A searing stab of pain tore me from my sanctuary of unconsciousness. Gasping in agony, I realized that, even though I was awake, there was utter darkness around me. What the hell? My attempt to turn and look around reminded me quickly - and painfully - of the situation in which I found myself. Closing my eyes, I ran back through the events that brought me here - the pile of rubble, the discussion with Ellenor. I couldn't hear any noise or movement around me, leaving an unsettling silence that, if not for the pain, would have convinced me I was dead.
`Well, Tonio, another fine mess you've gotten yourself into.' Mentally shaking myself out of the stupor I seemed to be in, I focused again on the mission that had brought me here to begin with.
"Ellenor? Can you hear me?"
Even that little effort was enough to wear me out. Panting again, unable to catch my breath fully, I lay still until the swimming in my head subsided. No response was forthcoming from Ellenor, and I feared that she had not survived the last cave-in. This sucked all around. Not only had I failed to rescue a sweet old lady, I'd sentenced myself to death, too. A bitter laugh escaped my mouth. Failure certainly seemed to be the theme of my life, didn't it? How had Gibbs put up with me for as long as he had? It was certainly no wonder that he'd had no interest in me outside of the office. Gibbs liked and respected strong, capable people. I seemed to prove over and over that I was neither of those, so there was no reason for me to expect anything more than toleration.
Feeling my breath coming even shorter, I knew that I had to do something if I was to have any chance at survival. I remembered suddenly the small pocket flashlight I always carried, primarily because it had been drilled into me by Gibbs to always have the proper tools. Moving slowly, I reached down to the pocket of my cargo pants, working clumsily to rip open the Velcro closure. I felt a pathetic thrill of triumph when I finally succeeded in breaching the pocket and grasping the slim light within. Switching it on provided a sliver of light in the pitch black surrounding me. Forgetting for a moment, I twisted slightly to get a better look at my situation - and almost threw up from the agony that ripped through my chest. The pain was so sudden and severe that the flashlight dropped from my nerveless hand and I didn't even care. All I wanted at that moment was for the pain to stop.
Mercifully, a haze descended over my brain and blurred my perception of the fire in my chest. The tiny glow from the flashlight lying near me cast a surreal aura over my little prison of debris, and I knew without a doubt that I was dying. I wondered fuzzily if Gibbs and the rest of the team would find out, or if they'd even care. What had my father been so fond of saying? Oh, right - "Tony, you're a goddamned waste of space." I'm sure Gibbs felt the same way and was glad I had removed myself from his space. It was just another irony in my life that the man who had made my life worth living for so long probably wouldn't know, and certainly wouldn't care, that I was dead. If I wasn't involved in it, I'd probably laugh myself silly at the thought.
I wished not for the first time that I had been able to keep in touch with Abby and Ducky. I'm sure my disappearance had hurt and confused them, but I just couldn't bear hearing about Gibbs and whoever his current redhead might be. The fact that Abby knew about my feelings for Gibbs also meant she would try anything in her power to get the two of us together, even though Gibbs had made it clear he was not interested. Avoiding them all was the best route for everyone concerned: Gibbs didn't have to deal with Abby's unwanted matchmaking efforts, and I could - maybe, finally - find some solitude and peace.
As I thought of Gibbs, I wondered if he had found someone to love. I hoped so. He deserved happiness after so much grief. As painful as they had been, the last ten months without Gibbs in my life had allowed me to shore up the walls around my heart and block out those pesky little things called emotions. Based on my prior history, it was clear that I was meant to be alone. Learning to accept that had taken a long, arduous road, but I had finally accomplished it.
As I felt the life slowly leaving my body, the emptiness I felt was almost welcome. No one would grieve for me; no one would cry out for me at night and find me not there. When I was gone, it would be as though I had never existed. Closing my eyes, I let the beauty of oblivion take me to a peaceful place without pain .
end part 8