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Prologue

I know I can't save everybody, life taught me that lesson long ago, but that doesn't mean I don't do everything in my power to staunch the flow of blood from the wound at his side (or be mindful of the rebar that protrudes from the flesh of his belly) and tell him that everything is going to be alright.

DiNozzo is giving me that look again, the same one as before when he begged me to leave him here and save myself. But just like before, I ignore him and tear more material from the bottom of my shirt to use against the blood. Each time I replace the impromptu bandages at his side he hisses, tries to move away from what I'm doing, and I try to keep my face a mask of complacency. Because he doesn't need to see my barely checked panic and I don't need to worry him with the 101 ways this could all go very horribly wrong.

"Boss.."

"Save it, DiNozzo." I snap, still avoiding his eyes and pushing harder than I mean to into the torn flesh around the course surface of the rebar. He still shifts under my hand but doesn't cry out this time and I try not to think about why that might be a bad thing.

"Jethro!" he says this time, all frantic and despairing and I can't help but lean back on my haunches to finally look at him full in the eye.

"Will you please just go? There's no reason for both of us to die down here." I want to smack him upside his head and ask him where he gets off using that name on me and in that tone, but I do neither and break our eye contact.

"I said save it, Tony," but I think he gets what I'm really trying to say: that there's no force in heaven or on earth that could possibly make me leave him here. Not like this.

Tony and the building around us heave a shuddering sigh at the same time and I don't know whether to be more concerned at the blood escaping from the corner of his mouth when he breathes, or the debris that rains down on top of us from the partially collapsed floor above our heads. My first instinct is to throw myself over Tony to protect him (and I do) but when the dust and I finally settle back, he's gasping for breath, gunboat grey, and I have to swallow my heart back down and out of the back of my throat.

"DiNozzo?" I say his name stupidly, expecting him to look over at me and laugh and tell me he was only kidding and that everything is going just fine on the inside. But that's not what I get and instead of the solace I need, I get a good look at blue tinged lips and the terrified and desperate eyes of a man who's drowning and knows it.

"DiNozzo." I say again like this is all his fault, like he's got no right to be looking at me like that: desperate and floundering like a wet fish on a dry dock. His hand shoots out to gather the fabric of what's left of my shirt in his hand like it will anchor him here somehow, as if his lack of oxygen makes him lighter than he should be and he's liable to float away. I try to tell him with my eyes that I won't let him float away and cover the shaking fist twisted in my shirt with my own palm.

"It's okay," I lie.

"Everything is going to be okay. You just gotta breathe, Tony."

He's terrified but I'm starting to see something that looks a lot like acceptance in the creases around his eyes and I want to shake him. He's giving up and I splay my hand over his chest and make him meet my eyes.

"You know how to do this," it's almost an admonishment. My fear is making me cruel. "It's the easiest thing in the world. Just breathe in and then breathe out."

'You've been doing it all your life. Get your shit together.' but I know these thoughts won't help so I keep them internal.

He actually manages it for a while and I don't take my hand off his chest even though it breaks every rule we've established with each other over the years. I keep it there and we both watch the ebb and flow of it under his chin.

I want to congratulate him or something but then he tries for a bigger breath than before and suddenly he's choking on it, blood splattering against the palm he puts in front of his face to protect me from the spray. When his hand comes away from his mouth the blood is dripping sideways down his chin and his teeth are stained with it and I know nothing I say now is going to keep him here for long.

I build boats, you'd think I'd know more about keeping them afloat.

"Damn it, Tony," scrapes out past my throat as he looks back and forth between his blood covered palm and me before finally collapsing down into himself like an ill-constructed house of cards and starts to shake. I try to hold his body steady so the rebar he's impaled on doesn't tear a larger hole in him than there already is, but my arms are already beginning to quiver with the strain of holding him still and I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep this up.

The building shifts again like it can feel Tony slipping away and has something to say about it but all I can hear is a roar in my ears when the supports of the floor above us finally give way and I lose Tony to a sea of white dust.

I have no rule for this.

Next Chapter

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October 2015

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