Pairing: Tony/Michelle
Rating: PG-13 (L)
Notes: AU, set about four years after season 3, ignoring season 4.

Disclaimer: They're not mine, they're FOX's. Title of this chapter is based on a Blake Shelton song. Any mentioned brands aren't owned by me either.

The next morning, Tony went downstairs for breakfast, hoping that the awkwardness of the day before had faded slightly due to their agreement.

He spotted Michelle sitting at a table close to the buffet and walked over, after realizing the empty spot at her table was one of only two left in the room. And he certainly wouldn't sit with those buffoons from Seattle.

He lingered behind the empty chair and smiled uncomfortably. "Good morning, Michelle."

"Good morning, Tony", she retorted robotically, clearly busy reading the news of the day on her cell phone.

"D'you mind if I..." he started, finally drawing her attention. After a short moment of confusion, she shook her head and smiled politely. "No, it's fine, sit down."

"I got you some coffee... saw your cup was empty when I walked in."

"Oh, thank you. Is there...?"

"Milk, two sugars. And yes, it's whole milk and not skim."

She smiled and nodded. "Still remember that, huh?"

"I also know that you're gonna leave that cup sitting there for at least ten minutes before you drink it. Y'know, cause cold coffee's so much better." he added sarcastically, but instantly feared it might've been pushing too far too soon.

She took a deep breath, cocked her head and bit her lower lip lightly. "Well, Mr. 'not gonna drink my coffee below the boiling point', I think you might be biased on that issue."

He chuckled, relieved that she'd played along. "Yeah, you're right, I might be."

"So..." she started, trying not to let any silence get between them. "Interesting day today, huh?"

"Well... I can't stand those defense contractors praising their own products, I'm happy with the stuff we use, so I'm more looking forward to the spare time we get. Haven't really seen much of the city except for the airport, including that awful landing strip. I thought we were all gonna drown."

She smiled, remembering flying to Boston for the first time and seeing nothing but water right until the plane touched down. "You're gonna like it."

"And why's that?"

"Because in L.A., you always complain cause there's so many people and traffic's so bad..."

He sighed. He did hate Los Angeles. He remembered being six years old, having to leave behind his home and his friends on the Air Force Base in Illinois for Santa Barbara and hating the place even though he knew nothing about it. First, he'd stayed for his sisters, wanting to be there until they finished high school. Then he'd gotten the great job at CTU. Then he'd met Michelle, with whom he'd decided to leave California for good, but... things hadn't worked out the way he'd planned it. The day the job in Langley fell through was coincidentally also the day his life fell apart.

Michelle noticed he wasn't paying attention. "Tony?"

"Hm?"

"What're you thinking about?"

"Uh, it's nothing, just... Memories." Realizing how that must've sounded to her, he quickly added, "Of my childhood. Moving to California and stuff."

"Oh. Okay." She remembered hearing the story from his mother, who'd also mentioned how everybody on base had been all over the cute, curly-haired boy who ran around, telling people he wanted to be just like his daddy when he grew up.

She thought of how he'd actually done a rather great job at following in his father's footsteps, joining the Marines at age 18, fighting in a war, moving up the ranks as quickly as humanly possible, earning the praise of superiors and the respect of even the older guys in his unit. His dad had always been his hero, the now retired Lieutenant General John Almeida who'd set the bar so high with serving in two wars and commanding a space shuttle mission, all the while being a fantastic dad. And no matter how many times this man had told him how proud he was of his son, Tony'd never believed it. He'd never believed anything positive about himself, always operating under the assumption he wasn't good, strong, smart or brave enough. It made him extremely good at his job, but incredibly difficult to love.

When she came back to the hotel that night, it was already past 11 o'clock and she was still carrying around the two large shopping bags, a result of a slightly confusing mixture of emotions, including loneliness (which only hit her after she'd walked past one too many couples), relief because she didn't need to fight with Tony anymore and if she was completely honest, also a kind of warmth she hadn't felt in a long time. Almost afraid to think about it any further, she ultimately reassured herself that what she was feeling was normal. She'd loved him. He'd been the one she shared her joy with and the one she leaned on when there wasn't any joy left. Yeah, it was completely normal to be at least a little bit happy about seeing someone like that again.

She was on her way to the elevators when she spotted him sitting at the hotel bar with a glass in front of him and decided it was probably much easier to talk to him now than an hour later when he was totally drunk.

Trying to swallow every bit of sarcasm in her, she sat down on the barstool to his left. The bartender quickly noticed her.

"Can I get you anything?"

"Uhh, yeah, umm..." She was trying to think of any drink beside the one stuck in her head right now, but was completely blanking.

The bartender just kept staring at her. Tony looked at her, slightly confused, and decided to jump in. "She'll have a Maker's Mark Manhattan."

Excellent. He'd read her mind. Though it wasn't that hard. She'd never really ordered anything else, unless she was out with her college friends and he didn't need to know they were doing the whole Sex and the City enchilada, including Cosmos and revealing every last inappropriate detail about their boyfriends. But that Manhattan had been her drink of choice for everything. Their first date, the night they got engaged, the night before their wedding, when they'd both gotten nervous as hell and decided to go out for a drink at midnight...

Flashback

Their mothers never agreed on anything, except for this. The bride and groom staying together the night before the wedding could only mean bad luck, so Michelle was staying at their place, guarded by both moms, while Tony had temporarily moved in with his sister and her husband, who'd been sworn in as guards by Tony's mom.

After trying to keep busy the entire evening, trying to push aside all fears and possible worst-case scenarios, Michelle couldn't take it anymore and decided to drive the 20 miles to Pasadena. Of course, Diane and Terry couldn't know what was about to happen, so once she arrived, she texted Tony.

I'm parked three houses down the road from your sister's. Can you get out?

All she got for an answer was "You kidding?" Just seven minutes later, she saw Tony jumping the fence from the back yard and saw him take a quick look around. Then he ran towards the car and jumped into the passenger seat.

"That was fa..." was all she managed to get out before he kissed her passionately, acting as if he hadn't seen her for weeks, when it actually hadn't been more than 10 hours.

When their lips parted, he just scoffed, grinned and said, "What do you think? I escaped a bunch of the world's most dangerous terrorists. You really think I couldn't get out of my sister's house?"

She laughed. "I was just thinking your mom might've chained you to the bed or something. I just..." she sighed. "I'm nervous." It was a rare moment of being completely honest with herself and him. After all, he was the man she was going to marry and she could - and should - trust him with anything.

A couple of minutes later they arrived at a small bar they'd been to a couple of times before. They sat down and ordered their drinks.

"Scotch, two ice cubes." Tony said.

"Maker's Mark Manhattan, please."

The bartender, a scrawny guy who looked like he'd just turned 21, raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that, Ma'am? It's kind of a strong drink."

"Thanks for the concern, but I've had it before. And I'm not quite at the 'Ma'am' stage yet, even if I'm getting married tomorrow. Which is also why I'm a little on edge and would really like that drink now."

"Uhh, so sorry... Scotch and a Maker's Mark Manhattan, coming right up."

Tony grinned. "Poor kid. He'll never second-guess a drink order again."

She snickered. "Mission accomplished, then. So, wait... You, the Scotch snob, aren't taking your drink neat today?"

"If you remember, we kinda have an appointment tomorrow. And I wanna remember it." He took her hand in his and sighed. "Tomorrow's gonna be a long day."

"Well, if anybody's used to that, it's us."

The bartender, still looking slightly intimidated, set their drinks down in front of them.

Tony nodded, took his glass and raised it, Michelle mirroring his motion.

"To what should we drink then?" he asked, trying to swallow the 'to us' cliché.

"To being smarter than our mothers." They both laughed and clinked glasses.

Of course their mothers had ultimately noticed. And even though they hadn't noticed the car was missing from the parking lot, the man with the dark curly hair who had his arms wrapped tightly around his sleeping fiancée had given it away.

End of flashback

"So, what did you do with your free time?" he asked, snapping her out of her reverie.

"Umm... I went shopping." she admitted. "Newbury Street's always been my personal hell. What about you?"

"I... I checked out Fenway Park, got hungry, had an extraordinarily good burger and then came back around here and I bought some new running shoes. I think Niketown's my personal hell."

She kept her eyes on him. He looked remarkably sober. "How long have you been sitting here?"

"About an hour. Hour and a half, maybe." Oh.

Before she had a chance to explain, he must've read her mind and lifted his glass. "My second. Virgin mojito."

She must've looked stupid, her head slightly tilted to the side, jaw almost hitting the bar. Did he say 'Virgin mojito?'

His head dropped slightly, realizing he probably had to tell her now. So he downed the rest of his drink, straightened up on the barstool met her eyes. "I... uhh... I quit drinking."

Stunned, all she managed to get out was, "You did?" And as hard as she tried, she couldn't fight the smile on her face. Thinking quickly, she went to hug him before he could see the tears forming in her eyes. She didn't even know if they were happy or sad tears, or what it was right now that she was feeling. Was she proud of him? Angry that it took her leaving for him to get his ass in gear? Disappointed because she wasn't part of this success? Was she just happy for him? With every emotion that rushed through her, she held on to him a little bit tighter and didn't even realize he wasn't letting go either.