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After the Fire

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Gibbs stood outside the isolation unit where Tony and Cait were sleeping. He stared at Tony, his stomach turning at how very close they'd come to losing him. DiNozzo had better follow the order he'd given him. It was a direct order and if Tony disobeyed it and died? Well, Leroy Jethro Gibbs would not stand for it. Losing Tony was not an option.

"Why don't you go in and sit with him for a while, Jethro. Reassure yourself," Ducky said, walking up behind his friend.

"I can see him from here, Ducky," he replied.

"You know, almost losing someone you love before you've had the chance to tell them can be a real eye opener. Makes one realise that our time here is short. All the excuses we give ourselves for not taking that giant step seem very pale in the light of that. Tell him, Jethro," Ducky said apparently going off on a tangent.

"I'm not...," Jethro trailed off as he realised Ducky had left. "Damn it," he muttered. The events of this day and a half hadn't really hit him until his drive over here. He hadn't truly felt the same sort of dread and almost hopelessness that he had when he'd found out that Tony was the only one infected and that he might be dead within thirty two hours.

Jethro didn't even know when his attraction to Tony had turned to something more, there was no exact date or event he could pinpoint. He just knew his feelings had grown and changed into love. He snorted, fate could throw you some real curveballs sometimes. Not wanting to risk rejection, afraid to put himself out there one more time, he'd never told Tony. Jethro knew it was for the best, after all, Rule #12 said it all, romance between agents never worked. But he'd also been afraid that he'd scare the very straight younger man away and he didn't want to lose him from his team.

Taking a deep breath, Gibbs walked into the isolation chamber, standing just inside the second set of doors, listening. Neither Tony nor Cait seemed to have heard him enough to stir from their slumber. Moving the chair to the side of the bed nearer the door, Jethro sat down before slowly reaching out to take Tony's hand.

"Damn it, DiNozzo," he whispered. He held the warm hand against his face for a moment, then settled it back on the bed, enclosed within his own. "I came so close to losing you today. I don't know what I would've done if I had. Ducky tells me I should tell you... . I want to, but I could still lose you, even if I do. At least you're asleep--you're going to live," Jethro stopped for a moment, closing his eyes, surprised to feel tears welling up. "I don't know if I'll ever have the courage to tell you this when you're awake. This can be my practice run. Anthony DiNozzo, I love you."

Jethro startled when he felt Tony's hand squeeze his. When he spoke, Tony's voice was hoarse, and he wheezed when he took a breath. "Almost dying makes things become very clear, you know," he paused. "It wasn't an accident that you got the honey powder, you know."

"Tony, don't...," Gibbs whispered.

"Shush, let me finish, please," Tony said. A coughing fit took him and it was a couple minutes before he could speak again. "I...I love you too, Gibbs. As long as you want me, you'll never lose me," Tony said.

Not trusting that this wasn't some sleep deprivation hallucination, Gibbs said, "What about all the women. How can you love me?"

Tony gave a short laugh. "You've had women too, Gibbs. Besides, there weren't nearly as many as what I made have made out there were. I can spin a good story. As to how I can love you? I don't know how, I just know that I do. Believe it, Jethro."

Jethro stared at Tony in amazement for a minute, then finally a smile lit his face. "Then I hope forever isn't too long." At Tony's confused look, he said, "You said I could have you for as long as I wanted you."

Tony smiled back. "Nah, then forever isn't long enough."