AN - Almost forgot the disclaimer. I don't own them. If I did there would be far more 'mssing scences'

Tony sagged as he heard the explosion; seconds later feeling the sound vibrate through his palms on the wall, the bright glow blossoming under the door, the heat searing the thin partition, so that the bricks grew warm under his hands.

"Life's too short not to tell someone you love them if you do."

He had never told Paula that he loved her. He had been attracted to her. He had enjoyed her company, He'd thought the sex was amazing but he'd always stopped short of using the 'L' word. When she had started calling more often, begun to talk about more commitment he had been the one to end things.

He really could have handled that better.


He had heard about her transfer to the Pentagon from someone else. For weeks he had told himself he must call her. He had even blackmailed McGee into tracking down her new cell number but he hadn't known what to say. It had simply been luck that their paths hadn't crossed for several months.

He wasn't sure now if that was good luck, or bad.

Their first meeting had been awkward. She had been snappish and he had overcompensated, of course. But they had worked together as well as ever and after the case was solved things had got easier. They had eaten Chinese at 2am in her car and forged a friendship of sorts, more "Sibling Rivalry" than "Fatal Attraction."

He'd miss that.


Gentler now, the voice was accompanied by a firm hand under his elbow, drawing him up and away. He followed blindly vaguely registering that Gibbs was speaking to someone else but, feeling nothing but the heat of that connection, as he was led outside and pushed down to sit on the kerb.

"My father always said I'd end up in the gutter." He observed bleakly.

His voice sounded strange to his own ears and far away. He wondered if it might have something to do with the strange buzzing noise in his ears. He felt cold and hot at the same time. Part of him recognised that his body was going into shock.

"Shut up, DiNozzo." Gibbs spoke not unkindly.

The hand moved from his arm and for a second Tony felt bereft at the loss of that warmth. Then Gibbs' palm landed, firm and strong on his neck, pressing Tony's head down between his knees, keeping his hand there, his thumb stroking absently across a tendon.

"Boss," Tony managed, closing his eyes tight. "I'm okay."

"Yeah," Gibbs wasn't agreeing. "I can see that. Breathe."

Accustomed to following Gibbs' orders Tony breathed, in through his nose and out through his mouth. He'd had a girlfriend once who had been into Yoga and she'd taught him that was a first step to attaining a meditative state. Or was it in through the mouth and out through the nose? Tony's brow furrowed as he attempted to recall.

"Hey!" Gibbs' voice was sharp with anxiety, as he shook him gently by the scruff. "I said, breathe, DiNozzo."

"Yes Boss." Tony managed.

He wasn't sure how long they sat there, knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder. Long enough that his ass began to protest its contact with the hard, concrete, sidewalk, and for his head to clear, his eyes to open and his vision to return to normal and his nose to pick up the distressingly familiar smell of blood and burned flesh that hung in the air.

"Sorry, Boss."

The hand lifted from his neck and hovered over his head for a moment, as if Gibbs was contemplating slapping some sense into him. Tony tensed in anticipation of the blow, only to have Gibbs' hand drop to his thigh, squeezing it firmly in a gesture of support and affection that made the tears Tony had held at bay by a sheer act of will threaten to spill over.

"Don't apologise, DiNozzo."

"I know, sign of weakness." He scrubbed at his face, trying to erase the burning behind his eyes.

"I meant, you've got nothing to apologise for," Gibbs corrected softly. "You're not Superman, Tony."

"Gibbs," Tony could barely articulate the word. As a cop he had seen things he couldn't have imagined growing up in Long Island. In his time as a Federal Agent he witnessed things he was unable to forget. Behind that door there was a crime scene that needed to be lazered and sketched, there were photos that needed to be taken. He owed Paula not to let that be done by strangers. "I can do this."

"I know you can," Gibbs answered steadily. "But you don't have to."


"Ziva and McGee can handle it," Gibbs' tone was uncompromising. "Let 'em."

"You let Paula work the case and it was her team." Tony insisted stubbornly.

"And look where it got me," Gibbs shook his head. He should have known better. He had seen it before in combat. Men convinced they should have died with their units, looking to make good that debt. He rose to his feet, his knee popping in protest as he did so. "You sit this one out, that's an order."

"I wasn't in love with her." Tony's voice was almost too quiet to hear.

"Only because you didn't let yourself be," Gibbs countered softly.

As the ex-marine walked back into the building Tony considered that. Gibbs understood more than most that Tony had good reason to have commitment issues. He had experienced first hand how hard it was to get the younger man to let down his guard. The Marine had never bought into the frat boy skirt-chasing art. Gibbs knew loneliness where he saw it.

OK, so maybe it wasn't all an act. Some of those women had been hot. But he had a track record of keeping people at arms length, of moving on when things got too serious. He hadn't had that luxury with Jeanne. Not without blowing the mission.

"Life's too short not to tell someone you love them if you do."

Pulling out his notebook and pen, Tony, wrote two names at the top of the blank page. After a moment's hesitation he added another. A fourth was added without conscious thought and a short moment of reflection he added a fifth name. Followed by a sixth.

Six people.

And four of them were dead.

Tony sighed and scrubbed at his eyes with his fist as he fought with his feelings. He didn't want to go in there but he needed to. Coming to his decision he rose to his feet. Gibbs would yell but he would understand.

At least, Tony hoped so.