Title: Homecoming
Author: Michelle,
Rating: Average
Warnings: Lots of Tony/Michelle!Angst
Fandom: 24
Characters: Tony & Michelle
Disclaimer: Genius to Cochran and Surnow. Credit to Carlos Bernard for playing Tony so beautifully.
Summary: Michelle brings Tony home
Notes: Same story arc as the "Endure"
Feedback: I crave it.

I glanced over at him sitting in the passenger seat. He looked so small somehow. I didn't want to disturb him, but I had to ask. "Is there anywhere you want to go?"

He didn't answer right away, and I thought maybe he didn't hear me. He was lost in his own little world, and I could only imagine what was going on in his head. Finally he blinked and pushed a hand through his hair. "Home. I just want to go home."

Even his voice sounded small somehow. Like he was…I don't know. Less of a man.

We drove in silence, I didn't even have the radio on. I didn't know what to say to him, and he didn't seem to want to talk anyway.

I got out of the car, and went up to the door before I realized he wasn't right behind me. He still sat in the car. I considered going out to him, but sensed that he needed a few minutes.

It's really weird how walking through that door with him sitting alone in the car felt like walking through the first time, the first night when I knew he wasn't coming home. There was an emptiness deep inside of me that was beyond words, beyond understanding.

I should have been happy. Over joyed. Ecstatic. Tony was home. He'd been in prison a year and a half, not his whole life. Not forever as we'd feared. If he's home, why do I feel so alone?

I sat down on the sofa and tried to watch television. I tried to read a magazine. Nothing held my interest. I kept glancing at my watch, then the clock displayed on the VCR, tracking the time he sat outside.

Why didn't he come in?

I paced the room, looked out the window. He was still in the car. Just sitting there, his head pressed against the window. My heart pulled toward him, I had to go out there. I couldn't wander the house all night waiting.

"Tony?" His eyes closed. I'm pretty sure he shivered. Maybe it was a spasm. "Come inside, baby."

He opened his door slowly, as if the act pained him. The dog next door knew me, but didn't know or didn't remember Tony. He started barking wildly at the fence. Tony glance over at the animal, then looked up at the sky before he looked at me. "I'm really home."

"Yeah. You're really home." I slipped an arm around his waist. He stiffened, and forced himself to relax with a deep breath. "Come on, sweetheart. Come inside with me."

His ankle was bothering him, I could tell by the way he leaned on me, and when we reached the porch, he wrapped his arm around the post and stopped. "You…go on. I'll…I'll be in soon."

"I want to stay with you."

He started to shake his head. Instead he turned and sat on the porch steps. I sat beside him, and had the distinct feeling he didn't want me too close to him. I could understand his need for space, he probably didn't have much privacy in prison. I moved over a little, just enough to put a little crack of space between our legs.

I'm not sure how long we sat there. Long enough my legs started to go numb. He barely moved, as if he were practicing stillness.

"Will you come inside now?" I asked gently, and placed a hand on his arm. His eyes closed, a single tear slid down his cheek. "Sweetheart…" I moved to my feet, to stand in front of him. I took both his hands in mine and leaned forward to kiss him. He let me, but there was no feeling behind it, no participation from him.

I stepped back to look into his eyes. He looked away. Like he couldn't bear to look at me.

"I'm going inside now and I'd really like for you to come with me."

He didn't speak. Not with words, anyway. His eyes turned down to his feet. He pulled his hands away from mine.

I kissed his forehead before going around him to the door.

I hesitated at the door, but I didn't look back. I knew he wasn't coming. I went in, changed my clothes, and sat down in front of the television again.

I've always had an acute awareness of time. Sometimes I challenge myself to measure minutes passed without looking at a clock. Still, I kept looking at the clock. Two minutes, three. Five. Ten. Half an hour...He'd been outside nearly two hours.

I really wished he would come inside, but I didn't want to push him. He's been through so much...He's so fragile now. He's like Humpty Dumpty, and I'm afraid I won't be able to pick up all the pieces if he falls off the wall.

The situation I faced a year and a half ago was completely different, but I understood his need to stay outside. It wasn't exactly fear, and yet that was the only plausible way to describe the hesitation.

I wouldn't bother him, but I wanted to check on him. I went to the door, and at first didn't see him. My heart skipped a beat and stalled out in my throat. But he was there, on the porch swing. It looked like he was asleep, but it was hard to tell.

I literally felt my heart breaking for him. He was right there, not even twenty feet away from me, and yet he was miles away and I wasn't sure how to reach him.

I must have fallen asleep in front of the television, because the familiar creak of the front door woke me. I cracked one eye open, he had his back to me, carefully closing the door. I stole a glance at the VCR, it was just after two o'clock. He'd been outside more than eight hours.

I didn't move, didn't let him know I was awake. I was afraid he would retreat if he knew. I sensed him standing beside the couch for a long moment, and it took all my will power and self control to keep my eyes closed, my face slack.

Finally he leaned in, brushed a hand over my hair, and kissed my forehead. I opened my eyes then, offered him a smile. The only light came from the TV across the room, but even in the darkness I could see the pained expression on his face.

He took a step back, stumbled against the table. "What time is it?" I asked, hoping to distract him and give him something to focus on.

His eyes closed, and he looked over his shoulder. "After two."

"Come to bed." I sat up and reached for his hand. There was no response from him. No acceptance, no rejection. He allowed me to lead him to the bedroom, but he hesitated at the door. I stopped and turned to face him. I knew what he was going through, kind of. I'd been there before, standing at that threshold, paralysed with an unnamable fear.

"Come on," I urged him. No one had been there to ease me into it. I could only imagine what was going through his mind. His first night home, there was probably some part of him that thought he must be dreaming because he'd been sentenced to life in prison. and he'd had a year and a half to get used to the idea.

He brought his free hand up to wipe at his eyes. I wanted to kiss him, just kiss him and hold him and assure him it was all right. I don't know why I didn't. I just...couldn't. Like there as something stopping me, holding me back, giving him space.

"It's all right, baby," I said softly. Even that seemed an intrusion.

He took a step and squeezed my hand. I took that as a good sign. He didn't say anything, but after a minute he dropped my hand and went into the bathroom.

I sat down on the bed to wait for him.

He took a shower, and let the water run for a long time. I was afraid he'd shrivel up to nothing before he came out.

He had a towel wrapped around his waist, his chest bare. He'd been working out. He looked good. Really good. I wanted to get up and go to him, run my fingers over his chest. I didn't move.

He dressed in sweats and a T-shirt. I wanted him to say something. Anything. He didn't say a word, just climbed into the bed beside me and turned on his side away from me.

"Tony..." I started. I put a hand on his shoulder. He tensed, I pulled my hand back.

"I'm really tired."

I nodded. That didn't explain him pulling away from me, but it was likely true. I lay awake for a long time, and had the distinct feeling he wasn't sleeping either.