Author's Note: In a Tony/Michelle state of mind today. Hope you enjoy.

Disclaimer: These characters are owned by Fox's 24, and as such, I have no claim.

As he put the car in park, he stared up at her place, his hand resting on the gear shift. It was a grey townhouse; two stories, he thought, but he wasn't sure since he'd never been inside. The first and only time he'd been there, a few months after Michelle started at CTU, it was late and dark, so he hadn't much noticed the structure or the color. That night, he'd accidentally taken home a file she needed, so he insisted on bringing it to her. As he'd stood on her doorstep then, though, he'd realized what a mistake that was and rushed off before she could do something sweet and equally stupid like invite him in for a drink.

See, Tony wasn't that guy. That guy who was only too willing to sleep around the minute he found himself attracted to a woman. His mother had raised him better than that. She'd raised him to respect women and to respect himself; he was taught to treat sex as a significant aspect of a committed relationship. But the minute Michelle had opened that door all those months ago, everything he grew up believing blew right the hell up. So he'd done the only thing he could at the time: politely excuse himself and run away.

Thinking about this now, he was a little surprised at the ease in which he invited himself over to her house today. Although, he realized, it had been much more a compulsion than an invitation, albeit a very innocent one. He didn't think he could have stopped himself if he'd wanted to, but he knew it was the right call anyway, once he'd heard her voice.

Tony really was a rules kind of guy—his time in the Marine Corps had ensured that much—but he also knew that sometimes rules needed to be bent or broken. When Michelle had lied to him about helping Jack—sure, he'd been pissed at the time—he understood that it was something that she'd had to do. Or when he'd taken Chappelle down to give Jack the time he needed to prove the illegitimacy of the Cyprus recording: it was against the rules, and he didn't like doing it, but it was necessary.

But this rule, this unspoken rule that he didn't invite himself to the home of the woman he was already head over heels for, he had to break. When he'd heard her sharp intake of breath over the phone like she was hanging on by the tips of her fingers, he had no choice. It was a necessary break.

Looking up at her building now, his right hand absentmindedly scratching his left cheek, he knew he needed to be there, that he was doing the right thing. But he wasn't staying over. He wasn't. Once they ate and he made sure she was okay, he'd go home. He wasn't sleeping with her. Not today.

Grabbing the bag of food, he got out of the car and made his way up the short driveway, hoping she hadn't noticed him pull up since he had no idea how long he'd been sitting in the car talking down his other brain and reminding himself that he was the gentleman his mother raised him to be.

Knuckles softly rapping on the painted wood, he waited at her door, heart beating rapidly. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd felt this anxious about a girl—maybe he never had—but Michelle made him nervous as all hell. Obviously, his brain was trying to tell him something, but he'd spent months and months—pretty much since the minute she showed up at CTU—avoiding deciphering the message. Even now, hours after he'd taken her into his arms and kissed her with everything he had in him, he wasn't willing to decipher it. It was too soon—way too freaking soon—to even think about decoding it.

His eyes met hers as the door swung open to reveal a tousle-haired Michelle wearing black shorts and a Pat Benatar t-shirt. He couldn't help but smile—a light chuckle rumbling through his chest—suddenly at ease. Maybe he'd already started to decode the message.

She shrugged, her face impassive. "That's right," she said. "I'm going casual today. We are young, after all." She brought her hands up with a flourish to indicate her shirt.

"Did you just quote 'Love is a Battlefield' at me?" he asked, as she turned—leaving him to close the door as though he'd done it hundreds of times before—to cross the living room.

"I did," she fired back. "Kudos for getting the reference."

Tony laughed and closed the door behind him, following her into a little dining nook housing an elegant, picnic bench-like table. The walls hugging the nook were built-in shelves, making the dining area seem much bigger and more open than it actually was. Each shelf held books, photos, and decorative knickknacks.

Michelle dropped down onto the bench, fingers instinctively curling around one of the two cokes she'd earlier placed on the table, along with napkins and a couple plates. Across from her, Tony upturned the bag of food, and two sandwiches landed with a soft plop onto the tabletop. Michelle raised her eyebrows.

"Sandwiches…?" she asked, dubious. "Didn't you equate your foodie and counter terrorism skills? You sure you wanna stick with that?"

Tony scoffed and handed her a sandwich. "Just wait."

With a little more force than necessary, Michelle slid a coke can to him a la a bartender sliding a shot down the bar. Catching it by the tips of his fingers, Tony—dropping his own sandwich in the process—shot her a look, surprised.

"What?" she asked, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Oh, please. Don't tell me you're a Diet Coke kinda guy. I don't think I can handle that," she shook her head, popped the top of the coke, and took a drink.

Smirking, Tony said, "So that's a dealbreaker, huh? Well…what if I said I was a Pepsi kinda guy?"

"Ha, that? Nah. That can be fixed," she shrugged and unwrapped her sandwich, completely cavalier. "It's the diet drinkers you gotta watch out for. Consuming Diet Coke on a daily basis? They've gotta be tough as nails or have absolutely no taste buds. Either way—something to be feared."

Tony burst out laughing and unwrapped his own sandwich.

"You've got a point, though. Diet Coke can easily be used for interrogation," Tony surmised when his laughter died down.

"Oh, yeah. It'd be a hell of a lot more effective than our current methods."

"Maybe we should bring that up with the director," Tony joked.

Michelle, just about to take her first bite, stopped. "You realize that's you now, right?"

Already on his third bite, Tony's eyes flicked up to meet hers. "Shit, you're right. I'd actually forgotten for a second. You know, about George and everything," he murmured, biting his lip.

"Yeah. Me, too."

For a minute, they'd forgotten. For a minute, they weren't haunted by the last 36 or so hours. For a minute, they were just two people—on a date, maybe?—eating lunch and flirting like they hadn't been responsible for the lives of millions of people just hours before. They'd forgotten, just for a minute.

Tony scratched his cheek and sighed, his eyes trailing from her haphazard curls to her flushed cheeks and slightly downturned lips. "Sorry. Guess I'm not as good a distraction as I am a kisser."

Her eyes raked over his face, and she noticed a light, almost imperceptible blush creep up his cheeks. A giggle—an actual, school girl-like giggle—bubbled up from her chest, and a surprised laugh erupted from his.

"I never thought I'd ever hear a giggle come out of Michelle Dessler," Tony joked.

"Yeah, it's not a common occurrence." She shook her head and finally took a bite of her sandwich in an attempt to keep any other abnormal sounds from spilling out.

"Holy hell! What is this?" she gasped.

Tony sat back, smug. "How're my "foodie"—he used air quotes to accentuate the absurdity of the word—and counter terrorism skills now?"

Mouth filled with another bite, she mumbled, "Definitely comparable."

"Yeah, thought so. Comparable and remarkable, am I right?" Tony smirked, their sandwiches getting smaller and smaller. Michelle leaned back against the wall, her plate empty and her hands rubbing her very full stomach.

"You know you're stuck with me forever now, right? I've been living off of crap junk food for months. I had no idea good food like this even existed around here."

"Stuck with you forever, huh? Sounds like something I could get used to," he murmured. Tony bit lightly at his bottom lip and dropped his eyes from Michelle's face to the mess on the table. Without glancing back at her, he began cleaning up the wrappers and napkins. Michelle grinned and watched his retreating body as he made his way to the kitchen to throw out the trash.

"Tony." He stopped and turned so his body was angled towards her.


"Thanks. For doing this." She gestured from him to the remnants of food in his hand.

He smiled.