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Everyone wears it. For some it's a fashionable accessory, like Abby: some days her wrist is covered with black leather and big buckles, some days it's all dainty lace and buttons shaped like candy.

Ziva's is efficient and sturdy, and Tony knows for a fact it hides at least one knife. McGee’s is one of the boring ones you find sold with off the rack suits, slightly worn but with a superhero charm hanging off it. (Tony thinks it was a gift from Abby but refuses to ponder what that might mean.)

Tony's own is bespoke, immaculate and expensive, and very, very secure. It requires a key to open, which is forbidden for law enforcement officers but he cannot risk his wrist ever being uncovered.

Ducky’s wrist cuff is brown leather that looks like it's a hand-me-down from someone's grandfather.

Gibbs… wears a wrist watch. Not the wide kind that doubles as a cuff, no, he wears the kind with a thin strap, meant for someone's off hand.

Some people can't even look at him when he's near, the taboo of soulwords so strong. Some can't help but sneak looks at the worn words, endlessly fascinated by the display of something that is usually such a well-guarded secret, only shown for close family or even just a soulmate.

They all knew what that must have meant before they even heard the name of Shannon and Kelly Gibbs. Dead soulmates take their words with them, the text wearing down after years spent alone. Some people develop new words to replace them, signalling the existence of another perfect partner for them.

That's obviously not the case with Gibbs.

Tony… Tony has no words. It happens: even in a world where everyone is born with the mark of their future perfect partner on their wrist – waiting to form into words when the child grows and there is room on their wrist for words – some never develop theirs.

It isn't talked about, and most blanks wear the wrist cuffs like everyone else to pass as normal.

It's Tony's most well-guarded secret. It's the source of his insecurity, the knowledge of his own unlovability. He disguises it by flirting and casual affairs, just as long as everyone knows he can't be “it” for them.

It doesn't mean he couldn't find someone, just for a while. He thought Jeanne would be someone he could have, someone equally broken, because while her mate was alive, he'd left, and they'd never made it work.

But in the end the lies were too much, things always coming between them: her mate's hovering, his job… and again he's left with the knowledge he'll be forever alone.

In his most well-guarded thoughts, there's a wish he refuses to name, a dream he hardly dares to dream, something he guards even more jealously than the reality of his blank wrist.

When he met Gibbs, the other man hadn't said a word. He'd run his gaze down Tony's body where it was straddling him, in a wordless look that felt heavy with meaning. Maybe… maybe those were the words Tony never had, a stare marked as a blank space where everyone else held the first words their perfect mates first said to them.