Turning Point

Status:
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • PG
Fandom(s):
NCIS, Hawaii 5-0

Relationship(s):
Tony DiNozzo/Steve McGarrett

Warning(s):
  • Death - Minor Character
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Alternate Universe
  • Episode Related
  • Hurt/Comfort
  • Romance
Word Count:
21, 621

Author's Note:
Written for NCIS Reverse Bang 2017. Inspired by art by Jilly James. Thanks to Vasaris for alpha reading, and Jilly James for final beta. I added to the story after beta and all remaining mistakes are my own.

Summary:
When Tony gets hurt, Steve is there for him. However, that’s only the beginning. Tony finds himself unexpectedly at a turning point in his life.


Awesome Art By Jilly James

A/N: The story contains some dialogue from the NCIS Episode Missing (Season 1 Episode 20)

May 2004

Tony was waiting for Steve by the curb at Dulles. Steve had called to let him know he’d landed which meant he should be out any minute. Outwardly, he looked calm and professional, but on the inside, he was bouncing with excitement. He hadn’t seen Steve in person in well over a year and missed his best friend terribly. Steve’s leave had short notice, so Tony hadn’t been able to request time off until the following week. He hadn’t asked why Steve had gotten time off but suspected it had to do with a difficult mission. Steve had sounded exhausted and edgy on the phone.

Tony was watching the door, so he saw Steve first as he walked out of the terminal carrying just a duffel bag and a small suitcase. Tony got out of the car and opened the trunk. Tony let himself stare for several seconds. Steve looked great, tan and his black t-shirt hugged his muscles in all the right places. Steve was a beautiful man, of that there was no doubt. Steve saw him and grinned widely as always, that smile made Tony’s heart skip a beat, but he ignored his reaction with the ease of long practice.

“Hey, Buddy,” Steve greeted as he walked up and pulled Tony into a tight hug. They held each other a little longer than was strictly necessary. It was a wonderfully familiar feeling. Tony took a step back and Steve let go. To Tony, it seemed a bit reluctant, but he told himself he was imagining things. They’d both agreed they were better off as friends. Up close he realized there were dark circles under Steve’s eyes, though he looked completely alert. Tony chalked that up to SEAL training.

“You are a sight for sore eyes.” He took a closer look at Tony and frowned in concern. “You looked tired, man.”

Tony smiled affectionately. Steve always worried. “So do you,” he pointed out. “I think we both need some rest. I just wrapped up a long case; the paperwork seemed never ending. The good news is my boss has a conference tomorrow so I might be able to leave work early. I thought we could go rock climbing.”

Steve ignored his observation and Tony let it go. He understood Steve couldn’t talk about his missions. He also hated admitting he had limitations like everyone else. He smiled brightly at Tony. Tony’s heart sped up in response. “Sounds good,” Steve responded enthusiastically. “Though it doesn’t really matter what we do—I’ll be better at it than you. I can’t wait to beat your sorry ass.”

Tony stifled the urge to roll his eyes. Steve was so competitive. Tony loved the guy, but if he wasn’t careful, Steve would let his need to win get out of hand. Not that Tony didn’t intend to beat him.

“Yeah right. Just wait until I get you out on the basketball court, my friend. I’m going to make you eat those words,” Tony promised. Steve was a decent basketball player but didn’t enjoy it very much.

Steve pouted a little. Tony didn’t find it adorable at all. “I keep telling you, football or hockey are way better. Basketball is for wimps.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that.” Tony gave Steve a disbelieving look then rubbed his hands over his eyes.

Steve expression turned concerned again. ”Seriously, you look exhausted. That boss of yours works you too hard.”

Tony groaned in frustration. He didn’t want to talk about this again. “Steve, don’t start, okay? I never should have told you how many hours I work a week. I love my job and my boss is great. End of discussion.”

With Steve, sometimes you had to be firm or he’d ignore you and keep right on going. Especially when he thought he was right, which was almost always. He had this weird idea that Gibbs didn’t fully appreciate Tony, and no matter what Tony said, he couldn’t change Steve’s mind. Even when he pointed out that as a Naval officer, Steve often worked crazy hours as well.

Steve held up his hands. “Okay, I’ll drop it. I don’t want to argue. This is my first vacation in almost a year, I plan to enjoy it. So where are you going to take me to eat? I’m starving. I feel like I haven’t had a good meal in months.”

The traffic cop was glaring at them. Tony nodded at him and held up a finger, letting him know they were leaving.

“Get in the car, idiot,” Tony said. He turned to walk back toward the driver’s side. In three… two… one.

“Let me drive,” Steve demanded. Inside, Tony smiled to himself. Steve was such a control freak.

He scowled at Steve. “Um. How about no. You can ride shotgun for a change.”

Steve stared at him in astonishment, and he gave Tony an incredulous look. Tony always let him drive. The look was priceless. Tony so wished he had a camera right now. After a long moment, he decided to put Steve out of his misery.

“Fine, you can drive if you buy me dinner.” Tony tossed Steve his keys. Steve expression had started to relax at Tony’s words. However, when he heard the ultimatum, he glared as he attempted to stare Tony down, but after so many years, Tony was immune to that look. Steve didn’t like spending money, but it wouldn’t kill him.

Steve didn’t intimidate him in the least. Tony just looked back at his friend impassively and waited. Steve really did have trouble riding in cars when he wasn’t driving them. He used to get car sick as a kid. The truth was he’d have let Steve drive regardless, but teasing him was much more fun.

Finally, Steve sighed in defeat. “Fine, just get in the car. But I pick the place. We’re getting steak. I am not letting you take me out for sushi like last time.” Steve gave an exaggerated shudder.

Tony smiled. “You are such a fish snob,” Tony said affectionately. “We’re on the east coast. The fish here is very fresh.” Steve didn’t look convinced. Tony sighed slightly exasperated but decided to let it go. Steve had some firm ideas about what counted as real food.

Tony got into the passenger’s seat and buckled up. Steve drove like a maniac. It didn’t matter that they were in a city with some of the heaviest traffic in the world, Steve would give Gibbs a run for his money.

As soon as Tony was ready, Steve sped off, changing the radio station as a matter of course, just as Tony knew he would. Hard rock began pounding through the car. Tony relaxed into his seat with a smile. All was right in his world. He couldn’t ask for more. He ignored the voice at the back of his mind that things would be better if he and Steve were much more than just friends.

***

Gibbs stared at the screen in growing frustration. His eyes burned with exhaustion, but he ignored it with the ease of long practice and took another fortifying sip of his coffee. The photos of the three dead Marines were taunting him.

When they’d first caught the case, it had looked like a simple matter of a Marine failing to report for duty. These cases were not normally under NCIS’ purview, if it wasn’t for the fact that Gunnery Sergeant Atlas was an expert in explosive ordinance disposal, Gibbs’ team never even would have caught the case in the first place.

Gibbs had been hoping the Gunnery Sergeant would be easily found whole and healthy, but that hope had quickly been dashed. When they’d arrived at the Hammersmith Country Bar where Atlas had last been seen Gibbs had never imagined where the day would go. The investigation had led to two other dead marines both of whom went missing under similarly suspicious circumstances. All three missing men had served together, and there was clearly a pattern to their disappearances. The facts pointed toward a serial killer being responsible for their deaths.

He was pissed no one had seen the connection between the cases until now. A serial killer had been killing Marines, and no one had picked up on it. Gibbs felt like hitting something. He was determined to get justice for these men and stop their killer.

The investigation had eventually led them to another EOD specialist, Major Joe Sacco was their prime suspect. He had served with all three of the victims and had reason to dislike Atlas in particular as the man had stolen his girlfriend. Gibbs’ gut told him that Sacco was their perp. He was almost sure of it, and If he was right, Sacco could lead them to Atlas.

The problem was that all their evidence against Sacco was circumstantial at best, and Gunnery Sargent Atlas was swiftly running out of time. They needed enough proof to bring Sacco and put pressure on him. Their killer was about to claim his next victim unless they could find a way to stop him. His team was exhausted, but they didn’t have time to rest, not until they found Atlas dead or alive.

DiNozzo was looking at the screen, assessing the information. Gibbs knew he was rapidly coming to the same conclusion. DiNozzo was never slow on the uptake that was for sure. Gibbs was interested to hear what angle Tony would choose to explore. Gibbs might find his flirting and wisecracking frustrating but couldn’t deny that Tony had a keen mind and a unique way of looking at things. If only he could get Tony to focus more in the field.

“Boss, maybe we should bring him in. Get Sacco to talk?” Tony suggested.

Gibbs wasn’t surprised they were thinking along the same lines. He felt his frustration go up a notch. “Would if I could, but we’ve got nothing to hold him on. Bring me something worthwhile and we’ll pick him up.”

Tony stared off into the distance for a few more moments lost in thought. “We need evidence that Sacco is our killer or we need to eliminate him as a suspect. What if Kate and I followed him? Maybe we’d find some evidence, and if we’re really lucky, he might lead us straight to Atlas,” Tony added eagerly. For the moment, all traces of his exhaustion had vanished.

Gibbs first instinct was to dismiss the idea. He needed his agents here working to find any legal means of bringing Sacco in. However, he could admit the idea had some merit. Assuming he was their man Sacco knew they were on to him and was probably feeling stressed out. People under pressure made stupid mistakes. If DiNozzo was in position to take advantage of any mistakes Sacco made, it might just give them what they needed to save Atlas and put Sacco away for good. It was definitely worth a try.

Still, Gibbs had some reservations about the idea, if he was being honest, he didn’t really like the idea of sending Kate and Tony out together. He wasn’t in the mood for their antics. The bickering was incessant and was really starting to get on his nerves. It was bad enough that Tony was so easily distracted by beautiful women. He really didn’t need Tony and Kate distracting each other while doing surveillance too. He needed them both focused on the task at hand. They couldn’t afford any slip-ups. Besides, Kate could probably do more good here. It would be best to tackle the problem from as many angles as possible.

Maybe it would be better to send Tony by himself even if it was a bit unorthodox. DiNozzo would be safe enough in public, and he could take care of himself. Provided Sacco didn’t catch on, he should be fine, Gibbs assured himself. Tony was always saying he did his best work at night and alone.

“DiNozzo, you sure you can follow him without being seen?” Gibbs asked.

“Absolutely, Gibbs. We’ll get you the evidence you need,” Tony said grinning widely. He sounded confident enough. He’d just have Tony check in regularly. Gibbs was sure he’d be safe enough. How much trouble could he really get into following Sacco at a safe distance?

“All right, DiNozzo, watch him and report back.”

Kate was already standing. “I’m driving, Tony,” she said firmly.

Gibbs turned to her. “No, I need you here.” His tone brooked no argument.

Kate looked surprised. “You’re sending Tony out on his own?”

“Tony can handle it,” Gibbs said confidently. He looked over at Tony and was surprised to find him frowning.

“Actually, Boss, having another pair of eyes along would be better. We’re both exhausted. Together we’re less likely to miss something.”

Tony had a point, but Gibbs had made up his mind.

“It is pretty unusual to send an Agent out alone, Gibbs. Having backup would be safer,” Kate added. DiNozzo was nodding along. Gibbs felt a rush of annoyance at the holdup. Despite the fact he’d just been thinking the same thing he didn’t like them arguing with him. His gut was telling him they needed to hurry.

“I said I need Kate here,” he said firmly. “Now get going,” Gibbs ordered sharply.

Tony looked like he wanted to complain but must have realized there was no point because he picked up his bag and started toward the elevator.

“DiNozzo,” Gibbs called out. Tony turned around to look at him. “You check in every hour. Miss even one, and don’t bother coming back.” He used his best drill sergeant tone. The one that said he meant business.

Tony evidently picked up on it because he nodded. “I will, Boss,” he promised earnestly.

Gibbs watched him leave. He felt a little twinge of apprehension but ignored it. He could only hope Tony wouldn’t draw any undue attention to himself. Tony would be perfectly safe, and if he missed a check in, Gibbs would immediately head out to find him. Nothing would go wrong, he told himself and got back to work.

***

Tony left NCIS far from pleased and he sighed tiredly as he walked out to the car. He was going to be tailing Sacco all night. He could have used some real sleep but knew they wouldn’t get a chance to rest until this case was over. They were working against the clock; the longer it took to find him the more likely Atlas would be dead. Tony couldn’t help but think that having a well-rested investigative team could only be a good thing. Not for the first time he wished Gibbs was more willing to work with other teams. They really could have used some more manpower on this one.

Gibbs was pretty sure that Sacco was their man, and Tony had to agree. They just needed to prove it. If Sacco had taken Atlas, it was only a matter of time before he led Tony straight to him. Tony could only hope that Gunnery Sergeant Atlas was still alive.

Despite his concerns, Tony was glad to be out and doing something productive. If he found what they needed, Gibbs would be pleased. He had sensed Gibbs’ growing frustration with Tony and his methods lately, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. Gibbs’ current attitude was difficult to deal with.

Lately, Gibbs had been far less communicative than normal. It was almost as if he didn’t completely trust Tony, but that couldn’t be it. Tony was sure Gibbs trusted him. He hadn’t done anything to warrant Gibbs losing faith in him. Nevertheless he’d begun treating Tony like a wayward child, and it left Tony feeling extremely frustrated.

It was true that Tony liked to clown around. He actually found his lighter attitude worked well to counteract Gibbs’ gruff demeanor. He tried to put people at ease after Gibbs was done scaring them. It was one of his roles on the team, and he accepted it. Today for example, yes he’d flirted with Vanessa the bartender at the bar where Atlas had last been seen, but Tony had gotten them some information they’d needed in the process. Sure he’d enjoyed the flirting, but he’d done his job and done it well.

He was a little uncomfortable about going out alone. When he’d made the offer, he’d assumed Kate would be going with him. Gibbs had surprised him by deciding Tony should go out without his partner. He’d tried to say as much to Gibbs, but his boss had shut him down immediately.

Tony would be lying if he said it didn’t bother him. Having Kate along would have made things easier. However, he knew he could handle himself; he’d be fine on his own. Gibbs was counting on him to get them the evidence they needed to bring a murderer to justice. Besides he would be in regular contact with the team. It would have to be enough. He would have to be careful to keep Sacco from recognizing him.

His thoughts turned to Steve, who had arrived only two days ago. The next morning, Tony had caught this case, and they hadn’t seen each other since. Steve was waiting for him at home; the thought made Tony smile with contentment. He’d already had to cancel on Steve last night and would just have to postpone again. Steve would understand that this case took priority. Tony hadn’t even bothered to mention the fact that he had a houseguest to Gibbs.

Abby might be able to get away with going to a party, but Tony knew Gibbs would never let him take a few hours off in the middle of an investigation. Not unless he was dying. Steve would just have to wait, although there was a part of him that was disappointed.

He and Steve had met in Hawaii; Tony had been twelve and Steve had been nine. John McGarrett, Steve’s father, had been a beat cop who had let Tony stay with his family for several days one summer. Tony’s father had left him in a hotel room, forgetting Tony completely in his rush to get to the next deal. When the hotel staff realized Tony was alone, they called the police, and John had been the responding officer. Tony remembered how terrified he had been though he refused to show it. John had been kind, and he’s gotten permission to take Tony home with him.

He and Steve had become fast friends and stayed in touch over the years. First as pen pals, then as they’d gotten older, they’d made phone calls and had managed to get together for a few school vacations.

Tony took out his phone and called Steve, who picked up on the first ring. “Tony,” he greeted cheerfully. Tony could hear the real pleasure in his voice, and grinned in response.

Even as he relaxed, his stomach did a little flip. Like every time he heard Steve’s voice. Tony ignored it with almost no trouble. It was just part of his relationship with Steve.

“Hey, Steve, I’m so sorry but I have to work. The case has turned out to be more complicated than I thought, and I don’t know when I’ll be done.”

Steve sighed. “It’s okay, man. I had a feeling when you didn’t come home last night. I completely understand. I’ll just have to entertain myself tonight. At least I’ve got every movie in the world to choose from,” Steve teased.

Tony laughed. “Oh, come on, you know you love my movie references.”

“That is not the word I’d use,” Steve said wryly. “I tolerate your movie obsession, that’s all, you understand?” Tony grinned at Steve’s exasperated tone.

“Yeah, okay. I’m not going to bother pointing out you have only yourself to blame.”

Steve groaned. “Believe me, if I could take back showing you A Fist Full of Dollars, I would. How was I supposed to know I was creating a monster? Besides technically –”

“It was your dad’s fault, yes I know.” Tony chuckled. “I can’t blame the man. Clint Eastwood rarely disappoints.”

Steve and his dad had been close when Steve was a kid, but since Steve’s mother had been killed in a car accident, and John had sent Steve away to boarding school their relationship had become strained. Steve didn’t talk about his father much these days, and Tony respected his desire not to discuss his family. He understood how much it hurt when your father let you down.

The teasing was familiar and comfortable ground for them. Tony had missed their banter. “Well, while you’re getting comfortable in my apartment, I’m going to be running surveillance all by my lonesome. Somehow, I think you have the better deal,” he added wryly.

Tony reached his car and opened the trunk, throwing his things inside. He walked around to the driver’s side and got in, leaning back in his chair.

Steve was silent for a long moment. “You’re following a suspect without backup?” he asked calmly. Too calmly.

Tony winced. Steve usually got very calm right before he exploded. Steve was not a fan of Tony going out on solo assignments and for good reason

He’d been a new Detective in Peoria when he’d been made while surveilling a suspect on his own, and had almost gotten shot. Luckily, the suspect had really bad aim He’d come away without a scratch, but it had been close, and. Steve had been furious when he’d found out. Truth be told, Tony hadn’t been thrilled either, and he was much more cautious these days about having proper backup.

Steve also had issues with Gibbs and his management style. He thought Gibbs drove his team too hard and took Tony for granted. They’d had more than one fight about it. He really hoped they weren’t about to have another one now.

“Yep, but just so you know, it was my idea.” Tony ignored Steve’s growl of frustration. Much to Tony’s relief, he refrained from saying anything else.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I can handle myself, and Gibbs has me checking in every hour.”

“Let me come meet you; we can do it together. I’ll be your backup,” Steve requested seriously

Steve’s request amused him, and Tony laughed loudly; it was one of the things he loved most about Steve. Tony laughed so much more when they were together. He wasn’t surprised by the offer either, and had expected it. In truth, he was a little tempted to agree. Having Steve along would be fun. However, it wouldn’t be professional. Steve wasn’t an agent, after all.

“Uh, no. Gibbs will kill me if I bring you on during an investigation. I will be fine. I’ll call you when I’m on my way home,” Tony promised.

There was another pause, and Tony knew Steve was rapidly working through and dismissing arguments he could use to dissuade Tony. Finally, he sighed heavily. “Fine but keep me updated. Call me every couple of hours and let me know you’re okay. Your boss might not care, but I do.”

Tony sighed in annoyance but didn’t bother to dignify Steve’s statement about Gibbs. There was no changing his mind. Tony could easily imagine the belligerent expression on his face. As always, he was ready to rescue Tony from any possible danger.

Tony sighed in mock frustration, but inside he felt warm. He never got tired of Steve’s concern for him. However, there was no reason for Steve to know that. “I promise. You are such a mother hen,” Tony groused. “I have to go now. Bye.” Tony hung up without giving Steve a chance to answer.

Suddenly in a much better mood, Tony whistled softly to himself as he started the car. He had a suspect to track down and tail.

***

Tony watched as Sacco left the bar where Atlas had disappeared. Despite his believe Sacco was their perp, part of him had been surprised by Sacco’s destination. It was ballsy for Sacco to return to the scene of the crime like this. Could it be that Sacco wasn’t worried about being caught? Or was he innocent?

Tony had been tailing Sacco for several hours, and, so far, everything had been going smoothly. Sacco had drunk some beers and had some fun. He certainly didn’t seem to be behaving like a man with something to hide, but then most serial killers seemed like perfectly normal people.

Tony got up to follow Sacco. With any luck, he’d be able to follow Sacco home, and then Gibbs would find someone to relieve him for the rest of the night so he could go home and sleep. Of course, it was entirely possible Gibbs would make him sit out in the car by himself all night. Tony heaved a sigh at the thought.

As he walked out the door to the parking lot, he began to feel a little woozy. He stopped and took a deep breath, but it didn’t help. His vision was blurring and he was off balance. Something was very wrong. I fucked up. I have to get help, he thought. He reached for his phone to call Gibbs. Just then, his phone began to ring. It was probably Gibbs calling to check on him. He managed to pull out the phone but never got a chance to answer it. It fell from his slack fingers hitting the ground, it was the last thing Tony heard before his vision went dark and the earth rushed up to meet him.

Tony groaned as he woke up on the cold hard ground. The knowledge of what had happened to him came rushing back immediately. Tony stifled a groan he was in serious trouble, but he knew Gibbs was looking for him. At least he was alive and mostly unharmed. His head was killing him, but otherwise he was fine. Tony just had to stay alive long enough to be found. The room spun a bit as he sat up slowly.

He looked up and came face to face with Sergeant Atlas who looked appalling. His face was swollen and blotchy. The lack of food and water had taken a toll on him, and Tony knew he wouldn’t be able to survive much longer. Tony needed to get them both out of here and get Atlas medical attention as soon as possible.

His eyes were glazed over and pain filled as he looked at Tony. “Welcome to hell,” Atlas rasped.

Tony looked around. He was in a dark room that appeared to be underground. The only light came from a bare light bulb in the ceiling. Atlas was changed to a long pipe, but Tony was relieved to see he was unrestrained. It had been a stupid mistake for Sacco to make or perhaps he hadn’t considered Tony a real threat, either way Tony was grateful for it. Next to Atlas there was a skeleton. Tony tried not to look too closely at it. Yet another victim they hadn’t known about. His heart sank into his stomach as he realized how unlikely the possibility of rescue really was. This place wherever it was must be very well hidden.

Gibbs might still find him, but in the meantime, Tony was going to have to do his best to free himself and Atlas. He needed to get out of here and fast. If Steve found out he had been taken, he’d tear the whole city apart until he found Tony. Not even Gibbs would be able to stop him. It was entirely possible Gibbs would help him instead. Gibbs and Steve working together. There was a scary thought. The sooner he got out of here the better.

He turned to Atlas. “Don’t worry; I’m going to get us both out of here,” he said, determined to make it happen. Atlas looked back at him searching Tony’s gaze whatever he saw there he finally nodded.

Tony reached into his boot and pulled out the small knife he had hidden there. The knife had been a gift from Steve and he was relieved Sacco hadn’t found it. He felt better knowing he had something to defend them with if Sacco came back, true a knife was no match for a gun but it was better than nothing. Steve had taught him how to defend himself well, the summer before Tony had gone to Ohio State. With any luck a fight wouldn’t be necessary though, he just needed to get the door open and Atlas free from his chain.

When Steve heard about this he was never going to let Tony hear the end of it. The thought was comforting. He was looking forward to Steve’s teasing. He didn’t let himself doubt that he would see Steve again.

***

Gibbs eased his way down the dark sewer tunnel. The Manassas P.D. had located Sacco’s car sitting outside some old abandoned sewer tunnels. It was the perfect place to hold someone captive, and it had been enough for Gibbs to get a warrant for Sacco’s arrest. He could hear the suspect yelling at Tony and Major Sacco.

Gibbs had been very surprised to discover their unsub wasn’t Sacco at all but Vanessa, the bartender from the bar. It wasn’t surprising she’d managed to fly under the radar. He didn’t fit the profile of a serial killer. The situation was volatile, and Gibbs’ gut itched in warning. Vanessa was unstable and she was clearly spinning out of control.

Gibbs was relieved to know Tony was alive and well, and he’d never been more grateful for Tony’s ability to be the center of attention. For the moment, Sacco had the perp pretty well distracted, but the situation was dangerous. He knew Tony would turn Vanessa’s attention to himself to keep her from hurting anyone else.

The sooner they could bring this situation to an end the better. Gibbs wasn’t surprised Tony had managed to engineer an escape all by himself. Tony played the clown, but Gibbs knew to not ever underestimate his SFA. Gibbs didn’t suffer fools easily; there was a reason Tony had lasted longer than any other agent besides Stan Burley.

Vanessa had already killed several others, and Gibbs knew she wanted to finish the job. There would be no reasoning with her; she was too far gone. Gibbs was familiar with the signs. Hell, he’d lived them. All Vanessa cared about was getting her revenge. She didn’t care if she lived or died. Or who else she had to take with her to achieve her goal.

Gibbs heard a gunshot and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Moving silently, he sped up his pace. He felt Kate behind him right on his heels. H signed to her that he’d go in first and that She should cover him. It would be easy for things to get even further out of control, Gibbs wanted to be in a position to intervene. There was light ahead of them, and he could hear Tony trying to talk Vanessa down, keeping her busy. He listened as she confessed to killing several other Marines. Her anger and pain were palpable.

Gibbs moved carefully toward the open doorway. He gave his eyes a moment to adjust to the bright sunlight coming in through a nearby window. He was glad the confrontation was happening above ground. Sacco was lying on the floor, and Gibbs was almost sure he was dead. Tony stood with his back to him to the left of the doorway, and Vanessa had her gun pointed right at him. Atlas was lying on the floor next to them. So far, Tony was successfully keeping her attention away from the injured man. Good boy, Gibbs thought.

“NCIS,” he identified himself. “Drop your weapon.”

Vanessa looked shocked and more than a little desperate.

“No, you can’t do this,” Vanessa said. Her voice shook with emotion. “Please, I’m almost finished. He needs to know. He needs to suffer like I did. He doesn’t deserve to live,” Vanessa pleaded. Her rambling made little sense to Gibbs. Vanessa clearly wasn’t well. The murders had been calculated, but there was also a passion behind them. She had wanted her victims to suffer; killing them had simply been the final step.

Vanessa turned the gun toward Atlas and clearly prepared to fire. At the same moment, Tony lunged toward her. She fired wildly. Tony managed to grab the gun and removed it from her hand. He held her in place with his good arm so she couldn’t get away. Gibbs relaxed a bit as Tony defused the situation. He felt a jolt of pride. Tony was an excellent agent when he had his head in the game.

Kate rushed forward and handcuffed Vanessa. Kate told her to sit down and be quiet for the moment. Vanessa had a vicious look in her eye and Gibbs resolved to keep an eye on her. Then Kate went over and checked on Sacco and Atlas, who had lapsed into unconsciousness.

Meanwhile, Tony was leaning against the wall. Gibbs was about to call to him when he realized that Tony had ripped his shirt and was trying to bandage his shoulder with only moderate success. It was then that Gibbs realized with a jolt of unease that Tony had been shot. Why didn’t he say anything? Gibbs knew the answer Tony hadn’t wanted to distract them from the task at hand.

Gibbs hurried over to him, calling out orders to Kate as he went. “Kate, call for an ambulance. Let them know we have one man who is severely dehydrated and an agent with a GSW to the shoulder.”

“Sacco is dead, Gibbs,” Kate reported before moving to do as she was told. Gibbs reached Tony’s side, and Tony took off his jacket. Gibbs pressed it firmly to the wound to try to stop the bleeding, which was quite a bit, Gibbs noted with concern. Tony had been very lucky, but he needed to get the injury looked at right away. Gibbs could only do so much. He hoped the ambulance arrived quickly. He turned his glare on Tony “When you get shot DiNozzo, you say so immediately,” Gibbs said. He could hear the exasperation in his voice.

Before Tony could respond Kate came over. “The ambulances are on their way Gibbs—about three minutes out.”

Then she turned to Tony with a concerned frown. “Are you alright?” she demanded.

“I’m all right, Kate,” he reassured with a gasp. “It’s just a scratch. You know me… I’m too awesome to get hurt.” Tony grinned irreverently.

Kate nodded.”Of course, what was I thinking? You’re a regular iron man,” she said dryly. As she passed by, she patted Tony’s good arm.

“Actually, Iron Man didn’t have any powers,” Tony said. “I’m surprised at you, Kate.”

Kate smirked. “That’s exactly my point, Tony,”

Tony shrugged, but he was smiling, “Hey Tony Stark was rich and got all the girls. I could do worse.”

Gibbs felt a pang of annoyance. Now was not the time for their clowning around. Gibbs would never understand the strange relationship those two had.

“Enough, both of you. Go secure the prisoner and then wait for the paramedics,” he barked out. “They’ll have a hell of a time finding their way down here,” he said curtly.

With one last look at Tony, Kate ordered Vanessa to her feet. Their rapid footsteps quickly disappeared down the tunnel, the echo of her steps quickly fading away.

“You’re going to be okay, Tony, everything is going to be fine,” Gibbs said gruffly. He couldn’t fault Tony’s instinct to protect Atlas. The man was half-dead and helpless, but Gibbs would have preferred Tony had kept himself out of danger as well. He never liked to see any of his people injured.

Gibbs turned to look at Atlas then walked over to the man to make sure he was breathing. He sighed in relief at finding he was still alive. He hated to leave an unconscious man alone, but it would only be for a few minutes. Once he made sure Tony was taken care of, he’d lead the paramedics back to Atlas. It would have been really helpful to have another agent on the team right then. Maybe he should make McGee’s assignment permanent.

Gibbs returned to Tony and wrapped an arm around his waist supporting him. “Can you walk a bit? We can meet the paramedics when they arrive.”

Tony nodded, and with Gibbs supporting him, they slowly made their way outside.

Tony gave a shadow of his usual grin, but Gibbs appreciated the effort nonetheless. “I’m okay, Boss. It’s just a shoulder wound—I’ve had worse. I won’t let a bullet stop me,” he said with a hint of his usual bravado. “It hurts a lot, Boss,” he added, groaning softly. “Getting shot, ten out ten would not recommend.”

Gibbs scowled slightly at Tony’s bantering.

Tony frowned in response. “Hey, you can’t hit me, I’m wounded,” he protested. Only Tony would make jokes at a time like this.

He looked Tony over carefully. Shoulder wounds, while not immediately life-threatening, could be tricky. Gibbs knew Tony might need surgery to remove the bullet, but the wound didn’t look too deep. Tony was lucky to be hit at the angle he had been. He winced internally; he hated working without Tony for long periods. Things always seemed to get missed or misfiled when he wasn’t around.

Gibbs sighed. “Relax, DiNozzo. Trust you to get hit accidentally.” He kept his tone gentle, knowing Tony would hear the concern underneath. He always did.

“Couldn’t let him get hurt anymore, Boss, su-suffered enough,” Tony gasped softly. “Boss, Vanessa killed them all. Atlas and the other Marines tried to smuggle their girlfriends into the country in a cargo container, but Sacco changed their orders at the last minute, and the girls all died except for Vanessa. This was her revenge on them. She wanted them to know how it felt to die the same way.”

Gibbs winced. Jesus that was horrific. It wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever heard in his time, but it was bad enough. Despite everything she’d done he felt sorry for what Vanessa had endured. It would be difficult for a trained soldier to endure something like that let alone a young woman.

Tony made a startled noise. “I need to make a call. Gibbs, I don’t have my phone anymore. Did you find it?” Tony asked. His tone was strangely urgent.

“I’ve got it, Tony. I’ll hold on to it for you.”

Tony nodded. “Call Steve McGarret. He’s staying with me, and I’m sure he’s worried. I’m surprised he hasn’t stormed the Navy Yard yet. He’s my next of kin and has my power of attorney. Not that I expect to need it.”

Gibbs wanted to ask who this Steve was and why he’d never heard the name before, but he knew it wasn’t the right time. He’d have McGee pull Tony’s personnel file at the earliest opportunity.

“I promise I’ll let him know, and make sure he meets us at the hospital.”

Tony smiled. “Thanks.”

The paramedics met them just a little further down the hall. One set took care of Tony while Gibbs led the others back to Atlas.

***

Steve was pacing around Tony’s living room like a caged animal, and glaring at his phone and willing it to ring. He had an awful feeling. His instincts screamed that something was wrong and he trusted that feeling; it had served him well over the years. Tony was in trouble, and Steve felt helpless to do anything about it. It was not a feeling he was used to or one he enjoyed. Steve was used to being the one who jumped into action when it was needed.

He hadn’t heard from Tony in almost ten hours. He had asked Tony to check in because he didn’t think it was right that Tony was sent out without backup. It spoke to a deep lack of attention on Gibbs’ part, and maybe all of NCIS.

The truth was he really didn’t like Gibbs even though he’d never even met the man. Tony would always speak highly of his boss. However, Steve had read between the lines. Gibbs was demanding and expected his staff to work crazy hours. Worst of all, he never treated Tony with the respect he deserved. That was unforgivable in Steve’s book. The way Tony always jumped to the other man’s defense got on Steve’s last nerve. Tony was one of the most important people in Steve’s life, and he hated it when others didn’t appreciate Tony properly.

Tony had checked in with him after about three hours. He’d been bored but fine, and that was the last time he’d heard from him. At first, he hadn’t worried. Steve had assumed there had been a break in the case and that Tony hadn’t had a chance to call him. Steve understood that the work came first. He’d tried to be patient, but as the hours had passed, he’d grown more and more troubled. He imagined what Tony would say if he could see Steve right now. He’d smile that way that Steve loved and tell Steve he was getting upset over nothing

It was morning, and he hadn’t heard a word from Tony, who also wasn’t picking up his phone. I should have insisted on going with him, Steve berated himself. He had Gibbs’ number in case of emergency, and he was extremely tempted to use it. He knew Tony wouldn’t be happy about it, but his displeasure was a small price to pay.

The phone in his hand suddenly rang. Tony’s name flashed over the ID. “Tony,” Steve snapped, “you better have been unconscious, because if not, I’m going to kill you myself for worrying me like this.”

There was a long pause and then a gruff voice demanded, “Is this Lieutenant McGarrett?”

Steve felt a wave of alarm. “Speaking. Who is this and why do you have Agent DiNozzo’s phone?”

“This is Special Agent Gibbs. I understand you’re Agent DiNozzo’s next of kin; he’s been shot and is being taken to Bethesda for treatment.”

Somehow Steve wasn’t very surprised to hear the news. Nevertheless, a hot burst of anger pulsed through his veins. His fingers tightened around his phone. The plastic casing creaked in protest. Tony never should have been out without backup. “Shot. What the hell happened?” Steve demanded tightly.

“I don’t have time to explain right now. I understand you’re here in D.C. Tony asked for you.”

Gibbs sounded annoyed, not that Steve cared. He realized he was grinding his teeth and forced himself to relax. He took a deep breath, regaining his composure. He needed more answers but was smart enough to realize he wouldn’t get anything from Gibbs by being insistent; it would only get the other man’s back up.

“I can send someone to pick you up,” Gibbs offered.

Steve was already reaching for his jacket. It was a kind offer, but Steve would much rather drive himself. He’d already been waiting too long, and he would get there much faster on his own. He was glad he’d decided to rent a car when Tony had been called into work. “No thanks, I’m on my way. I want a full explanation of what happened to Tony,” Steve ground out. He hung up on Gibbs and rushed out the door. Tony needed him, and there was nowhere else Steve wanted to be than at his side.

***

Steve sat quietly waiting in an extremely uncomfortable chair in the surgical unit waiting room. The smell of antiseptic hung thick in the air. When he’d arrived at the hospital, he’d been told that Tony had been rushed into emergency surgery to remove the bullet from the shoulder. Tony had been awake and able to consent to the surgery himself which was good news. The situation could have been a lot worse.

Steve felt like he was about to crawl out of his skin. He desperately wished for something to do or someone to fight. All he could do was sit there feeling guilty. He’d known Tony going in alone was wrong. He should have been with Tony. What would I do if I’d lost him today, he wondered. The idea made him feel sick with dread; he couldn’t imagine his life without Tony in it.

For now, all he could do was wait, which was driving him crazy. Waiting was not his strong suit. He’d been sitting here for over two hours with no word. Doctors had come and gone, but his request for information had mostly been ignored. The nurses had been kind but unmovable. They insisted he had to be patient. He knew he’d probably been too pushy. It wasn’t the nurses’ fault that they didn’t have information for him. He’d finally forced himself to sit down and stay quiet before he alienated the entire staff.

Steve looked down at Tony’s knife and rubbed his thumb absently along the hilt. It had been in Tony’s pocket when the doctors had cut off his clothing, and an orderly had given it to Steve. It was the only thing they had found on him. His wallet and car keys were long gone. The knife was small and easily concealed, Steve was relieved that it had done its job and that the killer hadn’t found it on Tony.

He’d given Tony this knife when Tony had graduated from the Remington Military Academy. It wasn’t very fancy, but it had been all Steve could afford at the time. He remembered the way Tony’s face had lit up when he saw the gift. It was so long ago, Steve had almost forgotten. He was touched that Tony had hung on to it and apparently kept it with him all the time. He’d thought Tony had replaced it with something better years ago.

Steve was distracted by a commotion at the desk. He saw Agent Gibbs was demanding to know how Tony was doing. Steve recognized him easily. He’d read Gibbs’ file, something Tony had not have approved of, but Steve didn’t really care. He’d wanted to know the man that Tony was worked for. He suspected that despite his protests Tony had taken a look at the file himself, but he had never asked.

Initially, Steve had been impressed by what he’d read. He’d dug a little and heard mostly good things about Gibbs. He’d been sorry to hear about the murder of Gibbs wife and daughter. Steve knew what it was like to lose a loved on unexpectedly. He’d admired what Gibbs had chosen to do with his life in response to the tragedy.

It wasn’t until Tony had started sharing stories about the long hours he worked and the lack of a personal life that Steve had grown concerned. He didn’t like that Tony could be hurt but understood it was part of the job. But even for law enforcement, Tony seemed to be in more danger than seemed reasonable to Steve.

Steve took a deep breath. He was not in the mood to be civil but knew that Tony would get upset if he were rude to his boss. Steve decided to do his best to be polite for Tony’s sake.

The nurse was pointing Gibbs toward Steve. Gibbs didn’t look happy about it but nodded abruptly and stalked his way over to Steve. Steve slid the knife into his pocket for safe keeping as he Steve stood, determined not to give Gibbs any advantage, however slight.

“How’s DiNozzo?” Gibbs barked. He was glowering, and his tone said he expected Steve to respond immediately. Steve was used to taking orders but only in the appropriate circumstances. This didn’t count. Gibbs had no right to get surly with him. If anything, Steve was the one who had the right to be upset.

Steve knew that some of his anger at Gibbs was irrational. After all, Tony was a grown man who made his own decisions. However, Gibbs really shouldn’t have sent him out there alone. Be pleasant, he reminded himself, Tony wouldn’t want you to be rude to his boss.

Steve held out his hand. “I’m Lieutenant Steven McGarrett. A very old friend of Tony’s. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Agent Gibbs.”

Gibbs’ eyes widened slightly even as he scowled. Yeah, I know who you are, Steve thought with some satisfaction.

Gibbs hadn’t taken his hand, so Steve let it drop. “To answer your question,” Steve continued mildly, “Tony is in surgery. They slowed the bleeding and stabilized him then took x-rays. The bullet clipped an artery. They have to repair it but think he’ll be just fine.”

Gibbs nodded. “That’s good.” Steve saw the relief in his eyes and felt himself softening a bit. Maybe Gibbs did care about Tony after all. He’d intended to have words with Gibbs about taking better care of his people, but that could wait. It wouldn’t do anyone any good to pick a fight now.

Steve was sure it would be a fight; Gibbs didn’t seem the type to take kindly to other people’s opinions of the way he ran his team. Steve reserved the right to find a better time to discuss it, though. As far as he was concerned Gibbs had been negligent in his duty as team leader and had let Tony down.

“I haven’t heard anything new. You’re welcome to wait with me if you like,” Steve offered.

Gibbs gave a slight smile and nodded looking pleased. “Thanks,” he said. “I’m going to get coffee. Want some?”

It was Steve’s turn to be surprised by the apparent peace offering. If Gibbs was willing to try to be pleasant, Steve would do the same. “Thanks.” Gibbs wandered away, and Steve went back to waiting.

Gibbs came back with two cups of coffee. Steve took his but didn’t drink it. “So, you’ve known Tony a long time,” he said. It wasn’t a question

Steve nodded. “We met in Hawaii as children. That’s where I’m from. Tony was there on vacation, and we hit it off right away. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and have remained good friends.”

There was a lot more to their relationship than that, but it was clear Tony’s coworkers didn’t know about Steve. Tony must have a good reason for keeping Steve a secret from them. Tony was pretty closed-mouthed about his personal life unless he felt comfortable enough to share details, and there weren’t many people Tony trusted to that degree. In any case he would respect that decision. It was none of Gibbs’ business anyway.

Gibbs nodded. For a moment, he looked like he was going to say something more, but much to Steve’s surprise, he remained quiet. They stood quietly for several seconds. The silence felt deafening to Steve.

He desperately wanted to know what happened to Tony. He kept imagining different scenarios, each worse than the last. He couldn’t help but think that if he’d been there, Tony wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Steve turned toward Gibbs. He wasn’t sure what, if anything, Gibbs would be willing to tell him, but he had to try.

“Can you tell me more about how Tony got shot?” he asked Gibbs

“I can’t tell you much. The case is ongoing, but I can say that Tony got hurt protecting a victim. He was trying to disarm our suspect and got shot in the ensuing altercation. She was determined to finish the job. Tony kept her from shooting someone else.” Gibbs smiled slightly.

For his part, Steve felt an odd mixture of apprehension and pride. He wasn’t surprised Tony had gotten himself get shot to protect an innocent victim; Steve would have done the same. In many ways, he and Tony were a lot alike.

He understood why Tony had done it, but that didn’t mean he liked the idea of Tony putting himself in danger. Once Tony was feeling better, they were going to have a long talk about being cautious and more aware of one’s surroundings. He wouldn’t change Tony for anything, but he would do what he could to make sure he was safe in the future.

“It’s just like DiNozzo—a little foolish but brave,” Gibbs added curtly. He looked angry and frustrated. Steve felt a pang of sympathy. Gibbs clearly did care about Tony. Although, his use of the word foolish rubbed Steve the wrong way since Tony was anything but.

Steve couldn’t understand Gibbs’ attitude. His anger was still simmering, but he also felt sad. How could someone who worked so closely with Tony be reading him so wrong? It made no sense. He decided he couldn’t let it slide.

“Tony puts on a show for others. He learned early on that if he was entertaining then people would like him, but more importantly, they would underestimate him. Yes, he plays the part of the clown at times, but has he ever not come through for you when it mattered. Why would you send him out without someone to watch his back?” The question burst from Steve. He was unable to hold it in because he was anxious to know the answer.

Gibbs flushed with anger. He looked furious but took a deep breath, looking like he was trying reining in his temper. “I don’t think it’s your place to question my decisions. Tony works for me, and I did what I thought was best. He should have been safe enough.”

Steve nodded. He was unsatisfied with the answer but figured it was the most he was going to get. From what Tony had said, Gibbs didn’t seem the type to admit when he was wrong. He knew he shouldn’t waste any more energy on this. Tony would need his full attention. For some reason, Gibbs had Tony’s loyalty, and anyone Tony was willing to follow couldn’t be all bad; his friend was an excellent judge of character. For Tony, he’d try to get along with the man.

Gibbs snorted. “It’s just like DiNozzo to get himself into trouble. Tony should have let his guard down and allowed himself kidnapped.”

Just like that, all of Steve’s good intentions evaporated in a rush of fury. He lowered his voice so as not to be overheard. “Tony isn’t an idiot. He’s one of the smartest and hardest working people I know. Maybe if you hadn’t let him go out there all alone, none of this would have happened! If you ask me, you’re the idiot. You don’t appreciate Tony the way he deserves, and I’m sick of it,” Steve bit out then took a deep breath. So much for keeping his cool. Tony was not going to be happy about this when he heard.

Gibbs was glaring, his arms crossed over his chest defensively. “I don’t owe you any explanations. Fact is, it was his idea in the first place, and I sent him alone because I needed results and he works better without an audience.”

Gibbs looked more exasperated than anything else. Steve stared at him in shock. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. What did that even mean? That Gibbs thought Tony got distracted because he was showing off? To who? Gibbs reasoning made no sense to him.

“I don’t understand. You sent Tony out alone because he might get distracted by his partner?”

Gibbs shrugged. “DiNozzo is a good agent, but he likes to show off for beautiful women, and that includes his partner. I thought he’d be more focused on his own.”

Steve stared at Gibbs for a moment, taking the statement in. His first thought was that Gibbs reasoning was deeply flawed, but then Gibbs full meaning sank in. Then fury took over in a rush. The sound of his heartbeat was whooshing in his ears. Before he could stop himself, he reacted, punching Gibbs right in the face. Their coffees went flying, splashing on their clothes and the floor. The force of the punch made Gibbs reel backward, but he kept his feet. Steve was reluctantly impressed.

He heard people gasping and someone calling for security over the intercom.

Gibbs was startled but recovered quickly, trying to take a swing at Steve. Gibbs might be in excellent shape, but he was no match for Steve. Steve caught his fist easily and bent Gibbs’ arm around his back.

“I don’t know what your problem is, and, right now, I don’t care. You apparently don’t know Tony at all. He wouldn’t let anything get in the way of doing his job to the best of his ability. Tony can do much better than you. He deserves a boss who appreciates him and I’ll be telling him that when he wakes up. For now, I don’t have the time and energy to deal with you, so do yourself a favor, and walk away. If you don’t, it will be my pleasure to put you on your ass.”

Two police officers were swiftly making their way toward Gibbs and Steve. Gibbs impatiently flashed his badge at them and sent them away. Steve was vaguely amused at how quickly the police officers bent to Gibbs’ wishes. Steve didn’t understand why people found Gibbs so intimidating. Gibbs was dangerous, there was no doubt, but Steve was confident about which one of them would win in a fight.

Gibbs was fuming silently. “Do you understand me?” Steve asked harshly

“Yes,” Gibbs ground out.

Steve let him go.

Gibbs moved away quickly and whirled around to glare at Steve. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t arrest you for assaulting a federal officer,” Gibbs said forcefully.

“Go right ahead. I’ll be happy to tell anyone who is willing to listen what you said, and that I suspect you sent a subordinate out alone because you were annoyed with him.”

Gibbs scoffed. “I didn’t mean it like that. Besides, no one would believe you.”

“Tony would. We trust each other implicitly. Besides which, I’m sure there is someone else who questioned the wisdom of sending Tony out on his own.” It was a bluff, but Gibbs didn’t call him on it so maybe there was someone. Steve was glad someone besides Tony had some sense.

Gibbs’ glare deepened, but Steve just looked back unmoved. When Gibbs looked away first, Steve felt a vicious satisfaction. He was sure Special Agent Gibbs wasn’t forced to back down very often.

Without another word, Gibbs stalked out of the waiting room. Several people staring after him.

“Good riddance,” Steve muttered to himself. What the hell? He couldn’t believe what just happened. He’d actually hit Gibbs. How could someone who worked with Tony every day think so little of him? He had his issues with Gibbs’ management style, but he really thought Gibbs trusted Tony.

Tony had never said anything to indicate otherwise, but Steve had always sensed something was wrong. He’d convinced himself he was just overprotective. He really couldn’t help himself. It was his default setting with the people he loved. Oh god, how am I going to tell Tony?

Steve couldn’t keep this from him. The possibility didn’t even cross his mind. He didn’t want to hurt Tony, but he deserved to know the truth. He deserved to know how little Gibbs appreciated him. He deserved to know Gibbs had sent him out alone because he didn’t trust Tony not to get distracted by his partner. Steve’s heart sank. Tony would be devastated. Steve hated to hurt him like that, but he knew Tony would want to know. He did not take well to being kept in the dark.

Steve settled down to wait. Tony’s well-being was the most important thing right now, so he had to remain focused. All this could wait until Tony was better.

He had been sitting alone for what felt like forever, getting more apprehensive as time passed. Surely the surgery should have been done by now. What if the damage had been more extensive than the doctors thought? Steve felt his stomach tighten at the idea.

Steve desperately wanted to see Tony with his own eyes. They were friends, but Tony meant so much more to Steve. He couldn’t believe that he’d almost lost Tony tonight. He was struck by how much the idea scared him. The decision to remain friends had been mutual, but Steve had always had his doubts. He felt sure that he and Tony could be good together. However, the timing had never been right. The one and only kiss they’d shared was a treasured memory.

Steve pictured Tony’s face. Imagined never hearing him laugh again, and, for a moment, he felt as if he were going to be sick. He immediately suppressed the feeling. A good officer never let emotions get in the way of completing a mission. Tony needed him to be strong. There was no use in letting his thoughts run away with him.

As if his thoughts had conjured them, the door at the end of the hallway opened and two doctors stepped out, still dressed in surgical scrubs. They both looked tired as they removed their masks. Steve could see one of them was smiling. He felt something in him begin to unwind. Steve knew Tony was going to be alright.

***

Tony came awake slowly. His brain felt slower than normal, but he was aware of his surroundings. He could smell the strong scent of disinfectant thick in the air. There were several voices nearby. He knew before he even opened his eyes that he was in the hospital. He felt someone running a hand through his hair, and it was really soothing. Tony leaned into the touch and slowly opened his eyes.

The bright light was painful, and he groaned, closing them again. He was aware of a sharp pain in his shoulder. The pain cleared his sleep-fogged mind. Thanks to the pain medication he’d been sleeping a great deal, and he quickly remembered he was in the hospital. Right, he’d been shot and had surgery. He sighed in frustration. It had only been a day, and he was already tired of irritated by the limitations of his injury. He wasn’t’ much for sitting still.

“Tony, are you awake?” a voice asked gently, interrupting his thoughts. Tony could hear the affection in it. Tony recognized the voice, but it took him a few seconds to realize it was Steve. Steve was also holding his hand, and Tony did his best to squeeze it. He smiled slightly when Steve’s grip tightened in return.

“Sorry,” Steve said. “I was reading. I’m going to turn the overhead light off for you.” The light dimmed, and Tony sighed with relief. He opened his eyes again, Steve was smiling down at him, a fond but concerned expression on his face.

“Thanks,” he rasped, wincing. His throat was sore from the intubation during surgery. He looked around, and noted he and Steve were alone.

“Gibbs, Kate?” he asked quietly. The last time he’d woken they hadn’t been present and he was a little disappointed to see they still weren’t here to see him.

Steve smiled reassuringly. “Gibbs and Kate have both been by to see you, but you slept through it. Kate left you those balloons over there. Abby and Ducky have been by too. I had a good chat with both of them. Abby is something else, and Ducky is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Abby left this for you.” He motioned toward the small night table; on it was sitting a stuffed hippo.

Tony smiled. “Bert,” he murmured. “That’s really sweet. She loves that ugly thing so much. What you think of her?”

Steve paused. “She’s very unique. I liked her. She offered to take me out bowling.”

Tony stifled the urge to laugh. He always thought Abby and Steve would get along well. He was sorry he hadn’t gotten to see any of their interactions so far. They would most likely prove to be entertaining.

Tony tried to sit up but couldn’t help the groan that escaped at the fiery jolt of pain it caused in his shoulder. Bad idea, DiNozzo

Steve was watching him intently. “You’re hurting,” Steve said, sounding concerned. “The pain button is here. I’ll press it for you,”

“No wait,” Tony said quickly. Pain medication always made him goofy, and he wasn’t ready to go back to sleep. He wanted to talk to Steve. “I want to talk to you. Don’t want to go back to sleep.”

Steve smiled softly. “Sorry. Too late, but you should be feeling better in a minute. There’s no reason for you to be in pain. You always say that you know, ever since I’ve known you. ”

Tony was about to shrug, but he caught himself. That would have been a really stupid thing to do. “I’m okay,” he reassured, Steve his voice raspy.

Steve let go of his hand, and Tony felt the loss acutely. Steve returned a second later with a paper cup. He held the straw for Tony, and he took a few sips. Would it be weird if he asked Steve to keep holding his hand? Most likely, best friend or not, it wasn’t something men did.

Although in truth he and Steve had never been normal. Steve was generally a touch-oriented person. He knew Steve wouldn’t begrudge him the comfort of holding his hand. He wanted the comfort of Steve’s touch, and there was no real reason he shouldn’t have it.

He reached out his hand to Steve and Steve took it without missing a beat, much to Tony’s satisfaction. Steve smiled softly and squeezed Tony’s hand gently.

Steve continued as if unperturbed, and Tony smiled in appreciation. “I know you are. You wouldn’t let a bullet stop you. Didn’t they teach you how not to get shot at FLETC?” Steve teased.

“Actually, it was the Police Academy.” They both chuckled, and Tony felt a stab of pain for his trouble. “Ow,” he complained. “You know me. I never learn. Besides, considering she was a serial killer, it could have been a lot worse,” Tony replied.

He heard Steve gasp and the sound of something falling. Had Steve not known? Oops, he wasn’t supposed to mention that. Gibbs was going to be pissed. His eyes drifted shut—he was already feeling tired. He hated that he didn’t have any energy at all. He forced his eyes open again.

“A serial killer?” Steve asked disbelievingly.

Tony knew he was supposed to answer, but it was hard to pay close attention. His whole was beginning to feel heavy.

“You with me?” Steve asked, his voiced sounding a little hoarse. Steve cleared his throat.

With some effort Tony was able to focus. “Yeah, I’m with you,” Tony said. “Our perp killed four different Marines.”

He looked over at Steve, who was frowning fiercely, one hand was clenched tightly around his book. Tony wanted to kiss the frown off his face. Tony’s mind wandered for a moment imagining that. Their one and only kiss had been a little awkward but surprisingly enjoyable, and he bet kissing Steve now would feel exquisite. He’d heard from several of Steve’s former girlfriends that he was a really good kisser. Tony had pretended to be repulsed by the information, but secretly the knowledge had intrigued him and made Tony wish he could find out for himself.

It was only when Steve chuckled that he realized he’d said the words aloud. Tony groaned loudly. Oh no, that was so embarrassing. Fucking painkillers. They always made him act like an idiot.

“I’d like to kiss you too,” Steve murmured. He reached up and stroked Tony’s cheek. “Ask me again when you aren’t high and in the hospital, and I’ll be happy to oblige.”

Tony felt himself flush as first surprise and then happiness washed over him, Steve’s response was a little overwhelming, but he wasn’t about to back away. Feeling momentarily more alert he grinned. “You’re on,” he said. After a moment’s hesitation, he lifted their joined hands and kissed Steve’s fingers. It was Steve’s turn to flush a little, and his eyes were warm as he squeezed his fingers and gave Tony an affectionate smile.

There was something else he wanted to ask. “Shoulder still okay?” he asked. His shoulder throbbed painfully. The doctor hadn’t been by at least not as far as Tony knew. The big concern now was an infection of the surgical site.

“Yep, you’re still good. The doctor can tell you more when he comes by later, but the wound looks good. They expect you to make a full recovery. Your luck seems to be holding.”

Tony smirked at Steve. Over the years, Steve had always claimed that Tony had the uncanny ability to get himself out of any trouble he got himself into. He always said Tony had been blessed with good fortune. Apparently, it was incredibly annoying. Tony disagreed, but he’d long since decided to humor his friend in his delusion.

Steve nodded. “I’m going to call the nurse and let her know you’re awake. I should have informed them right away. I’m sure they’ll want to take the opportunity to poke and prod you.“

“Great, my favorite,” Tony said sardonically. He yawned unexpectedly. He was definitely feeling floaty, but it was a pleasant sensation.

Steve grinned. “It won’t be so bad. There’s a game on later after they’re gone I’ll put it on for us or I could read to you if you want.”

“Game sounds good,” he said.

Steve grinned fondly. “You’re being so compliant. I better enjoy it while it lasts. Pretty soon you’ll be driving me crazy with your grumpy demands.”

Tony knew he was pouting but didn’t care. “Don’t make fun,” he muttered. “I hate being injured. Healing is so boring.”

Steve just smirked and pressed the call button, informing the nurse who answered that Tony had woken up.

The nurse came in and efficiently went about her business. She seemed pleased with Tony’s progress, but when Tony asked when he could leave she admonished him to be patient.

Tony winced at that. He hated everything about being here. The nurse had finished wearing him out, and Tony acknowledged to himself that maybe he wasn’t ready to leave yet. Once she was gone, Steve informed him that he was going to the cafeteria to get something to eat. Tony nodded too tired to speak.

Steve turned to go, and Tony was suddenly seized with the irrational fear he wouldn’t see him again.

“Steve, you’ll be back?” He hated how needy he sounded, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking. Hospitals had a way of making him feel vulnerable since he’d had the measles as a kid and his father had left him alone in the hospital for days.

Steve grinned. “Don’t worry. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. I was so worried about you.”

It was surprisingly reassuring. Tony sighed—he was so tired—and closed his eyes and let himself drift. He thought he felt a gentle kiss on his forehead, but he probably imagined it.

***

Two days later, Tony was sitting up in bed bored out of his mind. The rough sheets rustled as he moved, and the constant noise around him was annoying. He found himself with a rare moment alone since he’d entered the hospital, and nothing but crap on TV. He was feeling a great deal better, and he was sick and tired of lying in his hospital bed.

He thought everyone was making too much of a fuss. Yes, he’d been shot and needed surgery, but it was only in the shoulder. If you had to get shot it was one of the better places. Really, he was ready to go home. He knew once he was home, he would finally have to have a real talk with Steve.

Tony knew he had been lucky, his injury hadn’t been life threatening, but the whole situation could have played out a lot differently. Tony realized that if he’d died, he’d never get to kiss Steve again, and that was something he really wanted. He’d wanted Steve in every way for a long time. He knew from their previous conversation that Steve was attracted to him which was a start, but Tony wanted much more than a causal relationship. He wasn’t sure how Steve would feel about that but hoped they were on the same page.

Tony vividly remembered Steve’s expression as he’d said he wanted to kiss him too. He’d been telling the truth. Hell, Tony wanted to do a whole lot more than kiss. There was a big part of Tony who just wanted to throw caution to the wind, but it wasn’t that simple. He was worried about changing things between them. Steve was too important to him to risk losing him. He also wasn’t sure what it was Steve was looking for from him.

A noise at the door interrupted Tony’s musings. The nurse whose name was Paul brought in his lunch tray and laughed when Tony made a face. It was supposed to be Italian wedding soup, but the broth was… gray. Tony leaned back against the pillows. Abruptly, he lost his appetite.

Paul was a very good looking man, and he smiled flirtatiously as he gave. He saw the disgusted face Tony made and laughed. “It isn’t so bad. Eat up. You need to conserve your strength,” he admonished playfully. He gave Tony a pain pill which he reluctantly swallowed down with some of the soup. For the record, it tasted even worse than it looked. It made his stomach turn, so he set it aside, and reached for his jello.

Paul shook his head, but he was smiling as he left. Tony smiled in reply, but he didn’t try to flirt with the man. Normally, it would be a fun way to pass the time, but since he’d woken up in the hospital, he’d had a lot on his mind. He’d been thinking a lot about Steve. Steve, who had never left his side the past few days. Steve who had always been there for him for almost as long as he could remember.

When he’d made his way to the ambulance, all he could think was that he’d never get the chance to tell Steve how he truly felt. He’d let hid fear overtake him, and he’d squandered the time they could have had together.

Now, their lives were complicated, and there was so much at stake. Tony wasn’t sure how he would handle Steve being on active duty for months at a time. Tony had a dangerous job, but Steve’s was on a whole other level. He already worried about Steve; being in a relationship would only magnify his feelings. Am I ready to live like that? Even if he wasn’t, was he really willing to let Steve walk away? Getting kidnapped had made him realize how much he really loved Steve. Maybe that was all that mattered.

Steve had been open about his feelings for Tony years ago, and Tony had turned him down. Even then he’d admired Steve’s bravery, his willingness to put everything on the line. When Steve had first brought up taking their relationship to the next level, Tony had been shocked, but the idea had not been a wholly unpleasant one.

Tony had been tempted, but in the end, he simply hadn’t been ready to start a relationship with Steve. He knew Steve wasn’t interested in something casual, and Tony hadn’t been willing yet to settle down. He hadn’t been willing to take the chance of hurting Steve or being hurt in return.

Steve had understood his reasons. He’d accepted Tony’s decision with surprising ease. Tony had been worried that he’d ruined their friendship, but after a little awkwardness things had returned to normal between them. Tony hadn’t let himself wonder about why. He’d accepted the renewal of their friendship gratefully. However, part of him had always wondered what would have happened, if he’d said yes.

Just as the orderly came to take his tray away, Steve wandered in looking amazing in a t-shirt and jeans. Tony forced himself not to stare too hard. He had finally convinced Steve to leave for a while. Steve had stubbornly insisted he was fine, but then he’d fallen asleep while they were watching the news. He’d finally agreed to go home, though he’d made Tony promise to call if he needed anything.

Tony hoped he was taking the opportunity to rest. Steve could have a one-track mind, and right now, he was focused on Tony’s well-being. Tony knew better than to fight it, but he didn’t want Steve to neglect himself either.

“Hey,” Steve said. He gave Tony a heart-stopping smile. Tony wondered if Steve knew the effect he had on him. Judging by the glint in his eye it was safe to assume he did.

Tony grinned brightly in return. He hoped it didn’t look sappy at all. He was glad to see Steve even if he was annoyed he hadn’t rested like he promised. “Hey yourself. I thought you were going to stay away today.”

Steve shrugged casually. “I slept a few hours and ran some errands. But I was bored.” He held up a plastic container. “I brought you something to eat.”

“Thank God. I’m starving,” Tony said fervently. Steve chuckled softly in response. “You would not believe the crap they tried to feed me.”

“Well, I brought you something you’ll like. Pasta from your favorite place.”

Tony grinned. Steve was so sweet. “Thanks.” He took a bite and moaned with happiness. The gnocchi was cheesy and light. The lemon cream sauce burst on his tongue.

Steve was staring, his eyes warm, and Tony caught him swallowing hard. He smiled at Steve’s reaction.

“Thanks, man, this is great,” he said sincerely between bites.

Steve grinned, flushing a little. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it. You need to eat more.”

Tony sighed. “I know you worry, but I’m fine, I promise.”

“Here, help me eat some of this.” Tony gestured at his food.

“I shouldn’t. It’s too many carbs,” Steve replied firmly, but he looked tempted.

“Come on, it’s delicious. Gnocchi is one of your favorites,” Tony cajoled

Steve caved as Tony knew he would. He sat down on the side of the bed next to Tony and took the bite Tony offered him. Tony’s heart beat a little faster. There was something very intimate about sharing food despite the utterly unromantic setting. Their closeness made Tony feel a little lightheaded. Steve’s eyes met his as he took another bite more slowly. Sudden awareness sizzled between them pleasantly, but neither man made any outward acknowledgment of it. There was no rush.

They ate in companionable silence for a little while, and the food was quickly demolished.

Tony took the last bite, and Steve started to pick up the trash. Tony noticed he had a spot of sauce at the corner of his mouth. “Steve, you have a little something.” He reached out and wiped it off with his little finger. His finger brushed over Steve’s bottom lip, and Tony let his touch linger just a second too long. Steve froze, and for one long beat, they stared at one another. Steve leaned forward a little, and his gaze was intent as he looked at Tony. He was really enjoying be the focus of Steve’s attention.

Tony found himself wishing Steve would kiss him, but he knew Steve would continue to keep his distance because he thought Tony wasn’t healed enough yet. Tony appreciated the consideration, but he wished Steve wasn’t quite so chivalrous. He was still in pain and he knew he wasn’t up to anything too strenuous, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy a kiss. Tony‘s heart began to hammer in his chest and took a deep, steadying breath. Should I tell him what I really want? This seemed like a good a time as any. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t wait. It was time to take a leap of faith.

Then Paul came in to check Tony’s vitals, breaking the moment. Tony was a little disappointed, but maybe it was for the best. They really should have more privacy for their talk. Steve went out into the hall to give Tony some privacy. Paul smiled. “You’re doing great. The doctor will be here in a few hours to check on you, but you’re currently on schedule to be released tomorrow.” Paul left.

Relieved, Tony grinned. He couldn’t wait to get out of here. He was more than ready to sleep in his own bed. He wouldn’t be able to back to work for two more weeks, and he had a few weeks of physical therapy ahead of him. Although he’d be riding a desk for a while, it was better than sitting at home doing nothing. Tony sighed in resignation. He saw paperwork and cold cases in his future.

He hated paperwork, but anything was better than doing nothing all day. He wondered how Gibbs and Kate were getting along without him. Kate had come by yesterday, but when he asked about Gibbs, she’d grimaced and mentioned Gibbs was in an unusually bad mood lately. Tony was not looking forward to dealing with that. He knew he should probably risk Gibbs’ wrath and check in.

Steve came back in, carrying a cup of coffee, which was extremely unfair of him. He came over and sat down in the chair next to the bed looking relaxed. The coffee smelled amazing and Tony looked at the cup longingly, but Steve shook his head and gestured toward the apple juice on Tony’s tray table.

Tony glared at him, but it had depressingly little effect. “Want to watch TV? Or we could go for a walk,” Steve suggested.

“Actually, I thought I should call work and check in. It’s weird that Gibbs hasn’t called or come by. He probably needs my help to finish up the paperwork. I do most of it these days.”

Steve sighed. He shot Tony a fondly exasperated look. “You shouldn’t be working. I’m sure your partner can help him get what he needs.”

Tony admitted to himself that was probably true, but his gut told him something was off and he really needed to check in.

Steve looked uncomfortable. “I think I know why he hasn’t come by.”

“Why?” Tony asked. Then Tony had a horrible thought. He felt anger rush over him. “You didn’t yell at him, did you? It’s really not his fault I got shot,”

“He never should have sent you out alone. I had every right to be upset,” Steve said calmly.

It wasn’t a real admission, but Tony felt safe assuming he was right. That was as close to an admission as he would get from Steve. Steve glared at Tony as if daring him to argue. Tony opened his mouth to defend Gibbs but then stopped. Steve had a point. The situation probably could have been avoided.

Tony’s anger drained a bit, but he reserved the right to be annoyed with Steve for meddling later. “You have a point. Gibbs and I are going to talk about that, but I can fight my own battles, okay?”

Steve wore a reluctant expression. “I know you can. I was pissed about it. But that isn’t actually why I hit him.”

Tony stared at him shocked. Steve had hit Gibbs? What the hell? It was so like Steve to just blurt something like that out. Sometimes he had the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

“Wait what? Why the hell did you do that?” Tony hissed. “Really, Steve, you can’t go around hitting people just because they upset you.”

Steve took a deep breath. His eyes had turned hard, and he was scowling. “I’m sorry to tell you this. I hit him because he said he let you go alone because when you’re in front of others, you get distracted showing off.”

Tony gaped in shock. “What? You must have misunderstood.”

Steve shook his head. “I’m sorry, Tony, but I didn’t. I was as shocked as you are,” he said sympathetically. “I lost my temper. I shouldn’t have, I admit that but he deserved it,” he added defiantly.

Tony leaned back against his pillows. He felt weirdly numb. Steve believed what he was saying. He’d never lie to Tony and not about something as important as this.

“What did he say, exactly?” Tony was sure there had to be some explanation. He worked hard for Gibbs.

“He said that you work better without an audience. What else could that mean?”

Tony’s mind raced. It was true he did his best work at night with plenty of quiet, but that wasn’t really the same thing. Was this about Tony flirting with Vanessa? He’d done that for a good reason, and it had gotten results. Gibbs had to know that.

Did he think Tony would get distracted putting on a show for whom, Kate? Did Gibbs really think he’d put an investigation in jeopardy by distracting his team? It didn’t make sense. Gibbs had to have more faith in both of them than that. If Gibbs honestly considered him a liability, there was no real trust between them. The realization felt like a punch to the gut.

He must have done something to let Steve know how upset he was because Steve was suddenly beside him, and, in the next second, he was being pulled into a gentle hug. He was careful not to jostle Tony’s shoulder. Tony let himself relax into the hug sighing with relief as the tension in his body drained away. Being embraced by Steve always made Tony feel safe. Steve’s hugs were the best, and they always had a way of making everything better.

“Everything is going to be okay,” Steve whispered in his ear. His voice sounded tender to Tony. Steve kissed his temple softly. “We’re going to figure this out, together,” he promised.

Tony nodded. “Thanks,” he said softly. He knew Steve would be there to support him if he needed it.

Tony needed to figure out what was going on. Clearly, he needed to talk to Gibbs, but there was someone else he needed to talk to first. He asked Steve to give him some privacy. He didn’t want to have to keep a happy face during this conversation. Steve would just see through it anyway. Steve had gone, albeit reluctantly. He’d promised to bring Tony back something to read and maybe even his laptop so they could watch a movie.

He considered having this conversation with Kate in person but decided it would be easier and more expedient over the phone. He knew he and Kate would need to talk about what had happened. Kate deserved to know the truth. However Tony didn’t want to jump to conclusions. It was possible Gibbs didn’t trust them to work together as a team and she deserved to know that, but he wanted to make sure he had all his facts straight before he said anything to her. It would be easier to avoid any unwanted conversation over the phone.

Kate picked up on the first ring. “What’s going on Tony? You doing okay?” she asked worriedly. Kate sounded exhausted.

Tony listened carefully and could hear the low murmur and other sounds that told him Kate was in the office. He pictured her sitting at her desk. He was hit by an unexpected wave of nostalgia. The office was more of a home than his apartment most days. He urgently wanted everything to go back to normal. He had a feeling it was a foolish hope.

Tony was sympathetic. He was sure Gibbs was working the team hard getting all the evidence and paperwork together. Despite that, there was a part of him that felt bad for missing work. He was glad he wasn’t the one dealing with Gibbs. Tony usually took the brunt of his bad moods. Kate could take a turn.

“I’m doing fine, Kate. How’s work going without me?” He heard the sound of paper being shuffled and the clicking of her typing.

“Well, it’s much quieter. It’s nice to finally get some peace and quiet at work.”

Tony knew she was teasing him. He wouldn’t have thought he was in the mood but it was so familiar. Listening to her was strangely soothing. She made him feel normal. Something he needed right now.

“Oh, come on, Kate! You know you’re bored to tears without me,”

Kate snorted. “Yeah, right. Gibbs has been in a worse mood than usual. I hope you come back soon. I really don’t want to be alone with him.”

“You’re not alone. You have McGee,” Tony pointed out cheerfully.

Kate snorted. “You say that like it’s a good thing. He’s good with a computer, but he’s too afraid of Gibbs to be much help.

Tony thought that was a little harsh. Much more seasoned agents went out of their way to avoid Gibbs out of fear, at least McGee stuck around. “McGee is admittedly a little green, but I think he has the makings of a good agent,”

“Maybe,” Kate said dubiously, “I think we’ll be waiting a long time. You need to get off your ass and come give me a hand with all this paperwork Gibbs has me doing. Maybe I’ll drop some off for you,” Kate said in an aggravated tone. Tony knew she wasn’t serious.

“Sorry, but I have a few days of recovery time ahead of me. You’ll have to deal with the paperwork and Gibbs on your own. Speaking of Gibbs, I wanted to ask you something. Did Gibbs say anything to you about why he sent me off on Sacco’s surveillance alone?”

“Well, he told us he needed my help and that you’d be fine. It was a little strange but technically not against procedure. He really had no way of knowing you’d get hurt, Tony.”

Tony wanted to roll his eyes. She did have a habit of thinking the worst of him at times.

“I know that, Kate. This isn’t about sending me out alone. Though I think we can all agree it was a mistake. This is important. Can you think of anything, please?” He tried to keep the frustration out of his voice. None of this was her fault.

Kate paused but didn’t argue with him. Finally. “Tony, is smoothing wrong?” Kate clearly sensed there was a problem, but Tony wished she would just answer the question.

“I can’t say anything now. I promise I’m okay. Please just answer the question.”

“Well, Abby mentioned that she had a bad feeling about you going out alone, but Gibbs said you work better without an audience.”

Tony felt a stab of disappointment, and no small amount of anger, but he wasn’t really surprised. It was interesting that he’d said the same thing to Steve. “He said that exactly?” He kept his feelings out of his voice with some effort.

“Yes, why?” Kate sounded more confused than anything.

“What do you think he meant by that?” He was very interested in her thoughts.

Kate paused for a few seconds. “I’m not sure. It did seem a little weird to me at the time, but we had so much going on, I didn’t have time think about it.” He imagined her shrugging her shoulders.

Tony took a deep breath to calm himself. He had the confirmation he needed. “Thanks, Kate. That’s all I needed. I’m heading home tomorrow. You should stop by.”

“I will. Tony, you know Gibbs does trust you, right? He trusted you to get the job done. And so did I.” Kate sounded so sure. Tony envied her that. He hated having to burst her bubble, but he also couldn’t keep what had happened from her.

“Yeah, sounds good. I appreciate that. Talk to you later.”

“Bye,” Kate said

Tony hung up and dropped his phone on the bed. Fury made his stomach churn. How could Gibbs think so little; of him. It felt like a betrayal of all the years they’d worked together.

Kate had confirmed what Steve had said, not that Tony had doubted him. The thought of Steve was steadying. Clearly, he needed to talk to Gibbs soon. He needed to hear Gibbs’ reasons from his own mouth. He was reasonably sure an explanation wouldn’t make the situation better, but he owed it to Gibbs to hear him out. Until then, he couldn’t make any decisions about his future with the team. Though, at this moment he didn’t see any way he could stay either.

***

The next day, Tony sat alone in his apartment. He was grateful to have some time to himself. Steve had been a great help, but his hovering was starting to drive Tony crazy. He needed some time to think about what he wanted to do. He was still reeling somewhat. A lot had changed in a very short amount of time. They hadn’t taken things to the next level but it was only a matter of time. Tony felt a rush of excitement at the thought of getting more intimate with Steve.

Tony forced his thoughts away from Steve. He needed to focus on the problem at hand. He knew that having the situation with Gibbs resolved would be a load of his mind. He needed to hear the reason Gibbs had sent him out alone from his own lips. He couldn’t make any decisions without hearing Gibbs explanation. A big part of him couldn’t help but hope that Gibbs had a good reason for saying and doing what he did.

Tony had had a lot of time to think, and after some soul searching, Tony acknowledged that the situation he currently found himself wasn’t entirely Gibbs fault. Tony knew he had been complicit in their current circumstances. Tony had assumed Gibbs saw the real him, but he had never stopped to make certain. Tony had accepted the way Gibbs treated him from the very first head slap. Maybe he shouldn’t have allowed Gibbs to hit him or to treat him like he did everyone else, but he had accepted Gibbs for who he was. He’d respected Gibbs despite the surly attitude, and he’d assumed Gibbs felt the same about him. Clearly, that wasn’t the case.

Having acknowledged his own role in this mess Tony couldn’t help but wonder if he shouldn’t have seen this coming. He didn’t know why it had taken so long for him to admit to himself that things weren’t right at work or with Gibbs. Maybe he’d gotten too comfortable or maybe he simply hadn’t wanted to face the truth. The fact was he and Gibbs had always made a good team. They’d clicked from the moment they’d met and worked together like a well-oiled machine. Tony had thought he’d found the right fit for him.

However, after Kate joined the team, their dynamic had changed. It happened so gradually, it took Tony a while to notice Gibbs’ attitude toward him had changed. For some reason, Gibbs seemed to lose faith in Tony. He second guessed Tony’s actions in a way he never had before. The idea hurt a great deal, but the problem was Tony didn’t know what had caused it or how to fix it. All Tony was sure of was that he couldn’t continue to put up with it.

Tony got dressed slowly, his injured shoulder made even the most basic things difficult. He was grateful he didn’t have to put on a suit. He didn’t relish the idea of having to put on a jacket. He settled on a simple white button down and a comfortable pair of jeans. Then he put on his sling. He was tempted to leave it, but he knew better. Besides if Steve found out, he’d never hear the end of it.

He was weirdly calm. It felt as if this moment had been inevitable. He’d been coasting through his life for some time now. No matter how this conversation played out, it was clearly time for Tony to make some changes in his life. He just didn’t know yet what form they would take.

He called a cab and gave him Gibbs’ address. He’d verified with Kate that Gibbs was currently at home.

He walked in and made his way down in the basement. Gibbs was working on his latest boat, and the air was filled with the smell of sawdust. Tony stood and watched quietly for a moment. The sight of Gibbs working was strangely comforting despite everything that was going on. Gibbs’ approval had always meant a lot to him. Despite what Gibbs apparently thought, Tony always tried to do his best for him and for NCIS.

Gibbs turned to look at him. His eyes were assessing as he observed Tony. “What are you doing here, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked with a raised eyebrow. He didn’t even bother to ask how Tony was doing which didn’t really surprise him. Gibbs didn’t often verbalize his concern for others, but that didn’t mean he didn’t feel it.

As the silence stretched between them Tony realized he’d just been standing and staring like an idiot. Great way to start, DiNozzo. “We need to talk, Gibbs.”

Gibbs nodded. His expression was blank. Tony had no idea what he was thinking. “Okay, sit down, DiNozzo. We’ll talk.”

Gibbs walked over and poured himself a drink. Then he offered one to Tony, but he didn’t look surprised when Tony declined. He pulled out old an old stool from under the bench for Tony and settled on the bench opposite.

He looked at Gibbs’ face, but it looked normal. Steve had apparently gotten him good, but if Tony hadn’t already known he wouldn’t have suspected. The thought of Steve hitting Gibbs didn’t give Tony any satisfaction but it was kind of amusing. He felt weirdly proud of Steve. Few people got the drop on Gibbs. He hesitated, unsure where to start. There was so much he needed to say.

Gibbs expression gave away nothing. “Well what is it?” he prompted sounding a little annoyed. Tony would typically find his curtness amusing, but this situation was far from normal.

Tony sighed. Right to the point then. He could deal with that. “Steve told me he hit you and why. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but I know Steve wouldn’t lie to me. Then Kate confirmed part of what he said. You think I work better without an audience. What does that mean exactly? You thought if I had Kate along I’d be so busy showing off for her that I wouldn’t do my job?”

Gibbs grimaced. “You talked to Kate?”

“Of course, Boss, I’m a thorough investigator.” Tony chuckled humorlessly. “Do you have some sort of explanation?” A part of him hoped that Gibbs could explain this all away.

Gibbs took a sip of his drink. “I did what I thought was best for the investigation.”

It was Tony’s turn to raise an eyebrow. That wasn’t much of an answer. “So, putting me in danger didn’t have anything to do with my flirting with someone during the investigation?”

Gibbs sighed. “It wasn’t the first time. You flirt with any pretty girl you see. You can’t deny you like to show boat. I only wanted you to play to your strengths.”

Tony felt his heart sink. That wasn’t a denial. “That’s why you didn’t want Kate to go with me? So I wouldn’t get distracted talking to her?” Tony asked incredulously.

Gibbs winced slightly. “It wasn’t just you. She gets distracted by your antics too. It sounds worse than it is. I know you get the job done best when alone. I had no reason to think you wouldn’t be safe.”

Tony blinked. “So you didn’t think Kate could handle it either? That’s flattering. I was tailing a possible serial killer who could identify me as a federal agent. I’d say the situation was fairly dangerous. Which is why I assumed that I wouldn’t be going alone.”

Kate was going to be so upset about this too. The whole situation was so strange. Tony had always thought he and Kate worked well together. Apparently, Gibbs didn’t agree. Under the anger, Tony was extremely bewildered. What was Gibbs basing his assumptions on? Tony knew he did his job well. He was a very good agent. The confusion and hurt he felt were swiftly being replaced by anger, however. Did Gibbs really think so little of him?

Gibbs rubbed his hand over his face. “I did what I thought was best, and I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Really? That’s all you have to say? Technically, you didn’t no, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about trust. Either you trust me to do my job or you don’t. You said you needed Kate with you. Kate and I accepted it. I should have argued harder, but I was exhausted and not at my best. Neither was Kate for that matter. You could have called in McGee to help us, or Morrow would have approved a temporary transfer if necessary.”

Gibbs frowned. “You know I hate working with new agents.” Of course that was the part Gibbs decided to focus on. Tony stifled a sigh of frustration. His shoulder was beginning to throb. Gibbs could be so exasperating. Tony had forgotten what it was like to deal with him when he decided to stonewall.

Tony looked Gibbs firmly in the eye. He wanted to show Gibbs he didn’t intimidate him. His growing fury was quietly simmering, but Tony forced himself to remain outwardly calm. He’d deferred to Gibbs out of respect, not because the man really frightened him.

“I know you’re in charge, Boss, but there used to me a time you’d ask my opinion and listen to my input, even if ultimately you disagreed. I feel like that’s happening less and less. I never seem to know what you have planned anymore. I can’t function as your second if I don’t have your trust.”

Gibbs looked affronted. “I trust you, DiNozzo. I shouldn’t have to say it,” he barked angrily.

That was all right because Tony was pissed himself. A headache started behind his eyes and Tony stifled the urge to rub his forehead. “Really? Because recent events would suggest otherwise,” Tony snapped. “I thought you knew the clown act wasn’t real. I thought I had your respect.”

Gibbs got up and moved a few steps away. “You do, DiNozzo,” he said simply. “I made a choice, and you have to respect that.

Tony nodded. “You say that, but I don’t see how it’s possible, Gibbs. I actually do have respect for you, but I’m not sure if I still trust you to have my six.”

“What’s that supposed to mean exactly? Are you quitting?” Gibbs asked forcefully.

“I’m not entirely sure yet, but I’ll let you know what I decide. Tony paused for a moment before continuing, “I know this situation isn’t completely your fault. I’m not sure how we got here, Gibbs but I know I’m to blame for our current situation too. I knew things have been off between us, but I chose not to do anything about it. The thing is I don’t know how to fix it or if it even can be fixed at this point,” he admitted calmly. “I need time to think.”

Gibbs looked surprised by his admission, and he looked as if he wanted to respond. Tony stood but waited for Gibbs to speak, not sure what he was waiting for. Gibbs didn’t say anything else. Tony really looked at Gibbs and felt like he was seeing him for the first time. Gibbs’ life had been filled with tragedy. It wasn’t common knowledge, but Tony knew Gibbs had lost his wife and daughter. Tony had discovered it when Steve had persuaded him to let Steve run a background check on Gibbs. Not that Tony had needed that much persuading. When your father was a conman you learned to verify information early on.

Gibbs had taken that terrible pain and transformed it into a drive for justice that had served him well. Tony admired him for it, but it didn’t change the fact that Gibbs was alone. Even with three ex-wives, he’d never actually learned to love again. Whether because he couldn’t let Shannon go or because he was afraid to open his heart and risk getting hurt again. Tony suspected it was both. He was sure Gibbs would say it had all been worth it. Living meant taking risks.

In that moment, Tony had an epiphany. He knew what he was going to do. He wasn’t going to let fear or uncertainty stop him from being happy. He was going to take a leap of faith and go after what he wanted. He wanted Steve. And if he had his way, they’d be together the rest of their lives.

Tony went up the stairs without another word, and he had a feeling it was for the last time. He didn’t let himself look back. Despite his anger and sadness at what Gibbs had done, he felt liberated. He was free to move on. It was an incredible sensation. He was a little surprised to realize he was smiling with relief. He felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

***

Steve looked up when Tony came into the living room. He’d gone out for a run and come home to find Tony had gone out. He’d left a note letting Steve know he’d gone to see Gibbs. Steve had been worried, and he would have liked to go with Tony to support him, but he knew Tony needed to do this for himself.

Tony tried to keep regular hours, but he tired rather easily, something that frustrated him to no end. Truth be told, it frustrated Steve as well; keeping Tony occupied wasn’t an easy task. Particularly now that he was beginning to feel better. He was relieved to see Tony was wearing the sling. He’d caught Tony without it a couple of times. Steve would be glad went Tony started physical therapy, though he would be gone by then. His heart twisted at the thought. He hated to leave Tony when he was injured, even though Steve knew he was going to be fine.

Tony looked over at him as he came in. He smiled brightly, noticeably happy to see him. It was a sight Steve could get used to seeing every day. He assessed Tony’s condition. He looked fine, in fact he looked more relaxed than Steve had seen him in a long time. He looked a little tired and sad, but not overly so. Steve was relieved the conversation with had apparently been decent.

“Hey, how did it go? Are you okay?” Steve asked.

Tony did look tired but lighter as held up the brown paper bag he was carrying. “I’ll tell you in a minute. I stopped at the deli you like and got us some matzo ball soup and roast beef sandwiches. You hungry?”

Steve shook his head. “Not right now. Maybe later.”

Tony nodded. He put the food in the kitchen and got them both glasses of water before returning to the living room. Steve was sitting on the sofa, a bowl of popcorn in front of him, his bare feet propped up on the ottoman.

Steve knew Tony liked that Steve was so comfortable in his apartment. Tony never felt the need to treat him like a guest. When he’d first moved in, he said he wanted Steve to think of his place as a second home. Steve had taken him at his word. When Steve was visiting, there was nothing out of place. The need for order had been drummed into him in basic. He figured giving in to his need for neatness was a good indication of his comfort level. Tony never complained as long as he could find everything.

However, once, Steve had made the mistake of reorganizing the kitchen. To say it hadn’t gone over well would be an understatement. They’d spend the rest of the evening putting everything back at Tony’s insistence. Only then had Tony’s eyebrow stopped twitching. Tony still brought it up when he was giving Steve a hard time.

Tony came over and sat on the sofa next to Steve, close enough for their legs to brush. Steve was very aware of the body heat Tony was giving off. Steve was watching the first Lord of the Rings movie. It was paused at the point where Frodo was volunteering to go on the quest. It was one of Steve’s favorites, but Tony didn’t really care for it.

“I decided to watch this again. I’m surprised you own it. You don’t like The Lord of The Rings,” he commented to Tony curiously.

Tony shrugged nonchalantly. “I decided to give it a try, and try to figure out what you like so much.” I picked it because you like it. Steve heard it without Tony having to say it out loud. “Come and watch it with me,” Tony ordered with a beguiling smile. Steve felt drawn to that smile so he complied readily, eager to be near Tony. He sat down next to Tony on the sofa. Tony moved closer to him so that their sides were pressed together. Steve had noticed Tony had been touching him more since being shot. He wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t about to complain.

“So,” Tony said casually, “I decided to go and see Gibbs while you were gone. We had an interesting talk.”

“Did you? That’s good to hear,” Steve said, careful not to show any reaction. “What did he have to say for himself?” Steve asked curiously.

“He confirmed everything you said. Not that I doubted you. It comes down to the fact that he really doesn’t trust me,” Tony added not looking at Steve.

Steve sighed. “I’m so sorry, man. I really hate that you got hurt, but I know how much Gibbs means to you,”

“I know. That truth is, while I’m hurt, I’m less surprised than I should be. Things have been strained with Gibbs for a while now. He cares in his way I know that, but it isn’t enough anymore. I think I could sense his growing lack of trust in me. He also has superhuman expectations. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired.”

Steve snorted. He wasn’t at all surprised to hear it, but he was glad Tony was finally admitting it. “That’s what I’ve been saying, and you told me I was imagining things. I know Gibbs means a lot to you, but the man doesn’t appreciate what he has in you. You’re a great agent. I just want you to work somewhere your talents are fully appreciated.”

Tony looked a little surprised by Steve’s praise, and then he smiled cheerfully. “Thanks,” he whispered. “I appreciate the vote of confidence. I do happen to agree with you, even Gibbs doesn’t deny that I’m good at my job. I just wish he appreciated me more.” Tony sighed gloomily. “You think I should resign.” It wasn’t a question.

Steve shrugged. It was one option but not the only one. “I want you to work with people who appreciate you and who you can trust implicitly. But more importantly, I want you to do what makes you happy. Let me ask you this. Are you happy? Honestly?”

Tony appeared to give the question real thought before he shook his head. “No, I’m not, and I haven’t been for quite some time.” He picked up his water and took a sip. “I wish I could have something stronger.”

Steve made a sympathetic noise but didn’t comment. “Well then, I think that tell you what you need to do. Don’t you?”

“You make an excellent point. Maybe it is time for a change, but what would I do?”

Steve grinned. “You can do anything you want? Haven’t you complained about the FBI trying to recruit you?”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure I want to work for Fornell. I like NCIS.” Tony sighed. He looked worn out. “I need to think, but I’m too tired. I don’t have to decide anything tonight. Let’s watch the movie.” Tony grabbed the remote and restarted the movie he’d been watching.

They were both quiet for a few minutes while watching, but then Tony shifted uncomfortably.

“Are you feeling okay?” Steve asked concerned. Tony was much better but infection was still a possibility. Steve had been keeping a close eye on him in case of any problems. Tony, of course, called it hovering.

“Yeah, I’m okay just a little sore from sitting up this way.” He was pale; he must be in pain, but Steve knew it wasn’t time yet for another pain pill. Tony shifted again and bit his lip

“Maybe it would be easier if you lie down,” Steve suggested. “I can move over to the chair.”

Tony shook his head. ‘I’m fine; you don’t have to move.” He looked like he wanted to say something more, but then he turned back toward the TV. Steve had another idea, and he wondered what Tony would think of it.

The hesitation felt strange to Steve. After a moment, Steve decided his uncertainty was senseless. He was usually much more decisive. When Steve made a decision he stuck to it. Maybe it was the unusual circumstances under which everything had happened that was making him uneasy and made him second guess himself as a result.

Tony had been open about being attracted to Steve, but Steve wanted much more than a casual fling with Tony. He k new they needed to talk, but it had never seemed like the right time. Steve knew he was worried about Tony’ reaction. It made sense this was Tony, if things went wrong, Steve would never forgive himself. Still, he knew he had to take this chance. He wanted a relationship with Tony and everything that came with it, good or bad.

They’d always been comfortable in each other’s space, and he definitely didn’t mind Tony touching him. They’d also discussed their mutual desire in the hospital, but that seemed like a lifetime ago for all it had been barely two days. It had never seemed like the right time to peruse it. Something always seemed to be in the way or they were being interrupted. It was incredibly frustrating. Steve didn’t want to push too hard because Tony had had a hard time of it lately. He had been patient because Steve wanted Tony to be fully aware and willing when they finally took things to the next level.

He knew Tony was a bit skittish. Steve couldn’t blame him. Steve had his parents as a good example, but Tony had never had that. According to what Tony his parents had been miserable until the day his mother had decided to drive drunk and died crashing into a tree. Then he’d been left at the altar by his fiancé. Steve hadn’t forgiven her for breaking Tony’s heart.

Truthfully, part of him was afraid that Tony would change his mind about them. The thought startled him. Have I been waiting for Tony to make a move? Maybe I’m thinking about this too much. Finally, Steve decided to do some touching of his own, and see where it led. Having decided on a plan, he didn’t waste any time implementing it.

Steve tried to sound casual as he made his suggestion. “You can put your head in my lap if you want. That way you can lie down, and I don’t have to move.”

Tony jumped startled, but he looked pleased by the offer. There was a look in his eyes Steve couldn’t read, then he nodded. “Sounds good,” he said softly. He grabbed a pillow, set it in Steve’s lap, and then lay down, resting his head on it.

“Better?” Steve asked quietly, not wanting to disrupt the moment.

“Yeah, that feels better thanks.” Tony sighed sounding happy but didn’t say anything more. They watched Frodo and Sam journey across Middle Earth for a while with little conversation. It was very comfortable and easy. Steve found himself relaxing.

After a little while, Steve realized that he’d begun running his fingers through Tony’s hair absentmindedly. The realization startled him and he stopped abruptly. He hadn’t even noticed it. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.

“No, don’t stop. It feels good,” Tony protested. He sounded relaxed and content. Steve liked the sound, and he liked that he was the cause of it. Maybe a little bit too much.

“Okay,” Steve whispered and continued his ministrations. A few minutes later, he realized Tony had fallen asleep.

Steve sat there for almost an hour watching Tony sleep peacefully, and he felt absolutely no desire to move. He was content to hold Tony and keep him safe, and he hoped he got to continue doing so forever. He thought about all the things that had led them here.

When Tony had turned him down initially Steve had been hurt, but he’d been determined not to let his feelings ruin their friendship. Tony had mattered too much to him. Tony had explained he couldn’t bear to risk their friendship, and Steve, while very disappointed, had respected his decision. Steve had told himself that he’d gotten over it. He’d dated several people, although never seriously. He’d told himself it was busy building a career, and there would be time later for a relationship and maybe even a family.

Steve had to wonder he’d always been waiting for Tony to change his mind about taking their relationship to the next level. Steve sighed in frustration and ran his hand through his hair. He acknowledged it made him kind of pathetic, but he couldn’t really bring himself to care. Tony was too important. No one else had ever mattered nearly as much. However, Tony had seemed happy with the way things were.

He trusted Steve, and a part of Steve felt as if he’d been lying to Tony all these years. It felt like a betrayal. Although, to be fair, he had deceived himself first. What am I going to do? He knew no matter what happened he couldn’t bear to lose Tony.

Steve looked at the time. He hated to wake Tony, but it was time for another dose of medication.

“Tony,” he whispered. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded loving. “It’s time to wake up.” He shook his friend gently. Tony murmured, and then his eyes slowly opened.

“What?” he asked confused.

“Sorry to wake you. It’s time for your medication,” Steve repeated gently

“Oh. Okay.” Tony sat up slowly, and their arms brushed.

The touch seemed to linger. Tony turned toward Steve. A look Steve couldn’t read crossed Tony’s face followed by the stubborn tilt of his chin. Steve knew Now, there was a mannerism, Steve recognized. It meant Tony made up his mind about something. Tony reached out and took Steve’s hand in his. His skin seemed to tingle at the contact.

“Steve I think we finally need to have that talk, don’t you? I’m tired of waiting, and I’m fine now.”

Steve nodded deciding to just be honest He was thrilled they were finally going to talk about this. They’d waited far too long already. “I want to be with you, Tony. When I thought I might have lost you, I couldn’t stop thinking about what we might have had together. If things had been different.”

Tony sighed looking down at their joined hands He rubbed along Steve’s palm with his thumb absently. “If I hadn’t been too afraid you mean? I rejected you. I know my negative reaction all those years ago must have hurt you.”

Steve nodded. “It did, I won’t deny it. But after I got some distance, I realized you were right. We weren’t ready, not then. It probably would have been a disaster. I was grateful you were more level-headed than me. You’re one of the most important people in my life. I’d never want to lose you either.”

Tony nodded looking relieved. “When I got hurt, you were my first thought. I wanted to see you, and I didn’t want you to worry about me.” Tony admitted softly. I’ve been thinking about us for a long time. I’m just afraid of things getting messed up between us.”

“I think deep down I‘ve always known you’re it for me. When I heard you’d been shot, I’ve never been so scared, Tony. I don’t want something casual with you. It won’t be enough. .I’ll respect your decision, but I hope you’re open to the idea. I completely understand your concern, but I think we could be great together. It won’t be perfect, no relationship is, but I believe we have a better chance of making it than most. We’ll both be in this together.”

Tony smiled softly. “I feel the same. I can’t do casual with you either. I know we’re different people now. I know neither of us will walk away from this unless we both agree they’re no hope for us. It’s just that I can’t help but wonder what happens if things don’t work out? Our lives are complicated. I couldn’t stand it if we ended up hating each other if things fall apart.”

Steve couldn’t fault Tony for being apprehensive. He was worried too. It would be a big change for them. He also knew the root of his uncertainty had nothing to do with lack of faith in their relationship. Tony didn’t want to lose him. They’d always been each other’s port in the storm.

Steve also knew Tony wouldn’t let his concerns stop him if he’d decided he wanted a relationship with Steve. Tony was one of the strongest people Steve had ever known. Once he decided he was in, he would commit with everything he had.

For his part, Steve couldn’t foresee any circumstance where he and Tony wouldn’t remain in each other’s lives. Even if their romantic relationship didn’t work out, they would find a way to remain friends. Steve was as confident of that as he was that the sun rose in the east. Their connection was a fact of life. He was certain that Tony felt the same.

Steve realized he’d gotten lost in thought. Tony was waiting for an answer. He was watching Steve intently, but he wasn’t giving Steve many clues to what he was feeling. Not yet. All Steve could do was be honest. Steve met his gaze head on.

“I want you to know I share some of your concerns and take them seriously. I can’t guarantee everything will work out. Neither can you. But I think what we could have together is worth the risk. Even if we break up, we’ll find a way to stay friends. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Can you imagine a time when we would hate one another?”

The speed with which Tony responded was gratifying. He apparently didn’t even need to think about it. “No,” he said firmly. “It seems impossible. No one knows me better than you do. I know you feel the same. Nothing can come between us if we don’t let it and.”

Steve wasn’t surprised their thoughts were so in sync; Tony always had been able to tell what he was thinking. “Agreed,” Steve said quickly interrupting.

“If you’ll let me finish, I was going to say that this experience has made me realize I can’t be afraid to go after what I want. I’m in all the way. Let’s do this.”

Steve wanted to cheer. He felt euphoric. There were issues to work out. The Armed Forces Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy might prove to be a problem, and long distance relationships were never easy. DADT was something Steve absolutely didn’t agree with. He wanted to serve his country, even if he couldn’t do it openly as a gay man. Tony wasn’t out to his coworkers either. Still, Steve knew that together he and Tony could overcome any obstacle. They had time to sort things out.

Steve grinned and then he leaned in and kissed Tony softly. He knew he’d never get tired of it. “I can’t wait to take you out on a real date. It’ll be one of the best dates you’ve ever had that I promise you.“

Tony’s eyes widened as if startled before his gaze softened with affection. “Watch it. Don’t make a promise you might not be able to keep.”

Steve mock glared at him, and Tony laughed.

“Kidding. You know, it’s funny in all this time I’ve never actually thought about us dating. Being in a relationship sure, but dating never occurred to me. I’m willing to leave it in your capable hands. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with, though.” Tony chuckled, obviously amused. Steve smiled. He enjoyed making Tony laugh—it was a beautiful sound.

Tony shifted away and gasped in pain. Steve reached out, touching Tony’s shoulder in concern. “Let’s get you your pain pills then into bed. We can talk about this more tomorrow. We have plenty of time to figure this all out.”

Tony smiled tenderly at him but made no move to stand. Then he got a mischievous look in his eye. He leaned forward and wrapped his good arm around Steve’s neck. Steve pulled him closer. He was careful not to put pressure on his shoulder.

Steve smiled at him. It occurred to Steve that he would only have to lean in a few inches, and then he’d be able to kiss Tony.

Their gazes locked for a long moment heat crackling between them. Tony leaned toward him. He’s going to kiss me. The thought was still a little surreal. He fought the sudden urge to laugh. Tony reached up and gently cupped Steve’s cheek caressing it with one finger. His inappropriate amusement fled rapidly being replaced by desire. God he loved this man so much. Steve forgot to breathe in anticipation. They both leaned in and their lips met, gentle and loving.

There was a part of Steve that couldn’t quite believe this was finally happening. Tony’s lips were warm and soft. The kiss was chaste and gentle, but it still made Steve go weak at the knees, and he was glad he was sitting down. The reality was so much better than his fantasies. Steve tangled his fingers in Tony’s hair. He pulled Tony closer to him, but mindful of Tony’s injury, he held him carefully.

He slipped his hand under Tony’s shirt and trailed his fingers along Tony’s spine. Tony gave a little shiver, and his arms wrapped around him as Tony moaned softly and deepened the kiss. Arousal zinged up his spine. Steve let himself be carried away by it. One kiss turned into another. Steve’s body was pleasantly tingling with arousal.

Steve didn’t know how long they were necking like teenagers, until finally with a soft gasp, Tony leaned back, and gave Steve a bright smile. Steve couldn’t help but smile in return. Tony eyes were warm, and his face was flushed, and his lips were swollen from their kissing. He looked beautiful. Steve’s heart felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. He reached out and took Tony’s hand in his.

“I’ve wanted to do that for a long time. It was even better than I’d imagined,” Tony admitted sounding a little dazed. Despite the lingering heat in his eyes, he was looking at Steve seriously.

Steve took a deep breath willing himself to calm down a bit. “Me too.

Tony nodded and stood carefully, and Steve expected him to go into the bedroom where he kept his medication. Instead he turned to Steve. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against Steve’s again in a quick kiss that left Steve’s lips tingling. Steve raised his fingers to his own lips. How could a simple kiss feel so fantastic?

“I love you,” Steve whispered. He was thrilled to finally be able to say the words.

“I love you too,” Tony said easily. Steve couldn’t detect a single shred of doubt. He wanted to shout his joy from the nearest rooftop. “We’ve waited for so long already. Come to bed. I want to feel your skin against mine, even if I’m up to much right now.” Tony’s voice was husky as he made the request.

Steve nodded delighted by the request. They would have to be careful of Tony’s shoulder, but they could manage. He’d be happy just to hold Tony close. He imagined what it would feel like to touch Tony’s beautiful skin. His stomach tightened in anticipation. “Let’s go. I’ll give you a massage. Help you relax.”

Tony flushed and made a small delighted sound. “Sounds perfect,” he said.

Steve took Tony’s hand and tenderly brushed a kiss against his knuckles. Hand in hand they walked into the bedroom.

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desertpoet
I've been writing fanfic for about four years. My fic can also be found on A03 under the same name.

About desertpoet

I've been writing fanfic for about four years. My fic can also be found on A03 under the same name.

18 Comments

  1. That was lovely. Its so nice to see Tony with someone insightful and supportive, and for Tony to look clearly at what he needs.

  2. So much love. I have just so much love for this. Wow.

  3. beautiful. sweet. true. Steve is so fierce. lovely story.

  4. Fearlesssisters

    Love this!

  5. Gorgeous story, thank you.

  6. This is the first time I’ve seen an author use that episode as a starting point for Tony changing his life. Wonderful idea and a lovely read. Thank you for sharing.

  7. That was beautiful, thanks!

  8. greywolfthewanderer

    *fistbump of delight and VICTORY*!!!! this was great fun!

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