Tony was waiting in the hall for him when Gibbs stepped out of interrogation. Gibbs tried to read his agent's face, but the bruises made it an even more difficult task than usual. So Gibbs read his eyes instead.
They were shining.
"You okay?" Gibbs asked, taking in the tremors in Tony's hands.
A slow smile crept across Tony's battered face. "I should ask you that," he said, his gaze making Gibbs realize his own hands were just as tremulous. "You're the one who just went three rounds with a killer."
Gibbs grinned. "Him? He was no heavyweight, that's for sure."
"You still took him down," Tony said appreciatively. "It was brilliant, Boss. I feel… better. Just knowing. I don't know how to thank you."
Gibbs didn't speak, so Tony said, "Or maybe I do. Let me buy you dinner? I know a brand-new restaurant that's gonna be the talk of the District."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "Benny's got that place open already?"
Tony shrugged. "It's more of a pre-opening celebration. Come on, Boss. Marines don't turn down free chow."
"And alcohol?" Gibbs asked, throwing a sidelong glance at Tony's smiling face as they made their way down the hall.
Tony laughed. "I'm sure Benny can scare up a bottle of bourbon for you, Boss," he said. "Probably not a boat, but maybe he'll let us hang out in the basement."
Gibbs just shook his head to hide his grin. He lifted a hand and smacked Tony across the back of the head.
"Hey!" he yelped, smoothing a hand over his hair. "What was that for?"
"Technically, you won't be buying me dinner tonight."
Tony grinned. "Yeah, no way in hell Benny is going to charge me a dime. I saved his life, at great risk to my own safety."
"That really was a damned fool thing to do, DiNozzo," Gibbs said sternly, his gaze flicking to the cast protecting Tony's broken hand.
"What happened to 'that was the most brilliant thing you've ever done'?" Tony asked, feigning outrage.
Gibbs eyed him sideways. "You remember the exact words I said?"
"Well, hell, Boss," Tony said, lifting a shoulder. "I'd frame 'em if I could."
"You could try stitching them on a pillow," Gibbs said, suddenly thinking of Kate—and how glad he was that he hadn't lost another agent. That he hadn't lost Tony. He wasn't sure he could survive that again.
He stopped suddenly and put a hand on Tony's arm, bringing the younger man up short beside him. Tony just watched him, waiting for him to speak. Gibbs looked away for a moment before turning back and meeting Tony's patient green gaze.
"Thank you," Gibbs said softly. "I don't know that I could have stopped myself back there."
Tony saw just how uncomfortable Gibbs was with expressing that sentiment so he just grinned brightly. "You scared me for a minute there," he said, watching Gibbs study him. "I thought you were going to ream me out for a flagrant violation of Rule No. 22."
Gibbs had to think for a moment before laughing out loud. "Sounds like it needs a revision, DiNozzo," he said, heading for the bullpen.
Tony frowned. "Never, ever interrupt Gibbs in interrogation… unless?"
"Unless I'm about to murder a suspect."
"Unless you're about to murder a suspect." Tony nodded, grinning. "Got it, Boss."
They piled out of two cars in front of an unmarked building later that night. Gibbs looked up at the darkened windows with skepticism.
"You sure this is it?" he asked.
There was an ear-splitting shriek, and Tony suddenly found his arms full of a highly-excited Abby. He spit a strand of black pigtail from his mouth and nodded. "Yeah. I think so."
Gibbs peeled the bouncing Goth off his still-recovering agent. "Don't hurt him, Abbs. He's going to be on desk duty long enough."
Tony's groan had nothing to do with physical pain. "Hell, don't remind me."
Abby looked up at him, her eyes shining. "But at least it's your desk, Tony."
He smiled down at her and followed his team into the restaurant. The inside was decidedly more put-together than the outside—and it actually looked like a restaurant, with tables and chairs and everything. Looking around at the oddly elegant mismatch of chairs, Tony realized why Abby had been so noticeably absent during the past few days, showing up only late at night.
"How many thrift stores did you raid to find all these?" he asked, finally noticing the varnish stains on her hands.
"Beats me, but I think I lost a pound or six with all that walking," Benny said, emerging from the kitchen and approaching the group.
Tony grinned, eyeing his large frame. "Yeah, I bet," he said, his gaze dropping to the cane the cook was leaning on. "I can tell. You look good, Benny."
Benny rolled his eyes, then focused pointedly on Tony's bruised face. "You're looking might fine yourself." He turned to the rest of the group. "Hey there, y'all. Welcome. I'm glad you could make it."
They smiled and nodded greetings, all surprised when it was Gibbs who spoke first.
"Eh, Benny? It's a nice place, but your chairs don't match."
Abby laughed out loud. "That's the point, Gibbs. They're all unique, like this place. And they do match, kind of," she said, holding up her hands. "I made sure of that."
Benny smiled appreciatively. "And thanks again, Abby. I couldn't have done it without you. Especially the upholstery," he said, nodding to the bright red fabric on the black-varnished chairs.
"You let me pick the colors," Abby said, shrugging. "I'm just glad I could help."
"So firearms expert, mechanic, upholsterer, electrician with Habitat for Humanity," Tony said, ticking off each on his fingers. Personal therapist, he added silently, his thoughts conveyed as he looked down at her, thoroughly enjoying the fact that she had barely moved from his side. "Is there anything you can't do?"
She just grinned back at him. "You forgot epic bowler."
"With nuns," McGee added.
"Bowling nuns?" Benny said, shaking his head slowly. "Why does that not surprise me?"
"Because it's Abby," Gibbs said, leaning forward to plant a soft kiss on her cheek.
The movement made Tony realize he was literally surrounded by friends—people who had gone to hell and back for him. Instead of feeling trapped and uncomfortable as he once might have, he simply felt warm.
Gibbs glanced at the shiny stretch of mahogany at the far end of the large dining room. "You got a bar in this bar?"
Benny grinned. "Might even have some bourbon," he said. "But Abby's going to have to take care of you fine folks. I need to finish up in the kitchen or we'll all starve."
"Then why are you still here?" Gibbs deadpanned, drawing grins from the team as they made their way to the unique assortment of vintage bar stools.
Abby took her place behind the bar and soon had everyone enthralled—and slightly buzzed—with her bottle-flipping talents. She began a long story about the latest antics at the convent, updating everyone on the saga of the pregnant nun, and Tony stood, excusing himself quietly. Ziva laid a soft hand on his wrist, and he hissed softly, jerking his hand away.
And then a curious thing happened. Even though Gibbs' icily intense gaze stayed glued to Tony's face, and Abby's monologue halted briefly, no one commented. Abby simply started talking again, making McGee laugh so hard he choked on his drink. Ziva's hand tightened on Tony's wrist, and he nodded, thumping McGee on the back as he passed.
"I'm going to catch up with Benny," Tony said, and received nods as his only acknowledgment.
He was smiling when he entered the kitchen and feeling totally nostalgic as he settled at a long, shiny counter opposite his friend.
"That's a wild crowd out there," Benny said, nodding as laughter drifted through the swinging doors.
"They're the best," Tony said, watching the cook expertly slice vegetables in rapid succession. The big knife in Benny's efficient hand suddenly made him shiver, and he asked quickly but softly, "So how are you doing, Benny?"
The knife stilled in the air, but Tony couldn't tell if it was the question or if Benny had seen—or sensed—his discomfort.
"Leg's fine," he said mildly, resuming his slicing. "Gets a little better every day, and it didn't even hurt while Abby was dragging me all over town."
"That's a nice cane," Tony commented pointedly.
Benny simply grinned. "Just a formality," he said, pausing and studying Tony's battered face. He noted the way the agent had his left arm tucked protectively against his damaged side. "Some people actually listen to their doctors."
"And that was a nice feint," Tony said, his eyes troubled. "But how are you doing, Benny? Bubba was your friend, and seeing what you had to see out there…"
Benny's eyes darkened for a moment before he shrugged. "About that," he said, scooping up some carrots and tossing them into a pan, "I'm mostly just pissed that I didn't see him for the monster that he was."
"Neither did I," Tony said, giving a little shrug himself. Tonight was going to be fun, he decided, not a time for second-guessing or remembering things best forgotten. "And I was the big bad agent afloat."
Benny's smile was completely genuine. "I miss our card games," he said. "We should keep doing that, maybe invite some of your team."
"I'd like that," Tony said sincerely, a grin creeping across his face. "And we could play for real money now."
Benny threw a carrot at him. "No way in hell, man. You were the big bad, freakin' cheatin' agent afloat."
Tony laughed, then winced when Benny cursed as the knife slipped in his wet grasp, slicing his finger deep enough to draw a thin line of blood. Tony stared, then closed his eyes and found himself suddenly flat on his back, struggling against too-strong captors and feeling the pain of a razor-sharp knife tearing open his—
Benny's voice broke through the fog, and Tony saw that he was standing right beside him. He hadn't even noticed Benny wrapping the bleeding finger in a towel or coming around the counter, but he felt the reassuring weight of the cook's big hand on his shoulder.
"I'm fine," Benny said softly, his uninjured hand moving from Tony's shoulder to his face, forcing his eyes away from the bloody blade to his own gentle brown gaze. "And so are you."
Tony blinked, banishing the terrifying memories with a surprising ease. He nodded, smiling shakily. "Yeah. I am," he said, reaching up to take Benny's hand and peel back the towel.
But Benny just shrugged. "It's fine," he said, heading back around the counter and pulling a latex glove from a box. He snapped it on, tossed the bloody knife into the sink and pulled a clean one from a drawer. "So Sunday nights?" he asked. "I'm thinking I'll be open six days a week and closed on Sundays, so we could do poker night then?"
"Yeah, sounds good," Tony said, glad Benny wasn't making too big a deal over his temporary panic. He smiled. "Thanks, Benny. For everything."
Benny eyed him, saw the intensity of the gratitude in his stare, and just laughed. "Don't thank me yet," he said, turning to stir a pot. "You haven't even tasted it yet."
Benny followed Tony back into the dining room, grabbing a stack of menus from the box that had been recently delivered. He smiled at the cover, then winced as he watched Tony settle carefully into his seat between Gibbs and Abby at the big table. Benny wanted to ask Tony if he was in pain, but he knew it wouldn't be a good idea so he settled for giving his shoulder a quick squeeze and dropping the first menu in front of the injured agent.
Tony laughed out loud at the stylized name on the front.
"You named the restaurant 'Ricochet'?" he asked, still chuckling and twisting in his chair to look up at the big man behind him.
"What? You said I needed something classy."
"That's classy?" Tony asked, his trademark megawatt grin brightly, rightly in place.
Benny just lifted a shoulder. "Hell if I know. But it does sound French."
The table erupted into laughter, broken up only by the tinkling of the bells over the door that marked new arrivals. Tony grinned at Ducky and Palmer, and raised an eyebrow as Director Vance followed them through the dining room.
They exchanged greetings, everyone commenting on the stylish menu and mouth-watering descriptions inside. And then they all sighed when Benny announced that their menu for the evening was slightly more limited.
"Aw, no fair," Abby complained with a smile. "I thought knowing the owner made us VIPs."
"Well," Benny returned, his grin as bright as the Goth's, "I guess you'll just have to come back—repeatedly."
Abby nodded enthusiastically. "Careful, B, or you might end up with all of us as permanent residents here."
"Nah." Benny shook his head, glancing at Gibbs. "Not all of you. There's no basement."
Gibbs reached up with his menu and smacked the cook across the back of the head, making his dark eyes light up with joy.
He reached up and rubbed a hand over his hair, unconsciously mimicking Tony's frequent reaction to the gentle taps. "My first headslap," he said, sounding slightly awed. "I feel like I'm part of the team. Like maybe I should get a badge and a gun, and I could start running around with y'all, chasing dirtbags. I'd be a big help, too, I'm sure. Well, because I'm big. I could break down doors and junk. Like that time when Tony and McGee pulled a B&E on that whale-hugging weirdo who tried to attack the submarine."
"I did not hear that," Vance said with a wry grin and a shake of the head as he interrupted Benny's Abby-esque ramble. He, too, must have noticed the similarity because he suddenly turned to the Goth and asked, "So, Miss Sciuto, I've been meaning to ask you. What exactly is a disco stick?"
Dinner was a light-hearted, relaxing affair that lasted much longer than the actual eating part. At one point, Abby noticed that Tony had been gone a while and she quietly excused herself to go look for him. She found him on the back patio, sitting on a railing and staring out into the warm summer night.
"Hey, you," she said softly, thinking back to the night on his balcony and hoping he hadn't slipped back into the dark despair she had seen that evening.
Having spent the past few nights with him, she had noticed that he both was and wasn't the same Tony. He still made good use of his quick wit, smiling and joking as always, but there were also times when he would go quiet, apparently lost in his thoughts. She had noticed that he seemed more skittish with having people in his space, like the incident when Ziva touched him earlier. Abby didn't worry too much about that, though, because Tony had always been—as with so many things—a study in contrasts when it came to people being close to him, both physically and otherwise. She knew he often touched the people around him but had never really been comfortable with others touching him.
"Hey, Abbs," he said, turning with a smile.
She saw that the smile was genuine and she smiled back, at the same time noting his expression. "You want to go soon?" she asked. "You look tired."
"I'm okay," he said, not moving from his perch. "It's nice being around everyone again."
"Even Vance," Abby said, thinking about her wild descriptions of Lady Gaga earlier. "I'm surprised he showed up, considering how badly he treated you."
Tony just lifted a shoulder. "We've all got our issues," he said, stifling a yawn sheepishly. "I guess I am kind of tired."
"You're still recovering," Abby said, moving to take his arm. "Come on, I'll take you home."
"Home," he said softly, not getting up. "It's so nice to be back, to sleep in my own bed again."
"Must be," Abby agreed, her eyes dark and intense in the muted light streaming through French doors. "You haven't had the nightmares since you got back."
A bit unsettled by the look in her mossy green eyes, Tony joked, "Funny, I'd think I'd remember being in bed with you. I imagine whips and chains would be involved—"
"Tony," she said softly—but it stopped him cold. "I might believe in miracles, but I doubt this was spontaneous. What happened?"
He took a breath, looked into her eyes and was suddenly flooded with memories of them holding each other together—so many times throughout the years, after Kate, through Gibbs' leaving for Mexico, after Paula, Jenny…
"I did have a nightmare, the first night back. It was like the others, feeling their hands on me, the cutting, the heat of my blood, the shadowy attackers. But this time, they had faces. I could see each of them, right where Gibbs said they were. And it wasn't so terrifying anymore. Because there was no uncertainty. I knew what was happening—and I knew I would be okay. I woke up to you curled next to me, and Ducky snoring away on the couch, and I just knew I would be okay, even if…"
"Even if you need to not be okay," she finished for him. "Because you know we're all here for you."
Tony smiled, but he was feeling a bit uncomfortable with the intensity of the emotions surging through him—until he saw them mirrored in her eyes. "And I know the dreams might never go away," he said, feeling her move closer to him and for once not wanting to shy away. "And neither will the scars. And little things, like when Benny sliced his finger earlier, all that will still be there. But so will you—all of you. And I know that now. Thanks, Abby."
There were tears on her cheeks, and Tony pulled her into a hug, taking as much comfort from the gesture as he was giving. He heard a soft noise behind them and found Gibbs watching them. He wondered how long the man had been standing—how much he had heard—and realized he didn't care. Gibbs had been there for him throughout this whole mess, and he had no doubt his boss would be there through anything else they had to face.
"That was Rule 22 we revised, not Rule 12," Gibbs joked.
Abby pulled out of the embrace and made a disgusted face. "Ew, Gibbs," she said, tossing a sidelong glance at Tony's smiling face. "I may be from backwoods Louisiana, but I'd never date my brother—even if we're not blood."
Gibbs gave her a smile and a peck on the cheek. "You're missing dessert," he said, making her squeal and run for the door. She turned back at the last moment. "I'll try to save you some. Can't make any promises, though!"
The two men stared after the Goth, both smiling at her bubbly happiness before turning to face each other. Gibbs read the thoughts running through Tony's head just as he opened his mouth to verbalize them.
"Don't need any thank-yous," Gibbs said simply. He eyed his agent. "And definitely not any apologies."
Tony just smiled, wondering for the thousandth time how his boss read him so easily when he tried so hard not to let his feelings show. It made him wonder if he should really try so hard to keep it all hidden. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the knife he had brought along. Rule No. 9, right?
Seeing the blade, Gibbs stiffened slightly, wondering how best to accept the return of his gift and kicking himself for letting Tony keep it after the scene in the interrogation room. He studied Tony's face, looking for signs of the anguish this knife must cause him.
But he didn't find it.
Gibbs took the offered knife, holding Tony's grateful eyes for a long moment before looking down at the inscription on the handle and laughing.
G—Just don't ever forget revised Rule No. 22—D
Gibbs clapped a hand on Tony's shoulder, and they returned to the dining room. Gibbs lagged behind, sliding the knife into his pocket and watching Tony join the group. Abby immediately looped an arm around him, and they all laughed at something Benny was saying. Ducky lifted a hand and waved him over, the circle widening slightly to let him in.
And they stood there, reunited as a team, a family. Looking around at each other, their thoughts were also unified.
The nightmare was finally over.