A/N: A writing exercise. Out of character. Don't shoot me.

You are in agony every second of every day.

What you do is considered masochistic, and hell, you think you're insane.

You could claim insanity. You're confident that you could. After all the things you've seen and done in your life, after all the choices you made, mental instability seems like a viable explanation. Your mother died before you even hit puberty, and afterward, your father sailed from your life faster than a turbocharged speedboat.

That's only the beginning because you've never kept a single person in your life. Not one.

Because of this, you're a ladies man that is afraid of anything that even smells of commitment. You hide behind a mask and a facade because you can't deal with anyone else leaving you. That's all you've ever been: the one who's left behind. You try not to get attached because in your experiences, the moment you get too close, you get left in the dust yet again. Always.

The playboy persona is your defense-mechanism.

You figure that it's better to not get involved at all.

But during brief moments of weakness and clarity, you allow yourself to admit that you have gotten close to a few select people: a silver-haired man who believes that brain trauma is an effective form of education; a nerdy, endearing probie with a heart of gold and enough intelligence to fill several swimming pools; a woman with charming qualities and a personal bubble that is literally nonexistent; an elderly man who has had enough experiences in his life to write a multi-volume encyclopedia; an eager-to-please, awkward young man with curls that would give Shirley Temple a run for her money.

You like them, and over the years, they gained your trust. They're the only people in the world to have stuck by your side for so long. You know they love you as much as you love them, and they helped you expand your perspective from the pessimistic little bubble it was before.

At least theoretically.

When you're even weaker and your head is even clearer, you know that you're in love. You're in love with a woman who knows you better than anyone, a woman who can see right through the mask and straight into the mess within, a woman who is the most complex creature you've ever stumbled across. You're in love with a woman who could kill you with a flourish of her hand.

You're so in love, in fact, that you're blinded by it on a daily basis.

Yeah. You're convinced that insanity is definitely an option.

At least you can admit it.

Bringing it back to the point you were trying to make before - This insanity is agony, outright, upfront, heart-wrenching, painful agony.

You want so bad for her to be yours.

The funny thing is that you're not making yourself miserable. You make every effort to get un-miserable. Though, if you were honest with yourself, you would have changed tactics a long time ago because this current routine hasn't worked in years.

You're not sure if it ever worked in the first place.

All the same, you put on your brave face every single damn day. You pull on your teenager pants and pretend you've got no emotional maturity at all. You play pranks and flirt and make crude jokes and rattle off movie references to pretend that you're not aching, that you're not ripping apart, slowly but surely, at the seams.

It's a normal routine, and that's why you can't change it. You thrive on familiarity, and that's ultimately your problem. You can't deal with changing and uncertainty, so much so that a part of you is okay with staying miserable as long as nothing ever changes.

Of course, the bigger part of you disagrees. A lot.

It's not healthy for someone to be this emotionally raw for an such an extended period of time. You're throughly sick of it.

But you're so insane, so used to the uncomfortable stabbing in your chest, in fact, that you don't even find it strange that another person holds your happiness in their hands. That's the problem. You know what you need to be happy, but you can't bring yourself to get it, to get her.

She's not ready. You're there, but not completely there - Though, you're sure as hell ready to try. (On good days, you're ready. On bad days, you're ready to throw in the towel). But she's been through more than you have, and you're half-sure that she's not ready for a romantic relationship. Especially not with you.

You try not to bring up the cliché of, "It's not me, it's you" because in reality, it's a little bit of both of you.

She could definitely make it easier. It would be nice if she made something easy, just this once. She could let you know that she's not interested or that she is so that you don't have to. She could drop a hint or two, just enough that you know that she's only got eyes for you.

(You know that it's not how it works. You know that at one point in your past, you would have found it emasculating, but hell, in the present day, you don't give a damn as long as you don't have to be the one to say the words and change the game. You wouldn't be able to take the outright rejection. In reality, perhaps her saying yes scares you more than anything. But hell, you're insane, remember?)

You don't know. You're not sure. You want her, though. You want her more than anything. You want her, but you wouldn't know where to go from there because you're an emotional wrecking ball. Unstable. Crushing everything in your path. But, you know that you're willing to try. You'd give it everything you have and more because she's worth that.

You look at her now from the safe distance between her desk and yours, and you think that your life would make one hell of a movie.

It's already a best-selling novel, and fuck, a box-office-smash-hit would be the natural progression, wouldn't it?

You can imagine it: Boy and girl. Boy is in love with the girl, the girl has no idea. They tease and they play, and the girl gets ripped away. The girl won't forgive the boy, and she picks up and leaves. The boy thinks that she'll never return. She doesn't. It makes the boy worry, and eventually, the boy gets so worried that he digs deeper and realizes that the girl needs saving. And so he goes, like a knight in shining armor, to save her. She comes back to him, and things go back to the way they were, boy and girl and nothing more.

It's a depressing thought. It makes your shoulders slump and makes your head fall into your palms. You can imagine the movie very clearly, because in your head, conversations aren't conversations, memories aren't memories - They're shots and scenes. They're little snippets of a grand motion picture.

You think like a movie director.

You're the director of the motion picture that's your life, and yet, you have no ounce of control over it whatsoever.

You went across the world to save her, like a knight in shining armor from a fairytale, and she's back. She's been back for months now, and neither of you will make a move because you think that neither of you know how the hell to do this right.

If this were a movie, she would fall into your arms and everything would fall into place, but much to your dismay, this isn't a movie.

You're not the image of a knight. You're an anti-knight. You're shabby and broken, and while you are handsome, you haven't got any of the emotional strength to be a knight. You're not a Batman. You're not a Superman. You're definitely not enough to be her knight. You're not a man. You're not man-enough to tell her how you feel about her. You're paralyzed at the thought of doing something wrong and losing her.

You've lost her once. You definitely can't do it again.

Sometimes you think that you're ready to try, but then you look at her and wonder if she's ready. She's been through hell and back, and you have to respect that. You have to constantly chant to yourself that she's not ready yet. You know she's not, you know that she's having issues too, and a little piece of you is okay with that because this agony is nothing compared to the agony of not having her at all.

When she was gone, it was like having an anaconda wrapped around your chest. At every mention of her name, at every memory and fleeting image, it would wrap itself tighter and tighter until it felt as if you couldn't breathe. It never loosened its grip around your chest. It only clenched more and more as each day passed, suffocating you. It never got better.

You shake your head to rid the remnants of the feeling.

It's not worth reliving if you don't have to.

This is what your life is like. It's a constant game of emotional tug-of-war.

You're tired of depressing yourself. You focus on your surroundings and momentarily pull yourself from the recesses of your messed-up head. She's right in front of you, typing away at her keyboard, oblivious to your inner turmoil. You sit and observe her from the safe distance between her desk and yours.

There's a stirring of pain in your chest at the sight of her, so focused and framed by the skylights, but you think that it's a good pain because she's alive despite everything, and this feels like a papercut compared to how it felt before.

She's resilient. She's fought hard to get to this point. You have too, in your own little way. The both of you have been through so much to get to the present, and at the end of the day, you both are still in one piece and together.


You realize with a sigh that your mind is dead-set on contemplating the state of your relationship with her. It's normally not this bad. Sometimes, you can go days without thinking about it - with some effort involved, of course. For the most part, you can ignore it. However, there are days like today when the thought of you and her as a whole follows you around like a shadow.

You have to remind yourself that you're a masochist and that this is normal for you. If you weren't one, you would have been a normal person who accepted that this is too complicated and who would have given up by now, moved on, moved away. It probably would have been healthier.

But you can't walk away from this, and you're proud of that. It shows dedication to her. You'd follow her to the end of the earth and back, if you had to. (You vaguely recognize that you've been watching too many romance movies). Nonetheless, being here makes you think that you've earned the right to try, to really try and make it work with her.

Somewhere along the road, she captured you. It was so natural that it stuns you to this very day, and now that you think about it, she had you from that first moment: the saucy smirk, the undressing of you with her eyes, the provocative slouch. You were partners for years, sure, but you didn't realize that there was anything else behind it until one day you woke up and realized that, somehow, your lives became interwoven.

One can't exist without the other. You know the meaning of that now.

You found yourself breathing her air, her life, her being, and it scared the shit out of you.

(It took you years to get over it).

So you did nothing.

You're still doing nothing.

You've watched her get torn apart. You've watched her hurt and be hurt and fight and get knocked down harder than you ever thought humanly possible. You've seen a part of her retreat deeper into herself with every trial that she faced, and every time, a part of you withdrew right along with her. The pain of watching her broken to pieces, hurt a million times more than this papercut-agony ever will.

And this is why you're still here.

You're still sitting here, like a silent guardian, ready to rush to her side if she ever needs the help. She's your partner, through and through. Somehow, you've got this idea that you're the one who has to have her back, and somehow, she's got the same idea about you.

That's what you two do. You protect each other.

You've gotten used to this pain. It's nothing anymore. You can function with it constantly looming over your head because she's herewith you, not anyone else. The thought of that makes you hopeful. She's here willingly, isn't she?

She's beautiful. It haunts you, sometimes.

A lot of the time, you wonder how she's still functioning. Whatever you've felt, whatever pain has been sent your way, it must be nothing compared to what she's faced. She's the strongest person you know. Deep down, you know that she's battling her own demons, just as you are, which leads back to your choice of waiting for her.

It's a vicious cycle.

Your life sucks.

You sigh again. It's bright in the squad room, and you've given up on trying to finish this stupid report. Glancing at the clock, you realize that you haven't typed one word for half an hour. Shrugging, you sit at your desk, staring at her and soaking in her presence, and you can't help but hate and love how this is playing out.

You're happy that she's here. You're sad that she's not yours.

Not yet, anyway. You grin a little at the thought.

You almost get up and move to her, right here and now, but you decide not to.

You'll wait for her, even if you hate her for it.

In a way, she keeps you grounded. She keeps your tethered to the world, and she makes the air worth breathing, as sappy as it sounds. She makes you laugh. She keeps you dancing on your toes. She makes you want to be a better man. You think that if you had to make a choice, with her or without her, you'd choose with her every time, even if she didn't love you the way you love her.

But a hopeful part of you is confident that she does.

It's agony and bliss and heart-wrenching and perfect.

"Tony," she says suddenly, and you're so deep into your thoughts that you barely register it.

"Tony," she repeats, and you hear her this time. It makes your heart start to pound.

You raise your head to meet her eyes, and it knocks you breathless because her eyes are so alive and bright. They shine with everything that she is and everything that she had to go through to get here. Determination and outright sass trickle from her every pore, and you can feel it from your perch five feet away. She tilts her head and smiles at you, and you smile shakily in return.

"Lunch?" she asks.

"Sure thing," you agree, sounding steadier than you feel.

There's a reason why you still wait for her. She's everything you need and everything you want. You think that it's strange that you, Anthony DiNozzo, is so desperately in love. You never thought it would be possible, until you met her. It's a strange idea in itself, the same way the idea of living on another planet is strange.

You know she's not ready, but you know that she's getting there.

And it's moments like these, when she's sitting across from you, smiling and bright-eyed, that you're convinced that she feels for you too.

Sometimes, you think that knowing is enough.