I'm trying to get over writer's block so please excuse the sappyness. This is set after 3x06 The Voyeur's Web. Anything in itlaic is directly from the episode and does not belong to me.

How do you live with it sir?

How did he live with it? Gibbs wondered as he poured himself the fifth glass of bourbon. He breathed in the strong scent appreciatively before jugging it down. How was anyone supposed to live with the deaths of their loved ones, and the question that haunted their silence, could they have made a difference?

Alcohol wasn't the only thing that burned Gibbs's throat as he placed the glass cup back on the table. In one weary movement he rubbed his eyes before letting out a sigh.

Jenny had asked how Sergeant Roberts had taken it. What sort of answer she had been expecting, Gibbs didn't know. Anger towards the person who killed his wife? Grief for his wife who had died alone? Disgust for himself who had not been there at all?

There was nothing but pain. The anger, depression, self-loathing would all come soon, but later. For the moment, the scorching, blind pain would devour every other emotion, lessening even the strongest man to struggle to complete the simplest task of life; breathing.

And Gibbs could see that happening to Sergeant Roberts, though the marine fought to keep his feelings at bay. It wouldn't be long before the gravity of the events hit him hard and sent him wheeling into the dark endless pits of hell.

How do you live with it sir?

Sergeant Roberts had desperately sought out a life line, instinctively turning to his superior for the answers but Gibbs had only stared back before giving him the only comfort he could think of.

Sergeant, you ask yourself that question every day until you find the answer.

What did you find sir?

The Sergeant had correctly interpreted the dark look that crossed Gibbs features at the question and dropped the subject to settle in his own guilt and despair. His question still haunted the agent hours after.

He found the three Bs, that was for sure. Gibbs rubbed his hand along the smooth wood as he glanced at the row of the empty bottles lined along the bow of the boat, He felt strangely proud of the sight, allowing himself a chuckle.

"Now that's just scary."

There was never a doubt of who it was, but Gibbs's reflexes forced him to snatch his gun from the table and swing around and point it at… air.

"I know you moved as fast as you could Boss," Gibbs allowed his Senior Field Agent, who magically appeared at his side, to take the gun from his grip. "But I think that only proves otherwise."

"What are you doing here?" Gibbs grumbled unaware of the slur in his words.

"Doing what it's my job to do," Tony replied smoothly as he removed the bullets from the SIG with ease. It wasn't that he didn't trust Gibbs, but the ex-cop in general, preferred not to have a lethal weapon near a very drunk man. "Hey! Enough!"

Despite the sharp bark, the fingers that pried the cup off Gibb's grip were impossibly gentle. Gibbs stared at his agent, still light headed from the alcohol. It took him a few seconds to realize what was happening.

"Hey! That's mine!"

"'Was' yours Boss," Tony corrected as he finished the remains of Gibbs's drink. He smacked his lips in satisfaction before continuing. "Good stuff."

"And they call me a bastard." Gibbs growled.

"What can I say? I learn from the best."

The younger agent shrugged his jacket off and hung it on a chair before taking in the basement. The older agent's personal space seemed to reflect his state of mind; a complete mess. One chair was flipped over completely, the bottles lined up on the floor were covered in sawdust and there were remains of what used to be a cup scattered beside the wall. Tony sighed as he rolled up his sleeves, grabbing a broom hanging on the wall along the way.

As soon as the younger agent's back was turned, Gibbs swiped his cup off the table but alas, it was completely empty.

Damn the kid for barging down here and not leaving him alone like everybody else. Damn the kid for ignoring his obvious, external irritation with an even more obvious and external oblivion.

Tony, without turning around asked.

"You're damning me to hell aren't you?"

And damn the kid for knowing him so well.

"It was my bourbon," Gibbs pointed out sullenly, too drunk to realize how much he sounded like a child. "In my cup."

Instead of answering with a completely inappropriate joke, Tony straightened up and looked at the lead agent. The green eyes softened when they found the anguish behind the dull blue eyes-but there was also something else.

"You're mad at me?" Gibbs frowned, trying to clear his head long enough to trace back into the day.

"No," Tony interrupted sharply and then stopped himself by taking a deep breath. When he continued, the previous bite in his voice was smoothed out. "No, I'm not mad at you."

There was an unnecessary emphasis on the last word.

"Though I can't say the same about the director. Who the hell does she think she is?"

The bite was gone but there was an icy edge to the words. Gibbs pulled himself away from the alcohol induced peace and fixed his gaze on the ex-cop.

"She's the director," Gibbs answered, wincing inwardly at his defensive tone. The open dislike in Tony's body language-twitching jaw, tense shoulders, and eyes that could freeze hell over- aroused protectiveness towards his ex-partner. "She's your director too."

"But she wasn't my partner."

Back at the agency, Tony had never looked up from his papers, never made a clue as to he was listening, but he was. He was straining his ears to listen to the quiet questions that tore his heart, for he knew they would do the same to Gibbs. It hadn't been his place to step in-Gibbs would never forgive him if he did-but he knew from the moment the second question was out of Jenny Shepherd's mouth, he would be spending the night at Gibbs'. And so, after the dinner which Ziva kindly accompanied him, he had sent her home safely and drove straight here.

"To some degree," Tony ran his fingers through his hair as he reminded himself, the reason for his anger wasn't the man before him. "Partners shouldn't ask questions. Partners shouldn't have to ask questions. To some degree, partners should already know. But Director Shepherd didn't. She doubted you."

Do you think it's wise, sending a man who just lost his wife back to Iraq?

Knowing his boss wouldn't appreciate cuddling and feeling just as uncomfortable about it as well, Tony took a seat at the staircase, directly in Gibbs's line of sight. His long legs would never fit in the cramped stairs and he sat stretching one leg diagonally while pulling the other to his chest. He rested an elbow on his propped knee as he continued, never breaking the uncharacteristically gentle tone.

"Do you know what happens when the person you trust your life with, the person you would die for starts to doubt you? You start to doubt yourself."

And Tony could see it now, the dark emotions lurking behind the pale blue eyes. Gibbs was the first to turn away, looking at his boat as he asked, the slightest tone of a challenge.

"Then why did I send Sergeant Roberts back to Iraq?"

"Semper Fi," Tony replied simply. "It was never about where you sent him back to. It was about who you sent him to. He's with what he has left, his brothers. They'll take care of him."

Tony's heart skipped a beat when he saw the gratitude-and the faintest hint of approval- in the blue eyes.

His heart skipped a beat for an entirely different reason at Gibbs's next question.

"How do you live with it?"

The Italian honestly had to physically grasp the wooden stair rail to stop himself from bolting. The direction of the conversation had gone in a direction he hadn't been expecting, a very personal direction that Tony hadn't been ready for-and probably never would be.

But Gibbs was the man who knew this better than anyone in the world, drunk or not. And if he asked, he was in much worse shape that Tony had originally thought. And if that was the case...

"I don't," Tony answered after a second's pause, his decision made. "I don't think anybody does, at least not to the literal sense of the word."

When the younger agent unconsciously touched his face, Gibbs knew who he was thinking of.

"You don't live with it. You try to at first, but it threatens to pull you down every moment of your life and you're just fighting to breathe. And so you push it away, roll it up and tuck it out of sight. It's like, a hot potato."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

"You can't hold on to it because it burns your fingers," Tony struggled to explain. "You try to, by holding it in your left and right but soon both your hands are burnt and you just have to put it down. Get on with life, and wait for it to cool down. Sometimes, it takes months, sometimes years."

Tony chewed his lip because the crack of the gun still rang in his ears, and the spasm in his partner before she fell to the ground still played itself in his mind.

"But you never forget about it and when your fingers heal you try to pick it up again. And again and again until you can withstand the pain," Tony blinked slowly. "Or it no longer hurts."

"And then you eat it."

The ex-marine's attempt at a joke worked. Tony burst out of laughter as he nodded.

"Okay, fine. I admit it was a crappy metaphor-"

"No," Gibbs interrupted softly shaking his head. Gibbs hadn't been expecting a real answer but the younger agent had opened his defenses, and made himself bare just because Gibbs had asked. The gesture itself spoke volumes of the trust Tony was willing to give and it nearly undid Gibbs. "It's perfect."

The darkness that had been lurking behind the blue eyes were gone and instead, was a gratitude so deep that Tony found himself coughing in embarrassment.

"C'mon Boss. Let's get you upstairs." Tony slid his hand beneath his boss's shoulder and pulled the older man to his feet. "You look dead on your feet."

Gibbs was still fazed at the raw honesty his agent had offered him, actually giving up a side of the man that probably nobody else in the world had seen and numbly followed his agent's lead. It was strange, Gibbs thought as he tilted his head. Because Tony had been too willing to be honest and he would never be unless-

"Tony," Gibbs realized, still not noticing the slur in his words. "I'm not going to remember this in the morning am I?"

Tony grinned, partially relieved that Gibbs had figured it out for himself.


He felt the older man's chest rumble as Gibbs chuckled. Gibbs closed his eyes and relaxed against the firm grip, a grin easily lighting his features. For the first time that night, he felt at peace.

What did you find sir?

Gibbs's eye popped open. If he wouldn't remember this in the morning, then there was something he had to do tonight.

"Tony, get Sergeant Roberts on the phone," The older agent ordered then added as if in explanation. "Tell him it's about what Agent Gibbs found."