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Five weeks

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He sat in front of the window which looked out over the snow covered woods, the frozen lake and the cloudy grey skies filled with more snow. There was a fire crackling in the background, and the small cabin was relatively warm, but he was shivering. He didn't notice. He didn't see anything either, nor did he hear anything. Five weeks. 
 
Five weeks since Gibbs had hopped on a plane for a secret assignment, saying he'd be back in a few days. 
 
Four weeks and two days since Vance had said there was a problem.
 
Three weeks and six days since Tony's head had snapped up suddenly in the late afternoon in the bullpen, his chest constricting and having difficulty breathing, getting up suddenly and stumbling over his own feet, having to hold on to the edge of his desk to stop himself from collapsing. McGee called Ducky right away while Bishop tried to get Tony to sit down, but Tony's eyes were unseeing and he didn't register her, just tried frantically to get somewhere, not knowing where. Ducky quickly diagnosed a panic attack, and had no choice but to sedate the Senior Field Agent, taking him home and tucking him into bed, Ducky watching over him until he woke up hours later. A furious Tony threw the ME out of his apartment immediately and returned to the Yard even though it was late at night. No news. Tony sat at attention at his desk, eyes forward, waiting.
 
Three weeks and five days since, surrounded by his extremely worried team who were urging him to go home and get some rest and Tony ignoring them stoically, he registered the movement on the stairs. Vance. A look, and Tony was out of his chair and running up the stairs, the others following. Up in MTAC, the pictures horrifying. Something gone wrong. MIA. Now confirmed dead. Disbelief. Shouting. Crying. Let me get out there. Denied.
 
Three weeks and three days since the personal effects arrived. The dog tags, the bracelet, pretty much all that's left. No remains. Bullshit. We've been here before, thought we'd lost someone, but they were alive and we found them. Let me get out there. Denied.
 
Three weeks and one day since Vance placed Tony on mandatory leave. Striking your director will have that result. 
 
Two weeks and six days since remains arrived. McGee came by his apartment to tell him. Every test was run. Ducky and Abby were heartbroken but certain. It was him. Tony wrestled McGee out the door and slammed it behind him, sinking down to the floor immediately after, not moving for hours.
 
Two weeks and four days since the arrangements were finally made for Tony to get out there, arranged by himself and by calling in favors. He just had to drop off his gun and badge and resignation letter, and then he would go… beeping of his phone. Checked the screen, but nothing there. His other phone? Only one person had that number. Checked the screen. TONY CABIN WAIT.
 
Two weeks and three days since Tony arrived at the cabin, nothing heard since then. But Tony obeys, doesn't do anything other than ordered, and waits.
 
~~~~~
 
When Gibbs at last stumbled up to the door of the cabin, he was exhausted. It had been a hellish five weeks, and he could only hope that the one person he needed had received his message and followed it. He softly called out before opening the door.
 
"Tony?"
 
"Boss?"
 
A sigh of relief escaped Gibbs' lips and he was instantly caught by strong arms which led him over to the cot, setting him down on it gently. He heard the strike of a match, and then the soft light of a small gas lamp brought some illumination to the cabin. When Tony kneeled in front of him, Gibbs sucked in a breath and reached out his hand to cup Tony's cheek.
 
"You look like hell, Tony!"
 
Laughter bubbled up in Tony's throat and Gibbs couldn't help but smile, immediately wincing when the smile pulled at the bruises and cuts on his face. Tony sobered instantly when he saw the wince. 
 
"You're one to talk, Boss."
 
Tony helped Gibbs out of his dirty, torn clothes and hissed when he saw how much weight Gibbs had lost, and the variety of cuts and bruises and wounds that covered Gibbs' body. Having wrapped Gibbs in a blanket for the moment, Tony quickly set to work reigniting the fire from the slumbering embers left in the hearth, then warmed some water and got some clean cloths. With great care, he washed Gibbs' wounds, some of them scabbing, some still fresh, and applied antiseptic. There was nothing more he could do about them now, and Gibbs was exhausted. Tony got him some water, from which Gibbs only took a few sips, and then tucked Gibbs in, seeing him pass out into sleep immediately. Tony sagged to the floor then, his hand on Gibbs' chest to reassure himself that Gibbs was still breathing, and dropped his head onto the blankets, closing his eyes in the relief of seeing the man alive again. The rest of the night, Tony sat at Gibbs’ side, occasionally getting up to feed the fire, grabbing a blanket to wrap around himself at some point, but all the time returning to that same spot, his hand lightly on Gibbs’ chest, his head against Gibbs’ side.
 
The following morning, Gibbs woke up to the smell of coffee. Coffee! He hadn’t had the drink in days, and the caffeine withdrawal was surely the main cause of his headache. When he opened his eyes, he saw Tony sitting on the floor at his side, face gaunt and dark circles like bags under his eyes, but a small smile on his face nonetheless. Tony extended his hand and held up the mug of coffee.
 
“Figured you might want this.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Can you sit up?”
 
It was a struggle, his muscles had cramped up during the night and he was stiff and sore from his injuries anyway, but the pull of the coffee was a great motivator. Tony saw the difficulty Gibbs had, but knew it wouldn’t be appreciated if he tried to help, so he held the mug of coffee just out of Gibbs’ reach, knowing that that would encourage Gibbs. When Gibbs was almost to a sitting position and reached for the mug, Tony withdrew it a little further and Gibbs growled at him, causing Tony to smile. He handed Gibbs the coffee and watched him to make sure it would go down well. When the mug was drained, Gibbs actually seemed to look a little better, as if the coffee really was his fuel as Tony had always joked.
 
“Another?”
 
“Yeah. Please.”
 
“Something to eat?”
 
Gibbs looked like he was going to throw up at the mere idea of food, but he nodded anyway, knowing that he needed to eat something. Tony refilled Gibbs’ mug and his own as well, then made some toast and eggs, something light to start off with, to see if Gibbs’ stomach would be able to take it. After he had handed Gibbs the plate of food, Tony settled on the floor next to the cot again to watch him eat. A few tentative and clearly difficult bites later, Gibbs glared at Tony.
 
“Where’s your plate?”
 
“Not hungry.”
 
Gibbs scoffed.
 
“Eat, Tony. You look like a skeleton.”
 
Tony sighed but got up and made some toast for himself as well, adding some of the eggs that were still in the pan that he had intended for Gibbs. If the food stayed down, he could always make more. Both of them had to force themselves to continue to take bites, their stomachs protesting, but the glares they gave each other when it looked like they were going to stop eating, kept their hands bringing more food to their mouths. By the time their plates were nearly empty, both their stomachs were roiling, and they unanimously decided against more food or coffee. They sat together for a while longer, letting the food settle, then Tony got up and put away the plates and mugs, and returned to Gibbs to tug the blanket off him to inspect his wounds. In the daylight, the bruises and cuts were even more vivid, and he felt the pain they must be causing Gibbs as if they were on his own body. Again he carefully washed and salved the wounds, then helped Gibbs to a chair, sitting down in the other one, each letting their eyes fall closed from the exertion of the few short steps it had taken them to relocate. There was silence for long moments, then Tony spoke.
 
“Is it safe to be here?”
 
“It is. I knew they wouldn’t come looking here as long as I was out there.”
 
“What happened?”
 
“Long story.”
 
“I’ve got time.”
 
The story came out in bits and pieces, and Tony knew Gibbs was holding back certain things, but he could live with that. It had been a trap, and it had taken Gibbs a while to figure out who had set it up. It had only been when Gibbs had realized who the trap was really for that he had managed to suss out the responsible parties and go after them. It had taken him almost four weeks after he had gotten the picture clear to take care of it, and it had almost ended badly a couple of times, hence the scrapes and bruises, but now everything was done and the threat eliminated. Tony stared at him incredulously.
 
“Me??”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Mossad is still after me? I didn’t do anything to piss them off lately.”
 
“Apparently they have a long memory. And you do evoke strong emotions in people, Tony.”
 
Gibbs said that last part with a grin, but Tony grimaced. He couldn’t believe that after all these years, Mossad would still hold a grudge against him and try to take him out for it. But more than that, he couldn’t believe that Gibbs had single-handedly stopped a conspiracy by one of the best agencies in the world to kill him. If Tony hadn’t already felt like Gibbs was superman, this would have driven the point home. Then he got a bit surly. Gibbs noticed it immediately.
 
“Hey. What’s that look for?”
 
“Nothing.”
 
“Tony…”
 
“I’m not helpless, you know.”
 
“I know that.”
 
“Then why did you have me hide in the cabin like some sort of princess in a tower while you go off to slay my dragons without any help?”
 
“You saying you’re a princess? That make me the handsome prince come to rescue you?”
 
A small blush crept up Tony’s face.
 
“Gibbs…”
 
“I needed to not worry about you, Tony. Of course I know you can take care of yourself, but I needed to know you were safe to keep a clear head for what I had to do.”
 
Tony stared at Gibbs for a few moments and saw the silent plea in his normally icy blue eyes, then nodded.
 
“Okay.”
 
“So what happened here? Why are you looking like a ghost?”
 
“We thought you were dead.”
 
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
 
Tony snorted.
 
“I got suspended.”
 
“Oh? Why?”
 
“Hit Vance.”
 
Gibbs grinned.
 
“Really? I would have liked to have seen that.”
 
“It was a good one.”
 
Tony smiled broadly at the memory, then became morose again.
 
“He wouldn’t let me go after you.”
 
“Good.”
 
“Did Vance know you weren’t dead?”
 
“No. No one knew.”
 
“How’d you do it? Apparently Ducky and Abby ran tests and confirmed it was you.”
 
“Called in a huge favor. Smoke and mirrors.”
 
“Gibbs, I…”
 
“Yeah?”
 
“Never mind.”
 
After that they sat in silence for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts. Tony startled a little when after a while, Gibbs reached out his hand and placed it on Tony’s. Tony turned his hand around and entangled their fingers, which earned a pleased smile from Gibbs. After a while, Tony spoke softly.
 
“The day you disappeared, you got really hurt, didn’t you?”
 
Gibbs nodded.
 
“Bullet in the side. Touch and go for a while. All better now.”
 
Tony winced at the easy way Gibbs dismissed a near fatal wound, again amazed that Gibbs had been able to go through all that had happened after that with a hole in his side.
 
“I felt it. That afternoon, I suddenly felt like a part of me had been ripped away. I knew it was you. Ducky sedated me, apparently I was freaking out.”
 
“That must’ve gone over well with you.”
 
Tony winced.
 
“I threw him out when I woke up.”
 
Gibbs smiled.
 
“I probably would’ve done the same.”
 
“Threw McGee out too.”
 
“Why?”
 
“He said you were dead.”
 
Gibbs heard the pain in Tony’s voice and winced in guilt and sympathy.
 
“Tony, I…”
 
“Never mind. You’re not. I understand why you did it.”
 
“Still…”
 
“Yeah.”
 
Again they sat in silence, until Tony got up to get them each something to drink. Gibbs watched him move around, deploring that he was the cause of the dark circles under Tony’s eyes and the enormous amounts of weight he had lost. Tony looked like he had been through hell too, and Gibbs smiled despite all that to think that they made quite the pair in their current state. Then he turned back to what Tony had said earlier. Accepting the glass of water Tony handed him, he stared down at his hands.
 
“You felt it?”
 
“Yeah. It was really scary. There was pain in my chest and I couldn’t breathe.”
 
Gibbs was amazed, that had been exactly what he himself had felt at the time.
 
“That’s freaky.”
 
Tony couldn’t help but chuckle.
 
“Freaky?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“I don’t know. I’ve always known when you’re hurting, Gibbs.”
 
Gibbs was silent for a few moments. When he spoke again, his voice was so soft that Tony could hardly hear him.
 
“I know, me too. About you.”
 
Tony looked up and caught Gibbs’ gaze, the two of them staring at each other for a while. Then Tony gave a short soft nod, and Gibbs smiled, knowing that they understood each other.
 
“You ready to eat again?”
 
“No. You?”
 
“No. But I think we should do it anyway.”
 
And that’s how the rest of the day was spent. They forced each other to eat and drink, trying to get their energy levels back up, and they rested. Sometimes they talked a little, and every now and then one or the other reached out to touch. In the evening, Gibbs settled on the cot and Tony made a bed of the extra blankets they had on the floor next to the cot. Gibbs woke with a start in the middle of the night when a heart wrenching sob reached his ears, and he instantly turned to Tony, seeing him caught in the throes of a nightmare. Gibbs crawled out of the cot and onto the blankets next to Tony, wrapping the younger man in his arms and soothing him with muttered nonsense. Tony didn’t wake up, but instantly relaxed when he felt Gibbs’ arms around him and heard the murmurs of Gibbs’ voice in his ear. In the morning when Tony woke up, he found himself still held in Gibbs’ embrace.
 
After breakfast and a quick wash up, Tony checked Gibbs’ wounds again, pleased to see they were healing nicely. When they were seated with a fresh mug of coffee each, Tony clearly had something on his mind.
 
“What is it, Tony? What are you thinking?”
 
“Are we going back today?”
 
“I’m not ready for that yet.”
 
Tony seemed to be relieved at the answer.
 
“Then we’re probably gonna need some more supplies. I’ll go get them, and some more clothes too. How long do you wanna stay?”
 
“Not sure. At least a week. I’d like to get some rest before I face all that again.”
 
A small smile appeared on Tony’s face.
 
“Okay. I’ll head out later to get some stuff. Are we gonna call them?”
 
Gibbs knew exactly who Tony meant, of course. He winced a little with guilt, but his answer was definitive.
 
“No. They’d never leave us alone.”
 
Again a small smile graced Tony’s lips.
 
“Abby…”
 
“Yeah, I know. But she’ll survive.”
 
An hour later Tony was in his car, on his way to pick up more food and drinks and other things. While he drove, he thought about what Gibbs had said, that he wanted to stay at the cabin just with Tony for at least a week, and that Gibbs was willing to let even Abby suffer at the thought of his supposed death for another week so he could spend that time with Tony undisturbed. He knew it sounded heartless, and he felt guilty about it too, but he also knew that neither Gibbs nor he himself were ready to face the world yet, not with what had happened and what was happening still unspoken between them.
 
He carefully scoped out his apartment and Gibbs’ place before he made his way inside to get what he needed, just to make sure that neither home was being watched. He wasn’t worried about Mossad at this stage, if Gibbs said he’d handled it, that was enough for him, but he was concerned about the team. He didn’t want anyone to know where he was, and he certainly didn’t want them to follow him back to Gibbs. Driving around for a while to make sure he wasn’t followed, picking up groceries on the way, he made it back to the cabin a few hours after he had left. Quickly bringing in everything he had picked up, he found Gibbs on the cot, Gibbs’ eyes open and alert, but clearly having woken from sleep when he’d heard Tony approach. Gibbs eyes were amused when he saw how much stuff Tony was bringing in, especially when he returned from his third trip to the car with a huge duvet and an inflatable mattress in his arms, but Tony admonished him with a grin.
 
“You’ll thank me for this, Gibbs. It just started snowing again, and it looks like we’re gonna be stuck here for at least a couple of days.”
 
Gibbs dragged himself off the cot and went over to the window, looking out and assessing the sky. Tony came to stand next to him and grinned when he saw the soft smile on Gibbs’ face. Gibbs reached out his hand and brushed it through the back of Tony’s hair.
 
“You’re right, Tony. Good idea.”
 
Tony in turn stroked his hand softly over Gibbs’ back, his voice soft and gentle when he spoke again.
 
“I’ll get the rest of the stuff. You rest a little more.”
 
Gibbs may not look as formidable and powerful as usual in his current state, but he was still a stubborn bastard, so Tony wasn’t surprised to find the older man stowing the stuff Tony had already brought in instead of resting. Tony made a final trip to the car and returned with the last of the things he’d picked up, then helped Gibbs put everything away. Only then did Gibbs let Tony usher him into one of the chairs with a beer, from where he watched Tony inflate the mattress and cover it with sheets and the duvet before Tony joined Gibbs with a beer of his own. Tony offered Gibbs some painkillers from the medical kit he’d also picked up, and Gibbs smirked a little.
 
“Combining pills and booze, in my condition? Think that’s wise?”
 
Tony shrugged.
 
“Your constitution can take it.”
 
Gibbs swallowed the pills, and Tony sagged a little in relief, knowing that Gibbs was really hurting if he actually took the pills, but glad that now the pain would be less. They drank together in silence for a while, Tony getting up now and then to feed the fire, then he noticed that Gibbs’ eyes had fallen closed again. He let the older man sleep while he quietly started preparing dinner. He felt his own appetite had been returning and hoped it was the same for Gibbs, so he had made sure he had brought enough supplies to be able to make plenty of hearty, warm meals for the both of them to help them regain their strength. Gibbs woke from the pleasant smells of tasty, hot food, and his stomach growled, which made Tony laugh in amusement and reassurance that Gibbs was at least somewhat on the mend. They both managed to clear their plates this time, and were at last starting to feel warm and comfortable now that they finally had full bellies again. After dinner, Tony produced a bottle of bourbon and Gibbs almost smiled in contentment when the first sip of the drink slid down his throat. It was cold and dark outside, but the two men in the cabin they were warm and comfortable. It wasn’t long before they crawled into bed together, Gibbs admitting that the mattress and duvet were more comfortable than his cot. Neither mentioned anything about the comfort of each other’s arms. When the nightmares started, Gibbs pulled Tony closer and settled him with kisses to his hair and whispered words into his ear, and Tony relaxed in the secure hold of the older man.
 
The snow reached several feet high when they woke up the following morning, and they wouldn’t have been able to get back to civilization even if they had wanted to. Again they didn’t do much that day, just lounged around and rested, ate hot food as much as they could, and Tony cared for and dressed Gibbs’ injuries. Both were already starting to look somewhat better, getting a little color on their cheeks, and even the few good meals they had consumed over the past two days seemed to diminish the gaunt look both men had had when Gibbs had first arrived at the cabin. But that night Tony’s nightmares were worse than before, he woke screaming and panting before Gibbs managed to soothe him, and when Gibbs tried to hold him and comfort him, Tony withdrew, curling up on one of the chairs instead, refusing to let Gibbs near. Gibbs rekindled the fire and sat with him for a while, but when Gibbs tried to coax Tony back to bed, the younger man practically lashed out at him. Tony eyes were glazed and unseeing and he rocked himself in chair, his arms wrapped around his knees. Gibbs didn’t know how to help him, so he just sat with him, until suddenly Tony shook his head and got up to go to bed again. Surprised to find the mattress empty, he turned to look around the cabin and spotted Gibbs on the chair.
 
“What are you doing out of bed?”
 
Gibbs was definitely worried now. Tony didn’t seem to have registered anything that had happened since he had woken from his nightmare, and Gibbs expressly didn’t like that Tony had pulled away from him. Deciding to keep a close eye on him, Gibbs just shook his head and without a word, crawled onto the mattress again, holding the duvet up for Tony to join him. With a small smile, Tony rolled into bed and happily settled into Gibbs’ arms, where he spent the remainder of the night in peace.
 
During the next day, Tony had two more of these episodes. When the first one happened, Gibbs had thought that Tony must have fallen asleep and stumbled into another nightmare, but when the second one occurred, Gibbs realized that had not been the case. Tony had basically been in the middle of a sentence when he suddenly fell quiet and curled up, hugging his knees to his chest and rocking back and forth, almost growling whenever Gibbs tried to get near him. It took over half an hour each time before Tony returned to the present, and neither time did he remember having withdrawn into himself.

That night when the nightmare came, Tony lashed out, his elbow striking Gibbs in the ribs, and Tony was curled up in the chair even before Gibbs got his breath back. Gibbs again rekindled the fire and lit the gas lamp, sitting in the chair next to Tony, waiting for him to come out of it. But this time, over an hour later, Tony was still dazed and rocking, and Gibbs was getting desperate. In a final attempt, he ignored the growls from Tony when he got near, and swiftly slapped the back of Tony's head. The glaze in Tony's eyes disappeared in an instance and his head snapped up, focusing on Gibbs crouching in front of him.

"Jethro?"

"Yeah, I'm here."

Tony's eyes narrowed.

"Are you sure? Because you were here before."

A slight hitch of Tony's breath.

"And then you weren't."

Gibbs chuckled.

"I'm here, Tony."

"You said that before, but it wasn't true."

Gibbs frowned.

"You looked different then, though."

"Different how?"

"Like you used to. Strong and beautiful."

Gibbs tried to keep his breathing calm.

"And then sometimes, you didn't."

"What did I look like then?"

"Like… like you were… dead."

Gibbs lost his control and sucked in a pained breath.

"I still liked having you here, though. But then you were gone."

Gibbs carefully reached out his hand to stroke over Tony's cheek.

"Gibbs?"

"Yes, Tony?"

"Am I going insane?"

It was asked so softly and earnestly that Gibbs' heart broke, and he couldn't hold himself back. He took Tony in his arms, surprised but pleased that Tony let him, and his voice was heavy with emotion when he replied.

"No, baby. No, Tony, my poor brave boy. You're just grieving."

"Grieving? I thought you said you weren't dead?"

"I'm not, sweetheart. I'm here, I promise."

Tony's eyes narrowed again.

"You sure? Because you don't sound like Gibbs."

Gibbs chuckled again.

"Why not?"

"Gibbs never calls me that. Gibbs would never call me that."

A clear question in Tony's eyes.

Gibbs stroked his fingers through Tony's hair, then brushed a soft kiss over his lips. Tony's eyes narrowed even further.

"Gibbs certainly would never do that."

"Yes, I would, Tony. I would do that every day, every second of every day. I'd hold you in my arms and kiss you and never let you go."

"You're a figment of my imagination."

"I promise you, I'm not, my love."

"Hmmm… Gibbs?"

"Yeah?"

"I see dead people…"

"Want me to get you your ghost shrink?"

Tony instantly pulled back.

"See! You're not here! Gibbs never gets my movie references!"

"You used that one before, Tony. I do actually listen, you know."

"No, you don't! You pretend to, but you really don't!"

Seeing that this was doing more bad than good, Gibbs did the only thing that had helped so far. Another firm head slap was delivered. It seemed to make Tony realize that this was reality, made him focus, but it certainly did not calm him down. If anything, he sounded angry, and working up to an impressive furious frenzy.

"Five weeks, Gibbs! Five weeks! I spent five weeks being worried sick about you, three of which thinking you were dead! One message! One?! And like an idiot I sit here in this godforsaken bolt hole, imagining seeing you come through the door only to have my heart stamped on again when you turn out to be a figment of my imagination! I can't do this! I can't handle this! And then you start calling me sweetheart and baby and love? What the hell is wrong with you! Don't you think that if you're gonna say things like that, you should at least give a guy fair warning that you even like him?! But nooo! Not the great Leroy Jethro Gibbs! He just treats you like shit for years and then expects you to melt into his arms the moment he calls you his brave boy…"

Tony's breath hitched and the rant ended rather abruptly when Tony flung himself into Gibbs' arms, squeezing the older man tightly against him. A couple of deep breaths later, Tony spoke again, much more calmly this time.

"You're really real, aren't you? I wouldn't be able to take it if you weren't, not again."

"I'm real, Anthony. I'm here, my precious boy. And for the record, I've always liked you. Loved you, even. Like, a lot."

That last addition made Tony chuckle, but he did not release his stranglehold on Gibbs. At last, Tony pulled back a little and pressed his face into Gibbs' neck, placing slow open mouthed kisses there. When he had Gibbs moaning in pleasure, Tony finally pulled back enough to look at Gibbs' face.

"You must be real. The other Jethro never responded to me like that."

"Like what?"

Gibbs' question came out more a moan than a question. Tony's clever fingers found there way to Gibbs' arousal and squeezed it lightly.

"Like that."

"Tony…"

Gibbs tone was almost pleading.

"Call me your precious boy again…"

"You are my precious boy, Anthony. Every day since the day I met you."

That night Gibbs was very pleased indeed that Tony had brought the inflatable mattress, because when he was thrusting into his lover, the bounce of the air mattress caused some very interesting movements. But nothing excited him more than Tony's moans and groans while Gibbs was inside of him, and the fact that Tony fell over the edge the moment Gibbs called him his precious boy again.

After that, Tony still sometimes had nightmares, but he never again rejected Gibbs' attention. Jethro's touch always brought him out of it, and gradually they stopped altogether.

 

Their return to the office about a week and a half later was a bit of an anticlimax. Once the snows had melted enough for them to get back home, they packed their things and went to Gibbs' house, their house. They spent the next day together at home, the day after that they woke up late and got dressed, Tony in a sharp suit that, despite the good meals they's been eating, still was far too big for him, Gibbs dressed in a shirt and coat that almost swiveled around him every time he turned. Gibbs' bruises and cuts had turned interesting colors, and Tony's eyes still had darkened bags under them, but all in all they looked far better than they had. When they exited the elevator, a silent hush settled over the bullpen. There was no applause this time, no cheers. Everyone was stupefied by the sight of their most respected - if feared - Supervisory Agent and his Second In Command strolling into the bullpen casually without so much as a word in advance that they were still alive. Gibbs' death had been mourned after the receipt and confirmation of the remains, and when Tony had gone missing after his enforced leave, everyone had assumed the worst.

McGee and Bishop stared at them, frozen, until they both rushed them at the same time, wrapping both men in a tight but awkward hug. The ding of the elevator signaled the arrival of Abby, Ducky and Palmer, who each in turn embraced their friends that they had thought lost, all of their team shedding tears in happiness. It was Tony who spotted the arrival of Vance on the balcony outside MTAC first, but he nudged Gibbs in time for both men to witness the sigh of relief and pleasure that the director let out before he schooled his features into his usual non-committal scowl.

Neither man ever explained what had happened, not to the director, not to their team. They never revealed that Gibbs had been back for nearly two weeks already before they finally returned to the office. Vance was pissed at the complete lack of detail about Gibbs' mission and the subsequent events that to his mind obviously involved some kind of rescue by Tony, but Vance never learned the truth of it. When Vance threw the files of several eliminated Mossad agents on his desk during the debrief he had with Gibbs and Tony, neither man reacted. After they left the office and entered the elevator - intentionally, for privacy - and the emergency switch had been flipped, Tony embraced his lover and softly spoke.

"Jethro… that many?"

"It was worth it. You're worth all that."

"I love you, Jethro."

Gibbs swallowed hard. Tony had said it before, said it often, but Gibbs had never said it back. He hid behind his endearments, calling Tony his sweetheart, baby, love, his precious boy, and he meant every one of them, but he had never said the words, afraid they might shatter his heart. Breathing deeply, he pulled back to look Tony in the eye. Tony chuckled.

"I know, Jethro. You don't have to say it. Would be nice to hear it some day, but I know already. Just kiss me."

So Gibbs did, and Tony melted against him the way he had sworn he never would. Tony knew Gibbs would tell him one day, and that would be great, but it didn't really matter, because he knew, and all in all, his life was pretty fucking perfect the way it was right now.