Chapter 37:- Epilogue.

Kate couldn't help it. She couldn't help all of the surreptitious glances over to his desk. She'd almost gotten used to it being empty in the eight weeks he'd been on medical leave. . . almost. Not that just learning to live with it was enough, the hole was always there to remind her that he wasn't, an emptiness hovering on the other side of the room. Even when his temporary replacements had been sitting there, the space had still seemed empty, but now that he was back it was like he'd never left. He'd come in this morning all grins and wisecracks, insults and obscure film references, and it didn't look like he was really trying too hard, or faking it. At least, no more than he ever had before.

Kate wasn't sure what she'd expected. The last time she'd seen him he'd looked so vulnerable, lost and withdrawn. She hadn't been sure that they'd ever get him back. Not the Tony that they knew at any rate, and she didn't want anything less. A pale and jaded Tony would be worse than not getting him back at all.

The empty shell that had sat staring at the walls in the hospital, once he was actually well enough to sit and stare at the walls, had been heartbreaking to visit. Any strength that he'd had when she'd seen him for that brief time in the clearing, when he'd saved her life; that had gone completely. Looking at him, talking to him had had the haunting feeling of talking to someone who had died; he'd just forgotten to do the stop breathing part.

It didn't matter, because breathing or not there wasn't any life there.

She'd had to force herself to visit him, even found herself making excuses as to why she couldn't go, putting it off. She was ashamed of herself, ashamed of abandoning him when he clearly needed her so badly, but the pain of seeing him like that. . .It stabbed through her heart before the knife dragged down and buried itself hilt deep in her gut, twisting and turning as it went, and when he looked at her with those hollow empty eyes, she wasn't sure weather she wanted to scream or cry, but she couldn't do either, just gaze back and try not to lose her own hope. He just needed time to heal, that was all. 'You can't heal the dead.' She tried to ignore the uncomfortable thought, dismissed it, but it wouldn't go away, despite her attempts at internal reassurance. He was lost and empty and nothing she said or did was helping.

Still she'd tried, when she could force herself past the excuses. Abby had tried too, they'd often met in the hallway on the way in or out, waiting for each other to come out because visiting him together wasn't an option, would have led to too many despairing congruous looks across his bed when he didn't respond. Every day Abby went, every day she bounced in, bubbly and full of hope that today would be the day, every day she'd walked out, shoulders dipped as much as Abby's shoulders ever dipped, unshed tears in her eyes, and the significant looks had been exchanged in the hallway, because it was easier there to share the emotion of despair. They couldn't do that in his room because there was too much negative emotion in there already, any more would have been crushing. Hell it was crushing already.

Even when they discharged him, he was just going through the motions of being alive. Turning up for physio and psyche sessions because somebody, McGee or Abby or Kate or Ducky or even Gibbs would turn up to make sure he got there, and the most significant part of it was that he didn't object. He didn't once complain that he was a big boy now; that he could make it to his appointments on his own; that he didn't need babying or looking after, didn't protest. He just locked his front door, followed them wordlessly to the parking garage, and climbed in the car, looking ruffled and unkempt, in clothes that were clean and functional, but more suited to lying round the house than going out in. He would ask in a slightly distracted manner where they were going, nod when he was told, and then nothing more. It didn't matter how they talked to him, friendly and cajoling, frustrated, even angry at his lack of progress, he would turn to them with the same empty half smile and tell them that they didn't have to help, that he would be fine.

"Hey," Tony said, throwing a paper ball at her that bounced off her forehead, and neatly pulled her back from the morass of bad memories. "Look I know you can't resist my boyish good looks and incredible charm but if you keep staring at me like that then people will talk, and I have a reputation to keep up."

Kate shook her head giving her mind a moment to focus back in the present. "I am not staring," she protested.

He didn't bother to challenge that, at least not with words; he allowed his expression to do it for him.

Kate's mouth opened and closed a couple of times as she tried to come up with a suitable rejoinder, but she had been staring and she wasn't sure for how long as she'd drifted in uncomfortable memories. "I was just thinking," she eventually tried.

"Oh yeah, and what were you thinking about?" Tony asked, without considering the fact that he probably didn't want to know the answer.

Kate glanced back at her computer screen. "About the report I'm writing, just trying to get the facts in order," she lied, and he knew she was lying, could see it in his eyes. It was the first moment of awkwardness between them since he'd come in this morning. The first moment where the intervening two months really made their presence known, as the normalcy of his behaviour slipped.

Tony stared back as she met his gaze. "Tough case huh?" he asked, and that wasn't what he was asking at all.

"Yeah," she answered, "I think it was hard on all of us."

Tony dipped his head in acknowledgement. "The trick is, to not dwell on the past," he said softly. "What's done is done and you just have to move on."

"Not always that easy," Kate stated, surprised at the sudden seriousness and sincerity from her partner, as he let his mask slip almost completely to reveal an edge of still raw emotions, but at least it was emotions, not the emptiness of. . . .

"No, not easy," Tony agreed, "never easy."


Tony drifted awake, the pain, nagging and gnawing at him, his throat was dry and sore, his eyelids felt like lead as he struggled to open them, but all of that was just a background to the uncomfortable thought that he was still alive. In the hospital again, where they would try to ensure that he stayed that way, and he was disappointed, saddened that he was here because he didn't want to be. He drew in a sharp uncomfortable breath as the thought took hold. He didn't want to live, didn't want to be alive because. . . and for a moment there was nothing more, no thoughts, no memories to give the feeling meaning, to explain the uncomfortable conviction that being dead was somehow better than what he faced.

He could feel his body reacting, anxiety gripped him, sweat broke across cold skin, breaths came in short rapid pants, and his heart thundered in his chest. He was vaguely aware of the alarm that sounded on the machine next to him as his thoughts spiraled in a confusion of memories and pain, death and grief and betrayal, love and hatred. It was too much; too much pain wrapped itself around the flashes of memory. He couldn't. . .

"Tony. . . Tony, can you hear me?"

The voice barely registered apart from an almost automatic recognition of his own name, pulling him back to a present that he desperately wanted to escape from.

"Tony, we need you to try to calm down," the voice said, there was some other noise, voices, perhaps, conversation, snatches of words. "Tony, can you hear me?"

Tony turned his head towards the speaker, forcing reluctant eyelids open, but he couldn't focus. All he could make out was a bleary image of a vaguely person shaped mass. He blinked and the image split into two and then reformed, but still would not clear. His breathing was coming in short painful gasps and someone placed something over his mouth and nose. No! he couldn't breathe. Why would they. . . He tried to raise his hand, tried to knock the offending item away, but his arm barely moved and it took so much. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't see, and the pain. . . He just wanted to. . .

"Dinozzo," the voice was clear and sharp and familiar, as Gibbs managed to convince the doctor to let him try, because the next option was sedation and he'd already been out for days, they needed him awake now.

"Dinozzo," again sharp, clear, familiar, providing an anchor to hold Tony steady through the storm of sensation and emotion in his head, because listening to and obeying that voice was as familiar as breathing. "Are you listening to me?"

"Yes, boss," Tony managed to gasp the words weakly, as he turned his head and finally the edges sharpened into focus as he stared up at Gibbs.

Gibbs saw the slight fogging of the oxygen mask, did not need to hear the words to know that Tony had responded, and it heartened him, but he kept his tone gruff and authoritarian, the only way he could be sure Tony would obey. "You will calm yourself down, and you will take slow deep breaths. Is that clear Agent Dinozzo?"

Tony gave a slight nod and attempted to obey, but the images, the pain, the still unfocused memories kept. . . He stared at Gibbs trying hard to follow his instructions. When Gibbs ordered he did, except he hadn't. He hadn't told him. He'd betrayed. . .

Gibbs watched as the younger man attempted to settle, his breathing slowed a little but then, it was almost as if he could see the memory forming just behind Tony's eyes and the blips on the heart monitor increased again. It was no good he needed to give him something else to focus on. "Remember rule number 26 Dinozzo."

Tony's mind locked onto that, focused on it, rule number 26 was. . . never . . . always. . . don't. . . What was. . ? He stared back up at Gibbs allowing his puzzlement to show.

Gibbs shook his head "Rule number 50, never remind subordinates of rules that they should know."

Tony managed a slight smile. He was sure Gibbs had just made that one up, and if he'd had the energy he would have told him, but he was also fairly sure that he did know rule number 26. If he could just. . .

Gibbs watched with relief as Tony's breathing and heart-rate evened out and the tension in the room dropped several notches as the medical staff too began to relax. Dr. Clarke nodded his thanks to Gibbs as the unfocussed panic reaction left his patient and he became more lucid.


The doctor's questioning tone had Tony turning his head again. He blinked slowly in response to his name. It was the most he could manage.

"OK, we're going to go back to the nasal canula as that will be a little more comfortable for you, and then I'm going to be asking some questions. Is that all right?"

Tony gave a slight nod, he could do that; he could remain calm for the doctor, besides Gibbs would kick his ass if he didn't, the familiar thought would have made him smile, if he'd been capable of any sort of positive emotion, it would have made him smile. . . Not that Gibbs would care any more, not now that he had. . .He turned his head to see Gibbs again. To look for the expression of disappointment and betrayal that he knew he would find there, but Gibbs wasn't there; he had gone. Tony wasn't surprised; he was more surprised that he had been there at all, probably making sure that he was alive so that he could personally throw the book at him. At least that was one good reason for being alive, at least he could give his boss the satisfaction of personally. . .


Dr. Clarke drew his attention again. Had Tony been more aware he would have heard the nurse asking Gibbs to wait outside while the doctor finished his examination, would have seen the strong emotion in his boss's eyes, emotion that he normally hid so well. Could have felt the concern that radiated from the man who had sat watching over him for a week waiting for him to wake, but he couldn't focus on more than one thing at once, and there were so many pains and memories vying for his attention, by the time the doctor had finished with him, he was asleep again.

"It's a natural sleep," Dr. Clarke explained to Gibbs as he left the room. "The next time he wakes he should be more lucid, but he's got a long way to go."

Gibbs nodded, his eyes drawn to the bed and Tony's sleeping form. "Thanks doc."

Clarke began to turn away but stopped. "Just one thing, Rule number 26?"

Gibbs smiled up at him. "Never give medical personnel a hard time."

The doctor smiled back. "A good rule."


The next time Tony awoke, he knew that he wasn't alone before he opened his eyes; there was a quiet whispering coming from the side of the bed, more than one person to face. He kept his eyes closed, allowed his thoughts to drift, willed himself back to sleep where he could hide from the pain, but it was no good. He shifted slightly and the discomfort made an involuntary groan escape his lips.


Damn, it was Gibbs! He opened his eyes, shifting his gaze around the room as he slowly focused. Gibbs sat in the chair nearest to him and Fornell sat a little further away. Tony's heart constricted a little. Gibbs wasn't even going to deal with him himself. He was going to toss him to the FBI, leave him to Fornell's less than tender mercies. He wasn't entirely sure if that was better or worse, didn't matter, either way was bad, but he couldn't find it in himself to believe that it wasn't what he deserved, maybe they were both going to take a piece of him.

"Dinozzo," Gibbs asked again, "You with us?"

Tony nodded, "Yes," he replied, managing only a croaky whisper.

"Good, I was beginning to think you'd never wake up Dinotzo" Fornell leaned a little forward in his chair, "but now that you have I want to thank you."

"Thank me?" Tony questioned, glancing across to Gibbs and then back to Fornell.

"For all the sterling undercover work you did on our joint investigation," Fornell replied calmly.

"Joint investigation?" Tony repeated.

"You know if you're going to keep repeating the end of my sentences this is going to take a while." Fornell gave an uncharacteristic smile. At least it was something that Tony had rarely seen. Gibbs had seen Fornell smile often in private, but like his own smile it didn't really fit Fornell's well cultivated image with his agents. He leant forward in his chair. "We were investigating a. . ."

Gibbs sat watching Tony as Fornell filled him in on the FBI investigation that he had supposedly been brought in on. Tony listened quietly, his head resting back on the pillow, his eyes never leaving Fornell's face, not once, not even when he referred to Gibbs by name.

Fornell gave the official version of the story, the one they'd put in all the reports. The FBI had received word of the smuggling operation, had managed to get an agent on the inside, and had found out there was a leak somewhere in law enforcement. That was when they had got word on Julie Simpson, Dinozzo's name had come up in a background check on her, and Fornell had decided to ask Gibbs directly for his help.

Tony listened to his role explained, enough of the truth to fit with events and evidence, enough fabrication to make it a legitimate NCIS/ FBI case. They clearly knew everything, had pieced it all together, and instead of ending his career they were covering for him, Gibbs, Abby, Kate, McGee, for some reason even Fornell. He had deserted them, not trusted them, and still they were. . . . "No," he said softly.

Fornell stopped mid sentence "Dinotzo?" he questioned.

"No," Tony repeated, his voice gaining a little strength. He finally looked at Gibbs, "That's not how it happened, I didn't. . ."

"This is what's gone in all the reports, Dinotzo," Fornell interrupted. "Including yours Gibbs has it with him for you to sign." He paused, slightly unsure when Tony's gaze did not waver from Gibbs. "It's what everyone believes happened, and it's too late to change it now."

Fornell watched the two men as Gibbs' eyes scanned Tony's features. There was silence but there was clearly some sort of communication going on.

"Could you give us a minute Tobias," Gibbs' asked, his gaze still not leaving Tony's

"Sure," Fornell said, standing and rearranging his raincoat over his arm. "I'll be in the hall when you're ready." He watched the two men for another second, silently wishing he could have that sort of connection with some of his own agents, and then he turned and left the room, whatever was going to be said from this point on, it wasn't for outsiders.

Gibbs had allowed a momentary panic as Tony's eyes first met his. It was almost as if he could see into the younger agent's soul and touch the emptiness that was there. That was because he recognised it. He hadn't lied to Dr. Clarke, he had been where Tony was now, hiding in that dark empty pit that the world couldn't see unless they looked real hard, and gazed through his eyes into the dark abyss. The journey back wasn't going to be easy. Without help the journey back wouldn't happen at all. Tony's expression was almost pleading with him, wanting him to punish him, as if more punishment would make the pain go away. It wouldn't. Gibbs momentary panic was brought on by the fact that he didn't know what would. He quelled it, maybe nothing would, but he had to try. He had asked Fornell to leave, because he had to make it over the first test, the first hurdle, had to somehow get Tony to see that there was a way out, because if he failed. . . .

"Why?" Tony asked quietly, breaking the silence with a single word that almost made Gibbs' jump. Tony stared for a moment waiting for an answer, when none came he elaborated, looking down at the sheets. "I lied to you, to Ducky, worked behind your back, kept you out. You should be kicking me off the team, out of NCIS, hell even filing charges." He swallowed slowly. "I let you down," he paused, "So why?" He met Gibbs' gaze again.

"What makes you think I still won't?" Gibbs shifted just slightly in his seat.

"Because the fiction Fornell just gave to me turns me into some sort of hero, instead of. . ."

"Instead of what Tony?" He leaned forward now. "You saved Kate's life, Dr. Clarke's, gave Agent Danvers a chance."

Tony shook his head "They wouldn't have been in danger if it wasn't for me, If I hadn't. . ."

"Why, Tony?" Gibbs repeated his own question back at him. "Why did you get involved? Why did you help her? Why did you keep us out?"

Tony paused, looked down again as he rested back against the pillows letting some of the tension of the last few minutes drain away. He was exhausted, his energy draining like a tap, but Gibbs deserved an answer. "I loved her," he stated softly. There was a longer pause. "I loved her," he repeated before looking up "but I couldn't let the rest of you get hurt helping her. She was my problem. She was always my problem."

"Then you know why, Tony." Gibbs stated, pulling the statement out of his pocket he placed it on Tony's table. "McGee's quite good at imitating your style, grammatical errors and all." Gibbs handed him a pen. "You know where to sign."

Tony took the pen but hesitated. "You shouldn't have me back."

"Sign the statement Tony," Gibbs tone was softer than he'd ever heard it.

Tony signed the sheet awkwardly, then rested his head back against the pillows. "I'm tired," he stated. It wasn't a lie, but he was using it as an excuse and they both knew it.

Gibbs allowed it; he had gone as far as they were going to get today. He would have stopped even if the fatigue hadn't been showing in the younger agent's eyes. He already regretted not being able to leave this until Tony was a little stronger. He nodded, gathering up the papers and his pen. "I'll leave you to get some rest."

"I may not make it back," Tony offered, just before Gibbs reached the door. When he didn't, he wanted Gibbs to know that he had at least been grateful for the chance.

Gibbs paused, just long enough to let Tony know that he had heard him, and he cursed, because the 'may not' that Tony had said came across loud and clear as a 'won't,' but there was nothing more he could do, not right now. Hollow reassurances would be just that, and there was nothing he could say that Tony would listen to, let alone take in. "Get some sleep Dinozzo," he said, turning in the doorway, "We'll talk more tomorrow."

Fornell was waiting for him. "Did he sign the statement?"

Gibbs nodded. "He signed it," he confirmed.

"But he didn't want to; he wanted you to throw him to the wolves." Fornell stated, watching his friend, noticing the uncharacteristic creases of worry. "Maybe you should have done."

Gibbs' head snapped up at that and his eyes narrowed.

Fornell stood his ground even under Gibbs' intense scrutiny. "If you don't punish him, then maybe he'll take it on to punish himself." His eyes searched Gibb's expression for signs of understanding. "Last agent I had that looked like that, the department exonerated and two weeks later he ate his gun."

Gibbs shook his head, turning to walk away. "Not Dinozzo," he stated, quieting the small voice in his head that seemed to be suggesting he might with a soft. "I won't let him."


Hell, Tony decided, was a place that could be made infinitely worse by having your friends visit you, trying to get you out of there when you both knew that they couldn't. Dante should really have added that as an eighth circle, beyond any other torment. It'd give a whole new meaning to circle of friends.

He began to dread their visits. He could see the pain he was causing them. He wanted it to stop, but the only way it would stop was if he could get better, not physically that was improving all the time. His overly friendly therapist, Max, who reminded him of Mr. T., in build at least, frequently had to stop him from pushing himself too hard. It was as if he enjoyed the pain. At least it was something that he could feel, but the doctor's and nurses, especially Dr. Clarke kept too close a watch on him for him to do himself any real damage, and he knew that he was just one pulled muscle away from a 72 hour invitation to the psyche ward, so he didn't go too far, but frankly he was surprised he hadn't got that invitation anyway.

There were moments of clarity, moments where he could see himself and what was happening, moments like now where he understood that Abby had made her hurried excuses about being late for a party and left, because she didn't want him to see her crying over him. Moments where he knew that he didn't have one damn bit of control over how he was feeling or what he was doing. The rest of the time he was so buried in the empty darkness that all he wanted to do was escape, and he was getting worse, falling in deeper, darker, getting more separated from the world. His body interacted with it, but he didn't, and getting better was seeming ever more of a remote possibility.

There was another way out. A way that in the long term would save his friend's some of the pain of watching him fall apart; another way if he couldn't get better. He tried to avoid thinking about it, but the thoughts dwelled in the blackness waiting for him, and, each time he dropped further in, the thoughts came to greet him, offering him another way out.


"He's getting worse Gibbs," Abby stated quietly, not even bothering to take a sip of the giant Caf-Pow that he had just handed her. She placed it on the counter.

"I know," Gibbs replied.

"So what are we going to do about it?" She asked slightly agitated, "The psyche sessions aren't helping and I'm really scared that he might," she paused, not wanting to put her fears into words, "do something stupid." She pinned Gibbs with her gaze. "We have to help him."

Gibbs nodded, he'd tried everything he could think of, and so far nothing was getting through. Since that first visit with Fornell, Tony had just become more and more withdrawn. Shutting down, piece by piece, day by day, as though he had nothing left to live for, and Gibbs didn't know what, if anything, would snap him out of it. He knew he had the strength; they just had to find whatever it was that would get him fighting again. He shook his head, hating to admit what he was about to admit. "I'm fresh out of ideas Abby. If there's anything you could. . ."

Abby shook her head. "You know I'm not the homicidal type right?"

Gibbs wasn't put off by the abrupt switch, it was fairly normal for her. "I've heard you threaten a couple of times," he stated. "Tell people you could kill them without leaving any evidence."

"Well I could!" Abby interjected indignantly as though the voracity of the threat was being questioned.

"I know you could Abs." Gibbs gave a small smile indicating that he had no doubts.

"But, I've never acted on my threats, I haven't. . .I wouldn't. . ."

"What's your point Abby?"

"If Tony hadn't killed Julie Simpson, I really think I would be tempted to kill her myself. I mean she's broken him not once but twice and . . ." She stopped at the expression on Gibbs face. "Gibbs?" she questioned. If Gibbs had been a cartoon character then as sure as anything a big light bulb would have appeared above his head.

"Abby you are a genius," he stated, cupping his hands around her cheeks and pulling her in for a kiss. Then he was moving for the door.

"I know that bossman," Abby stated to his retreating back, "but why?" she asked the closing door.


Gibbs strode purposefully into the bullpen and moved towards his desk. Kate and McGee noticing his demeanor began to get ready to move.

"We got a case Gibbs," Kate asked, automatically reaching for her desk drawer ready to retrieve her gun.

"No," Gibbs stated, "just pull up Dinozzo's personnel files. I want any living relatives in New York." He turned his head "And McGee, book Dinozzo on the first flight to New York tomorrow."

"But hasn't he got an appointment. . ." McGee began.

"Did I make that sound like a request instead of an order Agent McGee?"

"Er no boss, sorry," McGee picked up the phone whilst typing in the request for plane schedules on his computer.

"I'll take care of the hospital," Gibbs stated, picking up his own phone.

Kate turned to him before he could dial. "What's all this about?"

Gibbs gave a sigh. "You remember how Jason Black said they fixed him last time she broke him?" he asked.

Kate thought for a moment and then gave a slight smile of understanding as she looked up and met Gibbs gaze. "They sent him to stay with his cousins in New York."

Gibbs nodded. "So, let's see if they can fix him again."


Tony stared down at the grave stone, and allowed himself the luxury of painful memories, that finally hurt like they were supposed to. He had been surprised at first to find that they had buried them together, Mike and Julie Simpson. Mike didn't really have much in the way of relatives, and, if he was an example, he guessed he didn't inspire much loyalty in his friends either, but it still seemed wrong to bury him with the woman who had killed him, even if the plot was paid for, even if they had been husband and wife. She had killed him and surely he didn't deserve to spend eternity with her, not when. . .He had finally seen the crime scene photos, and his stomach lurched at the memory of what she had done to Mike, to Jason. . . God Jason, he squeezed his eyes shut, tilting his head back as he allowed the grief to run down through him. He was going to miss him. He let out a long deep breath, dropping his head again as he held back the tears.

"Dinozzo," Gibbs voice came from behind and slightly to the left, but Tony didn't turn. He just waited until Gibbs walked up beside him.

"You wanted to see me?" Gibbs questioned by way of an opening when Tony didn't speak.

"Before I came back to work tomorrow," Tony confirmed, he paused, gathering his thoughts. "I just wanted to say thank you," he stated, "for not giving up on me, for having me back on the team, especially after I. . ."

"You lied to me Tony," Gibbs stated and Tony was shocked at the hurt in his tone.

Tony looked down, studying the ground at his feet, Gibbs still hadn't looked at him. "I know," he said softly.

"I could've helped."

"I know."

"It's what being in a team is all about."

"I know," he finally looked up, staring silently at Gibbs' profile as he gazed across the graveyard. "And I'm sorry."

"Dammit Tony," Gibbs turned, briefly letting a flash of anger show. "We could have lost you."

Tony met his gaze for a moment but when the fear flickered in Gibbs' eyes he knew that he wouldn't be able to hold it together if he kept looking, so he turned again, dropping his gaze to that interesting spot on the ground.

There was silence as Gibbs took the emotions and placed them carefully back in the box. He had promised himself he wouldn't do this. Tony was a lot better but he still wasn't there yet. He still didn't need this, but it was the small contrite apology that had broken through. "And don't apologise, Dinozzo."

"I know," Tony almost smiled. "It's a sign of weakness."

Gibbs clipped him on the back of the head. "No, Dinozzo, don't ever apologise for doing what I would have done."

Tony turned to meet Gibbs' gaze with a questioning look that was met with one of absolute sincerity. "No boss," he confirmed.

Gibbs turned away again. "Are we all right now Dinozzo?" he questioned staring down at the headstone.

Tony let out a breath. He had just cleared the final hurdle before going back to work. "Yeah."

There was a long pause; neither man looked at the other. Tony stared down at the plain headstone. Work stuff was done, his and Gibbs relationship had survived, only slightly scarred by the events of the last few weeks, but he'd needed Gibbs here for more than just a reduction of awkwardness in the office the next day.

"It still hurts," he said softly. "Everything she did, to me, to others, it still hurts that I. . ." the words choked off as the memory hit, the loud bang, the smell of blood and cordite, the image of blood blossoming on her chest. He shook his head to focus back on the present. "I couldn't. . .I can't stop loving her." He finally looked at Gibbs. "I should hate her."

Gibbs met his gaze. "Yes," he confirmed, "you should." His eyes narrowed slightly. "You think that would make any of this any easier?"

Tony thought for a moment. "Yes. . .No. . . Maybe?"

Gibbs looked back down at the grave. "You can't always control how you feel Dinozzo. What you can do is deal with it and move on."

"That easy, huh?" Tony asked.

"No, not easy," Gibbs stated, "never easy."


'Never easy,' the thought persisted as Tony turned back to his work. Eight weeks on and although he wasn't back to normal at least he could accept that he would get back there. The dark pit was behind him and every minute of every day he moved just a little further away from it, a little closer to where he used to be. He smiled to himself as he tapped a query into his computer, happy to be back at work, even though he'd still be riding a desk for a while. His damn arm was taking a long time to regain its full strength after the muscle damage that had been done. Still, it could have been worse, he might not have got full use back at all. He glanced over to Kate's desk and caught her watching him again. He gave an inward smile that he didn't let reach the surface. Time to go to phase two of proving to Kate that she had him back. He tapped in the last bit of his query with a flourish and hit the send button; the results would take a few minutes to get back. He stood.

"So Kate, since it's clear you can't keep your eyes off me. . . " He moved round to sit on the edge of his desk, folding his arms across his chest.

She looked up "Don't flatter yourself."

Tony smiled, standing slowly as he moved over to lean both arms on her desk. "Do you think it's got something to do with when you kissed me. I mean," he grinned, his white teeth almost flashing in the light. "it's hard to go back when you've touched the old Dinozzo lips." He was enjoying this now. "They say it can spoil you for. . ."

Kate sat back in her chair as Tony got closer. "I have not kissed you Tony, where do you get that. . ."

Tony turned to sit on her desk, again folding his arms but still twisted round so that he could face her. "Oh come now, you can't have forgotten."

Kate stood, feeling at a disadvantage being below him. She was searching through her memories trying to remember if she'd ever kissed him on the lips, when he'd been close to death? during his recovery? No, she was fairly certain the answer was no, maybe she'd brushed his cheek but. . . "I have never. . ."

"Tsk, Tsk, Kate, it's not good form to lie to your partner you know."

"I'm not. . ." Kate protested.

"But you must remember, down in autopsy, Gibbs and Ducky were there. They both remember. Your lips touched mine and. . ." Tony leant his head back closing his eyes and giving a slight smile as he sighed.

Suddenly it hit Kate what he was talking about. "Eww. . . Tony I was giving you mouth to mouth, I was trying to save. . . It wasn't a kiss. . ."

Tony just kept smiling at her, his grin widening as she became more frustrated.

"Tony only you could. . . just eww."

"Admit it," he stated, "Now that you've kissed me you just can't get over me."

Kate took in a deep breath. "Trust me Tony, If I'd ever kissed you, it would be you that couldn't get over me."

"Oh yeah?" Tony challenged.

"Yeah," Kate stated, "If I'd kissed you you'd know that you'd been kissed." For a moment their gazes met, each twinkling with amusement, and relief and familiarity, God how they had both missed this. Each had come in this morning with some trepidation about what the day would hold, about whether they could ever truly get back what they had. That question had just been answered.

Kate wasn't sure what possessed her. She leaned forward grabbed Tony and pulled him in for a full passionate kiss. He was clearly even more shocked by her actions than she was, but he didn't resist, instead he melted into it, allowing her to take the lead, soft moist heat sparked between them. Eventually she pulled back. "See," she said triumphantly, noting her partner's slightly flushed and even more embarrassed appearance, for all his talk he was remarkably shy sometimes. She smiled. She definitely had her partner back.

"If you two have quite finished making out," Gibbs said as he rounded the corner. "We have a case, dead sailor at Norfolk."

Tony stood up instantly and made his way back to his desk while Kate, hiding her own blush grabbed for her gun and pack.

Gibbs paused once he'd picked up his stuff. "Is there something you two want to tell me? Some reason why I shouldn't have you two working together on my team?" Gibbs asked, looking between the two agents.

"Er, no boss," Tony stated. "Kate was just. . ."

"I was just showing him the difference between a kiss and mouth to mouth," Kate stated somewhat awkwardly.

Gibbs looked at Tony

"What she said. . ." Tony stated.

"Would've thought you were a little old to get confused Dinozzo," Gibbs said as he moved past the agents' desk.

Kate and Tony shared one last look as she hurried past him

Damn it was good to be back.

The End.

Author's note:- Well that's it I can finally put this story to bed. I just want to thank again everyone who has read it, and everyone who has commented on it. Thank you for your patience, thank you for your encouragement. I really hope you enjoyed the ending. As ever I'd love to hear what you think- J

PS please check my bio there is something new on there that may or may not interest you.