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Everything Stays

Chapter Text

Part one.

 

Tony let the endless music of ocean waves wash over him as he reclined on the sun bleached deck chair. The air was warm and sweet and the sun was hot and bright against the shade sail someone had rigged up over the chair. He sighed. Between the warmth permeating through the heavy canvas and the blunt in his hand, his body was feeling pretty good.

 

He brought the joint up to his lips and took a deep pull, letting his eyes fall closed as he slowly breathed out. His shoulder twinged but he refused to tense up, cataloguing the pain then letting it go. His hand twitched in his lap, fingers curling but the pain that usually accompanied it had been soothed away by the weed. His leg spasmed, this time the pain pushing through his mellow and making him wince.

 

He tried to squirm into a better position but that just caused a spike in discomfort, making him gasp and  sit up. That sent the pain up his left side through his shoulder and all the way down to his fingertips and had him bent over and cursing; tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

 

It took a few minutes before he could lean back into the chair, his body trembling as tears slipped down his cheeks. That had been a bad one. And he'd been so careful too. He'd been having a good couple of days but it seemed his luck had run out.

 

"Sonovabitch" he breathed, blinking rapidly and reaching carefully over to pick up the joint from its ashtray to take another pull.

 

He eyed his beer, chilling in its tacky little ice bucket. He'd timed everything perfectly so that he could enjoy it out on the lanai this afternoon but he would have to forgo it if he needed to take his pain medication early. He debated in his mind whether he could save the pills for later and have the beer now but that would leave him in a quandary if the pain became too much.

 

For all his loud protestations about taking drugs in the past, he was stone cold serious about his situation now. It had been a hard lesson to learn but he'd learned it well.

 

After some back and forth in his head and a few more hits, he decided that having the beer was worth it. Setting down the joint, he grabbed the bottle by the neck and set it in his lap. It was the twist off kind so he wouldn't need an opener Thank God. Carefully, he closed the fingers of his left hand around the bottle with his right and tried to twist off the top.

 

His left hand twitched, loosening its grip and the bottle spun uselessly. He growled under his breath, willing the fingers in his left hand to clench as he twisted with his right. After a third try, he had to rest his left hand and arm for a minute, psyching himself up for one last try. He wanted his beer dammit. Next time he'd get a fucking keg put it. Shit.

 

He took a deep breath and clenched.

 

*DING DONG*

 

"Shit!" he cried, flinching as the bottle flailed out of his lap and fell to the floor, breaking across the decorative stone tile. "Motherfuck"

 

*DING DONG* the bell rang again.

 

Tony frowned down at the beer and took a trembling pull at the almost completed joint. He felt irrationally angry at whoever was at the …

 

*DING DONG*

 

"Alright Already Keep your panties on!" he shouted, pushing himself up and swinging his legs off the deck chair.

 

A pulse of pain shot up his body like quickening and he hissed through his teeth. Getting up and into the house took entirely too long for his tastes but eventually he made his way to the front door. Good thing the small house was open concept and flat as a fucking pancake.

 

His frat brother Eddie had volunteered his vacation home for Tony to use when he'd visited that last time, saying that Tony just had to say the word. He always thought he would take the offer up for an epic surfing weekend but the best laid plans and whatnot.

 

He made it to the door and peeped through the curtains, frowning as he saw the naval officer standing there in his neatly pressed dress whites. Tony frowned and limped to the door, opening the eye flap.

 

"Yeah. Whadyawant?"

 

The officer introduced himself as Lt. Reyes, with a message directly from SECNAV.

 

"The Secretary would like to speak personally with you Agent Dinozzo. He requests that I escort you to the nearest M-TAC Sir."

 

Tony made him show his credentials, twice, before sighing and resting his forehead against the wooden door. He really didn't want to do this now. What on earth could make the Secretary of the Navy want to speak to him personally?

 

He'd already given all the statements and let all the picture evidence be taken during his stay at the hospital. He'd jumped through all the metaphorical hoops that Internal Affairs had placed before, behind, above and under him before he left Washington.

 

"You can tell the Secretary thanks but no thanks. I'm under strict orders from my doctors not to exert myself or put myself in any situations of undue stress. I may technically be on my accumulated vacation days but it was grounded as medical leave and therefore I am under no obligation for report in."

 

Reyes nodded, lifting the heavy case in his hand. "He said you would say something like that Sir."

 

…………………………………

 

Reyes was quick and efficient, his movement perfunctory as he set up the portable M-TAC on the wrought iron and glass dining table. It probably had another name, an official one; Reyes had probably mentioned it but Tony could remember.

 

After setting it up and instructing Tony whish button to press, he made himself scarce, closing the front door behind him and going out to the car. Tony stared at the machine, its blinking light just above the connect button. He wondered if there was any way he could just ignore it all and just be left alone to wallow in his own misery.

 

He let his thought drift on the matter of whether he should try for another beer or if he should just call it a lost cause and take his medication. He wibbled on the subject for a minute or two before pulling himself back to the present and pressing the button before he could change his mind.

 

The screen came to life with a beep, the NCIS MTAC logo coming up for a few seconds. A second, longer beep sounded and SECNAV's bearded face appeared on the screen.

 

"Dinozzo." the bearded man nodded solemnly.

 

"Sir" Tony replied, forgoing  his usual gregarious personality. He'd left all that behind in DC.

 

SECNAV paused, clearly not used to this new, somber Tony.

 

"It's good to see you doing well. How is the Big Island?"

 

Tony blinked. "Sunny."

 

Abraham Tanner took a moment to look at the man, who had been and to him, still was one of his best assets at NCIS and sighed internally. God, what a cock up the last two months had been. If it wasn't for the stunning solve rate of the MRTC and the ugly snarl of politics involved with its members, he would have scrubbed the whole team and hung them out to dry.

 

What a waste. What a fucking waste. If they were lucky, Dinozzo would one day agree to come back to NCIS. Hell, he'd give him a team and a choice position anywhere in the world if it helped them keep him. Unfortunately, Tanner was a realist and the window for his agent returning was getting smaller and smaller.

 

"I need your help Tony." he said, knowing when to cut to the chase.

 

He could see the edges of pain on the young man's face, see the tiredness in his eyes. See the all-around '100% Done' air he could see hanging off his agent. When Dinozzo didn't speak, Tanner felt his heart sink. For, what he hoped would not be the last time, he began to brief his agent.

 

Chapter Text

Part 2

"Okay Tony, just a little bit more."

Gerald's voice was calm and soothing, belying nothing of the riot his actions were causing within Tony's body. His hands were large and steady against Tony's trembling thigh, guiding the limb through the routine they'd settled on between the two of them and Tony's primary physician on the island, Gemma Ōpūnui Kameāloha or Doctor OK as he called her.

It was only through talking to Jimmy, did Tony realize that after Gerald left NCIS after being shot in the shoulder, that he'd finally married his partner and moved to Hawaii. Tony had reached out to him, just wanting to touch base when he found out that not only had the man become a certified physiotherapist, but he was one of the best on the island and worked closely with military patients.

Doctor OK had witnessed their easy rapport and had approached the black man about Tony's case. Gerald had agreed because he'd known Tony as a friend for a long time and knew that the Agent had trust issues a mile wide. Especially when it came to being physically vulnerable.

And he was right. Tony did well with Gerald the way he never would have with a stranger.

"And that's it…. Ok, you can rest now."

Tony let out a long pained breath, his body trembling and twitching from the strain as the darker man puttered around the fold out massage table. Soon enough, he was back with those healing hands, rubbing his patient down; soothing and massaging muscles until Tony was boneless and half dozing.

Later, as he was packing to go, Gerald turned towards his patient and friend and gave him a look. Tony paused, one hand holding his sandwich halfway to his mouth because therapy alwasys left him ravenous.

"What?" he raised an eyebrow.

Gerald turned to face him fully. "You are going to take the job aren't you?"

Tony grimaced, dropping the sandiwch on the plate. "I haven't decided. I told SECNAV that I would think it over."

The other man shook his head. "Yeah, you have. You just haven't let yourself admit it."

He came to sit next to Tony at the dining table, placing a warm hand on Tony's shoulder.

"You may think that you don't give a shit about NCIS or about your old team. That you've given the best of yourself and got fuck all to show for it."

Tony's shoulders slumped but the hand squeezing his shoulder made him look up again.

"But the Tony Dinozzo I know is an agent and officer of the law down to his very soul. No matter what you go through, no matter how many hits you take. That part of you doesn't… hasn't changed. You always want to see justice done. This case will let you do that."

He waved a hand at the open doors leading out to the ocean.

"And I think you need it. You've been making great progress in your healing and I know Doctor OK signed off on it. You need to do something other than stare at these four walls all the time. This can help you."

Tony huffed. "Are you sure we’re looking at the same thing? This place is anything but boring. Just look at that view."

Gerald chuckled, shaking his head as he stood. "True. The view is stunning but that's not what I mean and you know it. Anyway, it's your decision. Let me know what you decide and we can go over some excercises that you can do for yourself."

Tony nodded, biting into his sandwich as the other man let himself out. He wasn't wrong though, he'd been given two days by SECNAV to decide but really he'd made up his mind that very night. The last day and a half had been him arguing himself in circles.

Was he ready for this, to work again. Even if this was a one off special case, was he ready to work with a team again. And the team lead, McGarret, he wasn't a marine but he was Navy and Tony didn't know if he could work with former military just yet.

But… the case was interesting and something he could sink his mental teeth into. It also did not demand any physical activity… on Tony's part anyway. On the other hand, though his body had more good days than bad, he couldn't guarantee that he'd be physically able should the need arise, no matter what his Doctor assured.

He sighed, looking at his empty plate. There wasn't anything else to it. He'd had this same conversation with himself too many times. He fished his phone out of his pocket and sent a short text.

Less than a minute later he got a response. The mission was a go.

…………………………………

Reyes as a chauffeur made for a really quiet ride but Tony wasn't really in the mood so he just stared out of the window. F-0 headquarters sat on a beautiful estate, old world architecture and palm trees against the forget me not sky. Inside, the polished black floors shone with grey walls and dark wood paneling that was studded with the glass panels of high tech gadgets and devices.

He was led into a large briefing room dominated by a large glass table that served as some kind of computer interface. There were people standing around it, watching him as he followed Reyes into the room. Tony suppressed a grimace at the wariness he can see in their faces, pushing down the growing pain in his leg. The couple of steps at the front of the building had taken more out of him than he was prepared to admit.

Reyes made introductions as Tony surreptitiously glanced around for a chair. The pain was growing steadier and he winced, lamenting that he'd already taken his medication and could not take more for a while yet.

The pissing contest between Reyes, McGarret and the former cop Williams was ramping up and Tony was losing his patience with the entire thing already. And they hadn't even started the briefing. Letting out a explosive sigh, he limped heavily to a nearby chair and sank down into it with a moan.

Reyes flushed and stepped forward. "Agent Dinozzo, I'm sorry. I should have…"

Tony waved him away. "It's fine. I should have done that when I came in."

He looked at the Five-O team, their gazes heavy on where his hand was absently kneading his thigh. "Let's get this dick measuring contest out of the way once and for all ok? You guys need to get on the island right? And you need to do it under some sort of believable premise. From what I've heard these people are smart and won't fall for any fake crap. Well? I happen to be awesome at undercover and it doesn't get more real than this"

He gestured to his leg and left hand which was almost clawed up in his lap. He looked at McGarret.

"You have to go because you're the only one who's ever laid eyes on the target. I have to go because you're shit at undercover and apparently very news worthy here on the islands. And if the bad guy is profficent at google as I am, you'll be made the minute we land."

McGarret started to say something but an inimpressed glare from Tony made him snap his mouth shut.

"At the end of the day, we can help each other and maybe put a few bad guys in jail. What do you say?"

For a few tense moments Tony thought that the team lead would put a kebosh on the whole thing but in the ends he crossed his arms across his broad chest and nodded. Tony gave a soft sigh of relief. His body language told conflicted stories but he could work with that.

Hell, he'd worked with worse.

Chapter Text

A knock on his door brought Tony out of a doze. His neck ached from where he fallen asleep on the couch and he stretched it slowly, looking out unto the sunset across the ocean. The whole house was painted in brilliant oranges and pinks through the large folded open doors. It had been a tiring and long day.

The knock came again and he eased himself up off the couch and made his way to the door. Peeping through the curtain, he sighed and opened up. McGarret held up a couple pizza boxes and a six pack of beer.

"I come in peace." he gave a charming smile.

Tony hummed, stepping back to let the other man in. The former SEAL placed the pizzas on the dining room table and put the beers in the fridge. He glanced as the open laptop and files on the table and turned to Tony.

"I know we had the briefing today but I thought we could go over the whole undercover part of it some more." he shrugged, "After all, we are supposed to be playing a loving couple."

Tony nodded, easing himself unto a chair. He gestured to the other man to do the same.

"Ok. First. It's all in the details. Second, always couch the lie in a bit of truth. Third, you need to half believe it yourself or you can't sell it to anyone else."

"Ok" McGarret nodded. Tony huffed in amusement.

"Not so fast there buddy. It's not as simple as you think it is. We have to convince some very smart and very evil people that not only are you not somehow in their territory to arrest their ass but that you are care deeply for me and are only there because I wanted to go."

McGarret… no Steve… Tony had to start calling him by his first name from now to get himself in the habit; nodded again, an earnest look on his face. Tony wondered again if he'd made the right choice in accepting this job but he couldn't really back out now.

Three hours later, pizza and beer consumed, most of the beer on Steve's part; Tony stretched and shuffled into the kitchen. Taking his box of medication off the shelf, he opened it and took out a joint. He could feel Steve's eyes on him as he lit up and took a pull, leaning back against the counter with a sigh.

"You going to be ok over there?"

Tony pushed down the initial rush of defensive anger at the other man's question. He hadn't been poking at Tony's weakness, looking for a spot to shove a blade in. He'd been asking a fellow agent if they were able to complete the mission. Opening his eyes and meeting the other man's stare, he gave a nod.

Steve bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment and took his last beer out unto the lanai. The beach was dark but the steady beat of the waves calmed Tony as he slipped into the chair next to Steve. Taking another pull, he placed the joint in its ashtray and reached across to the other chair.

"Hold my hand."

Steve started, turning to stare at Tony. "What?"

Tony rolled his eyes, shaking his outstretched hand. "Take my hand. We need to get comfortable with each other. I would volunteer to sit on your lap but I would need a lot more drugs for that."

Steve seemed to blush in the dim light but put his hand in Tony's gamely. Tony curled their fingers together, brushing his thumb against the callouses on the other man's thumb. There was something intimate about holding hands and he could feel Steve shifting in his seat.

So he started to talk. Soft calm words about undercover work and law enforcement. About some of his old cases and some of the shenanigans he'd gotten into in college. After his words ran out, Steve talked about his time in the navy, becoming a SEAL, his neam at 5-0.

The things couples knew about each other without getting too deep or too personal.

By the time the joint was finished and the beer can empty, their hands hung together, fingers curled and warm. Tony walked Steve to the door, feeling mellow and in a good mood as they said their goodbyes.

Before he left Steve paused, turning back to face Tony. "Should we y'know… hug?"

A small smile twitched on Tony's face. "Do you want to?"

Steve shrugged awkwardly. "It can't hurt right. It's like the thing with the hands. Practice."

Tony's smile grew and he lifted his arms. "Bring it in big guy."

Steve huffed a laugh and stepped into his arms, their bodies slotting together perfectly. Tony tucked his face into Steve's neck, breathing in his aftershave as large hands came to rest at the small of his back.

The man was warm and solid against him and Tony let himself relaxing into the hug. His left hand resting on Steve's shoulder while his right played with the curls at the base of the other man's neck.

Steve made a soft noise, stiffening in his arms before relaxing once again. They stood like that for a while; in the open doorway as the sound of ocean waves, the cry of insects and sweet smell of flowers surrounded them. With a soft sigh, Steve pulled away, his eyes slightly dilated and his cheeks pink.

"Wow. That was… ahem…. That was really good."

Tony smiled in return, softer and warmer than he had been able to do for a very long time.

"Hug therapy is an actual thing you know. Humans have a biological need for touch that is not truly satisfied by cultural and social norms."

Steve blinked. "I did not know that"

Tony chuckled, leaning against the doorway. "I'll have you know that I am a fount of random knowledge. Trivial Pursuit is like a game to me."

Steve made a face for a second then grinned in return. "I don't doubt that."

Tony watched until he drove away, only then closing up the house and getting ready for bed. This was a good start. At least Steve was open to learning from Tony and not just dismissing him ad his expertise out right.

Maybe things would be different this time. Maybe they might just be able to pull this whole thing off.

Chapter Text

Seven minutes past three in the morning found Tony waking with a choked off scream. The entire left side of his body was stiff with cramps, jerking his limbs into odd angles as the muscles within them spasmed brutally.

He curled unto his right side, crossing his arms over his chest and muffling his dry sobs into his pillow as he tried to ride the pain out. This was not the first time this had happened and sadly, he knew that there was no real countermeasure for this kind of situation. Unless he had a full fleet of doctors and their trusty morphine drips at his beck and call, that is.

He concentrated on his breathing exercises, just like Gerald had taught him; counting the seconds of each inhale and exhale as he trembled through the process.

An eternity later, his limbs finally relaxed enough for him to slump flat against the bed and he let himself lay there panting.

The pain was still ravaging his body but he knew that if he just lay there feeling sorry for himself, his muscles would act up again and the cycle would repeat himself. He let out a loud groan as he pushed himself upright, allowing himself this weakness only because there was no one else there to witness it.

Thankfully the bathroom was an en suite and he was able to slowly make his way to the shower without much trouble. He stepped under the hot water, boxers and all because trying to undress himself now would have been just too much for him to handle.

He leaned against the wall, pressing his face against the water warmed tile, and shuddered. God, that had been exhausting. Episodes like these always left him run down, physically and emotionally but he knew that his night wasn't over just yet.

He gingerly sat on the plastic medical bench he kept in the shower, slumping under the fall of hot water and bowed his head; his chin all but touching his chest. And just breathed. In and out. In and out. Steadily ignoring the steady trails of salt water that got lost under the shower's spray.

The ache had dulled to being just bearable by the time he stepped out of the shower, able to peel off his sodden boxers and shrug on a full length terry cloth robe. It was hot pink with red cartoon lips smattered all across it.

A gag gift from a friend during a trip to LA, it had been the only one available in his size that also fit him perfectly across the shoulders and fell down to brush against his toes. It was gaudy and horrible but comfortable as all get out and at the end of the day; he loved it to bits and would never part with it.

Pulling an already inflated air mattress from behind a decorative screen, he threw it onto the floor in front of large TV. he spread a thick afghan over the mattress, heading over to the cupboard and his weed kit; knowing that he wouldn't be able take his medication again for a few more hours.

Grabbing an ashtray and a bottle of Gatorade to replace his electrolytes ad nutirents, he carefully lay himself flat on the mattress, cued up Indiscreet with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and lit up.

There would be no more sleep tonight.

………………………………….

"Thanks for seeing me on such short notice Doc."

Tony eased himself up unto the examination table and smiled at the woman bustling about the room. A Hawaiian native, Doctor OK was a short, stocky woman with a riot of curls piled in a messy bun on her head. Her sharp tongue and shrewd eyes could cut a person off at the knees without laying a hand on them contrasted with her easy smile and friendly face.

And those hands… oh those hands were golden. When Tony had first arrived on Oahu, he'd been referred to a Doctor Malcolm. His first session with the stuck up ass clown had left him breathless with rage and almost curled in half in stress induced pain.

Doctor Gemma had stormed into the cold exam room and reamed her fellow physician out, getting an orderly to bring Tony into her room. Then, with her hands of heaven, she'd brought him back from the edge of a pain filled darkness.

He'd fallen in love with her brusque yet honest bedside manner and her wealth of medical knowledge and she'd been his Doctor ever since.

"I'd never turn down an opportunity to see my favourite and most handsome patient. " Doctor Gemma smiled, pulling up a rolling stool and hopped up to sit. "Besides, you're not the type to come see me unplanned if you didn't have a serious concern."

Tony shrugged, looking down at her hands as she examined his leg and calf, rotating his ankle slowly.

"Yeah. I've been thinking about working again." he looked out of the half pulled blinds at the clear blue sky. "I thought that I was ready to do this but maybe my mind is ready but my body needs more time."

Gemma pursed her lips, a dark curl flopping unto her forehead as he tilted her head to the side in thought. Reaching up to examine his arm, she nodded her understanding.

"While I agree that you are nowhere near physical readiness for your usual line of work, your recovery has progressed enough that I agreed to sign off on this special circumstance. We have you on a steady regimen of medication and are managing your pain in several positive ways.

Your mind is sharp and unclouded and from the mission details, you will not be called on for the kind of physical activity that would be detrimental to your condition."

She put a hand over his, squeezing gently.

"You are capable of doing this. You just have decide whether you want to or not. If you believe that you can do it, then go ahead. If you can't, then call this whole thing off right now. I don't want any patient of mine heading into a situation where he believes himself a danger to himself of his team."

Tony grinned through a wince. "You don't pull any punches do you Doc?"

She patted his hand twice and smirked. "You wouldn't want it any other way. Just don't let that SECNAV fella coerce you into anything you don't feel comfortable with. I told him what I would do to him if he endangered my best patient."

Tony huffed a laugh, trying to picture the diminutive doctor facing off against the 6'5" tall former linebacker.
"What did you threaten to do?"

The woman chuckled, "I told him I'd fly to the mainland and snatch that ginger beard right off his haole face."

Tony had to hold his gut, he was laughing to hard.

"You know what Doc?" he gasped after the laughter faded and he managed to sit upright once more. "… You're OK."

Gemma shook her head in fond exasperation, picking up her clipboard and pen hopping off the stool. She lifted a hand ad cupped his cheek gently.

"You know what Tony? You're OK too."

Chapter Text

So tell me again, why can't we just whip up a fake marriage certificate and background and be done with it. It would make a stronger back story for you guys?"

Danny 'Danno' Williams frowned, crossing his muscular arms across his chest and leaning a hip against the table. His attitude towards Tony had been somewhat cantankerous from the get go, somehow finding fault with Tony before he'd even met the man.

Tony got it, he really did. Williams' partner would be heading into a situation where his only immediate backup was a stranger who'd been wedged into the operation by Navy higher ups. An NCIS federal cowboy, if they'd managed to get a look at his file; which they probably did.

And a goddamn cripple to boot.

He understood the man's reservation all too well. He just wasn't in any kind of a mood to care. He rolled his eyes and sat back in his comfortable chair.

"Because…" he sighed, trying hard no to come across as if speaking to a slow child and managing it by the skin of his teeth, "Being engaged is easier to pull off than marriage, even being newlyweds. Not only can a deep scan blow the lid off any tier one fake background but we don't have the time to build that kind of set up. Besides…"

He held up his left hand. "… no tan lines from wedding rings. It's the little things that can blow it all to hell. Being engaged also allows for Steve and I to spend time apart. Newlyweds would have us stick together. Engagement would also explain away us not being seen together before this. We can't assume that our suspect won't have connections on the island. Push comes to shove we can tell them a story about a long distance relationship."

Tony winced as he shifted in his chair, using his hands to shift his left leg into a more comfortable spot. He gestured at McGarret.

"We've apparently been seeing each other long distance and decided to take the next step. Then I got in an accident and had to retire. I decided to move here to be close to my fiancé but Steve has reservations. He's wondering whether he can stick it out with me like this and because of that we argue. This way he can disappear to 'let off some steam' as it were."

Kono shook her head and frowned. "The part of about Steve wanting to ditch you doesn't sound believable. Steve would never do that."

Tony nodded in acknowledgement of her words. "That may be true to you because you know him so well but these people don't so we have an opportunity to shape this situation so that they see what we want them to see."

McGarrett nodded as well, "Yeah. Couch the lie we want them to believe in the truth they already think they know right?"

Tony grinned at him. "Got it in one. Nice work grasshopper."

McGarret… no Steve grinned back, oblivious to the looks they were getting from the rest of the team. Williams snorted loudly, pushing off the table with a huff.

"I still don't like it." he muttered and what was left of Tony's patience snapped.

"You don't have to. It just is."

He took a deep breath, counting the seconds in and out before speaking again.

"The situation is not ideal but then again no undercover situation is fucking ideal. You have to play the hand you're dealt in the best way you can and plan for contingencies. You do the best you can to bring your people back home alive. You've been a cop as long as I have. You know how this goes, don't tell me you don't."

Tony clenched his jaw to keep more words from spilling out. Normally, he would have tried to talk the other man around but after his shitty morning and the trouble he'd had getting a cab to 5-0 HQ, he wasn't in the mood to be his usual gregarious self.

McGarret stepped in before Williams could reply. "Why don't we take a break. We've been talking in circles for a while now. Let's meet back up here in a couple of hours and look everything over again ok?"

Everyone nodded and dispersed, Williams being the last to leave with a glare that seemed to encompass both Tony and Steve for some reason. Tony wondered absently what Steve had done to upset the man but realized that he didn't actually give a fuck.

It wasn't his job to talk people around to his boss' point of view anymore. He didn't have to be the harmless and likable foil to someone else's hard hitting truths. He was done with all of that noise.

McGarret shuffled closer. "Hey. You hungry?"

Tony shrugged, looking around at the files and folders stacked around the office. Proof of a long day of planning and research and an even longer day living in the constant pain that had become his close companion in the past few months. He shook himself from his darkening thoughts and looked at the other man with a weak attempt at a smile.

"I could eat."

………………………………………

Steve takes him to a large yellow food truck near the beach and buys him a plate of Shrimp Pupu with a Passion Orange juice on the side, settling at the wooden picnic bench with his own plate of corn battered shrimp on a stick and bottled water.

They eat in comfortable silence, letting the warm Hawaiian sun and sound of ocean waves and passersby. The food is good, tasty and well spiced and the juice fresh and tangy.

They finish off the meal with a large shave ice, McGarrett talking and laughing with the large man behind the counter of the truck while Tony leaned his head back and closed his eyes, enjoying the sun and warm breeze off the ocean.

"Danny means well." Steve's shadow fell across Tony's face and he opened his eyes. "He worries and expresses his worry in odd ways."

Tony smirked. "So he's not an angry crab all the time?"

The other man chuckled, handing Tony his ice and sitting across from him. Blinking in the bright sunlight now that his muscular shade was gone, Tony fumbled for his sun glasses and slipped them on.

"No," Steve grinned around a mouthful of sweet ice, "He's pretty much an angry crab all the time. He's a vicious crab with a hurt claw when he's worried."

Tony nodded. "Yeah. I've met his kind before. Worked with them too."

Steve perked up, "Oh yeah? Back at NCIS?"

Tony paused. He was sure that McGarret had already read his file just as Tony had read his. He knew the basics of Tony's history, probably back to his time at Police academy. This wasn't Steve actively fishing for facts, this was him casually throwing out a line and letting Tony decide whether to bite or not.

Tony appreciated the other man's restraint thus far. He knew that for a man like McGarret, the temptation to press for details must have been difficult to temper.

He wasn't entirely ready to talk about his past just yet but he could probably manage casual conversation. He talked about Ducky and Jimmy, skimming over the rest of his time at NCIS to talk about being a cop and funny stories about going undercover. Steve responded with light and funny stories about his childhood, carefully skirting around bigger issues that sometimes left awkward gaps in the telling.

They were both being careful, both being wary. They were strangers thrown together into sudden intimacy that neither of them knew how to navigate.

After a while, They stood, gathering all their garbage and waving goodbye to the guys in the truck. Steve gave him a ride back to HQ, silent as Tony took his medication with a half bottle of water.

Apparently Williams was in a better mood because he kept all his comments to himself and stopped muttering under his breath. He still glared at them both but Tony could let that slide if it stopped the muttering.

Finally they broke for the evening, having hammered out as much as possible. The flight to the island was a day away and they all needed to rest up. Steve gave Tony a ride home, walking him to his door and stood around awkwardly until Tony chuckled and pulled him in for a hug.

Later that night, after his evening smoke, he made himself a simple soup; popping in a movie and settling on the couch. He'd pack in the morning, after his session with Gerald. He wished he had a little more time to prep Steve but he was satisfied that he done as much as he could with what he was given.

As he watched Plan 9 from Outer Space and sipped on his soup, he let all those serious thoughts fall away. Tomorrow he would shrug on the persona they'd carefully crafted and which he would wear for his entire stay on the island.

But that was for tomorrow. Tonight he would just be Tony.

Chapter Text

Tony couldn't help muttering "De plane boss, de plane" as they pulled into the airfield and saw the plane that was to be flying them across to the private island. A lovingly restored, two engine 1967 Grumman Widgeon, complete with red and blue paint job.

He had to swallow back a dozen Ricardo Montalban jokes, chuckling to himself as he stepped out of the taxi. Steve was seeing to their bags, one carry one each and a shared suitcase that fit the weight requirements of the flight. The team as a whole had gone through the thick orientation package they'd received upon booking confirmation, trying to cover all their bases.

They would be joining two other couples in their party as the island had a set rotation for people coming and going. Theirs would be the last party before storm season and part of the reason SECNAV was so keen to them going now. There was no telling if their mark would still be there by the time they reopened.

Tony stretched his neck and shoulders, jumping a little when Steve rested his hand on the small of his back. Covering it with an easy grin, he turned to his temporary partner and gave him a look of equal appreciation and admiration.

The former seal was dressed in a grey cargo pants and dark blue t-shirt that fit him wonderfully around the chest and shoulder before tucking close around his waist. He was holding their bags in his other hand and had a pair of dark glasses pushed up into his hair. Tony smile turned coy.

"Thanks baby." he murmured with a wink.

Steve shook his head and smiled in return, as he'd done every time Tony called him a pet name. He'd been cycling through a few, seeing which ones made Steve flush and which ones resulted in a long suffering roll of the eyes. It had gotten to the point where he knew what words to use to pull a specific physical response from the other man.

A young black man in a white uniform met them at the plane, greeting them with a megawatt smile. He introduced himself as Mack, short for MacKinley.

"My mom's water broke as the plane was coming in for a landing there. I came just before we touched down. My mom says that why I like the air so much, I never made a connection to the earth. She was so not surprised when I became a pilot." he smiled, wide and uninhibited.

He took their bags to stow on the plane, showing them into a small air conditioned lounge where another couple waited. They were Asian, the man wore a rumpled business suit and whispered harshly in Japanese to whomever what on the line. The had signs of premature aging and a frown carved into his face. His finger nails were bitten to the quick and his tie rolled up and tucked into his jacket pocket.

The wife was sharply dressed but the dull colours of her outfit seemed to make her look drab. Her back was almost painfully straight and she clenched her expensive purse with whitened knuckles. She frowned at Steve and Tony's hands clasped together and wrinkled her nose as if she'd smelled something foul.

They didn't respond to greetings, each of them ignoring the two men in their own way, so Tony pulled Steve along to a love seat in the corner and tucked himself along the man's side as he was able.

Steve let himself be cuddled, wrapping an arm around Tony's shoulder so that he could whisper in his ear. The woman glanced at them every few seconds, her lip twitching as she turned away to stare out the window.

In sotto voice, Tony tested Steve's observation skills on the couple, comparing and talking through what they agreed and disagreed on. To anyone else they looked like a couple whispering sweet nothings to each other and Tony was happily surprised at how well he and Steve fit together physically. How comfortable they were in close quarters.

There had been a few partners in Tony's life who he'd meshed so well with, in the past. There had been that case with Agent Mansel in Baltimore and that time in Philly where he'd been on a joint task force with the FBI. Special Agent Bertenelli had been a hoot and a half.

They'd been good people and had made for good friends after the fact. Tony always liked to keep in touch with people he'd worked well with. Gibbs may have been allergic to inter-agency co-operation but Tony knew the value of networking.

He wondered idly if Steve would make the list eventually. He seemed a good man as far as Tony could tell but there had also been many 'good' people who'd turned around and stuck a blade in Tony's back. He'd thought himself a good judge of character but in recent years, his faith in himself had been rocked too often to quickly recover from.

A soft touch on his shoulder had him looking up at Steve. The other man looked concerned. "Hey there. Are you okay?"

And in a lower voice, "Any Pain?"

Tony gave a half smile, reaching up to clasp Steve's hand and gave it a squeeze.

"Yeah. Just wool gathering. Thanks for asking Hunny Boo."

That one got him and eye roll and he chuckled.

Movement at the door made them all look up. A couple came in, both women, and greeted them cheerfully. The younger one did at least. She was of mixed race with a riot of curls dyed blue and freckles dusted liberally across her cheeks and down her neck to her décolletage. She was wearing dusty hiking clothes and several piercings in her ears and on her lip and eyebrows.

Her companion was an older woman, dirty blonde hair hung around her slumped shoulders. Large sunglasses dominated her face, her thin mouth set in a line as she sipped a large cup of coffee.

She wore loose clothing made from natural fibres and hung loose on her frame. She barely tipped her head at them, letting her girlfriend do all the talking, sinking unto a nearby seat and staring into her coffee.

Mack appeared, before any introductions could be made, ushering them all out onto the tarmac. Tony hung back as the others boarded, turning to Steve.

"I'm gonna need your help with the step up."

And boy, did having to say that burn him. He'd always been very independent, even from a young age. Being the son of Dinozzo Sr. had made it necessary for him to know how to take care of himself from a very young age. He'd never been able to rely on anyone for help and that had translated into not being able to ask anyone for help as an adult.

Thankfully, Steve didn't make a big deal out of it and nodded while Tony's neck burned with perceived shame. With quick and efficient movement, he had Tony inside the plane and buckled into one of the seats before taking his own next to it like he did that kind of thing every day. Tony kept his eyes down and his face blank, feeling everyone's stares as he shifted his legs into a more comfortable position.

The engines started, Mack starting his introduction and pre-flight check. The ride was short and enjoyable. The blue jewel tones of the pacific ocean and sky made for a dazzling view. The younger girl, Danna (not Dana please) talked non-stop about Hawaii and its natural wonders. Her partner, Felicia switched between sighing and sipping her coffee while the other couple, the Qwans, sat just far apart enough not to touch; the wife looking down her nose at them all and the husband still on his phone.

The drone of the engines made Tony doze a bit, his head falling unto Steve's shoulder before Mack announced that they were coming up to the island. Blinking awake, Tony turned a bit to watch out the window.

"It really is Fantasy Island" he breathed out in surprised wonder.

Crystal blue waters, pristine white sand beaches, jewel green trees and brightly coloured flowers. As they came in closer, they could see the main building, a large white plantation style building with a few out buildings fanned out over the estate.

"If I see a little person or an old man in a white suit, I'm not getting off the plane." Steve's voice was low in his ear and Tony barked a laugh, making Mrs. Qwan frown at him in disapproval.

"Seconded."

He shared a grin with his partner, taking one last moment to just breath and prepare himself as the plane started its decent. He saw Steve doing the same and turned to look out the window once more.

It was time to get this show on the road.

Chapter Text

The breeze through the french windows leading out to a small lanai was warm and sweet, the echo of ocean waves breaking against the black lava rock that ran jagged along this side of the island was its own kind of music. Soft strains of ukulele drifted across the greens from the compound's main dining hall, no doubt where the other guests still enjoying their after dinner drinks.

Tony had begged off early, drained from the day's activities, and made his way down a short stone paved path to their assigned bungalow. The competent staff had unpacked their meager suitcase into the set of large rattan drawers along with several pairs of pastel coloured tunic and loose pant sets that guest were required to wear during their stay.

As he took advantage of the islands surprisingly good water pressure and seemingly gargantuan water heater, he let the pounding hot spray loosen the tension in his shoulders. So far the mission had been going well, he and Steve had been playing off each other well; fitting snugly into the role of loving couple.

There had been a few snags, the other man sometimes stiffening or freezing up when Tony touched him of leaned close and caught the SEAL by surprise but Tony usually caught it soon enough and made a distraction of himself, giving the other man the time to recover and slip back into his role.

Guest orientation had been led by a woman named Concepcion, a lively Hispanic woman with a plump belly and deep laugh lines. She had silver streaks at her temples, swept up into a roll, warm and calloused worker's hands and wore a set of lavender tunic and loose pant set with sandals that all the employees seemed to own in differing colours.

She led them through the main reception area though to the dining room where lunch was waiting. The main house was open and breezy, all the wooden shutters open and the warm sweet scent of flowers filled the air. Relaxing music piped softly overhead and speaking was kept to a low hush. Steve guided Tony over to one of the dining chairs, intricately carved wooden legs and tastefully upholstered cushions.

In fact, all the furniture and wall fittings showed signs of being lovingly refurbished and cared for, some pieces looking as if they came straight from the turn of the century. The twentieth century that is.

After lunch, they'd all seen to the necessary paper work and escorted to their own private cabins scattered around the main building. The rest of the afternoon was kept free, giving the guests time to themselves to either rest of explore the island as they wished. A fleet of pimped out golf carts were parked to one side, along with a row of shiny colourful bicycles managed by a baby faced teenage girl with a perky demeanor who was only too happy to tell them about the flora and fauna native to the island.

Tony had opted for the golf cart, letting Steve drive with a roll of his amused eyes. He knew all about alpha males and their unerring need to drive ALL THE TIME so he let himself sit back and relax as they made a complete round of the compound. He knew Steve was scoping out the perimeter, making himself familiar with the layout of the place as compared to the satellite mapping they'd all studied; but that didn't stop the island from being beautifully breathtaking.

After dropping the cart back off, Tony made a show of slinging an arm around Steve's waist and kissing his cheek; making sure the girl witnessed him shooing Steve off to explore by himself while Tony took a much desired nap. Steve's resulting blush from the peck had the girl cooing over them as "such a cute couple" and Tony smiled in satisfaction as he made his way back to the bungalow where he really did intend to nap.

Dinner had rolled around and the two of them dressed in their other set of nice clothes. Tony in a linen pant and shirt, unbuttoned to show part of his chest; Steve in khaki cargo pants and a thin white shirt that hugged him in all the right places. It had been an effort not to run his hands over the man's chest and arms or his broad back when he turned around.

He'd pulled the other man in for a hug, explaining softly that he would stay close during dinner, touching Steve often and that he would make sure to telegraph his moves. Steve had nodded, turning his face into Tony's neck as they stood in the middle of the room.

"There's something else I've been thinking about… " His breath had been hot against Tony's skin. "Shouldn't we kiss or something? I mean, we're engaged. Engaged people kiss."

Tony pulled back a little, regarding the other man. "Okay. That is true. Whatever you are comfortable with. I was going to build a story where you're not very into PDA and that I was the more energetic one."

Steve furrowed his brow, as if in deep thought, then shook his head. "No, I think we should."

"Okay." Tony said softly and let the other man draw him in.

Steve's lips were soft against his and he tilted his head a bit so that their mouths slotted together perfectly, his lips falling open almost naturally as the kiss deepened. The kiss was slow, exploring but not demanding; their tongues twining lazily as they tasted each other. When they finally pulled apart, each of them breathing heavily; Tony rested his forehead against Steve's and sighed.

"Wow. You are deadly in all kinds of ways aren't you?"

Steve huffed a laugh against Tony's cheek. "I'll take that as a compliment."

Tony chuckled and pulled away with a smile. "You do that. That was ten out of ten: would definitely recommend."

Steve brayed a laugh before offering Tony his arm.

Dinner was an intimate affair, the old world sconces along the walls threw golden light unto the white clothed tables and shining silverware, fresh cut flowers and delicious food. Danna greeted them, enthusiastic in her words and body language as Felicia was subdued. They were in a brightly coloured sarong and loose black maxi dress respectively, a mug of coffee already in the blonde's pale, cupped fingers.

The Qwans were in their clothes from earlier, Mr. Qwan having lost his tie and jacket along the way. He'd traded in his cellphone for a large straight scotch and appeared to be contemplating its depths for the mysteries of the universe.

Mrs. Qwan played with her pearls and stared into nothing for long and lingering moments when she wasn't turning her nose up at the rest of them. Her large red wine sat full and untasted as she absently played with the stem of the glass, turning it around and around until it twisted the tablecloth underneath.

Tony and Danna had kept most of the conversation going, lamenting the loss of their cell phones and other devices as per the hotel rules. Felicia, prodded by Danna, dropped little anecdotes of her life as a freelance writer; her voice a bored monotone that felt like disappointment in everything and everyone.

Mrs. Qwan deigned to volunteer sharp bladed, one word answers in what seemed to be her beleaguered hostess voice while Mr. Qwan grunted distractedly whenever the subject fell into economics for which he was, according to his wife, a dynamo.

Steve was the ever loving boyfriend, charming when he needed to be, funny as he told heavily edited stories about his years in the Navy. He seemed satisfied to just sit back and let Tony do the talking, bearing Tony's touches and endearments with a sort of amused long suffering that had Felicia and him exchanging commiserating glances.

After dinner, Tony begged off, siting exhaustion as he pressed a kiss to Steve's stubbled cheek. Then another too his lips when the man turned towards him. It was slow and soft and spoke of an old comfort and familiarity and the smile Tony gave Steve was radiant.

Stepping out of the shower, Tony wrapped a fluffy towel around his waist and set about taking his pills. The hot water left him loose and limber and he wandered out unto to the lanai with his bottle of water.

Hopefully Steve would be able to do some recon of the hotel itself before coming back to their room. That's why he'd left him behind. Having the both of them sneak around would bring to much attention and they could only use the excuse of taking a walk in certain areas.

He had just changed into pyjamas and was climbing into bed when Steve slipped through the door. Settling against the pillows, Tony waited as the man finished up in the bathroom, having changed into boxers and a white vest. Steve slipped through the mosquito net that hung like a canopy around the bed, pulling it closed before settling.

"Was able to map most of the ground floor." his breath against Tony's bare shoulder as he curled towards him. "Some locked offices and a couple of out-buildings that could do with a second look."

Tony nodded. They would have to work something out tomorrow that would give Steve the time he needed. According to the schedule, they had a full day ahead of them but Tony was nothing if not adaptable. He took a deep breath, the scent of Steve's soap filling his nose and the man's closeness warmed his side.

It had been a while since he'd slept next to someone. Felt another's body heat, heard the steady breaths as they slept. It wasn't as uncomfortable as he thought it would be thought. Maybe because it was Steve, a man he'd felt so quickly comfortable with. Maybe it was because he missed having company that wasn't a rushed and desperate one night stand.

He listened as Steve's breaths evened out, a muscled arms twitching to rest against his, leaving a line of heat along his side. Letting his own breaths slow, he steadily pushed the multitude of thoughts flying around his head until he himself was calm enough to drop off as well.

They had a big day tomorrow.

Chapter Text

"So what's the plan for today Boss?" Steve murmured around the lip of his coffee cup, his voice pitched low so that no one else would hear.

Tony chuckled, scooping a spoonful of papaya into his mouth before tapping the handle of the utensil on the glossy brochure next to his bowl. He slip the pamphlet towards his partner before taking a sip of his own coffee.

"Well, Tattoo…" he smirked, "This morning we have our first private session with the guru then I have some spa/healing treatments scheduled. Then lunch and another session with the guru, this time a joint one for all the couples. Then we are free for the rest of the afternoon."

He speared some kiwi with his fork and placed it in the corner of Steve's plate. The other man quirked an eyebrow at the fruit but ate it anyways. The rest of the kiwi quickly made its way to Steve's plate and was eaten without complaint.

Pulling the basket of rolls toward him, Tony snagged two and placed them next to his scrambled eggs. "Tonight is the sacred fire ceremony that the resort puts on for the guests. Something about cleansing our spirits and paying tribute to Pele, the fire Goddess. It's supposed to be 'transcendently and spiritually moving', well... according to the brochure that is."

Steve nodded wryly, "So while you enjoy your spa treatments, I, being the outdoorsman I am, will take one of the hiking trails that lead around the compound and find some way to pass the time while my fiancé pampers himself."

"Got it in one." Tony grinned, biting into a piece of fresh baked bread. "This resort is well known for its unique healing and wellness programme and I've heard good things. As long as I am already here, and on big brother's dime no less; I might as well take advantage of the opportunity."

"Besides…" he gave the other man a wink and a smile. "…as much as I'd love to see you naked and swathed in mineral mud or wrapped in seaweed, I'm sure you, your sanity and the us government would thank me for not making you come with me."

The SEAL chuckled, "My sanity and the US government thanks you."

Tony quirked an eyebrow "You sure? I've heard they do a mean acupuncture treatment here. It could loosen up those tight muscles."

He ran a hand over Steve's shoulder, appreciating the flexing muscles underneath the tunic and pants outfit all guests were now required to wear. It was a soft blue, as was Tony's, and fit perfectly. Steve stiffened briefly, then relaxed into the caress, glancing at the other tables out of the corner of his eyes.

The Qwans were sitting at another table across the dining room. Mrs. Qwan was methodically cutting up her omelet into neat uniform pieces which she slipped between her lips almost as if she were counting the seconds off between each bite and swallow.

On the other hand, Mr Qwan was making his way through a stack of banana pancakes with the veracity of a man who had just rediscovered his body came equipped with a digestive tract. Probably one of the effects of having his phone surgically removed from his hand.

Danna and Felicia were still nowhere to be seen by the time Tony and Steve finished up with breakfast. Steve slipped his hand into Tony's, grinning at Tony's surprised glance. Usually Tony was to initiate touch and affection on their mission so far and it delighted him to see Steve taking initiative in such a manner. It seemed that Steve was getting comfortable with this undercover thing. That was good.

The Guru, as the resort marketed him, was actually a short elderly man with a shock of white hair that sprang up from his head in all directions. He had nut brown skin from years in the sun and a wide grin that revealed gleaming white teeth.

"Hello a me ke aloha" he beckoned them into the beach front shack where he held his sessions. "Hello and welcome, my friends."

The shack was open on two sides to the ocean with tasteful rattan furniture and colourful cushions. Fine white sand made up the floor of the shed and a long set of shell windchimes clinked and clacked cheerfully in one corner. The guru waved them to the rattan loveseat while he sank gracefully unto a small tatami mat opposite.

"I usually have people sit on mats with me but I know that with your ailment, sitting in such a position for a period of time would not be feasible or very comfortable."

Tony found himself flushing, grateful that the other man would take his comfort into such consideration. He bowed his head in thanks, emotion clogging his throat at such a small gesture. It had been so long since someone had put so much thought into how he would feel. Maybe that was why this innocuous act was affecting him so.

He could feel Steve's concerned gaze as he collected himself and gave him a wobbly smile, lacing their fingers together and receiveing a comforting squeeze in return. The Guru smiled happily at them and introduced himself as Keone Uilahi.

"It means 'sand' unfortunately… " , he laughed. "I always wanted to be named something like 'One who swims with turtles' but I got plain old 'sand'. I hated my name a a child but as I grew I came to see the value of my namesake and all the wonderful things associated with something so common place."

He lets some of the fine white grain slip through his fingers, rubbing his fingertips together as he looked at them both.

"And that is what we are here to discover over the next few days. We will be discovering together the Values of Aloha; of unconditional love and the outpouring and receiving of the spirit."

"And as per your request…" he nodded at Tony, "… We will also discuss The Process of Ho’oponopono: the Hawaiian code of forgiveness. The value of integrity, of rightness and balance; the feeling of contentment when all is good and all is right."

Tony let out a long and thready breath, giving Steve's hand another squeeze.

"Yeah, I think I need that."

Keone grew solemn. "It will not be easy my friend, the road of Ho’oponopono is one of unconditional love. That is a path not everyone is strong enough to walk."

Tony blinked, lost in thought. Eventually he nodded, looking at the older man with determination in his eyes. "I've let a part of me be stuffed in a closet and locked away for so long that I'm not even sure of who I am. I've given others power over me for too long. I can't live like this anymore. I need to let this go, I need to let them go."

Tony blinked his eyes against that familiar sting and looked out unto the ocean as he tried to push his all to quickly rising emotions. He'd been so good at keeping a lid on all of this turmoil for so long that just a faint scratch against the surface threatened to burst open the whole thing.

Steve's shoulder pressed against his and he took comfort from the warmth and steady calm that tingled along his arm. He finally looked back towards the old man who, having apparently seen what he needed; nodded and smiled once again.

"Well then, As the old Hawaiian saying goes: 'A’OHE PU’U KI’EKI’E KE HO’A’O ‘IA E PI’I " he said cheerfully, watching them both. "No cliff is so tall it cannot be climbed."

Tony barked a helpless laugh. "I really hope so."

On the way back to the main building, Steve pulled them both into one of the secluded alcoves that formed naturally throughout the vast gardens. He said nothing, letting Tony gather himself enough to speak. After a few minutes of pacing the small space, Tony finally sat next to Steve on the natural bench cut out from the earth and over grown with grass and sighed.

He leaned back on his hands and blinked up at the clear blue sky. "Part of the reason I said yes to this whole thing was…" he began, biting his lip thoughtfully. "I did some research on this place when I first moved here. I was looking for treatment options. I eventually chose not to come because of the cost. There's only so much a guy can afford on an government salary."

He chuckled mirthlessly, looking out at the ocean through the trees. "So when SecNav briefed me on the mission, I thought to myself… why not kill two birds…"

"… with one stone." Steve finished for him. " And the mission?"

Tony looked over to meet Steve's stare. "I would never jeopardize a mission for personal gain. If there were anyway that this could have been pulled off with a greater chance of success without me, I would have said so immediately. But with the time frame we were working with, I was the only asset available with the required skillset."

"Hey, I'm not denying that." Steve squeezed his shoulder gently. "I just want to know that we are both on the same page here."

Tony nodded, letting out a breath. He looked out unto the sparkling blue sea once again, his mind miles away.

"I think the guru can help me get through some stuff. Things that have been with me for far too long. Things that I am finally ready to let go of."

He winced and rubbed his chest as if to ease the press of a heavy weight. A burden he'd been carrying for so long, he no longer knew how it felt to be without it. It had started with his father, slowly but surely building upon itself in his years in Baltimore and all the other places he tried to make a life for himself.

He'd thought that he found a place at NCIS to finally set the weight down but that sadly, hadn't been the case. The weight had just gotten heavier and heavier until he could hardly breathe. Any longer and he would have gone under for good.

"I need this I think" he confessed softly to the man next to him.

The wind caught his words, taking them back out to the sea; the only other witness, leaving nothing but the rustling of leaves, birdsong and two men sitting in comfortable silence.

Chapter Text

Dr. Haruko Hasegawa's second office in the hotel was bright and open, decorated with tasteful colours and comfortable furniture. Her first office, the Hotel Manager's office, according to Steve's reconnoiter, was a severe space; cluttered and filled with state of the art computers. This office, however, was tailor made to put her patients at ease.

Her certificates were tastefully framed, interspersed with pictures of happy former patients. None of her family though, Tony mused, shifting in his tastefully comfortable chair. Actually, everything was just the right level of tasteful. It was a bit creepy actually. A little too perfectly calculated to relax and reassure. So much so that it made Tony feel antsy, his 'very special agent' senses were tingling up the back of his neck something awful.

Hasegawa was a slim Asian woman of indeterminate age, a serene and dark eyes beauty who seemed wise beyond her years. Dressed in a floor length lilac cheongsam, her ebony hair pinned with a lovely jeweled hairpin shaped like a sprig of flowers. Her desk was clear of files, except for Tony's, which she flipped through steadily. Doctor OK had conferred heavily with Hasegawa and Tony himself on his case and what the resort could offer him.

They'd finally decided on several options, along with sessions with the Guru, including Acupuncture, Biofeedback Therapy, Relaxation Therapy and Guided Imagery. Mostly experimental, a lot of these procedures were not covered by his HMO and were mostly out of his spending range.

Tony let his eyes run over the doctor and her wall of accolades, humbly displayed. She seemed comfortable with his steady gaze on her, something he rarely found in people he met. She didn't keep glancing back up at him or fidgeting, nor did she quicken her perusing of his file.

Tony was impressed. She seemed a formidable woman.

He made a note to have Steve keep an eye on her.

Finally, she looked up and smiled at him.

"Well, Mr. Dinozzo….Tony." She bowed her head slightly as she used his familiar title. He'd asked her to call him Tony upon entering her office and she in turn had allowed him to call her Haruko-san. "Dr. Kameāloha and I have discussed your condition thoroughly and have decided on a treatment regimen that should best suit your situation. "

She handed him a sheet of paper and waited patiently as he read it fully.

"Both myself and Concepcion will be personally handling your treatments, along with your session with the Guru. That is the schedule that we will be working with, if it meets with your approval of course. At anytime during the treatment, if you are uncomfortable or uneasy with the process, feel free to inform any one of us and we will immediately cease and desist."

She handed him another piece of paper. "This waiver is for you to read and sign before we can begin."

They went through the documentation, the Doctor answering all of Tony's questions with informed equanimity. It was refreshing really, to have a conversation with someone so forthright. After all the legalities resolved, she escorted him to one of the outbuildings on the compound where Concepcion was waiting.

They had just enough time to go through some of the breathing exercises, leaving Tony feeling both exhausted and energized. It surprised him how much some focused inhales and exhales could feel like he'd run a six minute mile.

As he walked back to the main building, he cataloged his breathing. His file at Doctor OK's office contained most of his file from Bethesda, report after report about his lungs from Dr. Brad Pitt. Even though he'd been cleared for duty, there was always the looming threat of 'Diminished Lung Capacity' hanging over his head.

But now, for the first time since before his brush with the plague, he could breathe deeply without the usual pain. It was kinda freaking him out actually, how good he was actually feeling.

He made good time to the hotel, smiling as he saw Steve lounging on the veranda, chatting amiably with Mack. Tony bound up the stairs, hailing both men happily as he stepped into Steve's space; wrapping an arm around the man's waist and leaning in for a kiss.

Steve started but soon rallied and leaned into the kiss, wrapping his arm around Tony's waist and pulling him closer. By the time Tony pulled away, his cheeks were pinked and his eyes wide and bright.

"Someone's happy." his voice was rough.

Tony grinned at him and bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. "I can breathe."
He turned to a grinning Mack. "I can really breathe."

The darkskinned man tilted his head. "That's nice?"

Tony laughed loudly, running his fingers though his hair. "You don't understand. I have 'diminished lung capacity'. I haven't been able to really breathe in years."

"Wow" He blinked and laughed again, leaning into Steve. "I'm feeling really high right now and that's not the weed talking. I think I'm high on oxygen. Fuck."

Steve's arm tightened around Tony's waist, steadying the man as he swayed.

"Okay, let's get you sitting down ok?" he chuckled, guiding Tony to a nearby bench while Mack volunteered to go get them some water to drink. Tony sank unto the bench, taking another deep breath just like Concepcion showed him.

The sweet smell of the flowers, the salt of the ocean, the tantalizing smell of lunch being served in the dining room, the aftershave Steve splashed on this morning. All of these things at once were like a tidal wave of sensations that surged up and over Tony, leaving him feeling simultaneously stuffed full and strangely hollow at the same time.

He felt tears prickling behind his eyes and shut them tightly, biting his bottom lip at the sudden shift in his emotional centre. He could feel a hand rubbing his back , bleeding comfort and warmth he desperately needed at that moment. He shuddered, his breath catching as he tried to ride the wave rolling over him.

Thankfully, Steve remained silent, waiting patiently until Tony was able to pull himself back together. By the time Mack returned with a pitcher of ice water and a couple of glasses, Tony was able to put on a calm and charming façade.

Steve waitied until they were alone once more before speaking.

"I never read anything about that in your file."

His hand was still on Tony's back. A solid comfort. Tony drained his water and stared out unto the garden, holding the chilled glass between his fingers.

"Yeah, it's not in my redacted file. Officially I've been cleared for duty and I was allowed to disclose it at my own discretion. I got exposed to a genetically engineered bio-weapon a few years ago. The terrorist turned out to be an insane mother seeking revenge against her daughter's alleged rapist."

He shrugged and gave a mirthless chuckle. "Not a good year for me, I'll tell you that much."

Steve's hand had stilled, his voice hollow as he spoke. "What was it?"

Tony looked out unto the lush gardens. "Weaponized Ypestis."

Steve's hand gripped his shoulder tightly for a brief moment then lossened.

"The fucking plague?" his voice was raw with horror. "I heard about that. That was you?"

Tony looked over his shoulder at the shocked soldier, patting his thigh consolingly. "Hey, I barely spent a week on sick leave. I was fine. Granted I almost got blown up on my first day back on work but that was barely a real car bomb. More of a pipe bomb really."

Steve made a pained noise through his nose and shook his head in disbelief. "I don't know whether to wrap you up in bubble wrap or buy you a beer."

Tony barked a laugh, it was a bit hysterical. "You would not be the first person to say that to me."

With another deep breath he stood, turning and holding his hand out for Steve to take. "I could do with a drink though. Maybe one of those fruity mock-tails. I don't think I could stomach any alcohol right now."

Steve took his hand and let Tony pull him up, keeping their hands entwined. Tony looked down at their joined hands and then back up at the incredible man he'd been teamed with.

"I'm sorry about before. y'know… when I kissed you. I was riding pretty high on endorphins and happy with all the things. I know that's not an excuse so I want to apologize for putting you in the spot. It's wasn't fair to you. You couldn’t just push me away without breaking cover with Mack. I'm really sorry for doing that."

Steve watched in silence as Tony let the sentence come to a rambling stop before squeezing the hand he held gently. "You're right. It wasn't cool what you did…."

Tony flushed and ducked his head.

"But…" Steve continued, "I accept your apology. I've done some dumb shit too in my time and I know what it takes to own up to it. Thank you for apologizing and being up front about it. I'm not excusing what you did but I understand it."

Tony gave an abashed grin. "You're pretty awesome you now that?"

Steve grinned in return. "You would not be the first person to say that to me."

Tony cut him a glance. "You're also an asshole." he grumbled lowly and Steve laughed, tugging him towards the dining room.

"I've been told that too."

Chapter Text

Stomach full from the wonderful lunch and midday meds accounted for and taken, Tony joined Steve and the other couple out on the large stone lanai near the ocean where the Guru held the group sessions. The backdrop was a world of crystal blue waters and never-ending cloudless skies. The sand was fine and white under the Hawaiian sun right up to the jewel green flora.

The wind kept the heat from getting too oppressive but wasn't strong enough to kick the sand up. For that Tony was grateful. He was also grateful for the thick, brightly coloured cushions that made up the seating arrangements. Yes, he was safe within the pillow of medicated bliss but he doubted that metaphorical pillow would have held through a couple of hours on a thin mat.

The cushions were laid in a loose semi-circle facing the beach and the humble reed mat were the Guru sat. he smiled brightly at them as they took their seats. The Qwans took one side, Mrs. Qwan sitting with her feet tucked up under her, her back ramrod straight. Mr. Qwan was half sprawled next to her, like he was not sure what to do with his own limbs.

Maybe it was the half bottle of scotch he seemed to guzzle down during lunch. Maybe not.

Danna and Felicia took the cushions on the other end, the darker skinned young woman almost bouncing in her seat with excitement while the pale older woman tucked her legs into a text book meditation pose, complete with palms facing up.

They had reappeared during lunch, both women falling unto the food with renewed fervor. Surprisingly, it was Felicia who dropped not so subtle innuendo and double entendre about their pre-lunch activities, while Danna had giggled and stuffed her face with fresh salad.

The Guru welcomed them after they had finished settled down, introducing himself once again to Tony and Steve as well as the Qwans who had also had their private session with the man and introducing himself anew to Danna and Felicia whose private session was carded for later that day.

"Hello and Welcome my Friends" The guru smiled and clapped his hands together, breaking the ice with a few jokes and making them introduce themselves one by one.

" ‘IMI OLA… " he began, once they were all settled in and comfortable, " means to 'seek best life.' in Hawaii. To make ones purpose in life to seek its highest form. The road to this achievement will take you down several roads."

Tony leaned against Steve's broad shoulder and listened attentively as the old man spoke, letting his mind drift back into his recent and not so recent past as the guru broke down the core values they would be exploring during their stay.

‘OHANA: Those who are family, and those you choose to call your family.

Tony had sadly lost his faith in family at a young age. A neglectful and selfish father, a drunkard and restless mother; Tony's upbringing had been left to a series of butlers and nannies who were either too cowed to speak up on Tony's behalf or not paid enough to do so.

He'd tried to do what most young adult novels told him to do. Build a family of choice but none of those families had held together either. His last effort had been at NCIS and for a while he'd let himself believe that this one would be the one that worked, the one built on a solid foundation.

Granted, Gibbs, Abby and Ducky were not the most stable of foundations but he'd felt as though he'd met his people. People as quirky and dedicated and passionate as him. And for a while it had been good. Then came Kate, the annoying sister and Tim, the dorky little brother. His little family's foundations had wobbled with each new addition but had stayed firm enough.

Then Kate died and his foundations had been rocked badly then Gibbs had left and it had taken all of what was in him to keep himself and his people together and in one piece. Ziva, her brother Ari and her father Eli's family dynamic had barreled into his like a bowling ball, scattering the foundations of his family scattering like pins. A set of event set in motion from which Tony had yet to recover fully.

LŌKAHI: The value of teamwork.

Ducky had told him once that “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”, the origin of the shorter, more popular saying. Tony had smiled, listening to the older gentleman ramble along, tucking away the little anecdotes and advice the man seemed to have a never ending supply of.

He'd enjoyed taking that saying and turning it around in his mind, hugging it to himself as a child would a stuffed toy. It made him feel warm when he thought of his team. To be part of something greater, walking and working alongside people he trusted. Even when it was just him and Gibbs in MCRT, with Abby and Ducky supporting, Tony had let himself place his trust in his teammates.

It had been refreshing to be able to work with people without having to keep one eye on your own back. Not that everywhere had been as bad as some of the places had been, he'd just never trusted anywhere enough to let his guard down. Well, not completely. No boy raised in Casa Dinozzo would ever let their guard down completely but it had been a close thing.

And then he'd gone and done it. He'd let himself get complacent. He'd kept himself open to the new team members, never demanding they prove themselves like the others had done. He'd trusted that anyone Gibbs approved of and welcomed, that he could trust and welcome them to.

He'd trusted Gibbs.

He'd trusted. Gibbs.

Gibbs. Surrogate Father. Brother. Teacher. Boss. Guardian. Mentor. Advisor. Sounding Board. Friend. Partner. Head slap. Coffee hound.

Very important person.

Family. Blood of the Covenant.

He'd Trusted.

He'd…

KĀKOU: The value of communication, for “All of us.” We are in this together. Learning to speak the language of we. T

One of his mother's friends had once told him that he had the 'gift of gab'. His mother had tittered over her tea plate and smiled a smile as sharp as a blade. After that Tony had come to know and deeply respect the adage: "Children are seen and not heard."

His father had ascribed to the saying "empty barrels make the most noise" and would smack the back talk right out of Tony's smartalec mouth. This was despite the fact that Senior made his own bread and butter selling ice to a fucking Eskimo.

Let's just say that Tony's childhood was equal parts being trotted out to impress potential business partners with his cheeky quips and witty remarks and standing in a corner of the kitchen with a clothespin on his lips.

It wasn't until Tony got packed off to Military school that he'd opened his mouth and kept it open, sharpening his tongue and teeth on verbal sparring on a level he'd previously never known existed. He dove head first into language, devouring English then moving unto Latin and other languages like an addict craved heroin. After languages, came accents, colloquialisms, delivery then unto non-verbal cues and body language.

If there something to say, Tony wanted to know what it was, how to say it, who to say it to and how to hold his body as he was saying it. He whetted his appetite on conversation and sharpened his teeth on arguments; coming out of the other side of his years at school with a skilled honed to a precision edge and the beginnings of an armour that he wrapped around his fragile heart.

The downside was that for all that he could talk someone's ear off, he often said very little of what was important. A person had to be patient to pick out the rare pearls from all the other flotsam Tony let spill out. To see him as someone more than a cocky motor-mouth with fluff for brains. For a while that person had been Gibbs.

He'd… He'd trusted. That hadn't lasted as long as he'd hoped either.

HA‘AHA‘A:
The value of humility. Be humble, be modest, and open your thoughts.

Tony knew that he was a cocky son of a bitch. He was a Dinozzo. Blood will out as they say. But that wasn't all he was. He just figured it was easier to wrap that persona around himself. It was safer to shield his softer, insecure, caring self from heartbreak by shellacking a polished veneer over it all.

Kate had though him immature. Tim had thought him a bully. Ziva had thought him a buffoon. Ducky thought him childish. Abby thought him a whiny baby. Gibbs had thought him…

Well, in the end Gibbs had thought him a nuisance.

In the end, Tony had thought himself too fucking good at being a Dinozzo.

HO‘OHANOHANO:
To honor the dignity of others. Conduct yourself with distinction, and cultivate respectfulness.

Tony respected himself to a point. He knew how to take one for the team, for the mission. He knew when to set shame aside and play the fool, the seducer, the thug. He knew how to bend his back to let other people's egos take front and centre stage. He knew how to diminish himself for the sake of the situation.

Tony respected others who deserved it. Oh… he made a good show of pretending to respect someone. His father, his mother when she was still alive. Old bosses, new bosses, fellow law enforcement officers and agents. Witnesses, suspects, civilians, military personnel. You name it, Tony knew just how low and far to defer to get what he needed. To get what the case needed.

True respect he reserved for people who deserved it through their actions and the way they treated those in their care of below their station. He respected Abby's brilliant mind and passion for her work. He respected Ducky's wealth of knowledge and his wisdom born from experience. He even respected Tim and Kate as team mates, their unique skillsets and perspectives gave the team as a whole a greater advantage over the criminals they chased.

He'd thought that the respect had been mutual. That his team would take his easy smiles and jokes and quips about movies and temper them with the underlying competence that he showed whenever the situation got real. That under all of that showmanship, they trusted his work ethic, his dedication, his sense of justice that ran though his very core.

Gibbs had respected him as an agent. As a partner. Even though he had a shitty way of showing it, he'd respected Tony for what he was. A good agent who could keep up with his second b for bastard.

Even towards the end, even after all that had happened, he still believed that Gibbs retained some of that respect for him as an agent.

MAHALO:
“Thank you”, as a way of living. Live in thankfulness for the richness that makes life so precious.

That one was a hard one. Tony was thankful for a lot. Some people would call his childhood shitty. Would call certain parts of his life fucked up. Would bring up his close calls and brushes with death, the betrayals and gunshot wounds, the cases gone wrong or unsolved, his survivor's guilt and crippling insecurity.

They could wallpaper all the rooms of a house with these hurts and failures for all the world to see and expect Tony to turn away in shame or anger or hurt. But he wouldn't. he would never look away. He would never deny any of the faults and scars that got him too this point in his life.

Because whatever bad came with the good, however much that bad pained him at the time; without all of it, he wouldn't be Tony. Whoever Tony was anyway.

As a curious boy, he'd known the gritty details of things that could go wrong when people were either pulled off of or let themselves fall off of living. As a federal agent, he often witnessed the gritty details first hand.

He was alive, free, had food in his belly and was on amazing meds.

Tony was fucking grateful.

By the time the session ended, Tony had a lot to think about, his mind reeling from the revelations that had come to him without fanfare of warning. He stayed silent through the casual goodbyes to the other couples, letting Steve take care of the social niceties Tony usually took care of. He was grateful for that. It was a small thing but it also didn't happen too often.

Tony was always the one with the smile and the devil may care attitude. The one to smooth things over, to make people open up, spill their guts. He was always the honeypot that drew people in so that others could use and manipulate them.

His face, his smile, his body, his wit, his charm; all of them were tools Tony weaponized to get what he wanted, what other people wanted. Parts of himself that he'd sharpened and honed until he was just a bundle of sharp edges and brittle shards of ice that chipped and cracked as he moved.

Who was Tony Dinozzo anymore?

The rejected son. The loveable goof. The very special agent. The undercover operative. The smarmy gigolo. The incompetent Senior Field Agent. The old school detective. The movie buff.

All of these labels. All of these caricatures. All these molds he'd punched and forced himself to fit into. Who were these people?

Was he Tony? Anthony? Tonio? Junior?

Who the fuck was he anymore?

Tony groaned and sat in place, sitting heavily on the grass. Steve called out his name as he sunk to his knees next to him. Tony swallowed heavily, weakly waving away Steve's concern.

"Just having my whole world view shifted is all" he muttered, letting his head fall forward as he breathed in and out through his nose. "These self-revelations sure hit and fast don't they?"

Steve chuckled darkly, "Yeah, that seems par for the course."

His hand was a comfort on Tony shoulder and he leaned into it. They were halfway down the path to the one of the sheltered lagoons. It was a cool walk, not too strenuous and it gave them a secluded place to talk about the mission away from any curious ears.

The path was still lush with grass on both sides and Tony let himself fall back against the cushion of green. With a soft sigh, Steve laid next to him and they both looked up into canopy of leaves above them. The sun shone through in dancing spots of light that seemed in time to the steady beat of ocean waves.

Steve's arm was pressed against his, a solid reassurance that Tony wasn't alone and he let his eyes drift shut for a while, letting his body relax, bit by bit.

Chapter Text

The rest of the short walk down to the lagoon was made in relative silence, both men lost in their own thoughts. The cove was a small one with low hanging trees providing both shade and a place to hang their clothes. Stripping down to their underwear, they waded into the calm water until they were up to their shoulders.

After a few minutes of ducking their heads under the warm crystal clear waters and taking in the natural beauty around them, they got down to talking shop. Steve talked about his recon findings while Tony gave his impressions of the staff he'd met so far. He let Steve know about the weird feeling he'd gotten from Dr. Hasegawa.

Tony was satisfied with their progress so far, it had only been a day since they landed. After all talk about the investigation was complete, they took some time to swim (in Steve's case) and float (Tony's case) on the calm sea.

Not wanting to walk back to the hotel in wet skivvies, Tony stripped before shrugging into his tunic and pants, squeezing the excess water from his briefs before stuffing them in his pocket. Steve blinked then promptly did the same.

They had some free time before the evening's activities so after stopping at the dining hall for a snack, Tony decided to take another nap while Steve did some more looking around under the guise of heading to the small gym and workout centre. They'd both decided that the middle aged man who ran it bore further looking into.

Thoughts were still circling Tony's head by the time Steve showered and left, taking his own shower to wash the salt from his skin. The breeze was warm and sweet as he crawled into bed, melting unto the sheets with a deep sigh.

He was exhausted, both mentally and physically. He understood why people had such good things to say about the place. Too bad it was likely involved in criminal activity. Maybe it was selfish of him but he hoped they didn't have to break the case until the end of their trip. He shifted and made himself comfortable with a moan, his eyes heavy as the ocean waves breaking sang him to sleep.

He awoke to a setting and the sounds of Steve shuffling around in the half darkness. Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, he tried to push himself up and let out a sharp gasp.

"fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck." he hissed, curling around his hand and falling unto his side. Pain radiated from the central point of his hip up and down his body, his limbs twitching hard as he rode out the wave of intense pain.

He barely registered Steve's alarmed voice near his side of the bed, trying to control his breathing as he forced his arms to fold across his chest. He felt the bed dip, felt Steve's body heat as he grew near enough to touch but not quite.

Tony was grateful that the other man kept from reaching that final distance. Skin of skin contact would have been pure torture for Tony at that very moment. Steve's voice was calm and a much needed balm as Tony rode out the pain, telling old stories that Tony half listened to. Just talking and talking as Tony trembled on the bed.

By the time the pain eased enough for Tony to relax out of the fetal position he'd curled himself into, it was full on dark. He could see the intensity and concern in Steve's eyes in the dim light through the bathroom door, his figure a shadow on the bed.

Tony took a few hitching breaths, letting his eyes fall closed for just a moment so that he wouldn't just give in to his desire and weep. He ran a weary hand down his face, wiping away the sweat that had beaded upon his forehead and cheeks.

"Help me sit up please" he glanced at the soldier. "I need to take a bath."

He could make out the other man nodding in the darkness of the room, steady hands reaching out slowly to help him sit up then stand. Tony suppressed a groan, whimpering softly as the pins and needles started up his leg. That was always awful.

He hobbled to the bathroom, Steve bracing his right side and sat on the toilet while the other man filled the tub. They were both dressed in boxers and Tony took a minute to let himself get distracted by Steve's fit body.

As the tub filled, steam rising from the tub, Steve leaned against the counter and crossed his arms across his broad chest. His eyes were dark and intense as they roved all over Tony's form, from his twitching, clawed hand to the muscled jumping in his leg.

"Ok. Hot water for the pain. Do you need to take your meds?" his voice was soft and empty of judgment. "Should I call anyone? The physical therapist? Dr. Hasegawa?"

"It's too early for the meds still, plus I need to eat first. I'll have a joint in a minute. " Tony shook his head wearily, "I've done this before, I know how this goes. It must have been all the exertion from this morning and the swim this afternoon."

He waved off Steve's concerned frown. "I've been feeling so good that I forgot to keep track of what my body was saying. Pushing myself too far."

He rolled his left shoulder slowly, grimacing. Steve helped him into the tub, boxers and all, making a wry face when Tony let out an almost indecent moan. Tony sank into the water, his face falling slack as the water came up to his chin. He flexed his limbs, feeling them slowly loosen and he let his head loll to one side.

Steve stepped back into the room, Tony hadn't even noticed that he'd gone; holding a small familiar pouch. Sitting on the toilet, Steve deftly opened the pouch, pulling out one of Tony's pre-rolled joints and lit up.

Taking a puff, he handed the joint to Tony who opened his mouth obligingly. Steve chuckled, placing the joint between Tony's lips before leaning back and exhaling through his nose.

"Fuck that's good." Tony mumbled around the joint, shifting under the water and making it ripple. His eyes flicked up at Steve. "Thanks"

"No problem." Steve's eyes were half lidded as he leaned back against the tank, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle. "So… Come here often?"

Tony barked a laugh, making the water ripple and the joint bob dangerously. "A little too often if you ask me. It's like that bar in Cheers where chronic pain knows your name and your fucking address then moves in like the roommate from hell who eats all your Ben and Jerry's and leaves dirty towels on the bathroom floor. Sometimes you beat the shit out of them and kick them out but they always come back. They always fucking come back."

Steve gave a little smirk. "I sometimes leave dirty towels on the bathroom floor and eat all the Ben and Jerry's."

Tony scoffed. "Liar. The navy drilled that out of you years ago. I bet you're too neurotic to leave there for more than a minute if you did drop one. Soldier boys like you can bounce a quarter off both your bed and your ass."

Tony shifted in the cooling water. "Besides, Everyone loves Ben and Jerry's. Just don't eat it all and put the empty container back in the freezer. That kinda thing brings down the kiss of death in my books."

"Duly Noted." Steve laughed, his bare stomach muscles bunching with the effort.

By the time the water cooled to room temperature, Tony was loose enough to get up under his own power. He reached over to stub the joint in the ashtray Steve had placed near the sink, pulling off his sodden boxers and running a towel over his body. He shrugged into a thick terry cloth hotel robe, lavender pastel like all other clothes seemed to be at the resort.

Steve had left him to his devices, heading out into the main room to order some room service, mainly juice and snacks. Episodes like this always left Tony needing sustenance. He shuffled across the room and eased himself unto the bed where a tray with fresh squeezed orange juice and some flaky pastries filled with spinach and cheese sat.

"You think you'll be up for the fire ceremony tonight?" Steve asked as he pulled on his tunic. "I'm sure I can explain your absence to Concepcion."

"Nah. I'm good for it. " Tony shook his head, eating the small pastry in two bites. "It's a good opportunity to learn narrow down our suspect range. Without me there to be the diversion, you wouldn't be able to your sneaky SEAL stuff."

Steve quirked an eyebrow. "My sneaky SEAL stuff? Nice alliteration."

Tony grinned cheekily and took a gulp of juice. "Sankyu."

Chapter Text

They finished off the pastries and juice, putting the tray just outside the door to their room. Then, moaning softly, Tony laid back on the bed and did some of the exercises Gerald had taught him to do to limber up his limbs. Steve puttered around the room, his eyes curious as he watched Tony go through the motions.

Steve put in a call for one of the snazzy golf carts and took a turn in the bathroom while Tony dressed. Cassie, the perky young woman in charge of the fleet came by to pick them up, keeping up a lively conversation all the way to the beach front area where the Fire Ceremony had been set up.

They were the last to arrive, greeting the others before settling unto low padded seats. Tony let out a low moan as he arranged himself, Concepcion appearing at his elbow as if by magic. They chatted for a bit about how he was feeling and she promised to have a heating pad and blanket brought out to him. The sea air was warm and sweet but it could get chilly as the night went on.

The smell of dinner wafted down from the lanai where a luau style buffet had been set up for after the ceremony. Tony smirked as Steve's stomach growled low next to him, grateful that he'd scarfed down the pastries and juice earlier. He tucked himself under the man's arm, sighing in contentment when Steve lifted it over his head and laid it across Tony's shoulders without a second thought.

Mrs. Qwan had left her pearls behind tonight, her long black hair tumbling around her shoulders in a surprising lack of her usual propriety. She twirled an ebon curl absently, her eyes staring unseeingly into the burgeoning fire that the guru was stoking as the centre of the small area. She looked unmoored, as if she'd been set adrift in her own mind.

Mr. Qwan was slumped against the corner of the loveseat they shared, his eyes dark and unfathomable as he sated as his wife's profile in the flickering light. His usual glass of alcohol was missing, his hand clenching to a fist and relaxing repeatedly. His tunic was half opened and rumpled and his pants creased, his jaw was clenching in time with his fist.

Danna was also unusually subdued. Her blue curls damp and pulled into a pony tail that clung to her neck and shoulders. Her face was free of makeup and she looked like she'd been crying. She was tucked into a ball on one side of the love seat while Felicia sat stiffly at the other. The dirty blonde's face was a marble mask, her eyes large and luminous in the light of the fire. Her hair hanging in a limp curtain over half her face as she wrung her pale hands together in her lap.

Tony exchanged a glance with Steve, satisfied that the other man had noticed as well. When the fire was stoked enough to satisfy the guru, he welcomed them in his usual cheerful and serene manner, leading them through the beginning of the ceremony.

"Tonight we take the next step on our journey to Aloha. The release of unwanted energies and attachments."

He gestured to Concepcion who handed out small stack of paper and pencils to each the guests. Tony rubbed his fingertips over the paper, huffing a breath and pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders.

The guru continued. "For any successful journey onward and upward, we must indeed learn to let go of the baggage that may be weighing us down. In this ceremony, we are going to call all in divine support, the Volcano Goddess Tūtū Pele. Mother of Fire and the Sacred Land, the Earth Eating Woman as well as spirit helpers, your guardians and ancestors."

He gestured to the small braziers being placed in front of each of the couples, lit with their own small flames.

"On the pieces of paper in front of you, ask the spirit of the fire to help you release what you want to let go of and ask the spirits of the earth to receive what you are releasing. Place each item in the fire while you name what you are releasing. You can say it out loud or in your head as you prefer."

He placed his own paper into the main bonfire, the paper consumed almost immediately by the flames.

"Blow into the fire, with the intention that the unwanted energy you are releasing is going out with your breath. If anything else comes while you are doing this, name it and release it immediately. Ask yourself: What do I need to release… what doesn't serve me anymore."

He threw a handful of dried flowers unto the flame and they watched as the fire crackled and sparked a brief purple colour, the wood feeding it burning bright orange as it collapsed upon itself.

"Finally, thank the fire and put it out. Give gratitude to the divine and the spirits of the elements: earth, wind, fire, and air."

Tony looked down at the innocuous items in his hands as the guru launched into Hawaiian fables of old, his calm and soothing voice a balm amidst the beat of the ocean waves and snap crackle pop of the fire. Steve's shoulder was stiff beside him, lost in his own thoughts as he turned the slips of paper over and over in his hands.

Tony held the pencil against the blank page, not sure where to start. He knew that he had a lot of baggage, stuff he'd picked up over the years that had stayed with him. Issues and neuroses that clung to his mind and soul like burrs that he couldn't shake off.

He'd tried sex. He'd tried work. He'd tried trips with his frat buddies. He'd read self-help books, gone to work mandated therapists. He'd even tried hot yoga. None of it had helped. He'd hadn't stuck to any of them long enough for them to help.

He felt that it was better to just rip the bandage off and wrote 'My Father's respect'. Then underneath it 'My Father's love'.

"Wow DiNozzo" he muttered to himself, "Start small, why don't you."

No matter how far he'd come, how old he'd grown; there was still the broken little boy inside him how looked up with bright and soulful eyes for a father who would look at him and see more than a disappointment or a meal ticket.

For the words 'I'm proud of you son'. Five little words that would fit exactly into the lifelong hole in Tony's brittle heart coming from the one person who really mattered the most.

On another slip he wrote 'My Mother's attention'. For his beautiful, untouchable, distant, cold as marble Mama to look up from the depths of her wine glass and see him. See her son who who'd practiced piano until his fingers bled because it was her passion. See him as something other than the career she gave up as a concert pianist to marry Senior.

His hand shook as he wrote but he pushed through. 'The dream of a normal family'

He clenched his hand around the pencil, the sharp tip of the lead point chipping off on the paper; blinked his stinging eyes and placed the paper on the flame, watching it blacken and curl upon itself before burning down to nothing. His words, a mere whisper, were swept up by the breeze as they left his lips.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Steve placed his own slip of paper into the flame, his face solemn and beautiful as the light of the flame flickered across it.

He huffed and shook his head. What was a normal family life anyway? Some kind of Norman Rockwell fantasy? What was he waiting for? What did he really expect? For Senior to appear one day with a smile and catcher's mitt. �
For Wife #7 to put on an apron and make lemonade on the patio after a long sunny afternoon. A loving mom and dad, well-adjusted kid. Family pet. White picket fence. Playing catch in the yard. Pool side barbeques with the Jones' from next door.

'Lack of professional appreciation' was next. 'Job respect'

Respect for Anthony Dinozzo Jr. Very Special Agent. Police detective. Police recruit. Military school graduate. He'd been in training since the age of twelve. Caught between people dismissing him as either a trust fund baby or some poor white trash trying to get by on his looks and smart mouth.

He'd been both noted and dismissed for his looks, his sharp wit and quick tongue both coveted and resented. His ideas summarily utilized and laughed at. His skills on the field and off both commended and then promptly forgotten. A pendulum always swinging one way or the other. Never anywhere or anything in between.

He could never be both competent and irreverent.

Could never be intelligent and good looking.

Could never be confident and serious.

He couldn't use his looks without diminishing them. Couldn't use his brain without self-deprecating. Couldn't lead his team without humbling himself in front of them. He couldn't use his looks or charm as a tool without being a whore.

It was as if he couldn't be several things at once. That he had to fit himself into some kind of niche. Had to cut off pieces of himself to fit the role people chose for him. He had to stay in his corner, his niche because Tim was the skilled one, Ziva was the deadly one, Abby was the smart one, Ducky was the emotional caregiver and Gibbs… Gibbs was the leader, the father, the man of the house.

Tony… Tony was the comic relief. The bratty younger brother or the lothario older brother. He was the clown. The slut. The whiny baby. The man child. Everyone had a role it seemed and he'd let himself be locked in a prison of his own making.

He looked down at the paper, filled with words he didn't remember writing. Family betrayal. Feeling unworthy. Feeling ignored. Feeling like if he didn't deserve love. Feeling incompetent and abnormal. Self-disgust. Self-loathing.

Unwanted.

Unloved.

Alone.

Was there anyone out there who could love him? Just him? Unchanged. Unedited. Nothing hidden. Nothing disguised or changed or smoothed over or swept under the rug. Just him.

 

He'd wanted that for so long. Clung to that dream in the deepest shadows of his heart. Someone to love and who would love him in return. To see him for who he was and accept him just the same. Wearing all the different masks was exhausting. He was so tired. He didn't know what else to do.

Who was he supposed to be now.

Who was there to love him and hold him. He'd tried for so hard and so long to be worthy of that.

He'd trusted.

He'd loved

He'd cared

He'd forgiven

He'd bowed and bent and broke, shattered and scattered and pulled his uneven pieces back together more than once on his ragged patchwork heart.

Surely he'd done what he was supposed to. What he'd been told to.
Isn't that what good people did? They tried and tried and tried.

Tears rolled quick and heavy down his cheeks and he let them, letting his head bow to his chest as his shoulders shook, his sobbing breaths swept away by the ocean breeze.

What was he in the end but a broken boy no one seemed to want. What was Tonio, Anthony, Tony, Tones, Dinozzo but porcelain faces, their make-up perfectly clean and cracked all the way through. What was he but a marionette with broken strings knotted together with clumsy little fingers, tied and retied through the years.

He lay his head in his hands, tugging at his hair as he cried; paper and pencil forgotten in his lap. He stared at them laying there, hastily scribbled notes scratched upon the parchment. In a fit of pique he grabbed them all and crumpled them up, tossing the lot unto the fire. The flames wavered and flared, dancing from the tears in his eyes.

He used his sleeve to wipe at his cheeks, his chin; his chest hitching with soft sobs as he watched the paper burn.

His parents. His team. Gibbs. What were they but sandy, desolate earth. Too barren to grow, too weak to build on. He'd clung them to him so fiercely, tucked them right up against his scarred heart. He'd bled for them, cried for them, almost died for them.

He'd loved them beyond all reasoning. All safety. He'd cracked his ribs open. He'd bared his back. He'd reached out his arms. He'd let them fill the empty spaces within him.

He'd had such faith.

He'd trusted.

What was so wrong with him that nobody wanted to keep him?

Why wasn't he ever fucking good enough?

What more did they want? What mask could he wear?

Who did he need to be?

He just didn't know. There was nobody left to tell him who to be.

He didn't even know who he was. Who he wanted to be.

He was just a caricature.

A pasquinade. His life was a satire. A comedy of errors.

His life was a fucking crime drama.

He buried his face in his hands, letting the sobs rip through him like gunshots as he muffled their sound against a corner of the blanket.

By the time he looked up again, the fire was out. All of them were and everyone was gone. Steve sat next to him in the dim light of the moon, silent and steady as the nearby ocean waves and for a moment Tony was so eternally fucking grateful and so utterly exhausted.

His eyes were dry and aching and his felt like it had been squeezed in a vice. His throat hurt, so did his head. The blanket was tucked around his shoulders and he clenched his fists in the thick colourful material, blinking in the darkness at the tumbling waves glittering dimly in the black of night.

He took a wavering breath, then another. And another until all that was left in his was an emptiness that felt like he'd been hollowed out completely. He looked up at the sky, dark and heavy as if it were trying to smother the pale moon.

"Thank you" he said to the spent fire, the last glowing embers fading to ash. Then he turned his head to look at Steve and blinked slowly. "Thank you."

For being there. For staying. The words went unspoken, clogged in his throat as he tried to swallow against them.

"For just sitting with me"

… so that I wouldn't be alone. For having my six when I was down. For doing something that no one else Tony loved ever seemed able to do.

Steve's gaze is burning dark and intense in the dim light. His skin bleached grey, his jaw set. "That's what partners do."

Tony shuddered, tears flooding to his eyes at the other man's words. He slapped his hand over his mouth and turned his face away, shocked at his own visceral reaction.

Was it that simple? It couldn't be that simple could it?

Is that what other people did? Ordinary people? No judgment? No condemnation? No wanting a favour in return? No gathering information to use against you later?

Just simple acts of kindness.

A warm hand came to rest at the centre of his back, rubbing slow circles as he shook, bringing up the blanket to muffles the keening sounds he was making. He just couldn't keep anything together. His thoughts, his feelings. It was as if everything in him had been shaken free and he couldn't catch hold of it to stuff it back inside his hollow chest.

"I can't… " he tried, shaking his head. "I can't…"

Slowly, he was pulled against a broad chest, his head tucked into Steve's neck, arms holding him close and it was like a dam broke. Great gulping sobs ripped themselves from his body, his hands clasped tightly over his mouth as he curled into himself.

Mortification seared across his mind as he shook helplessly, only to be whited out by a deep seated grief that he'd been stowing away for most of his life. It reared its head, savage and grotesque; choking his heart and lungs, turning his stomach.

It was a ravenous beast, this grief born in his childhood and starved throughout the years. Locked away and hidden, ignored and hated. A monster birthed in the heart of a little boy, a cold stone of neglect and shame and anger and sorrow, wrapped tightly; layer and after layer that calcified in the cold darkness.

It ravaged across his heart, tearing and rending with stained glass shards for claws, whisky flavoured cut crystal for teeth. Slashing and burning and setting everything in him ablaze. He shuddered, his breath hitching and halting as he shook completely apart.

He could hear Steve's voice telling him to breathe, arms tightening around him in alarm. Black flowers blossomed behind his eyelids as his lungs rebelled, glass shards clogging his throat, cut crystal ripping into his heart.

Steve was begging now, his voice growing distant as Tony struggled to pull in air. Suddenly the black blossoms exploded across his eyes and the beast pulled him under.

Chapter Text

Awareness came in stages, like peeling away layers of cotton until he was blinking stupidly at the tastefully paneled ceiling of the Dr. Hasegawa's small clinic. He twitched sluggishly, his limbs felt like lead on the no doubt high thread count sheets and his head lolled to one side, taking in the pale blue sky of the Hawaiian dawn thought the half opened blinds.

He wasn't in any pain, taking a deep breath. No twinging in his ribs or throbbing in his legs or arms. O vice like constriction of his lugs. The good drugs then. He sent up a small huff of gratitude and squirmed deeper into the comfortable bedding. His head was a bit achy, a bit stuffed full of fluff, his eyes dry and irritated from all the crying he'd done last night.

He pursed his lips slightly, waiting for the familiar flush of shame he usually felt whenever he showed that kind of weakness in public but oddly, it never came. All he felt was a kind of detached peace, like his head was a balloon and only attached to his body by a scant piece of ribbon.

He twitched his fingers, the heart sensor on his forefinger clacking softly as he tried to raise his hands. They felt like bread… or was it lead; he didn't remember. He guessed it could be bread, he felt flakey on the top, heavy at the bottom and spongey in the middle. Maybe a bit grainy as well.

Snort. Definitely the good drugs. Awareness fell away.

The second time he woke, there were less layers of cotton and more like swimming to the sun speckled surface from a deep blue ocean. The sun was high in the sky and the blinds had been closed enough so that only the thinnest of beams fell across the bed, the dust motes dancing in the slivers of light.

He twitched each of his limbs, taking deep, calm breaths as they responded readily and still without pain. His head no longer felt like a bowling bowl and he stretched his neck from side to side with a soft moan. He felt more solid, less like a piece of soggy bread. He chuckled softly at his recent weird bread based thoughts and decided that he must be hungry or something.

That hollowed out feeling was still there but it didn't feel like all-encompassing loss anymore, but felt as if he was waiting, for what he didn't know. He'd seen a documentary once about how brush fires were once used to clear out the undergrowth from clogging up the forest; giving the trees room to breathe and grow. And that modern fire prevention had allowed the brush to grow so thick that when the fire came again, it burned bright and hot and so out of control that the it devoured the forest altogether.

He'd been taking his pain and his emotions and tucking them away, packing them so tightly that when the fire came, it took everything with it. He knew, of course that he wasn't miraculously healed. He knew that he had a hard road of recovery ahead. The difference was that he could actually see himself walking that road now. He was ready to take that first step.

He wondered what his therapist would think about that. If he would be surprised when Tony came in truly ready to talk and not just skillfully deflect. Frankly Tony was fucking tired of being his own keep-back. Tired of getting in his own way. It was time for something else.

He thought back to the fire ceremony. It was hard to believe that it had just been a few hours ago. Everything seemed far away, like half healed scars and fading bruises. The mortification he thought he would be drowning in for cracking open like an egg in front of strangers hadn't shown up yet and he kinda felt that maybe it wouldn't this time.

At least not now. Maybe it would show up later and he would go into seclusion, curled upon himself like a grouchy bear with an injured paw. It was either that or hide behind his sharp suits and gigolo smile. But, he'd left the suits in his old apartment and couldn't stomach slapping on that devil may care grin. Just the thought of doing so made his skin itch.

He felt discombobulated and a little bit jumbled up and off kilter; like the whole universe had shifted one centimetre to the right and he hadn't realigned himself as yet. It was weird and surprisingly not that bad of a feeling.

"Hm. So that's what a psychotic break feels like." he mumbled to the room at large.

"No…that's what an anxiety attack looks like for someone with diminished lung capacity." A soft voice came from his side and Tony jumped, wrenching his head towards the sound.

"Jesus Doc." Tony wheezed, trying to pull air into his lungs and relax his clenched muscles, "You trying to give me a heart condition too?"

Dr. Hasegawa gave her serene smile as she came up to the bed, ever present tablet in hand. She checked it briefly before looking at Tony. "No, but you did a good job of trying to scare a few years off all our lives."

He flushed and fidgeted under her calm yet concerned stare, picking at the blanket tucked snugly around his legs. "So what's the damage doc?" he tilted his head towards her and gave her his most earnest eyes. "Am I going to make it?"

The doctor huffed and gave him a narrow eyed look, her mouth pursed like she was biting back a chuckle. Tony grinned as she flicked him softly on his arm with her pen. She was warming up to him. Two days ago she would have never have done something so playful. He settled back unto the bed as she ran through what had happened since he was last conscious.

He'd collapsed on the beach and it had been precarious for a while. They'd had to give him oxygen, putting him on a ventilator briefly because his lungs were rebellious little bastards. His words not hers. She'd also consulted with Doctor OK and they'd come up with a cocktail of drugs that would reduce his pain without making his lungs sluggish. Things had been a bit hairy as his body had spasmed into a fetal position and they'd had a hard time getting him to straighten out so that his chest wasn't compressed or his muscles tear.

Tony was pale by the time she'd finished talking, shaking slightly and flexing his fists repeatedly in the blanket. Fucking hell. It was all he could do to thank her softly as she checked the equipment one more time before giving him a gentle pat on the arm and leaving, closing the door softly behind her.

He slumped against the pillows, letting out a loud whoosh of breath. Holy hell. No wonder his body felt like an old dishrag someone had wrung out to dry. It was miracle that he was feeling as put together and whole as he was. Thank god for his doctors for putting his humpty dumpty ass back together again.

His next visitor was Steve, coming in just as Concepcion was helping Tony to sit up on the bed and swing his feet off the side. His eyes were dark with concern as he slowly placed a hand at the back of Tony's neck and gently brought their foreheads together. They both took a deep breaths, Tony holding Steve's other hand in both of his. They stayed this way, breathing in each other's breaths until Concepcion bustled out of the room.

"Fuck…" Steve's voice was thready, "… you scared the shit out of me back there."

Tony swallowed heavily and reached up to grasp Steve's wrist. "Yeah, sorry about that. It took me a bit by surprise too." He gave a mirthless chuckle. "Who knew a simple fire ceremony would crack me open like a fucking egg? I must be more screwy in the head than I thought."

"Hey…" Steve pulled away to look him in the eyes. "Don't do that. Don't make a joke your pain. You are valid and so is your hurt. Don't diminish yourself for any bodies' sake. We all have baggage. All of us. It's not a competition on whose life is more fucked up."

Tony blinked stupidly at the other man, who flushed crimson and shrugged sheepishly. "I've been really listening to the guru during our sessions. It's pretty good stuff. It's been helping."

"I'm glad." Tony gave a weak but sincere smile. "Seems we both needed to come here huh?"

Steve nodded sagely, "Yeah, I'm finding that out more and more." He ran a hand through his hair. It was wild and stuck up as if he'd been running his hand through it over and over during the night. "I don't know what it is about this place that makes you realize things you just couldn't see before. And that guru is a fucking trip and a half. I've never had someone look right into me like that."

"I know right." Toy chuckled, gently rotating one shoulder then the other. "It's equal parts alarming as astounding. He would say something world shattering one minute the spend the next few minutes complaining about the seagulls shitting his in zen garden."

Steve laughed and nodded in agreement then helped Tony get dressed, stayed by his side as Concepcion went through the discharge procedure and let Tony take his elbow as they made their way towards their bungalow in one of the pimped out golf carts.

Without exchanging a word, Tony undressed and shuffled to the bathroom while Steve drew a hot bath and lit up a joint just as Tony slid into the sinfully hot water. He let out a loud sigh, his tired muscles slowly loosening, and slumped against the side of the tub. Steve handed him the joint and propped a folded towel under Tony's head for a head rest.

Steve folded down the toilet seat and sat, taking the blunt Tony passed back to him and took a long drag. It had been that kind of day. He passed the joint back and leaned back against the tank, stretching out his long legs and crossing them at the ankle. His arms were crossed over his chest and his eyes had a faraway look in them.

Tony silently watched him from his watery sanctuary, taking his time with the marijuana until he was floating pleasantly. Steve was a gorgeous man, no doubt about that. With his long lean body, hard earned muscles and face like a sculpture. That kind of barely restrained savagery that Navy SEALS all had. That violence tempered with control that trained soldiers possessed. That trained killers had. But there was a kindness there, a steady calm. A soft sweetness I the man that buffed away the hard and jagged edges. In the short time Tony had known the man Steve never ceased to surprise him.

He'd taken to undercover work so well, intuitive and calm under pressure. He'd handled the false intimacy with grace and aplomb, slipping seamlessly between adoring fiancé and level headed detective with ease. Tony breathed out through his nose and watched the smoke dance over the water which rippled as he moved. Even back on the main land, Steve had gotten over his prejudice of Tony's NCIS background with ease once he'd gotten to know Tony better, even showing up at his house with an olive branch of pizza and beer. I mean, who doesn't love pizza and beer.

All the while he'd never looked at Tony with pity of treated him as less of a person or professional. He'd trusted in Tony's skill and their rapport and dynamic had been almost effortless. It should have been disconcerting but it really wasn't. Instead, Tony felt uncommonly unworried about the situation. Shit, this man had seen him at his worst and hadn't scorned him or run away yet.

That was something that didn't happen very often at all.

He passed the blunt over once again, letting himself sink into the water until it covered his mouth. He thought back to what Steve had told him back at the clinic. That he was valid and so was his pain. He tumbled the words over and over in his head, slowly as if he were examining a precious gem.

He was valid. His pain was valid.

He knew what the words meant but he couldn’t wrap his mind all the way around them. He'd always deferred, demurred, depreciated. Passed it off as a joke or minimized the hurt. He'd always hidden his soft underbelly, curled his shiny colourful armour around his weak spots. That had worked for him well enough, a little too well in some cases.

People saw the coloured armour, the fluffed feathers, the snake charmer's smile. And they believed it. He'd worked too damn hard all his life making them believe it. How could he just set that aside. How could he leave himself bared for all the world to see.

He'd read somewhere that just because you'd invested so much into what turned out to be a mistake, didn't mean that you should go on doing it. He'd worked so hard to build this life for himself, how could he just let it all go. His blood, sweat and tears had gone into this. So much time, so much effort.

But then again, what was the use of building a life whose dividends were repaid in unhappiness. Granted he could not just leave everything behind and become a hermit on some desert island or lonely mountain but there was no reason why he couldn't leave some parts behind.

He waited for the usual freak out at his even suggesting something like that to his scarred, scared and shy heart but it never came. Huh, it seemed like it was a day for waiting. They finish the joint between them in a comfortable silence then get dressed for dinner.

Tony was both loose and limber from the hot water and joint; and calm from the comfortable silence. By doctor's orders, he wouldn't have to take his regular medication again until he was ready for bed so he tucked the pouch back into his bag, puttering around the room as Steve grabbed the keys for the golf cart.

The sun was setting over the ocean by the time they set out and Tony let the beauty of it wash over him as the cart swayed on their way up the path to the main house. He looked at Steve and after a brief hesitation, wrapped his arm around the other man's, giving him ample time to pull away if he wanted. Steve glanced at him the turned back to the path and Tony gave a soft sigh.

"I wanted to apologize. No no.. wait here me out." he waved away Steve's protest. "I'm sorry for jeopardizing the mission. I almost blew our cover when I collapsed and it must have been difficult for you."

He fell silent, waiting to see if the other man would reply. Finally Steve did.

"For a while there, I thought about calling in an abort. I mean, for all I knew you could have died. You… you stopped breathing and in between calling for help and help arriving i… I had to breath for you."

Steve pulled the cart to the side of the road and parked, running a hand down his face. Tony pressed his mouth to Steve's shoulder, feeling the slight tremble. He threaded his fingers through Steve's and squeezed gently, murmured apologies into the cloth of his tunic.

Steve gave a shudder then straightened up again, taking a deep and steadying breath. "I had a choice of whether to let the doc treat you here and maintain cover or press the panic button and get you evac'd to the main land ASAP. Luckily the Doctor was able to get up breathing again and out of danger up at the clinic. But in the end, what really matters is that however important this mission may be, it would never be worth more than your life."

Tony's hand tightened on Steve's arm and he felt ice cold in the warm Hawaiian breeze. He squeezed his eyes shut, biting back a pained sound as Steve turned and hugged him against his chest without hesitation, waiting in silent like some kind of saint as Tony rode out his sudden wave of emotion.

"Hey, you ok?" Steve's voice was warm and whisper soft against his ear and when Tony finally pulled away, he loosened his arms with a look of concern.

Tony on the other hand, felt nothing of the calm he outwardly projected, his mind and heart a riot at those few innocent words. Unable to articulate any of what he was going through, he swallowed it back, bitter and roiling, and waved Steve to drive ahead; shaking his head and giving what had to be a poor facsimile of a reassuring smile.

They pulled up at the main building, Tony having pulled himself to together and all too grateful for Steve not prying or asking any questions. The last light of the setting sun was clinging to the sky, leaving them in that heavy twilight time that almost always seemed to Tony as if a veil had been hung on the world, with a rare few times when he felt as if the veil had been lifted away instead, revealing the world's true visage.

He stumbled to a stop, clutching at Steve's tunic sleeve. "Can we hold on out here for a bit before going inside. I just need a minute."

Steve nods and guided them to a small copse of trees, laden with flowers. The blossoms, a riot of colour during the day, now seemed almost dipped in silver in the heady twilight air. Tony took a deep breath, his nose filling with the overly sweet air, a cloying, sticky fragrance with a hint of rot. Their feet sunk slightly into the layers upon layers of dead and dying flowers that had fallen there. So much life and beauty above. So much death and beauty below.

Toy took another breath and looked at Steve, opening his mouth to try to articulate at least some of what he was feeling when a voice made them both freeze. It was shrill and high-pitched, filled with anger. Both me stared at each other before ghosting deeper into the trees, growing closer to the voices with each silent step. Luckily the light of the pathways did not reach as far as their hiding place as the voice grew closer.

Then, a second voice joined in, at first a murmur but becoming more clear as the source of the voices grew closer. Both voices were women, they could now tell, one agitated and upset, the other trying to keep calm but getting angrier by the second. Tony and Steve crouched, looking down the path as their quarry stepped nearer.

Suddenly, Mrs. Qwan appeared on the path, her hair tumbling around her shoulders in a cascade of jet black; her famous pearls gone. Her eyes were red, most likely from crying and her hands were a blur of sharp jerky motions. She kept looking back at the person behind her, talking in a language that had Tony straining to identify.

Appearing behind her on the path was Dr. Hasegawa, frowning deeply and gripping her ever present tablet in a white knuckled death grip, the only indication of her anger. They kept along the path, stopping every few steps for Mrs. Qwan to start another outpouring of words. As they reached I front of Tony ad Steve's hiding place, Mrs. Qwan let out an unholy sound. From the sudden fury on the petite Doctor's face, Tony could tell it wasn't something good.

The sharp slap echoed in the night air as the lights along the path went into the first stages of night mode. Mrs. Qwan's head canted to one side, her mouth and eyes wide open and silent as she touched a trembling had to her cheek. Hasegawa's hand was still raised, frozen as well as she glared coldly at the other woman.

The path lights clacked again, getting brighter as both women straightened up. Tony could see the doctor taking deep breaths as she pulled back her rage under the covers of her usual serene demeanor. Then, with a small shake ad a few sharp tugs at her clothes, she turned her face up the path and hissed a few words that Tony strained to here. Mrs. Qwan stiffened before feebly trying to straighten out her own appearance.

Apparently Hasegawa's words hit home because soon enough Mrs. Qwan was as close to the ice queen she was when they'd first met back at the airport. Then, without another word being exchanged, both women continued up the path to the main house.

They let a full minute pass before pulling further into the shadows of the trees. Tony blinked at Steve' shadowed face, only able to see the outline of him as he eyes adjusted to the dark.

"I was only able to catch a few words. It sounded like Korean but I can't be sure."

Steve's silhouette nodded. "Yeah, not standard though, sounds more like Busan Dialect to me but I won't be able to confirm that until I can hear her speak again."

Tony gaped for a moment then huffed a breath. "How are you even real?"

Steve chuckled. "I spent some time in Seoul and got a working knowledge of the language. There was a man from Busan there and he would talk to me all the time. I ended up learning the best from him and it pissed off my hosts when I injected the words he taught me into conversation."

"Let me guess… he taught to cuss like a sailor." Tony smirked in the darkness. He could see Steve cross his arms and lean his head to the side.

"I'm a Navy man, I already knew how to cuss like a sailor. I just didn't know how to do it in a different language. "

Tony huffed a laugh. "Okay, I'll bite. How many languages do you know now?"

The other man shrugged. "Three that I can blend in with the local population with, Seven more that I can and hold my own pretty much or at least ask where the bathroom is and Nine more that are only good for cussin'."

"Holy shee-it, son" Tony snorted, "That's fucking sweet. And I like how you ended it with an 'Aw shucks Ma'am I wuz juss cussin' old country boy southern twang there, as if you didn't grow up in Oahu."

Steve chortled. "Hey, you never know. I went to boarding school on the mainland."

Tony scoffed, "Yeah in California. You are not the only one who caught up on their reading, Sailor."

They shared a soft laugh before getting back to the matter at hand, slowly making their way to the path ad up to the dining hall. They didn't want bring too much notice to themselves by being too late.

"I was able to make out about one word in five but I caught a few things that may give us a leave. She mentioned a boat and some kind of cargo. She kept saying that timing was everything and that it too dangerous to keep the cargo here on the island. Hasegawa kept trying to tell her that it would be ok if it were only for one night."

Tony shoved his hands into his pockets to stop Steve from seeing his fists clenching. He had a bad feeling in his gut. It was one of the few things Gibbs had taught him that Tony didn't mind trusting in. that and always carry a knife. Rule umber nine had gotten his fat of the fryer too many times to count.

"You think it might be tonight?" he asked the other man. Steve frowned and slowly shook his head.

"If not tonight then very soon."

Bright light ahead made them realize that they'd made it to the steps leading up to the main hotel. They exchanged loaded glances, knowing that they would have to start paying more attention to both women during dinner, maybe even do some night time recognizance.

Giving a deep sigh, Tony squared his shoulders; looking up at the warm light through the French windows. He startled a little when a warm hand slipped into his and gave gentle squeeze. Tony stared down at their clasped hands for a minute and felt a rush of gratitude and relief fill him.

He didn’t have to do this alone. There was someone here to watch his six just as he would watch theirs.

He smiled at Steve, a wide genuine smile that had the other man flushing.

He gave the hand in his one last squeeze and turned towards the door.

"Let's go catch us a bad guy."

Steve's soft "Hooyah" carried in the wind.

Chapter Text

Dinner was interesting to say the least. Danna had fussed over Tony upon seeing him, coming over to hug him and guide him to the seat next to hers as she chattered away on how they had all been concerned. But even as she regaled him with details on the joint session with the Guru he and Steve had missed, Tony could tell that something wasn't quite right.

Her eyes, usually clear and shining bright, were dimmer than usual. There were new frown lines on her face, faint but still noticeable. Her movements, once charming and energetic now seemed jerky and slightly uncoordinated. Like she was forcing herself to be the cheerful, perky girl they'd met that first day.

Felicia on the other hand, had done somewhat of a 180 degree turn, personality wise. Gone was the ever present coffee cup and too cool for school demeanor. Replacing them was an ever topped up glass of whiskey, her limp hair pulled up into a sloppy bun on top her head.

Her eyes were glassy and slightly unfocused and her joker's grin startling and unsettling. She laughed harshly at inappropriate times and flung her hands carelessly as she spoke, sometimes clipping an unhappy Danna on the shoulder or arm, which she would then try to apologize for with a clumsy kiss to the cheek.

Tony exchanged glances with an equally alarmed Steve before turning his attention to the other guests at the table. Mr. Qwan had seemingly been bitten by the same bug as Felicia because he was also laughing raucously and drinking like a fish; to the point that even the wait staff were getting uncomfortable and Concepcion was hovering just beyond the doorway.

Mrs. Qwan seemed oblivious, pale and stiff as she methodically cut her food into uniform pieces and ate them automatically, with long periods in between where she stared through the tall windows towards the dark ad roiling ocean. Her hair had been finger combed and pulled back into a pony tail. Her face free of makeup and slightly damp as if she'd quickly splashed water on it.

The meal was awkward, to say the least, with Tony and Steve's pretend relationship seeming to be the most stable one at the table. Conversation was stilted and awkward with Danna giving it the old college try but falling a bit too short to save the situation.

The evening came to an abrupt end when the blonde drained her glass and smacked it unto the table upside down, declaring loudly that she was going skinny dipping in the ocean and whoever wanted to join her could; then stomped her way out the door. Danna stared after her for a few shocked seconds before scrambling out after her, calling her name.

Mr. Qwan nodded resolutely to himself and stood up only to be abruptly dragged back into his seat by the back of his shirt by a scowling Mrs. Qwan. She gave him such a look of disgust that he recognized even through his obvious alcohol induced haze, and reared back from.

Spitting a rude word at him under her breath, she pushed her plate away with a clatter of silverware and left; with him trailing after her shortly thereafter, stumbling drunkenly with his proverbial tail between his legs.

When they were finally alone at the table, Steve let out an explosive breath and muttered.

"Ok. What the actual fuck was that?"

Tony leaned against his side, shaking his head in bewilderment. "Guess not everyone is cut out for deep introspection that the retreat puts us through. Some people just aren't ready to face certain truths, especially self-truths, both individually and the person they've chosen to spend their lives with."

He played idly with his glass,

"People deal with emotional upheaval differently and this place sure has been dealing out the heavy hits, at least for me that is. Or are we forgetting my wonderful stay in the clinic last night."

Tony didn't realize how tense he was until Steve squeezed the back of his neck with a warm hand, which slid down to rub comforting circles on his back. He leaned back against the touch ad let out a log slow breath.

Steve chuckled darkly, his arm settling around Toy's shoulders ad pulling him closer to his side, glancing around before leaning closer so that they could talk softly.

"The Qwans have been married for more than fifteen years. Danna and Felicia have been together for over three. How did we become the most stable pair in the place?"

"We're just awesome like that" Tony said glibly, holding his fist out for a bump and laughing when Steve complied. "Hashtag couple goals, baby."

They parted ways as soon as they left the main hall, Steve heading out to do some recognizance on Mrs. Qwan to see if tonight really was the night of the mysterious shipment.

Tony was going to head to the bungalow to take his medication because he was starting to feel a bit twitchy and achy. The good drugs were wearing off.

He decided to take the longer route, the one that took him near the beach, trying to catch a glimpse of Danna and Felicia. He wasn't sure if the blonde was serious in her intention to go swimming but considering she was already half drowned in alcohol, he just wanted to make sure that they were both ok.

As he gingerly made his way down the path he thought back to the parameters of the mission and unique the whole set of circumstances really was.

One of the speed bumps of the mission was that they hadn't really know who their target was. They had a nom de plume, The 'Ravaleur'; French for The Cleaner Stone. The kind you beat against your clothes at the river to get the tough stains out. It had proven to be a fitting name, evidenced by the violent and efficient brutality the international criminal was known for.

For untold years Le Ravaleur had left a bloody swath across the world, pinging on international watch lists as a handler, a cleaner, a solver of problems. Basically a real life James Moriarty, but with less finesse and a deeper appreciation for sudden and violent action.

For the past three years, every agency in the alphabet soup had been putting out feelers for any intel on the criminal underworld's newest player. The only time Inter-agency co-operation worked like a well-oiled machine.

Finally they'd caught a break during a highly classified SEAL mission in the Maldives. That break came in the shape of one Steve McGarret, who, separated from his team while during the extraction of a high profile target; had come across said target on his knees in an empty room near the back of the abandoned building they'd tracked him to.

Also in the bare room was a woman in a black burka dress and hijab, the cloth all but swallowing her thin frame and obscuring all details of her hair and face. Her sleeves though had been rolled up partially, revealing half of a crudely inked tattoo, her hands and forearms covered in blood from where she'd beaten her hostage's face in.

Watching through a missing section of dry wall , he'd been able to overhear snippets of her talking in broken French to her quarry as he lay gurgling on the floor. Before Steve could quietly radio for back up, she'd pulled a gun out of her voluminous robe and shot the man point blank in the face.

Steve had sprung into action, the ensuing gun battle ending with her getting clipped in the side from his bullet and the building almost coming down on them both. The team had reported the mission a failure but soon enough Steve's report had been flagged and he'd been called in to report before a joint task force.

Every aspect of the mission had been drawn out and analyzed, Steve having to go over every second, every word, every movement in excruciating detail. After every drop of information had been pulled out of him, he'd been reluctantly sent back to the SEALS where he'd put the case to the back of his mind, going on with his life.

Until the day a confidential informer had come forward with a hot tip on Le Ravaleur and the secretary of the Navy got in touch with the Governor of Hawaii about a certain former SEAL in her employ; because they'd needed the help of the one man who'd seen the criminal mastermind in person and had lived to tell the tale.

So here they were, Steve the only lead they had to the identity of the target and Tony his only back up and the lynch pin to their still too thin cover story.

What a pair they were. The retreat was almost over and all they had so far was the strange behaviour of Hasegawa and Qwan. If they didn't get something more, they would lose one of the best shots they had at nabbing Le Ravaleur.

He was just coming around the side of the gym when he stumbled over something and hit a convenient patch of grass with a muffled curse. Pain sparked across his bad shoulder and side as he eased himself up, glaring hotly in the direction of whatever had tripped him up; mostly feeling disgusted with himself for stumbling over his own two feet.

As his eyes adjusted to the half-light, he tensed; making out the figure of a man lying prone across the graveled path. One of his sandals had been kicked off and the sight his bare foot, dusty and scraped, left Tony feeling oddly vulnerable on the dead man's behalf.

"Be careful what you fucking wish for DiNozzo." he grumbled to himself, pushing himself up on shaky arms.

The Detective in him clicked into gear, taking in the crumpled form, the scuff marks in the gravel around the face down body. The twisted clothing, the defensive wounds on the back of the forearms, the pool of blood around the head, half soaked into the loose gravel.

The man's face had been brutally beaten in but Tony recognized the tattoo on his neck. The gym instructor. Steve had told him of his suspicions of the man, his back ground check had come up with some priors but he hadn't been able to confirm his connection to Le Raveleur.

Tony guessed that it was confirmed now as the poor sod bore the signature beating to the face most of the confirmed victims did.

A soft gasp behind him had him turning quickly to see Danna just at the edge of the lamp's light. Her face pale as she clasped her hands to her mouth, her freckles standing out in the half light.

"What… what happened? " she squeaked, stumbling a step closer. "Is that man alright?"

"Danna, don't step any closer ok? No he's not alright. He's dead." Tony raised a calming hand when she squeaked again. "It's going to be ok though. We both just need to keep calm. Can you do that? Can you keep calm for me?"

She nodded shakily, bringing her hands from her face to clasp them together against her chest. Tony nodded as well and took a deep breath.

"First thing's first, we need to head up to the main house and have them call the police. We also have to get everyone together so that we can keep them safe."

"Because there's a murderer out there" Danna gasped, turning to look back into the darkness, "Felicia is out there. I couldn't find her. Oh my god Felicia!"

Turning on her heel, she ran out into the darkness before Tony could stop her.

"Shit." He stared out into the darkness after her, rubbing a hand absently along his arm. He was in pain from the fall and his hand was starting to twitch. He needed his meds. He couldn't go running after her in the dark. He wouldn't be able to catch up to her anyway.

He looked down at the body. It took priority. He had to get back up to the main house. He needed to get to Steve. Le Ravaluer was here. It was confirmed. They were all in danger.

He looked up at the path back to the main house, gearing himself for the walk back when shifting gravel sounded behind him.

"Danna?" He half turned, only to feel a sharp pain at the base of his skull, knocking him off his feet hard unto the gravel.

His vision swum and he gave a weak moan. A blurry figure swam above him before a fist descended again. He could just glimpse the glint of brass knuckles before everything went black.

Chapter Text

He awoke in a blaze of pain, the only reason he hadn't cried out was that his breath had been stolen out of his chest. He curled in on himself biting his lip until it bled, trying to ride out the episode.

He forced himself still, blinking tears away as he tried to remember where he was. The last thing he remembered was walking from the main hall after dinner. There had been a man … on the ground. There'd been blood. The gym instructor. He was dead. Then pain in his head and the glint of something metal.

Why did this kind of shit always happen to him goddammit?

His leg throbbed heavily from where he lay against a hard craggy surface. Lava rock. The beat of the ocean waves against it thrumming in time with the pain that pulsed up and down his body. The back of his head felt wet, most likely from where he'd been hit. A litany of curses ran through his brain and he bit his cheek to keep from crying out, tasting copper.

At least they hadn't restrained him. Thank god for small mercies and over confident bad guys.

A voice nearby brought him back to the present and he opened his eyes a sliver. After a few seconds, his eyesight cleared enough to see in the dim light of the moon.

Felicia as standing a few metres away in her bra and tunic pants with her back to him, her blonde hair falling out of its sloppy bun. She had been bending over something and stood up with a weary sigh, bracing her hands on her back and stretching.

Tony stilled. Her hands were covered in blood up to her elbows and when she turned around, he saw that she was soaked in the stuff all along the front, soaking through her pants and bra, molding them to her body.

She wiped her arm across her forehead, leaving a swathe of red across her pale skin. She didn't look drunk in the slightest, her behaviour at dinner must have been a performance for their benefit.

He kept himself as still as possible as she stepped away from her task, revealing the dismembered body of the gym instructor, half wrapped in burlap and rope. Tony gulped, knowing that his fate would be the same if he didn't do something.

Felicia spoke again but he couldn't make out what she was saying. Just then, Danna stepped into view. No longer the pale and frightened girl he'd encountered on the path but a solemn and confident woman. The women kissed briefly, Felicia angling her body away so that she wouldn't get blood on her girlfriend's clothes.

Even in such a macabre setting, their apparent love for each other shone through.

The blonde soon got back to her grim work while the other looked on, folding her arms across her chest against the chill of ocean breeze. Tony flexed his hand tentatively, the pain was finally ebbing enough so that he could move his limbs. They hadn't looked his way as yet and he was trying to keep it that way.

He was no match for them both even without the pain crippling his body. He had one more trick up his sleeve though. Or rather in the waist of his pants. Thank god they hadn't bothered to frisk him.

They'd probably just assumed that the island's rules meant that he wouldn't be armed. They should have known better. If Felicia could sport the custom brass knuckles that now hung on a chain from her neck, the he could follow rule number nine.

Just the action of feeling around his waistband for the pouch that held his MIL SPIE 3.5 tactical knife. It was no nonsense folding blade, a favrourite among enlisted men. With a strong no slip grip and brutal edge. There was even a little snap that when pushed, kept the knife locked in an open position.

Tony could not count how many times the knife had saved his bacon and he was hoping that it would do the same tonight. He withdrew the knife, letting out a small whimper which he quickly tried to swallow.

Dana looked over, frowning before turning back to the gory business before her. Tony opened the knife and palmed it, letting his limbs come to rest in a ready position. He let a louder moan escape from his mouth, making Danna turn towards him again.

With a fleeting glace towards Felicia, she made her way towards Tony's prone body, looking down at him with dispassionate eyes.

She kicked at his side, titling her head as he groaned and opened his eyes.

"Hn. And here I thought Lecia had killed you with that second blow. She doesn't pull her punches often. Ah well, she'll just have to make the next one count."

Gone was the peppy, somewhat ditzy girl he'd met at the airport. All that remained was a stone cold killer.

He mumbled something and she frowned, straining to hear him over the drum of the turf. He mumbled again and she stooped over him to bring her ear closer. As she leaned towards him he marshalled all his strength and brought the knife up into her neck.

Blood splashed hot across his face as she gurgled and fell to her knees next to him. He twisted the knife and yanked it free, letting out an oof as she fell top of him. She had her hands clasped to her neck, her face pale and surprised as the blood trickled between her fingers.

He pushed her to the side, staring into her eyes, meeting her gaze silently as the light in them died and her hands loosened, the last sickening gurgles forming bloody bubbles on her lips. After what seemed like a eternity, she finally went still and he took a peek over her body to where Felicia was still busy with the gym instructor.

The knife was slick with blood in his hand but the grip was steady and strong. He rolled away from the body, his own screaming at him as pain flashed up and down his side once more. He willed himself to keep moving, knowing that if Felicia turned around just then he was as good as dead.

He'd just made it unto the grass and behind a thick shrub when a scream of pure rage rent through the air and continued, interspersed with cursing and weeping.

"Fuck you, you mother fucker…" Felicia screamed to the air, "I am going to find you and I am going to rip you apart with my bare hands you son of a bitch. There is nowhere in the world that you can hide where I will not find you and make you watch as I destroy everything you love,"

Tony felt a shiver down his spine at those promised words. He believed them without a doubt. He pulled himself further under the brush as her screams wound down into harsh sobbing.

For a few minutes all he could hear was the pounding of the surf but his gut was doing overtime. Suddenly the hairs raised on the back of his neck and he only had enough time to yelp as something grabbed at his ankle and dragged him out from under the brush.

Felicia's face was a mask of rage, her eyes burning fire ad brimstone and her teeth bared in a savage grin that promised pain beyond measure. He brought up the knife, slicing across her stomach but she barely showed a reaction, hitting his hand with her brass knuckled fist, knocking the knife out of his lands and back unto the lava rock.

She gave him a quick jab to the nose and he both heard and felt bones break as he lay dazed. Another jab to the stomach had him coughing blood. He turned to his side, curling up as she delivered two quick jabs to the kidneys.

Tony's entire world was pain, his breaths coming fast and thready as blood bubbled from his lips. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her raise her fist once again, bracing himself for what would surely be his death. One blow to the sternum and he would be done for.

The blow never came, instead Felicia let out a startled yelp as someone tackled her from the side. It was Steve. They rolled down unto the grass, fighting like cats and dogs. The blonde was screaming her rage, her fighting style that of a berserker, wailing blows down on the navy SEAL who was thankfully giving as good as he was getting.

Luckily for them, her grief made her sloppy and Steve delivered a K-O punch that had her head whipping to one side and she went like a sack of potatoes.

The other man stood there breathing hard, watching her for a few seconds as he tried to catch his breath. His face bloody and his tunic was half torn right open. Tony was never so happy to see someone in his life.

Steve caught sight of his prone form and limped over, kneeling next him. Before he could get a word out though, Tony grabbed at his clothes, clutching his shirt i his fist.

"Secure the prisoner." he gritted out through bloody teeth. "Now."

Steve nodded ad turned back to where Felicia lay, ripping off his tunic and tearing it into strips. He tied her hands and legs, bringing them to together to hog tie her with some crazily intricate sailor's knot that Tony would have found dead sexy if he wasn't in so much fucking pain.

Tugging at the bonds to make sure that she was secure. Steve came back over to Tony's side, gently turning him into the first aid recovery position and securing his head.

Tony groaned and blinked up at the other man. "I killed Danna…. They were in it together."

Steve nodded. "Okay."

"They killed the gym instructor and cut up his body."

Steve's hand was warm as it supported his woozy head. Tony's vision swayed. "I stabbed her with my knife. Rule number nine. It's over there somewhere. I don't want to lose it. It saved my life today."

Steve nodded again. "I'll find it for you."

Tony clutched weakly at Steve's pant leg. You saved my life today. I was so scared. Thank you Steve."

Steve gave him a small, worried smile. "You're welcome Tony."

Tony swallowed heavily. "I don't feel so hot."

He head Steve's voice telling him to hold on, that help was on the way but it was getting further and further away with each word. He thought he'd mumbled something in return but he couldn't really tell as blackness overtook him and he let go.

**********************************

He was getting fucking tired of waking up in a hospital bed. The only redeeming quality of being there was the cocktail of drugs pumping through his system. He took a deep breath then another then looked towards the window.

He could see from the view that he was back on the mainland and gave a sigh.

"Was that a happy sigh or a sad one?" a voice came from the doorway.

Doctor OK was smiling as she bustled in, checking his vitals and adjusting one of the machines he was hooked up to. Tony huffed and shrugged slightly.

"Dunno. Depends on the diagnosis."

Doctor OK always gave him the honest rundown and today was no different. He'd suffered a concussion, a broken nose, bruised kidneys and severe bruising to his stomach. No internal bleeding thank god but those brass knuckles had done a real number on him.

It was another week before Tony was allowed to go home, with arrangements for Gerald to come and check up on him every day. And in that time he'd heard from NCIS, the FBI, even fucking InterPol. Reyes had even brought the portable MTAC for him to have a face to face with SecNav.

Everybody ad their brother had been to see Tony. Everybody but the one man he wanted to see. He'd gotten a visit from Williams who let him know that Steve was in debriefing with the joint task force and would not be able to visit for a while.

Tony had understood, he hadn't been happy but he was glad that Williams had at least come in person to deliver the news.

The house seemed different from since he'd last seen it, colder maybe. It seemed too long ago that he'd left to go on the mission. He shuffled around, reacquainting himself with the place, took and shower and went out unto the lanai with a bucket of ice, a couple beers and his trusty pouch.

He'd just settled into the lawn chaise when there was a knock on the door.

He let his head hit the back of the chair and winced at the stupid action when pain blossomed from his still healing wound there.

"Son of a bitch." he hissed, drawing himself up and walking to the door. Steve held up some pizza and beer.

"Hey."

Tony leaned against the doorway. "You look like shit. What the hell did they do… put you on the rack?"

Frankly, Steve did look like shit. Dark circles under his eyes, a tired slump to his broad shoulders. Fading bruises where Felicia had gotten him good across the cheek."

"Nah…" the other man shrugged. "The federal government has come a long way in implementing torture. These days its death by endless boring committee meetings. I thought I was going to bleed from my ears and eyes in the end. Are you going to let me in or am I going to eat the pizza and drink this beer back in my car?"

He waved the pizza in Tony's face ad he chuckled and stepped to the side and let Steve in. The other man wet straight out to the lanai, setting the pizza on the small table and settling the beer into the bucket of melting ice.

They sat in comfortable silence until the pizza was gone and the beers were nice and cold. Then Steve began to speak.

Apparently, Steve had followed the Qwans back to their room where they'd gotten into a heated argument then went to bed. By the time he'd gotten back to their rooms and see Tony missing, he'd known something was wrong. He'd traced Tony's path from the main house and had found the blood stains along the gravel path.

That was when he'd pushed the panic button that would summon back up from the main land. Moments after that that he'd heard the screaming and made his way towards the beach just in time to see Felicia wailing on Tony's curled form.

After Tony had passed out, back up had arrived and swarmed the island, locking everything down and securing the prisoner and the bodies. Tony had been airlifted to a hospital on the mainland and Steve had been taken straight to a military base for medical treatment and debriefing.

Turned out Le Ravaleur wasn't one person after all but actually a pair of equally ruthless women. Danna and Felicia weren't even their real names, though it was proving difficult to find out much real info about the women.

Felicia certainly wasn't talking much. Other than snarling at everyone and promising death. She was going to be thrown in a very deep hole for a very long time.

"And what about Qwan and Hasegawa?" Tony asked as he sipped his beer.

Steve rolled his eyes. Apparently they'd been smuggling young Asian women to be brides in America and funding this illicit enterprise with monies gained from investing. Mrs. Qwan would gain insider knowledge by snooping on her husband and Hasegawa would place the investments and rake in the rewards.

The coast guard had caught up with the boat carrying over fifty girls ages 16 to 30 years old a few miles out to sea. Police ended up catching both women as they'd tried to make a run for it to the main land on a stolen jet ski. The computers at the resort had been a fountain of evidence against them.

Tony laughed softly, shaking his head at the tale.

They finished off the beers in silence and let the beat of the ocean waves lull them into a peaceful trance. The sweet ocean breeze, the cold beer, full bellies and that marijuana mellow allowed them to just drift.

Tony shifted slightly in his seat. "I wonder what happened to the Guru?"

Steve barked a laugh. "Oh man… that's the best part. Turns out Hasegawa had put the resort in his name in some kind of complicated plot to get around the large sums of money that had been flowing in and out. He gets everything. Last I heard that he was looking into investors to keep the resort open and promoted Concepcion to manager."

"No fucking way," Tony looked at Steve incredulously, then shrugged. "…too bad we ever got to go to our last session."

Steve breathed out a sigh "Yeah. I've bee thinkig a lot about forgiveness. When my dad was killed…"

He took a breath and blinked rapidly, turning towards the sea. "When he died I was so angry. Angry at the man who killed him. Angry at the friends who weren't there for him. Angry at the people he worked for who didn't have his six. I was eve angry at him for dying on me. But mostly… mostly I was angry at myself for not being there. "

He played with the beer can in his hand. "I know it's not rational to feel that way but I can't help it. For a long time I thought to myself 'He's dead because I wasn't there.' and I carried that next to my heart for a long time. Being on the island, talking to the guru helped me with letting some of that go."

He looked at Tony, his eyes shining in the golden light from the house. "It's not all sorted out in my head yet but I'm getting there. What did the guru say that first day? No cliff is so tall it cannot be climbed."

"Yeah… so…" Steve shrugged, turned back to the ocean and sunk back into the chaise.

Tony stared at the other man for a while, seeing the peace as it settled on his shoulders. He understood perfectly how he was feeling, how much the retreat had done for his own scarred soul.

There was no fast cure, no sudden healing. This kind of thing took time. And trust. Tony had the time. Maybe he just needed the trust.

He'd trusted before and it had burned him badly but he was nothing if not a sucker for his own lonely heart. He took a deep breath and took a leap of faith.

"We were on a mole hunt. An ensign from a local base was selling information to the Chinese government. We'd rousted him out and he was on the run. I'd followed him on foot, flushing him towards where the rest of the team were waiting to nab him."

Tony shifted again on the seat, frowning down at his empty can. "What we didn't know was that he had an accomplice waiting with a vehicle. I called in for my partner Ziva to bring the car around and rendezvous with me so that we could give chase. I was waiting at the spot when she came around the corner at a clip."

He kept his voice flat and without emotion, knowing that he needed to in order to get this whole thing out.

"I don't know if she didn't see me or was just going to fast to stop but she hit me head on, I went up and over the hood and into the wind shield, cracking it. I was able to walk it off and she helped me into the car."

He let out a ragged breath, trying to keep his voice level.

"I thought she was taking me to get medical treatment but she took off after the suspect. I tried to tell her to stop and take me to the hospital but she said I was just being a baby and to suck it up."

Tony blinked his eyes against the familiar sting of tears. "I wasn't being a baby… I wasn't. I know my own pain and I hated the hospital, I would never go there unless it was absolutely necessary."

Steve reached across and took his hand, entwining their fingers and giving them a squeeze.

"When she wouldn't stop, I called my boss. I told him that I'd been hurt and needed to go to the hospital. He said that if I was well enough to call him and complain about it that I was good enough to stay on the case."

"He said that he needed me… and I believed him."

A tear slipped silently down his face.

"I trusted him."

He absently wiped at his face with his free hand.

"I guess I thought that since we almost had the guy that I could wait it out, y'know. That it would be ok. But it kept going and going and the pain in my side kept getting worse. Finally I had to order Ziva to stop the car and let me out at the side of the road. She gave me such a look I tell you, I thought my face would melt off."

He chuckled bitterly. "I had to call an ambulance and have them pick me up at the bus stop. By the time I got to Bethesda I had passed out in the ambulance. Turns out that my gut was right all along."

He let his head rest gently on the back of the chaise, careful of his head.

"Autonomic and sensory nerve damage. Permanent. Incurable. Fuck my fucking life right" Doctors told me that if I'd come in just after the accident that they could have done something about it. Gotten me back to normal with some minor surgery and physical therapy."

He laughed out loud and it was a terrible thing to hear.

"Simple as that. An hour earlier and I could have been an outpatient and back to work in no time. Just a simple fucking thing to have come in when I wanted to. My gut was telling me one thing and my team was telling me something else and I picked the wrong one to listen to."

He gave a watery sigh. "I wasn't awake for a day when the hospital when Director Vance came to see me, talking shit about procedure and keeping things quiet until he could investigate the matter fully. Some bullshit about Ziva being former Moussad and the political shit storm that charging her with negligence would create. "

Tony waved his hand. "If I had any reservations about getting Internal Affairs involved, that visit blew them all the fuck out of the water. Of course, once they got involved, the whole debacle went from zero to sixty in no time flat."

"Of course the team was… unhappy to say the least. Several members even went out of their way to make their unhappiness known. And what got to me while I was laying in that hospital bed that not one of those fuckers once came to see me just to see how I was doing. It was always, 'you're being selfish tony', 'how could you do it tony', 'stop being such a baby tony'."

He took a couple more deep breaths and squeezed Steve's hand to stop from losing it completely.

"They didn't even seem to care that my life had been changed irrevocably. That I would have to live the rest of my life managing this huge thing that hung over my life like a fucking pendulum. Every day was a crazy see saw between breathtaking anger and such an exhausting sorrow I couldn't even move."

"In the end I had no one left. Everyone was gone. Life as I knew it was over. My career was over, I'd never be cleared for field work again. My family… "

He threw an arms over his mouth to stifle a sob. It still took him a few minutes to get himself back together, eternally grateful that Steve was there just holding his hand and letting him talk this thing out.

"The people who I thought were my family were so wrapped up in themselves to realize how much I needed them. After that something important inside me broke I think. I arranged with NCIS to have all my accumulated vacation added to my sick leave, called one of my frat buddies who had a house in Hawaii and came out here to lick my wounds. "

They sat there for a while, just breathing and enjoying each other's presence. Eventually Steve got up and coaxed Tony up as well, letting him go get changed for bed as Steve cleaned up.

Tony shuffled out of the bedroom in a loose Buckeye t-shirt and sweat pants, leaning against the doorway as Steve puttered around his kitchen. He looked like he belonged there, like Tony wouldn't mind seeing him there on mornings, making coffee and reading the newspaper.

He felt such a pang of longing that he had to rub a hand on his chest.

Steve looked over at him. "Hey, you okay?"

Tony smiled and nodded. "Yeah. Just another epiphany is all."

Steve laughed. "Yup. Those have been coming hard and fast since the island. They really pack a punch don't they?"

Tony pushed off the door and stepped up to the kitchen counter. "I didn't thank you. You know. For saving my life. For being a good partner… a good friend. I'd forgotten what that felt like."

"You're welcome." Steve's smile was soft and understanding. "I've come to see you as a good friend too. You're a good person Tony. I'm happy to have met you."

Tony felt his cheeks flush hot and ducked his head with a smile. "Well, any guy who comes over with pizza and beer is automatically in my good books."

"That's all that a guy needs to get into your good books? I've got it made." Steve barked a laugh. "What do I get out of it though?"

Tony raised one eyebrow. "I've got an entertainment system like you wouldn't believe and the granddaddy of sports packages. "

Steve gave a fist bump. "Fuck yeah. Count me in."

Toy walked Steve to the door, almost walking into him as he man turned around abruptly. Steve looked almost sheepish and gives a weak smile.

"Could I hug you, for old time's sake?"

Tony smiled and opened his arms, Steve slotting perfectly into them with a sigh. Tony ran a hand up his neck into his hair, tucking the man close.

"I told you hug therapy was a thing."

Steve huffed, "Consider me converted."

Tony pressed a kiss into Steve's hairline ad whispered. "Any time you need one, I'm here ok?"

Steve's arms tightened around him briefly then relaxed.

"Thanks." his voice warm against Tony's neck.

"No problem" Tony replied as they pulled apart. "We're full service around here."

Steve grinned in return. "That's good to hear."

They stared at each other for a few seconds before Steve leaned in and pressed a warm kiss to Tony's lips. Tony let his lips part for the second kiss, catching a brief taste of Steve before the man pulled away.

Steve blushed a deep red, staring and swallowing heavily when Tony licked his lips. "I … I should go. Yeah. I have to get home. So…"

He waved a hand in the direction of his car.

Toy took pity on him and nodded. "There's a game this Sunday. You bring the pizza. I'll text you my favourite brand of beer. Your taste kinda sucks."

Steve brayed a laughed, grinning as he walked to his car. "It's a date."

Tony watched as he got in and drove away, smiling as he closed the door and leaned back against it. He touched his finger tips to his lips and grinned to himself, flushing at the remembered kiss and the feelings it had raised up in him that he'd thought dead and buried.

"It's a date." he repeated to himself, pushing off the door and heading to bed. For the first time in a long time, he was looking forward to tomorrow.