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Title: Never Again
By: nancy
Pairing: Tony/Gibbs
Fandom: NCIS
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: for SWAK
Summary: Gibbs makes a vow.


According to Ducky, Tony was sleeping peacefully, barring the occasional cough that shook his exhausted body, and Kate had decided to spend the night in isolation with him as well. Given the amount of people on hand, there was absolutely no reason for him to be there. On top of that, there was paperwork to be filled out and a lot of calls to be made. So Jethro had returned to NCIS on leaving Bethesda and plowed through report after report. It finally grew too late to continue the phone calls, and when the last period on the last report was placed, he allowed himself to stop.

He sat there for a long time, staring into space, chest tight for reasons he wouldn’t allow himself to think about.

Tony’s face, ashen and tinted blue from the lights.

Eyes snapping open when Jethro smacks his forehead, but not seeing anything.

Distended neck muscles from too much coughing and too little oxygen.

Jethro shook his head to banish the mental images and stood, leaving NCIS to get some coffee at an all night Starbuck’s, then heading home to work on his boat. The coffee was like acid churning in his stomach, but he drank it anyhow. Once in the basement, he didn’t bother with the mug, instead drinking the bourbon directly from the source. It didn’t help the stomach churning or blur his thoughts the way he’d hoped. All it did was cause a clammy sweat to pop out all over and intensify the queasiness.

Setting the bottle down, he turned to the skeleton only a few yards away and picked up the sandpaper. Jethro walked over and started the long, smooth movements, working with the grain of the wood to take out any splinters and rough edges. This was the least dangerous thing he could do right then. Given his emotional state, something that made him snort out a bitter laugh, Jethro knew better than to even think about touching sharp objects.

Kate crying in Ducky’s arms, her choked words, “He’s dying.”

Tony weak and still in the bed, barely breathing.

The eternal time it took for Tony to answer him.

Growling in denial, Jethro stopped sanding and walked back to the counter. He picked the bottle up again, almost defiantly, and drank the heady brew down, swallowing the fumes to choke and cough until he had pure air to breathe once more. Something that Tony had had so much trouble doing, for far too long.

My fault.All of it my fault.

The thought was as gut-wrenching and guilty as it had been the very first time it had sprung full-blown into his head, watching the innocuous powder settle in a fine mist over Tony. He should have stopped Tony. Could have with the single, sharp bark of, ‘DiNozzo!’ Tony would have obeyed without question, though he might have complained about it, depending on the amount of give Jethro had put into the name.

It should have been me.

The bleak thought haunted him. His own death was preferable to watching Tony suffer like that. Knowing that every breath was a struggle. That his insides were liquefying. That there was a fifteen fucking percent chance of survival after an agonizing, if brief, illness.

In addition to the guilt that he felt for what he hadn’t done, there was also guilt for what he might have done. He’d been completely prepared to shoot an innocent man full of non-lethal holes to get an anti-dote for Tony. It hadn’t even required a second thought. And his finger had pulled ever so slightly on the trigger, on finding out about the survival rate. The doctor had blathered on about Tony’s chances being so much better than way back when, clearly seeing his death in Jethro’s eyes if he gave an answer that Jethro didn’t want to hear.

Jethro whipped the bottle against the wall with a roar, the glass shattering and bouncing back at him. Little stinging pains assaulted him in the face and throat and hands, telling him that he’d gotten himself good.

Panting from reaction to the thoughts that wouldn’t leave him alone, Jethro staggered back to the boat and clung to it, the one steady thing in his life. People could leave him or die on him, be hurt by his actions or inaction, but a boat in a basement never sunk or caught fire.

Trying unsuccessfully to catch his breath, Jethro wondered vaguely if he was having a heart attack or a stroke. It would serve him right. His death for Tony’s recovery. A bargain he was more than willing to make, and keep, if it assured the other man a long and happy life. Jethro dropped to his hands and knees, fingernails scratching at the unforgiving floor to be torn back and bleed. The additional small hurts were welcome, just like the glass cutting into his skin.

If only he could breathe again.

Poetic justice. You’ll like that, huh DiNozzo?

Darkness encroached and finally, blessedly, Jethro passed out.

* * * *

>Embarrassment struck the moment Jethro woke because he knew, without a doubt, that he’d hyperventilated into passing out. He could only be grateful that his body hadn’t tried to throw up while he’d been flat on his back because choking to death on his own vomit was not how he wanted to die.

A hundred little pinpricks of pain told him that he really had done a good job in smashing the bottle as he sat up. His hands were a mess, so he could only imagine what the rest of him looked like. A trip to the ER was definitely in order, unfortunately, but at least no one had been around to witness the nervous breakdown.

It was all too much irony for him to handle on a good day, and today was anything but. He was in love with a straight, male, coworker about fifteen years his junior. He’d almost lost Tony because he’d been distracted by the grin and banter between the people he’d come to care about as family. He’d almost lost all of them, because he’d let his guard down. Because of one, stupid moment of inattention and laxity, death had been allowed into his House, to harm one of his people.

Slowly, painfully, getting to his feet, Jethro gave a silent vow to all of them no matter what the personal cost turned out to be.

Never again.