'Two hours late.' I thought worriedly, glancing at my Senior Field Agent's desk again.

Tony was known for being late, but only five or ten minutes, not hours.

Shoving aside the worry for a moment I turned back to the report currently waiting to be typed out on my computer. Glaring at the machine when it refused to accept the words I was currently trying to type.

I turned the glare to the phone on my desk briefly when it rang, breaking my concentration of fighting with the stupid electronic annoyance. I was about ten seconds and one smashed keyboard away from yelling for McGee.

"Gibbs." I demanded, using one hand to hold the phone the other to slam one of my computer keys, trying to get it to work.

"Agent Gibbs, this is David Meyers, I work at the local morgue."

"One of your bodies Navy?" I asked, smashing another key.

"Uh, no. Agent Gibbs, do you know an Anthony DiNozzo?"

I froze in my actions, cold dread and fear entering me now. I knew something was off, my gut had been churning all morning. I just hoped it was some sick coincidence that he worked at the morgue. But then, I didn't believe in coincidences........

"Yes, I do." I said simply.

"I hate having to do this, but I'm sorry to tell you that he was killed yesterday evening."

Shock. Horror. Disbelief. Only a fourth of the emotions running through me.

"I think you've made a mistake." I started.

"I'm sorry but the body I have matches the DNA, blood, and description of one Anthony DiNozzo."

No. No, no. This wasn't happening. Not now. Not ever. Tony wasn't dead. He couldn't be.

"Look I don't know who you think----!" I started to yell, only to be cut off which only served to fuel my anger.

I saw McGee's fingers freeze over his keyboard, mid-type and Ziva stopped mid-motion as she was putting some files away in the cabinet as they heard my yell.

"Agent Gibbs! I'm sorry, but this is your guy." he stated bluntly.

I felt everything crumble. Tony was gone.

"How?" I asked simply, fearing if I spoke more the emotion in my voice would be noticeable.

"In a fire at the coin laundry last night. There was some sort of electrical fire. Place was engulfed in flames in a matter of seconds, no one had a chance to make it out."

My mind flashed back to the report I had seen playing on the TV screen at the local coffee shop this morning. They had reported a fire involving two deaths. And then I knew. The man was right, this wasn't a trick. There was an actual fire, where actual people were killed. One of those people being Tony.

I took a deep breath through my nose and closed my eyes to steady my shaking nerves.

"I want our ME to do the autopsy." I stated firmly, my voice only slightly shaky.

"Look Agent Gibbs, I know it's hard to lose people you care about but I can assure you, your ME won't turn up anything more than I did. There's no case here, it's just as simple as wrong place, wrong time."

I didn't reply. I knew he was right. There was nothing to be done. It was over. Tony's life was over. He was gone and there was nothing I could do. Yet I felt there was something I should do. There had to be something, anything I could do to make this right. Anything to prove that Tony was still with the living. So why did it feel so final?

"I truly am sorry, Agent Gibbs." Meyers said quietly, truthfully, to me, "Very sorry." he added, before hanging up the phone.

Now all I heard was the dial done, I did nothing, I just held the phone in place though there was no reason to, I just couldn't seem to move.

"Gibbs?" Ziva said quietly after a moment.

I blinked once, coming back to reality, which really wasn't any place I wanted to be at the moment. I finally put the phone down, dropping my hand back to the table, but other than that I showed no other signs of having heard her.

"Gibbs?" she asked again. My eyes drifted to her. She was still frozen over the cabinet as were McGee's fingers over the keyboard. Both staring at me.

"Boss?" McGee asked, finally plucking up the courage, "What happened?"

A few more seconds and I cleared my throat, trying to shove back the emotion that was sure to color my tone if I spoke now.

"That was the local ME.----" I stopped. I didn't want to say it, to say it made it final and I didn't want it to be final. I wanted there to be options that said there was a possibility that Tony was still alive.

Realizing that McGee and Ziva were still waiting on tenterhooks after a long moment, I knew I should answer.

Then I realized what exactly I was having to tell was I supposed to tell them their partner.....their friend.......was now gone?

I swallowed hard, "DiNozzo was involved in a fire at the coin laundry. Apparently there was some electrical fire.........he didn't make it." I all but whispered.

There. I said it......Sort of. He really was gone.

I saw McGee's mouth drop open, then close, then open again. Ziva just stared at me as if she was wondering if she had me correctly.

"Boss....." McGee said, his voice slightly rougher, "I---he-----you've got to be kidding, right?" he said in a disbelieving tone.

"Yeah, McGee. This is all just one big joke." I snapped gruffly.

I knew he hadn't meant it that way, he was just, like I had been, looking for a way for it not to be Tony. He didn't want to believe it either. I also knew he didn't deserve to be snapped at like that.

But the previous despair I had felt was rapidly turning into anger and I felt the need to relieve some of it. That was how I usually dealt. Some people handle their grief by crying, others silence until they were off by themselves, some impatience. I dealt by using anger. I needed to leave now before I took it out on Ziva and McGee or anyone else for that matter.

"I'm going for coffee." I said hurriedly, ignoring the full cup of coffee on my desk and all but running from the room. I saw Ziva and McGee look at each other. Their faces a mixture of confusion, shock and disbelief. The news hadn't sunk in enough for them yet. I wish it hadn't sunk in for me either.

As the elevator doors closed, I let my mask dissipate completely.

Why Tony? Why did it have to be him? Hadn't I lost enough?

I knew I was being selfish, I certainly wouldn't be the only one to miss him. And I was here wishing that it had been someone else. Someone else's son, brother, friend. Not ours. Very selfish, yet it was how I felt. Why did it have to be him? Why did he have to be there when the fire broke out? And why did it have to be his luck that ran out? Couldn't it have been mine? Couldn't it have been my time that had finally come short? Couldn't it have been the one time I didn't escape death by mere chance? Why did it have to be Tony's turn?

I heard the ding of the elevator and I froze, putting the mask firmly back in place. Showing no emotion.

"Gibbs." Agent Dorsey greeted me.

I gave a curt nod to him as he boarded and we rode the lift together to the garage. I wanted nothing more to be alone as it was getting harder and harder to hold onto my mask.

I was grateful when the doors dinged a second time and we both were able to exit the elevator. I saw Mike look at me curiously as I tore past him to my car, but he simply shrugged, pushing it off to a case or coffee run and headed to him own vehicle.

I'm not sure how long I just sat in my car, hands on the wheels, unmoving.I was never more glad this thing had tinted windows. Finally turning the key in the ignition, I backed the car up and headed to my destination. Only one problem. Where was my destination? I had no idea. I couldn't think straight and nothing made sense to me right now so I just drove and drove.

I finally ended up at the last place I wanted to be without even realizing how I had gotten there. Tony's apartment building. I had been here a few times before. To check up on him, grab a bag of clothes for him when he was staying at my place after being injured. Once I had even stopped by on a Sunday help him set up his new flat screen TV.

Not that I knew anything about any of that technical bull-crap. I basically did what Tony instructed and helped him to mount it to the wall. I had nearly been half tempted to watch a movie on it like Tony had offered, but before I could even agree or disagree dispatch called an emergency case that no one else had the clearance to handle and we headed out to a crime scene instead.

I stared at the building for a moment, angry when a few moments later I had to wipe at my eyes to clear my slightly blurred vision.

I wondered briefly if McGee and Ziva had snapped from their shock and if Ducky, Abby, and Palmer had been informed yet. I knew I should go back and check on them but I couldn't. I knew if I did or if I had to be the one to inform them I would lose my composer completely. And as a Marine that was simply unacceptable.

So instead I drove back to my own house. Why I don't know. This place was filled with even more memories. Tony had spent a decent amount of time here, recovering usually, both physically and emotionally. I never minded. Despite popular belief I enjoyed the company and never minded for a single moment when Tony came to only regret was that he was usually injured in some way when he did so.

I moved almost ghost like from the front door and headed for the basement. Again the worst place. Tony had helped me on my boat more than once and we had a few talks while doing so.

Out of character for both of I suppose, but the combination of the bourbon and the relaxing sounds of the sandpaper against the wood we let down our guards. Barely. But enough to talk to each other.

They weren't those cliche heartfelt, soul moving speeches, but more like a few words, the meanings still slightly hidden, were said. If anyone else had been present they would have assumed we were having a normal conversation and probably not understood what we were really saying.

But then it went to show that we knew each other pretty well despite neither of us talking too

much about our personal lives that we understood the hidden meanings behind those words.

Carefully heading down the stairs I was surprised at myself at the amount of emotion I was feeling and at how horrible I really felt. I thought I would never feel as bad as I had when I lost Shannon and Kelly. Yet.....this came close. Too close.

But then Tony was family, my team was family, all of them. Dangerous in our line of work, but unpreventable. How and when we became so close I don't know. But we did. Abby would say fate maybe and I was inclined to believe it. How else could seven people who have nothing in common all come together and become as close as we had?

Out of my family, Tony was definitely my son, no doubts there. There had been something about the kid when I first met him on the case in Baltimore. He was cocky and annoying. But there was something else there that I was soon to realize most people didn't see. There was more there than a cocky young phys ed major, there was a smart, promising man with the potential to become something great. There was also, hidden even deeper than his smarts and promise another side. A lost little kid looking for someone to look up too. For some reason he took it upon himself to see me as that person.

And for some reason, that I was never quite sure of, I felt the overwhelming need to protect, shelter, and, for lack of a better word, raise the kid myself.

The first time I had realized that I looked at him more like a son than a co-worker was also the first he had been shot while on my team. I hadn't been that......scared in a long time. Nor as

worried. I about lost it when the doctor wouldn't let me in to check on him.

If I hadn't thought I would get arrested for doing so I would have demoted him from doctor to patient very quickly. Only after I had intimidated my way in and was able to see for myself that he was infact alive and breathing did I calm down. I had been surprised when I sat in the chair beside his bed later that evening and realised how terrified I had been that he had been seriously injured by the shot to his chest or how I might have lost him for good. I also realised how angry I was with myself for not protectin him like I should have. Come to think of it, it was the same anger I was feeling now. Except this time it cost so much more than a week in the hospital and some time in rehab. This time it cost everything.

I eased myself down into the wooden kitchen chair that was setting next the small TV and I felt tired and sore even though I had done nothing strenuous today. I sat in silence for a moment before the ringing of my cell phone penetrated the air.

Pulling said object from my pocket I looked at the caller ID. Ducky. He had no doubt heard by now.

Sighing, I flipped it open.
"Yeah?" I asked simply and even I noticed the tired tone my voice carried.

"Jethro? Where are you?" Ducky's worried voice asked. I could already tell that he knew by the tone in his voice.

I sighed again, "What'd ya' need, Duck?" I asked.

"I heard.....about Anthony...." he paused, he sounded almost scared of what he was saying, "Is it actually true, Gibbs?" he asked, warily.

I wanted nothing more than to tell him that it wasn' it was some vicious lie someone had spread.

I closed my eyes for a moment, "Yeah......Yeah, Ducky. It is." I wish that it wasn't.

I heard a deep, heavy, and tired sigh. But no gasp of shock or exclamation of surprise. He had known, he didn't want to believe it, but he had known.

"Jethro....Jethro, I am sorry." he said quietly, his own voice thick with of it sounding like raw hurt.

"Yeah, thanks, Duck. I am too." I replied, snapping the phone shut.

I didn't want to speak to anyone right now. I'd just end up yelling at them, which none of them deserved. Or, like Ducky had started to do, they would show me pity which was the last thing I needed or wanted.

What I wanted was impossible to retrieve. What I wanted was Tony back.