Time passed, and after it had continued to do so for a while, the turmoil receded far enough that Tony could get a toehold back on himself. For a couple of minutes he concentrated on breathing, uncomfortably aware of the tendency for those panic attacks to come in groups.
As soon as he was sure there would be no repeat, he pulled away again, and this time it was allowed. He sat up hurriedly, refusing to look back, sniffing, and clearing his throat, and never once lifting his eyes from the floor.
"God – I… I'm sorry. I-"
"Are you arguing with me?" Gibbs' voice held a wry tone that really threw him. Then the other man carried straight on, answering his own question. "Of course you are. What else would you be doing?" There was the rustle of movement. "Stay there."
Feet left, and feet returned, and he was exactly where he had been. A press to his shoulder had him leaning back on the couch, eyes sliding shut on their own.
The sudden chill of a wet cloth on his face was a true blessing, and he reached up to take it, holding it to his aching head.
"Th… Thanks." Curse that damn stutter. Another habit that should have been long gone. "Gibbs, I really am-"
"Do you feel better?"
Cut off again, it took him a moment to get head on with the question. Didn't make any difference to his ability to answer. "Define better."
"Did it help?"
He thought about it for a while, then shrugged. "I don't know."
"It helped." He sounded absolutely definite about that, and Tony figured it wasn't his place to disagree, especially not when he didn't know either way. "Nothing to apologise for. Happens to us all."
The comment was so damn matter of fact that his eyes flew open before the rest of him could interfere. Gibbs was squatted down in front of him, and when he made eye contact, offered a glass of water.
He took it automatically, swallowing and wincing at the rawness of his throat, eyes never once stopping as they scanned what he saw for something other than the normality on show.
Looked for the disapproval, the mockery, the disgust. Couldn't see them.
"You find it?"
What? His lack of understanding must have shown on his face, as the lips twitched sideways and then Gibbs carried on. "Whatever you're searching my face for."
He shook his head without a word.
"That good? Or bad?"
He shook his head again. Followed up this time. "It's… outside my realm of experience."
The look hardened briefly. "Good, then."
"Boss?" Come on, Tony. Say it already. "I'm sorry. I never meant for that to happen."
"One last time – don't be. And that's all your free warnings. Next one's a slap upside the head, headache or no." The look softened again. "I think, after all this, that had to happen. Just glad you didn't do it alone."
A long, long way outside of his experience.
He sat for a while, content to simply be, not really able to keep eye contact, and glad that Gibbs wasn't asking him to. But he couldn't stop himself thinking, and eventually the one question on continuous loop in his head made its way into the open.
"What happens next?"
He braced himself for whatever was coming, only to find himself wrong footed yet again. "Sleep. You're exhausted. So'm I. Mind if I take the couch?"
He could feel himself gaping again.
Gibbs caught it, and called him on it. "What?"
Exactly, Tony. What? Just answer the man. "Nothing. Go for it."
The head tilted to one side, eyed him up before responding. "Out with it."
He didn't respond.
"Come on. Whatever's on your mind, let's hear it."
"Wh…why aren't you mad?"
He realised he'd been wrong about that a second later, when another black look rolled across. Recoiled on autopilot, and felt a little guilty when the look was chased away by one that reflected that guilt back to him.
"I am. But not at you, because you have done nothing wrong. And I'm gonna keep telling you that until you hear me." He paused, squatted back down, and the gentle voice was back, completely at odds with the words. "I'm mad at me. At idiot men who try to ship women around in containers. At those people who were supposed to be your family. Not at you."
Had to nod. Acknowledge that honesty. "Ok."
Gibbs was not about to fool himself that everything would fall magically back into place again. But the corner had been turned. He was sure of that.
Must have been. Tony had just accepted an explanation at face value. Major improvement.
"Still not going anywhere, DiNozzo."
Kid swallowed hard and nodded again. Tony looked like hell, but then he felt like it, so they were getting on for even.
That had been brutal. Necessary, but brutal. Listening…
That moment when he'd realised that it wasn't being touched that set him off, but the expectation of losing it again, his own composure had been stretched. He'd been looking directly at the child then, who understood nothing other than that it hurt.
He had the definite idea that Tony would be ready to bodily throw him off the roof long before he was ready to leave him alone.
Could wait, that. Was needed here a while yet.
Could all wait.
"You want a pillow for that couch?" Tony's voice, a little stronger, a little less raw, startled him out of his thoughts.
"Think you could stretch to a blanket as well?"
Kid moved to get up, but Gibbs beat him to it, sticking out a hand.
There was no movement. He waited.
"Friends, huh?" After a moment, the younger man reached up, grabbed on, and pulled himself to his feet. Then he carried on, uncertainty clear in the voice. "You know, it'll all still be there in the morning."
"Not gonna be easy, is it?"
"They say nothing worth it ever is."
He caught a flicker of dark emotion crossing the other man's face. Was going to stop that before it got any further. "It is worth it."
"You really think-"
"Family, Tony. The way it's meant to be. Doesn't matter how hard that gets, it's always worth it."
The nod he got was tentative, but it would do for tonight.
Didn't want to dwell here. Not just yet. Needed to nudge him onto lighter things.
"I'll still be here in the morning too." Waited a beat. "If you ever get me that blanket."
"On it, Boss."
Author's Note: So that's it. Complete. Two points, and both will be expanded on my LJ if you want the waffly version.
First - major, major thanks to all who reviewed. You're amazing!
Second - wondering if this needs a sequel, or not. Would be interested in your opinions - feel free to PM or email if you like, as long as you mean well!