One day Gibbs shows up to work already angry. While that isn't rare on it's own, Tony soon realises the anger is focused on him, and for the life of him he can't remember anything he's done lately to cause it.
Ziva and McGee notice, of course, and they all agree they can come up with no reason for it – and after it has gone on for long enough and seems unfair enough the others stop feeling good about making fun of him for it. They don't go as far as to deflect the anger but at least they try to not make it worse.
It goes on for days, days of Gibbs refusing to look at him except with a glare, days of him refusing to treat Tony fairly when dividing jobs during a case, days of Tony swallowing his complaints.
Abby tries to find out what's wrong, and Gibbs even snaps at her. Ducky is no help, because he refuses to share anything he knows about Gibbs's mood, or its possible cause.
Tony does his best to avoid Gibbs, but on Thursday of the second week he unwittingly ends up in the elevator alone with his boss. He hides a grimace, and stares at the doors, trying to make the machine move faster. He can almost feel the rage in Gibbs, like he's radiating it, and suddenly he's had enough.
He stops the elevator (and how sad is it, that they all consider it normal these days?) and turns to his boss with a determined look. “What the hell is your problem?”
The glare that meets him would have silenced him a few floors ago, but now he just matches it with his own angry stare.
“What is my problem?” As if it was obvious, as if it should be obvious, and then the older man goes on, his voice dripping venom: “How long have you known?”
“Take off your cuff,” Gibbs orders, and the world stops, because what?
He has no right, there is no authority who can force someone to expose their wrist – even body searches allow for a strip of dark tape to be placed on the words. But Gibbs is – as always – a law unto himself, and Tony... just doesn't care anymore.
His most guarded secret, even over his feelings for the other man, and he just pulls back his sleeve with decisive but choppy movements, because he can't stop trembling, be it anger or fear. He extracts the key, unlocks the lock, then moves to the buckles.
He meets the other man's glare with is own and finally, for the first time, presents his naked wrist to another person, and the fact that it's done in anger and defiance is enough to make him want to laugh, because it's either that or weeping.
He turns the hand around a few times, to make sure Gibbs gets a good view of the proof of his brokenness, and the other man's expression changes completely. No pity, he couldn't deal with pity, but he can't even decipher what it really looks like, and then... Then Gibbs removes his own cuff.
And there, as they had theorised, next to the faded words of Shannon's, are two new words.
Tony can only stare at the words, reading them over and over again like he can't be sure his own fantasies aren't making him see things, because he cannot be sharing this moment with Gibbs, those cannot be his own words from all those years ago. But who else... is someone else going to shout those very words to Gibbs sometime in the future? That would be the final nail in Tony's coffin, the strike that would finally end him.
“I've been trying to remember what I said,” Gibbs said, as if dazed. “I couldn't.”
“You didn't say a thing, I think, until after I read you your rights, until Danny...”
Gibbs's hand is on Tony's wrist, his fingers running lightly over the bare strip of skin that should have writing on it but never did. No one else has ever touched him there, not after he was old enough to know to keep his cuff on. He shudders, the skin more sensitive than any other part of him, and it's Gibbs, and he's never touched Tony like that, like he's something precious.
“Why now?” he asks, swallowing.
“Ducky has theories,” Gibbs says, and raises his eyes to meet Tony's to share the joke, the smile only making as far as his eyes. “He says, sometimes, the second rounders aren't ready to accept new words, and they can get delayed. Even if meetings... aren't.”
He looks away again, down at Tony's wrist, at his own fingers, still moving over the strip of skin.
“Or then, some people theorise that... we choose our words, they don't choose for us.”
He meets Tony's eyes again, steady and decisive, no trace of anger or doubt. And Tony realises Gibbs believes that theory, because he would choose this, and his heart seems to stop, it's like he can't breathe.
And then they are kissing. He doesn't know who moved first, but his free hand is cupping Gibbs's face, and he feels the hand running through his own hair as their lips meet in the tenderest kiss he has ever experienced. Now he really feels like crying, this moment something he never thought he could have – seeing someone's soul words and knowing they were for him, and more specifically, he never thought he could have Gibbs.
Gibbs pulls back and rests his forehead against Tony's, his right hand wrapped around his wrist like a cuff.
“I don't suppose they'd let us F43 our way out of here?”
F43.9, the ICD code for “reaction to severe stress, unspecified,” almost universally used by doctors to excuse newly met soulmates from work or school.
“Ducky would sign on it.”
- - -
Tim is happy to see that Gibbs seems to be back to normal. Or maybe not quite back to normal, because that looks disturbingly like a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Otherwise the man looks the same, except for... huh, he has a new cuff.
It's much more stylish than his previous one, looking less like an afterthought, or a necessity. It looks like an accessory, something like Abby's or Tony's cuffs. Well, stylistically it's closer to Tony's than Abby's of course. It's... really, really close to Tony's style, actually, and now the smile is tugging at Tim's lips. Matching wrist cuffs are like engagement rings for some cultures – their grandparents' generation still considered it a thing to gift their soul mate with a home made cuff, and couples often chose to wear similar ones, and the boss and Tony are going to find it even harder to deflect those misunderstandings and jokes if they star sporting similar cuffs!
Not... similar. Tony just sauntered into the bullpen and he has a new cuff too. An exact match to Gibbs's new cuff and holy shit!
Their grins match, too.
- The End -