. At least, that's what he told everyone. Reynolds said he was talking out of his ass.
Tony frowned. He didn't like Reynolds. No coffee for him.
McGee's coffee needed to be medium, or venti, or whatever Italian/French/English term they used for sizes these days. Probie sometimes liked coffee the way Gibbs usually liked it: undisguised, strong, and real. No decaf, no sugar, no milk.
But Probie threw up today by the car. And beside his gurney. Then in the emergency room. Maybe Gibbs' coffee wouldn't be a good choice right now after nearly getting your head blown off (Just a graze, Tony. I'm okay.) and splattering your blood all over your teammate's face. Tony was really glad it was just a graze that zipped past, punched through their car (man, the director was going to be pissed) and passed McGee's head, because any closer, there would have been blood and other stuff he didn't want to think about. There was stuff Tony really, really, really didn't want to think about because it never washed off, even if you scrubbed hard enough to break skin.
Instead of Gibbs' industrial strength coffee, Tony ordered McGee his second favorite: a half café latte with just an extra shot, because unlike Abby, McGee had the bladder of an eighty-year-old. The last thing anyone wanted was Probie staggering to the bathroom every hour. It had happened during their stakeout yesterday/today/last week, and that was irritating because he kept letting the cold air into the van. Gibbs got all grouchy and snappy because Tony began coughing and making a lot of noise.
Coffee guy looked really freaked because Tony was just staring at him now, but that wasn't his fault. Tony was having a bad day so if it took a little longer to order coffee, hey, it took a little longer to order coffee. Okay? Tony's heart did a funny pounding against his ribs that vaguely hurt. He'd yelled, "Federal agents! Drop your weapons!" Did they drop them? Nooo, they picked up bigger guns! Guns that ripped through steel cars!
"Sir? Are…are you drunk?"
"No," Tony grumbled. "Just tired." Not drunk. Duh. Coffeehouse? The guy was really not making an effort to earn the quarters and nickels in that tip jar.
He would have rolled his eyes, but he was afraid they would roll all the way around and not come back and—Ouch. Tony grimaced when he bumped into the order counter. He held on to the counter's edge, stared intently at the fuzzy coffee guy, and continued his order because he really needed to sit down. Soon.
Tony wanted his coffee to taste like anything else but coffee. He squinted at the menu, but because the letters wouldn't focus, he just went with memory. A cappuccino with enough sugar to cover the bitterness, enough foam to cover the dark brew, and tiny because even disguised, Tony could only tolerate it in small doses.
"DiNozzo, what the hell are you doing here?"
The gruff voice just shy of his right ear made him smile. Tony turned toward Gibbs. His smile faded at the scowl greeting him.
"Getting coffee?" Tony gestured toward the guy at the counter, who wasn't smiling again and looked about ready to faint. Definitely no tip in the change jar. Tony blinked at the hand gripping his elbow. Oh, good, that helped. The store steadied, and the need to sit down eased somewhat. Good, Gibbs could help carry the coffee. Tony took a deep breath, turned back around and ordered Gibbs' coffee. Black, just coffee.
"Uh, anything in it?" Coffee guy didn't appreciate the simplicity of Gibbs' order. And he still looked freaked. Coffee girl was farther behind coffee guy now. Too bad. She was kinda cute in a fuzzy, out of focus way.
Tony scowled. He staggered against Gibbs' other hand on his back. "Just coffee," Tony repeated. "He only wants coffee with his coffee. He wants to know what he's drinking."
The growl made the two behind the counter look at each other.
"It's okay," Tony slurred. He smiled because Gibbs wasn't. At least one of them should be smiling, and it looked like Gibbs wasn't in the mood for it today. Coffee guy tentatively grimaced back.
"He's only this way because we got shot…or shot at, and I got in the way of a bullet." Tony peeled back his NCIS windbreaker and pulled up the scrubs to reveal the gauze wrapped around his middle. "See? I ducked behind a car, but the car ducked, too, and it went all the way…" Tony felt himself leaning too far back, but Gibbs was there, one hand on his shoulder to prevent him from landing on his butt. Maybe he should get Gibbs a brownie, too. No, wait, he wasn't crying like Abby though. Gibbs had yelled a lot when he reached him, and he took a really long time, and it hurt so much when he pressed down and…no brownie for Gibbs.
Gibbs got all un-growlly and really quiet when he wrapped an arm around Tony's elbow because Tony's knees weren't working any more. "Let's get you back to the hospital. You shouldn't be out." His grip tightened when Tony's knees trembled and nearly buckled. Stupid knees.
"I have to finish ordering coffee," Tony protested, tugging at his arm, but Gibbs wouldn't let go.
"We don't need coffee," Gibbs insisted.
Tony stared at Gibbs. Not because Gibbs was getting out of focus too but because Gibbs actually said they didn't need coffee. Of course they needed coffee! People shot at him. Abby was crying in his ear. Gibbs was yelling. McGee looked like he wanted to throw up, no, wait, he did—It was most definitely a coffee day. Tony turned back towards the counter, and the two looked like they needed coffee, too. Tony wasn't going to order for them, though. They could get their own.
"W-would that be all, sir?" Now they were both not smiling again, and actually, they looked a little scared.
"Yes." Gibbs showed them his ID and the smiles were back. "That's it."
No, wait. Tony wiggled his fingers in front of him. The fingers that wiggled back didn't match the coffee cups sitting on the counter.
"No, I'm forgetting someone," he mumbled.
His hand must have gotten really heavy because it pitched him forward a little, and Gibbs was suddenly in his personal space, one arm around his middle, the other on his shoulder. Stupid hand. Stupid knees. Stupid store that wouldn't stay still and in focus. Great, now he was starting to feel seasick like McGee. Perfect.
"Enough, DiNozzo. How the hell did you even walk over here?" Gibbs griped as he propped Tony against the display case and grabbed his own money out from his back pocket. Oh, good, the boss was paying; Tony just remembered he didn't have his wallet.
"One more," Tony insisted because he couldn't forget about her.
Gibbs sighed, looked at coffee gal and guy, then at Tony, waiting.
Tony grinned and thought carefully about who else was left. There was one more, and it wasn't Ducky because he only drank tea, and it wasn't Jimmy because was he even old enough to drink coffee yet, so all that was left was—
"DiNozzo, any day now."
Tony swallowed, feeling really ill, because his mind was blank, and that was horrible because what kind of partner would forget what his teammates like? Not that they were best friends (sort of), and they hated each other's guts (not always), but she always knew what he liked, and she never got it wrong when she got coffee…
"Tony?" The hand on his elbow drew him from his thoughts. Gibbs didn't look so mad now. "What is it?" he asked, his voice lower.
"I—" There was a funny lump in his throat, making it hard to talk. "I…I can't remember what Kate likes, boss." How messed up was that?
Gibbs looked like someone just head-slapped him because he couldn't believe Tony couldn't remember either. Tony's shoulders slumped as he tried to remember, because she always did, and she should get coffee, too, because it was a really bad day and people got shot at and—
"I got it, DiNozzo." Gibbs' voice got all funny and crumbly, and he moved his hand up to behind Tony's neck, but he didn't head-slap him for forgetting. Good thing, because Tony's head felt all stuffy, and a slap would completely knock his head off. That wouldn't be nice because he wanted to ask coffee gal out.
The coffee Gibbs ordered sounded right, exactly as Kate would want it. Tony beamed when Gibbs glanced over, checking with Tony. Gibbs nodded, looking more sad than mad for some reason. He paid for the coffee and took the large bag in one hand, his other hand gripping Tony by the arm. He'd even dropped a couple of dollars in the tip jar. Whoa, big spender, boss.
The exit looked far away, and Tony found himself leaning a little. Gibbs didn't complain. He just murmured "Hold on," which was funny because that's exactly what Abby had said—
"Boss, I checked every—You found him!"
"Hey, Probie!" Tony grinned at the giant white bandage on McGee's head. "I got coffee!"
McGee looked funny with the gauze on his forehead, his eyes like huge circles, and his hair sticking up in the oddest places.
"McGee, what the hell are you doing up?"
"Abby told me Tony was gone from the recovery ward, and you and Ducky went looking, and since Ziva wasn't back from training over in Norfolk yet, I thought…"
Probie was talking too fast for Tony to follow, and he was really, really tired now. Gibbs gave the bag to McGee, who was still going on and on about some doctor and some wrong prescription and Doctor Pitt and blah, blah, blah. Tony was getting a headache trying to listen. Instead, he concentrated on moving his feet and biting back a groan when Gibbs pulled his arm to hang over his shoulder.
"It's okay, Tony."
McGee looked funny in his NCIS windbreaker and scrubs, hurrying for the door and, oh, wait—
"We have to get some Sweet and Low," Tony mumbled. "For Kate."
"B-boss?" McGee squeaked. It was funny so Tony laughed, but it made something hurt on his side. He sagged.
McGee was still squeaking, still talking fast, and Tony wanted to just get out of here and sit down now. Gibbs didn't seem to mind Tony was hanging heavier and heavier over his shoulder. His voice was steady and rumbled by his ear when Gibbs interrupted—thank God—and told McGee to get the sugar.
Probie stared like he didn't get it so Tony stirred, trying to step away to get it himself at the little nook crammed up in a corner by the exit. But Gibbs tightened the grip on his arm, and Tony found himself lurching forward, hanging off Gibbs' neck like a bad tie. The store lights blinked and came back on. Were they having a blackout?
Suddenly McGee was getting the sugar, Gibbs was half-carrying Tony into the car, and by the time the urge to throw up was gone, Tony found himself blinking up at the white lights whizzing past like the Millennium Falcon going on hyperdrive, the gurney rumbling underneath him.
The bed was comfortable, and the room was crowded because now Tony had McGee as a roommate. He hoped Probie didn't snore because Tony really wanted to sleep now.
"Tony!" Abby hugged him, her arms loose around his neck the moment he was eased onto the bed by the nurses. He couldn't tell if they were cute or not; they were all too blurry. "I'm seriously thinking about getting you that sub-dermal tracker, you idiot."
"I got coffee," Tony muffled under Abby's poofy jacket, and he found himself staring at the spider web tattoo on her neck. "I got you a brownie, too," he added when Abby pulled away. He was glad she didn't sound sad anymore.
Gibbs stacked the brownies and arched an eyebrow at Tony when he piled five on the table.
"I got Abby two," Tony amended. He blinked sleepily at everyone as Gibbs passed around the coffee until there was only one left. Abby considered it with a pout, her pigtails flopping over her face.
"That's Kate's," Tony said sleepily. He frowned when Abby made a sound.
"Gibbs…" Abby sounded like she was choking. Was her coffee too hot?
"Tony's just a little confused right now, Abs."
Tony scowled at Gibbs' general direction. Confused? Did he get the coffees wrong?
"No brownie for you," Tony yawned. He waved towards the blurry dot he figured was Gibbs. Only Gibbs could still look intimidating even fuzzy. "Make sure she gets her coffee."
A shadow crossed Tony's field of vision. Gibbs took Kate's cup and made sure Tony saw him set the cup down right on the nightstand.
"She'll get it." Gibbs sounded so sure that Tony relaxed. He'd sounded like that before, when he'd told Tony he wasn't going to die from the pneumonic plague.
"Thanks, Boss." The words felt funny leaving his mouth. Tony blinked heavy-lidded as Abby kissed his cheek then wiped the lipstick off with the back of her hand. She did the same to McGee, whispered that Ducky would be here after he finished yelling at Tony's idiotic doctor—Tony wished he could see that—and she slipped out of the room with her coffee.
And three brownies.
Gibbs, to Tony's surprise, didn't get up. He just sat down on the hard, plastic chair that was in every hospital room and dragged it up to his bed.
"Home?" Tony mumbled. Great, that was coherent.
Gibbs understood anyway because ex-Marines don't ever mince words. He shrugged. "Not yet." He looked over to Probie. "You better not snore, McGee."
The nervous stammer told them otherwise.
Gibbs leaned forward and stared at Tony. "Get some sleep," he ordered.
Tony fought the heavy drag on his eyes. His gaze drifted over to the lone cup.
"I'll make sure she gets it, Tony." A hand settled on his shoulder and squeezed briefly. Tony's mouth turned up a little, and he nodded. As he drifted, he could hear Gibbs sitting back in his chair and knew their boss wasn't planning on leaving any time soon. And somehow that made him feel a little better.
Okay, Tony decided.
Maybe one brownie.
And with that, Tony slept.
Author's Acknowledgment: Many thank yous for the various hard working editors of Brotherhood. I've grown and learned so much from them. Their patience and firm guidance made me a better writer for it.
PS: Feedback is like cookies. I like cookies. -lol-