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Box Steps 4: Not Quite Seeing The Box

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Agatha Kjeelgaard, Aggie to her friends, took a walk every morning and again in the early evening. It didn't matter what the weather was doing; nothing kept her from getting outside to breathe in some fresh air and force her arthritic joints to loosen up. She had firmly believed in the benefits of exercise long before that young whelp of a doctor her granddaughter insisted she see had thought to give her advice on the subject.

Aggie snorted derisively. That little doughboy of a doctor was so damn patronizing. Being eighty-six didn't make her an idiot. She knew how to take care of herself. And she had done a damn find job of it so far, thank you very much. His having spent eight years in college didn't mean he knew everything. Aggie was sure she could work the little know it all under the table.

She leaned a little more into her cane, wincing as her left knee protested having to support her weight. Her orthopedist wanted her to consider a joint replacement. But she'd put him off for now. Joint replacements were for old people.

Aggie eased herself down on a bench, both hands resting on the silver head of her cane. It was a lovely spot to watch people coming and going from her apartment building. She knew all her neighbors on sight and most of them by name.

Now that nice young Italian boy who moved in 3B a few years ago knew the benefits of exercise. He kept himself lean and fit. Definitely a good looking boy, no doubt about that.

Her granddaughters would be so shocked if they knew Aggie still liked to look. Aggie chuckled. She was not dead yet for crying out loud. She could look all she wanted. And that young man was certainly worth a second look. Such lovely eyes he had and when he smiled---Aggie grinned to herself. Oh yes, he was very easy on the eyes.

He was a nice, polite boy too. Anthony DiNozzo, Tony to his friends, had helped her with her groceries, held the door for her, made sure the sidewalk was shoveled in the winter time, he would even run errands for her is she needed anything. But what she liked best was that he flirted gently with her. Aggie knew he was just playing, flattering without intent to do more. But it made her feel a good thirty years younger to have such a handsome man treat her like a lady, to offer his arm and escort her to her door, maybe give her a wink and a kiss her cheek.

That busybody, Mrs. Evans---Aggie rolled her eyes. She'd never been one to insist on formality. Marrying a Norwegian pretty much guaranteed the majority of people would slaughter her surname. Better to just be 'Aggie' than waste her time correcting people.

Mrs. Evans had the apartment next door to Tony. She was always talking about how loud he could be. Aggie rolled her eyes. He wouldn't be so loud to if she didn't have a glass pressed against the wall. Noisy Nora that one. No doubt about it.

Aggie would admit, to herself, to being just a wee bit envious. Not that she'd ever pry into someone else's private lifeâ€"she didn't peek in keyholes or eavesdrop, but she'd love to be a fly on the wall whenever that silver haired fox spent the night. Lord, but he was a handsome man.

She didn't need Mrs. Evans to tell her the older man was former military. Anyone could see that just looking at him. Her own Erik had the same no-nonsense hair cut and solid, good posture. Twenty years in the Navy made sure her husband didn't slouch. Carried himself with pride and purpose. Same way Tony's fox did.

And the fox definitely belonged to Tony no matter what Mrs. Evans said. Aggie rolled her eyes. Mrs. Evans might have called it right when she said he was Tony's boss, but that wasn't all he was. Aggie was sure of that. Oh they weren't obvious. Not like some of the young men she'd seen in the gay pride march her great nephew had insisted on taking her to see. No they weren'tâ€"what was the term Dale used....Ah yes, 'flamers'. Tony and his fox weren't flamers, but they were most definitely a couple.

She'd seen some of the heated looks that passed between them. Lord but the blue eyes on the older man could spark hot flashes like she hadn't had in years. And there was no way all those touches between them could be accidental, no matter how it might look. She could tell Tony's smile always held a promise of making good on his flirting when he gave it to his fox, something it lacked whenever he flirted with anyone else. They made an attractive couple.

Aggie assumed they'd learned to be discreet because they worked in law enforcement. She wasn't entirely clear on what government agency they worked for, but she'd seen Tony's badge and gun. And he had that look about him from time to time. Erik had it too. Aggie figured it was the result of seeing ugly things. Things she never wanted to see. Things she only ever wanted to better understand so she could banish the shadows the created in her husband's eyes.

It didn't have to be because of their job, she mused to herself. It could just be they were not inclined to do a lot of public displays. She wished more of the younger generation were that way. Aggie didn't mind a little hand holding, a kiss or two, a hug---those weren't anything to really object to. But so many young people these days were all but having sex in public. It was disgraceful.

And she couldn't really understand this new trend in teenagers to show off their underwear every chance they got. Her youngest granddaughter had shown up just the other day wearing 'hip huggers' and a thong. Aggie snorted. Sexy wasn't about what you wore; it was about how you wore it. Tony and his fox were enough to set a house a fire just in jeans and t-shirts. Didn't need to show off a lot of skin for them to look good enough to eat. No sir.

She waved politely to Mrs. Evans when she saw her making her way out of the building. Aggie breathed a sigh of relief when Mrs. Evans headed for her car rather than coming over to talk to her. The old battleaxe usually just wanted to gossip about her neighbors, Tony in particular.

Mrs. Evans wasn't shy about expressing her opinion, blabbering to anyone would listen about what a gigolo Tony was with all his women in and out. Aggie gave an unlady like snort. She knew nothing was going on with most of those women. Oh probably a few to be sure. Tony was a healthy young man after all. But she knew a lot of them were just friends. One he jogged with, another was paramedic he met on the job, and another was on the same softball team Tony played with in the summer.

If Mrs. Evens bothered to actually pay attention, she'd have noticed the same thing Aggie had. The parade of women tended to be the same ones over and over and it had essentially stopped months ago. About the same time the silver haired fox started showing up regularly. That was no coincidence.

The only reason Mrs. Evans thought he was some sort of gigolo was because she was a narrow-minded old fuddy-duddy who was to vain to wear her glasses. Aggie had made sure Tony knew about his nosy neighbor who was always pressing an ear against walls looking for dirt to spread around. That had gotten her one of those bright smiles and a wink. She'd laughed when he told her his surround sound system was good for more than just movies. Bless that boy.

Aggie sighed, closing her eyes and leaning back a bit to stretch out her leg a bit. Damn thing. It always bothered her more when it started getting colder. She didn't need the weatherman to tell her it was going to snow soon. Her children had suggested she move further south to escape the bad weather, but Aggie liked being close to her family. She wasn't interested in becoming a cliché, chasing the sun like some sort of migratory bird. And she wasn't moving into some old folks home where people were forgotten like dusty relics in a museum.

"You okay, Aggie?"

She jumped, startled by the question coming from so close. She glared up at Tony. "Honestly, young man, it isn't nice to sneak up on people."

"Sorry, Aggie." He gave her a contrite look. "Didn't think I was being all that quiet."

Judging by his attire, sneakers, shorts and a sweat shirt, he had likely left the building before her this morning to go jogging. No, she corrected herself, seeing the basketball he had resting on hip, it was a game. The court was only a few blocks away.

"Playing with the local gangsters again?" She arched an eyebrow.

He grinned. "They aren't gangsters, Aggie. And you know it."

Oh she knew they were nice children for the most part. A little loud and rambunctious from time to time, but otherwise harmless. They all dressed like they wanted to be considered armed and dangerous though; part of the foolish bravado of youth. Except in this area, if the local cops and drug dealers ever took them seriously, they'd find themselves wishing they'd been mistaken for choirboys instead.

"Did you have fun?" She patted the bench next to her in a clear invitation for him to join her.

"Always have fun, Aggie. Only reason to play." Tony sat down next to her. Concern was obvious in his clear green eyes as he assessed her. "You didn't answer me."

"I'm fine." She waved a hand in dismissal. "Just giving my knee a rest."

His brow furrowed. "The doctor said you should have it replaced."

She rolled her eyes. Like he had the right to lecture her about following a doctor's orders. "And the doctor told you to take several weeks off when you nearly died from the plague."

He gave her a cheeky grin and wagged his finger at her. "A real friend wouldn't point that out."

Fool boy. He'd nearly died. She'd seen how awful he looked when he'd come home from the hospital. He needed a keeper. "A better friend would have tied you to the bed."

He fluttered his eyelashes at her. "Was that an offer?"

She laughed, lightly smacking his arm. "I was never into that sort of thing."

He leered at her playfully. "What were you into then?"

She snickered, struggling to arrange her face into something prim and severe. "A lady doesn't talk about such things."

"Mrs. Evans doesn't seem to have that problem."

Aggie rolled her eyes. "Which only proves my point, Tony."

"True." He chuckled, passing the basketball back and forth between his hands. "You need anything from the store today?"

He always asked if she needed anything when he saw her. But she didn't like to abuse his good nature. It felt like she was taking advantage of him if she accepted too often. It had been a few weeks since he'd been good enough to pick up a quart of milk and a bag of cat food for her.

She pursed her lips. "The refill on my blood pressure medicine is ready for pick up." Aggie was proud of not needing to take more than one pill. A lot of people her age popped a dozen pills a day. "Bob left a message yesterday but he wouldn't give it to my daughter, Missy."

Missy's job required a lot of travel so she only came into visit every few months; Bob had never met her. The local pharmacist took his job too seriously to just hand out pills to anyone. He'd give them to Tony because he knew him and Tony had been in for Aggie before. It didn't hurt that Tony had a badge too. If you couldn't trust a cop, who could you trust?

"I can pick it up for you. No problem." Tony nodded. "Gotta stop in there anyway."

She eyed him critically. "You're not sick, are you?"

"No, Aggie." A bit of color rose in his cheeks. "Need to get something else."

It wasn't hard to guess what he might be in need of. The silver fox had spent the night. His car had been in the spot right next to Tony's racy little mustang when Aggie got up. It was gone now, but she was pretty sure he'd be back.

Aggie wasn't one to embarrass a friend by mentioning things better left unsaid. So she just patted his arm, opting to ignore the endearing blush. "As long as it's no trouble. I don't want you to have to out of your way--"

"It is never out of my way for a lovely lady." Tony captured her hand, bowing enough to put a light kiss on her knuckles.

"Would you like me to escort you home?" Tony rose still holding her hand. "The neighborhood is rife with gangsters you know."

She laughed lightly, brandishing her cane. "I think I can handle them."

She tipped her head graciously, letting him help her to her feet when he mutely offered. "I will accept your offer of an escort. Not for my safety, mind you, but having such a handsome young man walk me home will give Mrs. Evans something more to talk about."

Tony chuckled. "She left earlier. We'll have to do this again later if you want her to see it."

Aggie had no idea how he knew Mrs. Evans had left. Maybe he noticed her car was gone or had seen her driving past the park. No matter.

She smiled up at him. "I'd love to have you accompany me when I take my walk again later."

He gave her a wink and a smile before placing a quick kiss on her cheek. "It's a date."

She was tempted to ask if his fox might not object. If Tony forgot, Aggie decided she wouldn't hold it against him. If she had someone at home waiting for her, she wouldn't be eager to leave either. Certainly not just to give that old busy body Mrs. Evans something to talk about. Lord knows that woman could make up enough gossip for ten people. She didn't need any help finding things to say.

They were nearly to the front door of the building when a car pulled into the parking lot with a screech of tires. She looked to see who would be so stupid as to enter the lot at such a breakneck speed, but Tony just sighed and hung his head.

"It's no wonder his insurance premium is so high," she heard Tony mutter. It was only then that she realized the car belonged to Tony's fox.

"Does he always drive like that?"

"No." Tony grimaced. "Sometimes he's worse."

Aggie clucked her tongue. "I should give him a piece of my mind."

Tony looked amused by the prospect. "I think I'd pay good money to see that."

She huffed out a breath. She'd taken on teamsters and coal miners in her youth. "You don't think I'd win?"

His expression turned thoughtful. "Frankly, Aggie, it could go either way."

She nodded approvingly. This fox might be reckless when he drove but Tony needed someone tough to stand by him. Tony needed looking after, and that wasn't a job for some shrinking violet.

She watched as Tony's fox got out of the car, moving easily. He was definitely in good shape. He'd have to be to keep up with Tony. Aggie guessed there was ten or fifteen years difference between them. Nothing wrong with that. She and Erik had been twelve years apart and their marriage lasted thirty years.

Tony's fox smiled as he approached, blue eyes focused exclusively Tony. Aggie's lips curled up wryly wondering if he even noticed her standing there.

"Good game, Tony?" he asked, his smile warming as he got closer. He was balancing what looked like some sort of bakery box in one hand.

He'd probably gone out for breakfast or something. God only knew what sort of food Tony actually kept in his apartment. Aggie had lost track of the number of delivery places she'd seen stopping by.

"Very good game." Tony smiled back, green eyes nearly glowing.

Aggie would bet good money they'd have kissed if they weren't outside where anyone could see. Shame they couldn't just greet each other like a regular couple might, but she silently approved of their restraint. It should good judgment. Not everyone was as opened minded as she was.

She cleared her throat, reminding them she was there. Just in case.

"Gibbs, I'd like you to meet one of my neighbors and a friend, Aggie Kjeelgaard." Tony wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "Aggie, this is my very good friend, and boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Aggie held out her hand. She hadn't missed the way he seemed to puff up a little at being labeled 'a very good friend'. It wasn't the same as calling him 'lover' or 'life partner', but it was certainly more acceptable in polite company. And it clearly mattered more to him than being Tony's boss. As well it should, Aggie thought.

He took her hand gently, obviously knowing better than to squeeze too hard. "Nice to meet you too, Ma'am."

"Ma'am?" Aggie shook her head. Lord didn't that make a body sound ancient. "Please, call me Aggie, Mr. Gibbs."

"Call me Jethro then, Aggie."

He wasn't the first person she'd encountered who preferred their middle name to their first. She nodded, accepting his preference. "Jethro." It was a good, solid, old-fashioned name. It suited him, she decided.

"I just need to see Aggie home and get cleaned up, and I'll be ready to go." Tony told Jethro.

They likely had errands and whatnot to do today. No reason they should have to wait on her.

"I can see myself home." She rolled her eyes before giving Jethro a smile and stepping away from Tony. "He makes it sound like I live in the boonies instead of just down the hall." Living on the first floor had been a requirement when she started looking for an apartment after Erik died. Navigating stairs as she got older was just too difficult and she hated elevators.

"I'll drop off your prescription when we get back," Tony promised.

"I'll be waiting."

She chuckled. "See if you can time it for when Mrs. Evans is around."

He laughed, a full rich sound of amusement that Aggie loved to hear. "I'll do my best."

She couldn't resist giving him a little pat on the butt. She didn't miss the way Jethro's eyes narrowed a fraction. Aggie was amused that he would even consider her a threat. Definitely a jealous type.

She wondered if Tony had noticed. The look he gave Jethro made it clear he'd seen that minute warning display and was telling his lover to tread lightly. Silly boys both of them. She already knew they were a couple, so nothing was being given away---not that they knew that. And it she hardly needed to be warned to keep her hands to herself. But it was fun to play with them.

"I'll see you later, Aggie." Tony gave her another quick kiss on the cheek.

Such a nice, polite boy. She smiled. "It was nice meeting you, Jethro."

"You too, Aggie."

Aggie watched Tony and Jethro jog upstairs together. She didn't miss the supportive, almost possessive way Jethro put his hand on the small of Tony's back. She remembered Erik doing the same thing to her. She shook head slightly, somewhat bemused that she still missed him even after so many years.

Aggie sighed. Enough moping around. She needed to make some cookies for her grandchildren. Maybe she'd make an extra batch for Tony. It would be a nice way to thank him for picking up her medication. And he could do with a little more meat on his bones. Not like that fat fart of a doctor who had the audacity to suggest she consider losing a few pounds. The little hypocrite should follow his own advice.

She grinned thinking she could tell Mrs. Evans she'd exchanged the cookies for a favor. It made her laugh out loud just to imagine the old woman's face. It was hardly her fault if Mrs. Evans jumped to the wrong conclusion.

How any one could miss the fact Tony and Jethro were a couple was beyond her. They were clearly committed to one another. But so many people were blind to the obvious. They couldn't see the forest for the trees.

Aggie shook her head as she entered her apartment. The world was full of near-sighted people who saw only what they expected to see. It was probably a good thing. The Mrs. Evans of the world didn't need to know any more about their neighbors and coworkers than they already did.

She was sure Jethro and Tony would share their relationship with people they trusted when they were ready---if they hadn't already done so. Either way, it should be their choice. Anyone not smart enough to figure it out on their own, clearly didn't need to know.