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--and the sky is very blue, the bluest where it kisses the ocean on the horizon, as far and as long as the eye can see. Nothing in the way to break up the perfect line of sky and water, so straight it would make mathematicians weak at the knees. Sometimes Tony feels like, if the angle were just right, he could pluck up that line and tuck it away in his pocket, leave a big white smear on the horizon and room for what should be but isn’t.


Only a matter of time. It always is, even on a boat the size of this one. He feels like he hasn’t had a moment’s privacy in years and years and years, decades, eons, just a moment to be by himself. A part of him wants to stamp his foot like a cranky toddler.

He thinks about not answering, pretending he isn’t standing here, if-I-close-my-eyes-you-can’t-see-me, but that’s ridiculous and less than Tim deserves. “Hey,” he says, and stops, and thinks about what to say, and finds that the embarrassment is still very much there, tickling awkwardly at the back of his throat.

He doesn’t look over as Tim comes to stand next to him, hair long and too skinny by half, but then again so is Tony so he has no room to argue there. Tim leans on the banister, on his elbows like Tony, so close he can feel the heat of Tim’s skin through his thin shirt, hear him breathing over the ocean.

After a while Tim asks, “Gotta ask if you want to talk about it, Tony.” It’s a kindness Tim’s doing him, Tony knows, because actually he doesn’t have much choice – Tony talks about it with someone, recorded and saved, or he ends up in psych with the other head cases.

It grates, a little too close to all those awful sci-fi flicks of the sixties and then rather suddenly he leans over the banister and throws up, just pukes his guts out for what seems like forever, and Tim’s voice gets steadily more panicked in his ear and Tony’s knees go like jello, just collapse out from under him, and he gets puke on his last clean shirt but it doesn’t seem to matter much, not really, because he’s sitting with his back to the ocean now and he can pretend it isn’t there, that this is just another case on a battle cruiser and not their fucking existence now, that any time he wants he can tell the skipper they caught the bad guy and they’re ready to go home now.

Tim collects him up in his arms, which is nice what with him being a germaphobe, but maybe he isn’t anymore and Tony hears someone giggle, hysterical, and bites hard on the inside of his cheek. “I’m not a head case,” he says, because he needs Tim to know, he really does. He doesn’t – won’t – end up in a rubber room, god dammit, not after everything.

Tim doesn’t say anything, and Tony opens his yap to yell, to argue, except Tim is giving him his “no shit, Sherlock” look and Tony exhales roughly and lets his head fall into that perfect curve of Tim’s shoulder and neck, where it’s most comfortable.

After a while, he says, “Last oreos.”

“Last oreos.”

I used to buy them by the box, he wants to say. I used to put them in my cupboards, every color and flavor, double stuffed, vanilla, because my mother loved them and when she kissed me, she’d smell like artificial sweeteners and cocoa. I’ll never eat another oreo, and it’s like I’ve lost my mother all over again.

He doesn’t say that. He loves Tim, but he doesn’t say that.

Instead, he offers, “My mouth tastes like puke and cookies.”


He feels Tim rest his cheek on his head, smells the thick, chemical-lye smell of the shampoo they use, the long blond hair brushing soft against Tony’s forehead. It makes Tim look like a backup singer for N’Sync, though Tony is kind enough not to tell him so. They’ve both been through too much, and if Tim wants to bring back boy-band-era hair, who’s Tony to argue? Besides, he loves running his fingers through it, silk between his fingers and just as soft.

“Bad day, Tim,” he says.

If anything, Tim’s silence is a god-send. Tony can’t talk, can’t say what has to be said if Tim suddenly decides to add his two cents. This is already hard enough.

He stares at the gray bulkheads, heavy and endless and so damn tall, the walls of the world they’re living, and says, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

Tim, because he’s Tim, doesn’t immediately jump in and tell Tony he’ll be alright, that’s crazy talk, they’ll get through this. In a lot of ways, he’s not the guy Tony once knew. He’s different, changed. Probie 2.0. “Is it the water?”

Hate water.”

“And being the only cop in a city of five thousand.”

The words sound so familiar, but it still takes Tony a moment to place them, and when he does he snorts, tugs at the ends of Tim’s hair. “That was different.”

“Well, yeah,” Tim says, his voice low in his ear, comforting. “We’re two of eighteen cops, for one. Second, there’re a few more than five thousand people.”

“Can’t breathe sometimes.”

Tim hums, shifts a little, and Tony knows his back is probably aching where it’s pressed against the bars, but he’s not ready to get up, not yet, and shifts with Tim so he can stay right where he is, close under Tim’s cheek. He wants the illusion of safety, if only for another few minutes. “Stop wriggling, McOctopus.”

“Stop being so heavy,” Tim counters, but strokes his fingers over Tony’s shoulder, down his bad arm. “Ready to talk about it?”

Tony closes his eyes, exhales. “Is he badly hurt?”

“Before or after you head-butted him?”

He groans. “I did not.”

“You did. You looked like Captain Ahab, Tony. All you needed was the eye patch.”

“Yeah, well,” Tony says, and swallows, because of all the people who get in his craw, only Jackson fucking Curtis knows how to stick it to him good, knows how to rile him up and dig deep into wounds Tony didn’t even know he still had. “He shouldn’t have said that. Not about Gibbs. He never even met him, he had no right.”

Tim sighs softly. “Tony.”

“I don’t care what anyone says. I really don’t. This is how it goes, Tim, because if I don’t believe it, if a part of me doesn’t think it to be true, then I will lose my shit completely. I will lose my shit and throw myself overboard and sink to the bottom of this planet where our entire civilization is buried, getting eaten away by salt until it’ll all be gone, like it never existed.” He can hear the near hysteria in his voice and is ashamed of it, even while he can’t control it. “So… so, don’t tell me what to believe.”

Tim sighs above him, and Tony tilts his head to look up at him, to see the sadness and loss Tony can feel in his own heart reflected there on Tim’s face. “Please, Tim,” he croaks, and shame fills him up, tastes like salt in the back of his throat. “We ate the last oreos today. Don’t take it from me.”

After a long moment Tim looks away and Tony exhales, rests his cheek back on Tim’s shoulder. Tim’s fingers are in his hair again and it feels good, so good. “Once upon a time, on a little blue planet third from the sun called Sol, there was a man named Leroy Jethro Gibbs,” he says, and Tony feels the salt stinging his throat, his nose, his eyes. “He was a good guy, a tough guy, a soldier and a carpenter. One day, the little blue planet lost its shell, and Gibbs decided today was the day to take his boat out to the dark blue sea…”